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The Summer Cancer Seminar

July 28, 2014

I have one more week of summer left before I head back to the academy for teacher in-service.  By my calculations it has been six weeks since our senior pastor Tom Craig announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. While for most teachers the summer months open up the door for the chance to “get away from it all” physically and mentally, it’s not been that way for me – or for a number of our assembly here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  It’s been important for us to stay here in the area and help wherever needed during this critical period.  Oh, I’m not asking for pity, 1bbbthough.  June and July have been amazingly significant for us folks.   In those two months, the members of our church – from children to senior citizens – have gone through a battery of hard emotions and spiritual self-reflection.  It’s been tough.  It’s been good.  It’s been necessary.

Yesterday, it finally happened.  The pancreatic cancer and the chemotherapy were too overwhelming for our pastor.

Tom was unable to gather the energy to carry through the morning’s sermon.

He had warned his staff that this was inevitable; they should be ready to step in and take over.  Assistant pastor Bobby McCoy was up to the task – literally at the last minute –  as the Lord blessed his delivery of the message of Psalm 77 to the congregation.

Tom was only able to speak to us for a few minutes during the morning service, right before we prepared to take the offering.  When I saw him approach the front of the auditorium, I noticed the continuing pattern of weight loss.  Tom is even more thin than last week – seems almost impossible that he could lose more weight, but it is clearly evident.  He appeared to have enough energy to give us a short exhortation.  That’s just what he did.

Tom zoned in on Psalm 47.  “You see that the King is on the throne of His holiness.  He is ruling.  He is reigning.  His reign is unquestionable and the Believer says ‘Lord, take over my life and have control.'”

Tom looked at us with penetrating eyes.  “Well, is God worth it?”

The auditorium was silent.  He repeated his question.

“Is God worth it?  You must ask yourself this.  “Is the King worth your offering?  Is the King worthy of your praises?”

I think we understood.

We have been enjoying some exciting things lately.  Only a few days before, the children’s weeklong summer outreach concluded, going beyond anyone’s expectations, with more kids coming in than any other time in the church history.  Little ones came to Christ.  Children in need were given love, attention, food and in one case, clothing.  In addition, our teens experienced a solid, energizing, and Christ-directed week at a Christian camp in North Carolina.  They made decisions and memories.  In addition to all this, our church volunteers have been involved in numerous projects around the church and around the city.  It is an exciting time.

But activity does not equal accomplishment.

By that, I mean, we cannot be content with adding up figures and cheering over numerical results.  It’s a good calculator of progress, but too many churches sit back and crow about increased numbers.  Tom was reminding us about the most important part of all of the work of our little assembly:  the honor and praise of the King Himself.

Psalm 47 verse 7 says “God is King over all the earth; Sing praises with understanding…”

Wait, what?

“Sing praises with understanding.”

Understanding, man.   Tom’s shaking us in order to clear our focus.  Think about the praises you’re lifting up to the Most High.  Meditate upon God’s sovereignty and rejoice in His love.

Don’t go through the motions.  Don’t do these things out of habit or tradition.

Understand why we are doing what we do.  Understand the sole Source of our moving and breathing and happiness and existence.  He’s God and He cares!  Return your thanks and your energy of praise to Him!

These words coming from a man whose body is being ravaged by pancreatic cancer.

He’s in the midst of suffering and he’s telling us to rejoice.  Tom doesn’t want us to look back on our lives with memories of conveyor-belt tasks that were done in the name of Christian church-ness.  That would be too hollow; nothing more than mere civic behavior.

“Sing praises with understanding.”  Selah; meditate on who God is and what His future is for us, both here and beyond this life.  “Looking to Jesus…”

Tom is suffering, but he’s singing praises with understanding.

His wife Kim is about to lose her life’s mate to terminal cancer but she’s singing praises to God with understanding.

And so is one of our members who lost her little children in a car accident, then her husband to suicide.

So is another member who lost his wife to a brutal battle with cancer.

So is another member whose husband walked out on her, leaving her penniless and struggling.

So is another couple who were humiliated and mistreated while in the ministry years ago.

So are a number of women – my wife included – who suffer the daily painful experiences of fibromyalgia.

So is our assistant pastor who is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic due to a car accident that was not his fault.  He, as all the others in our church, are singing praises to God with understanding.

Why?  Because in the midst of all that this sinful world throws at them, God is their refuge and strength.  Though Jesus, they’ve all found a peace that cannot be explained.

I must stop, because I’m starting to weep and it’s getting hard to see the keyboard.  I get emotional when I think about these folks who show me the “why” of God-directed worship.  These people are my earthly heroes.

And I get to see them every Sunday.  They love to sing praises with understanding.

Because to them, God is worth it.

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17 Comments
  1. Ed Deese permalink

    Thank you Brad for your insights over the last few weeks. It is evident too that God is working in your heart. Tom is my friend and has been for many years, so it is not surprising to me that you are seeing his insight. This didn’t just happen, it is because he has walked with God for many years and I have watched him as we worked together, prayed, laughed and cried together. He is living out now no differently than he has lived for all the years I have known him. Bless you all.

  2. Ed, thank you. I especially like your comment about Tom’s insight: “it didn’t just happen.” We are seeing the proof of this. He is upbeat, straightforward and loving.” This comes from a life of true friendship with God.

  3. shirley thomas permalink

    So blessed got to meet Tom Friday after bible school. Tom is an inspiration,seen the love and caring in his eyes and the fight to make everyone feel at home . I pray for Tom and his family,they are so very strong in God. Was a blessing for us to meet him.

    • Shirley, I am glad you were able to meet him. He doesn’t complain. He keeps pushing hard. He really cares and shows the love of Jesus.

  4. Julie Eby permalink

    Thank you for passing on this window into the world of someone who is so near to seeing God first-hand! I am growing and weeping along with your church, even though I don’t know you or him.

    • Julie, thank you for your tender words. Yes, God is using Tom to make us grow and strengthen. I notice your e-mail address, I believe, is Messiah College. Am I correct?

      • Julie Eby permalink

        Yes, it is Messiah College. I know Rachel Feehan, whose parents go to our church have begun following this blog through Facebook. My husband is a professor here and I work in Admissions.

  5. Ah, the Feehans! What a great family! Mike and Rachel are amazing people. God’s blessings to you as you serve Him at Messiah College!

  6. Jim Clayton permalink

    Paul said in Philippians 1 that he was hard pressed to be with Christ which is far better. Just listened today again to James Montgomery Boice telling his congregation of his cancer which took his earthly life less than three months later. Based on Paul’s statement, there is a sense that he was rewarded for his faithful service by getting to see Christ face to face earlier.

    • Well spoken, Jim! Tom certainly has been a blessing and example to us all. The Lord is receiving a good and faithful servant, but while Tom is still with us he is teaching and guiding us in ways we’ve never seen before.

  7. cindy benson permalink

    Thanks, Brad, for posting your first hand experiences with Tom and his family and your church family. I look forward to read your writings and am being encouraged and inspired along with the rest of you at ORBC from long distance here in Michigan. Although our daughter, Genevieve Sass and their kids are with us for the summer while Bobby is away or busy with Navy and job related training, we are all praying and keeping up with Pastor’s journey as you report it! And Mia says HI to Julianne!

    • Cindy, thank you for your prayers for Tom and his family. Please pass this prayer request all through Michigan if you are able! I will tell Julianne that Mia says hello!

  8. Susan Gladd permalink

    Brad, thank you for this update conveyed in terms reflective of Tom’s heart for the Lord and ministry. He will always be dear to our family, and we seek to praise with understanding along with all who know and love him. Tom was “one” of our teens in the youth group my husband led in Troy, Michigan back in the day. Even then he proved himself as a leader and lover for the Lord.

    • Susan, it is great to hear from one of Tom’s youth leaders! His heart has never swayed in his love for the Lord or his dedication to the ministry. Thank you for your part in his spiritual growth!

  9. I hate cancer. It’s mean. It’s ugly. It has no remorse. Yet I am grateful for what my cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) has done for my family and I. To see how our family has grown closer together is heart-warming. We cherish our time together. To see how we are each drawn closer to Him is phenomenal. I can honestly say that I am closer to Him than ever imaginable; there were times during my many hospital stays where I could feel Him, where I could hear Him whisper in my ear. My husband and I have a relationship that is so much closer it’s beyond words to try and describe it. Cancer has it’s blessing amid the harshness, and God gives abundant grace to those who are walking through that valley… not necessarily to the ones on the sidelines. Praying for your pastor … and so many other dear friends whose lives have been turned upside down and inside out by this terrifying disease that someday will be no more. I am sooooo looking forward to that day!!!!

    • Thank you, thank you for such a heartfelt message. I am sure the many who read your entry here will be encouraged and uplifted by your words. Thank you for your prayer for Tom Craig and his family!

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