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Cancer’s Last Battle with Pastor Tom Craig

September 4, 2014

Wednesday night.  It’s late, and I can’t sleep.

Earlier this evening I was given the news. They told me right before the church service started.

Pastor Tom Craig died.

My pastor.  My mentor.  My friend.

Tom was a genuine Christian – you could see his passion for Christ permeating his soul in ways both little and big.  The man simply had a sincere and abiding love for Christ.

On Monday, I am told that a group gathered at the hospital, sitting around Tom’s bed and singing throughout the evening.  After virtually every other chorus, Tom would quietly ask them to sing a verse or two of a special song entitled “Oh the Deep, Deep Love”:

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Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Far surpassing all the rest
It’s an ocean full of blessing
In the midst of every test

Oh the deep, deep love
All I need and trust
Is the deep, deep love of Jesus

The group would conclude and Tom would request it again.  “Can we sing it once more?” he’d ask.  The group would comply, singing about the riches of the Savior who gives hope to all, especially to a man who is fighting the screaming pain of pancreatic cancer.

As the days passed by, the cancer got more savage.  Tom’s poor body couldn’t keep up.  He stepped into glory early this evening.

Tom, you made a lasting impression on me.  You were one of the most God-conscious men I’d ever met.  What an example.

I came to our church four years ago hurting, confused and in search of a meaningful place of worship for my family. I had faced numerous setbacks that put me in throes of depression that seemed impossible to escape.  I knew I needed Scriptural guidance. I sat down in the middle of the congregation that Sunday, clearly yearning for Bible teaching with depth.  Up on stage you walked – a toothy, grinning minister with a heart as big as your smile and an easygoing manner that settled me almost immediately.  You proceeded to lay out the Bible in portions much the way a master chef spreads his creations onto plates for all to enjoy.  I ate up your teaching like a starving man.  God came back into my life in a rolling and joyful way that I had not experienced in years.

Jesus lifted me up.  Tom, you were the man who threw out the lifeline.  You’ve done this for many of us.

We gathered quietly into the auditorium tonight, hurting and sad for our loss but yet  happy that Tom is no longer suffering.  We shared Scriptures that empowered us in the light of this emotional void we were all experiencing.

John 14:1 “…let not your heart be troubled…”

Hebrews 2:14  Jesus can give us peace.  He will “deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Dan read a magnificent and powerful passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinth church:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory…”

And as I read the many comments coming in on the internet from all around the country, I saw how Pastor Tom showed the victory to so many people.  He gave careful instruction to young Believers who grew to serve in full-time ministry. He showed Christ’s power for victory to those who were struggling with grief.  He showed freedom to those who suffered massive loads of guilt.  He pushed his ministry forward; he kept his name back.  He didn’t want to make himself known – he only cared about Jesus.  He pushed.  He prayed.  He counseled.  He loved.   He made a difference. 

Tom had a wonderful life.

A.

Wonderful.

Life.

Our church service continued.  People kept sharing passages from the Bible.  Eric stood up and read the passage in John 11, narrating the emotional scene where Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead.  I was struck by the power of Jesus’ words:  “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes on me shall never die.”  Yes, we have that hope.  Tom is now living that hope.

But then…

… Eric read the last phrase of that story as Jesus instructed those nearby to remove the death-clothes wrapped around the now-living Lazarus: “Loose him and let him go.”  Man, that phrase rang in my ear like a cathedral’s bell.

Loose him and let him go.

And I understood how that applied to us tonight.  Jesus, the life-giver, did just that to Tom.  He loosed him.

My dear friend Tom was wrapped in the horrid swaths of cancer, each strip clawing at him with enduring and increasing pain.  He could no longer minister.  He was debilitated.  He was choked.

Loose him and let him go. 

Christ ended Tom’s misery.  He loosed the bonds of agony.  Tom is free.

He’s free.  He’s free.

He’s enjoying his first week in Heaven.  It’s as Victor said tonight: “Pastor Tom is more alive than he’s ever been.”  How very true.

Oh, Tom, how we miss you already.  What an impact you’ve made on us through this battle with cancer!  As you walked through the weeks closer to your death, you showed us a courage and even a calmness that we’d never seen before.  You took away the fear of death.  And while you were doing this, you scaled the heights!  You achieved the goal of every Christian, my brother.  You’ve made it to Heaven.

Oh, how I wish God would grant me one selfish favor.  If I could ask Tom a few questions right now…

Tom, how is it in Heaven?

We study it here on earth, but you’re actually experiencing it.  If you could only describe to us – for even one minute! – this new dimension where you now live.  What are the colors?  What is the music?  What do angels look like? How does it feel to experience no pain whatsoever?

What’s it like to live in perfection?  To be completely happy?  To see Jesus face to face?

Can you hear us here on Earth?

If so, don’t you realize how jealous we are of you?

Tom, you ran a good, good race, dear friend.  You broke the tape. You crossed the finish line. You made it, Tom. You made it.

Oh the deep, deep love
All I need and trust
Is the deep, deep love of Jesus

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24 Comments
  1. Bud Bierman permalink

    Kim was my office manager for four years when I was the BJU Director of Alumni Affairs. I remember when they met and were later married. In fact, I sang at their wedding. Kim and Tom are very special. We rejoice with Tom that he’s with the Lord he loved & served but our hearts are heavy for Kim and the girls in their loss.

    Bud &Joyce Bierman

    • I remember you, Dr. Bierman! You were a great and joyous example of a Christian to an underclassmen like myself. I will pass on your words to Kim. God bless you and your family!

  2. Reblogged this on iconobaptist and commented:
    “You broke the tape. You crossed the finish line . . .”
    Glory!

  3. Jeremy permalink

    Great post Brad. I appreciate the Christ-centered perspective on death and life.

  4. What a beautiful eulogy. Thanks for your eloquence in penning a perfect tribute. We will pray for this pastor’s family.

    • Pastor Wynn, I appreciate your words. The funeral is Saturday and I know it will be hard for all of us, and yet Tom has given us a personal perspective of Heaven from both his words and his life. I will try to also write about it.

  5. shirley thomas permalink

    Only got to meet him when he had already gotten sick, but he was such an inspiration. Thinking of friends and his family , no words can help the pain. God needed him in Heaven , but sure his love and teaching will stay in everyone’s heart forever.

  6. I hope this encourages you all! It Is Not Death To Die – Sovereign Grace

  7. Jean Taylor permalink

    My sincere condolences to Pastor Tom Craig’s family, his parishioners, and all those touched by his good countenance.

  8. Pastor Dan Mauldin and Debbie permalink

    He has stepped in shore..and found it heaven…breathed new air and found it celestial…touched a hand and found it…God. Prayers for all.

  9. Paul Whitt permalink

    Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful journaling of Tom’s battle with cancer, and his using it to exalt Christ. As a friend of Tom’s from afar, your blog along with recorded sermons were encouraging and challenging during the past 3 months. Thankful for a race well run, but more importantly, thankful for a faithful God and the finished work of Christ.

    • Thank you, Paul, for your good words. For four years I had seen Tom labor faithfully for Christ in serving Him in the everyday challenge of life. Then for three months I saw Tom show Christ while facing the ultimate challenge of death. Never did I see him waver on either course.

  10. Well, Kim, sad to get back in touch through Tom’s passing, but happy to be able to greet you and yours briefly! I write on a Sunday afternoon in Honduras, where we have served since 2000. We had the privilege of sharing our mission ministry with you all about 10 years ago and will always be grateful for your warm reception at Oak Ridge. Never will I forget crashing your honeymoon (by accident) and being so grateful for Tom’s kindness even in the craziest of circumstances. May your ministry for our Lord continue and flourish as a family as only God desires and leads now without Tom! With the deep, deep love of Jesus, Sam, Maria, Joy and Aida Conover.

  11. Thank you for your response, friend. I have also done plenty of soul-searching during this time, watching Tom’s example closely. He displayed Jesus as real, direct, and powerful in his life.

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