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When cancer struck my pastor (part 6): Tom's gift to us

Reprinted from my blog in 2014:

The visual effects of Tom’s pancreatic cancer were evident yesterday. His cheekbones were more pronounced, almost angular in appearance. Tom’s movements were slower, more deliberate whenever he made a gesture or picked up a cup of water. His arms were thin, his legs more bowed. He’s weaker. “I need to warn you, so we can all be ready,” he said. “I may collapse. It would be from exhaustion, a lack of energy. I might also get sick.” He was careful and even hesitant in his manner at times through the day’s meetings.

Our pastor, Tom Craig, has terminal cancer. His body is not-so-subtly showing the raging war within him. Of all of the physical changes Tom shows, I noticed his eyes the most; they seem deeper. His eyes are wider and more intense.

And that’s not a bad thing, this intensity. It has heightened the emotion of his messages, giving each of Tom’s sentences a visual exclamation mark. It’s added a unique perspective, this emphatic gaze of emotion. It seems to make for a more powerful expression and – how do I best explain it? – it slows down the message, giving it pause for a spiritual digestion as we move through the message. That was the feeling as we studied Luke 15.

Tom sat down to gather his strength but raised a finger for emphasis. “God cares about unrepentant sinners. Look at the parable of the lost sheep. Was the shepherd passive? No. He went out and searched for the lost one. Look at the parable of the woman who lost her coin that was worth about a day’s wages. Did she go to bed, figuring it would show up on its own? Of course not. She swept and searched. She was proactive. She cared. The shepherd cared. My question is: do you care about others?”

Two things became evident to me yesterday.

First, we were re-examining the definition of “lost.”

Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost son.

Tom’s first point: You act like you haven’t lost something, and you really have. You act as if it is no big deal that there are scores of people needing Christ. You’ve lost your compassion. Maybe you need to understand that you can’t let this continue in your life. Go and reach out. Get proactive.

Tom’s second point: You need to lose something, but you keep a viselike grip on it. What is that precious possession? Complacency. Jesus Christ looks for searchers. Maybe you need to understand that you can’t let this continue in your life. Let go and shatter this horrible possession. Get proactive.

I like Tom’s next phrase: “Labor in love, in sweetness and sweat.”

Be kind. Be searching. And get moving.

And, by George, I think we’re getting it. Slowly but surely, we’re getting it. Visitors and members alike, people are noticing it.

I can try to describe it as, well, a ray of light. Maybe the beginning of a fire. Call it what you will, but there is a beginning of something. A spark, brought on by the benevolence of the Lord to his willing followers.

It’s deliberate and determined. Our congregation is reaching. We’re opening up. We’re slowly dropping the complacency onto the concrete, letting it shatter and freeing our hands up for welcoming hugs and handshakes and service to God.

Well, what’s happening here?

Dare I say this?

It’s almost as if Tom is directing his energy to the congregation. No, I’ll come right out and say it:

Tom is handing his last ounces of physical ministerial stamina to each of us.

As he stands on the edge of eternity he is passing on to us his zeal – for evangelism, for compassion, for sacrificial love, for self-denying Godliness.

This is my observation: Tom is getting weaker, and we’re getting stronger. And this is the way Tom wants it. In full obedience to the Scriptures as told in Acts 20:28, Tom has paid careful attention to himself and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made him an overseer. He is expending his energy to care for the church of God, which he realizes is so precious that Jesus obtained it with His own blood. Tom’s next step is to guide his God-given energies, handing it over to us so that we may continue on the course and excel for the cause of Christ.

His flesh is weak, but oh, how his spirit is willing.

In the thick of this American live-for-the-present culture, a little group of Tennessee church members have gotten a new vision, little by little. We are seeing a growing Holy Spirit-borne vigor entering our congregation, brought humbly but fervently by a dying man who is displaying the Biblical truth of “when I am weak, then I am strong,” because “He must increase but I must decrease.”

Keep leading us, Tom. Keep showing us Jesus. Slowly but surely, we’re getting it. We’re slow, but we’re responding.

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