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The first services without our pastor: trials, tears, and statues

September 14, 2014

When we gathered for the Wednesday night service, Tom wasn’t there.  

We knew this in our heads, you know.  Our senior pastor Tom Craig died of pancreatic at the age of 52.  It was brutally fast – about 12 weeks from the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed away.   We saw him grow gaunt.  We heard his slurring and watched his eyes become more hollow as the weeks – and even days – went by.  We watched as he was helped to the front of the auditorium in order to be able to speak to us.

Yes, we knew this in our heads.  Tom is gone from our earthly lives.  He’s in Heaven.

But we can’t get it into our hearts just yet.  Not just yet.

It’s bit confusing for us, you see.

His wife Kim is hurting, and we feel guilty that we’re not doing enough for her.  We put on a brave face, but we still ache.  We truthfully let people know that God is working in us – and surely he is – but … more times than we care to admit,  we still feel hollow.

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Then there are decisions to be made about the future.  We know we ought to be strong, but we don’t want to appear calloused.   We know we should move forward, but we simply cannot close the doors on so many years of intimate ministry by a man who cared so much and worked so hard.

Move forward, but don’t forget.

Be strong, and yet don’t be ashamed of tears.

Learn to smile again, but don’t become flippant.

Incubate your thoughts, but remember how many people are watching to see how your church is handling this.  You’re a testimony.  

We refuse to bend to cliches. We want honesty in our feelings and reflections.

Where’s the universal rule book on grieving, anyway?  It shouldn’t be as ragged as this.

Where is the balance between showing Kim Craig our love and not actually smothering her with too much affection?

When do we start looking for a new pastor at the risk of seeming indifferent to Tom’s legacy?

If we’re supposed to be so strong, why do we stop in the middle of the workday and weep in private?

Why do we break down at every stanza of Tom’s special song “The Deep Deep Love of Jesus”?

Why?  Why?  

Why?

Sunday still carried an empty feeling, and many of us are still silently asking why.  Assistant Pastor Bobby McCoy was there for us with instruction and comfort.

“The Lord’s wisdom –  especially as He guides  – is above anything we can comprehend.  Our God has never agonized over making a decision.  We forget this, though.  When things go our way, God be glorified, but when it is not then we call out ‘why?'”

“Job went through a severe trial,” said Bobby, moving his wheelchair to the podium.  “16 times Job asks why. And you know… God didn’t answer that question.”

We paused and took this in.  He continued.  “This is not by surprise.  God’s sovereign plan has not been disrupted.”

Ah, good point, good point.  Our plans had been disrupted.  We wanted Tom to lead and shepherd us for decades to come.  We wanted to expand our outreach.  We wanted to go into new Bible studies.  We wanted him to baptize and lead retreats and organize new events and comfort us.

Our plans had been disrupted.  Not God’s.

“God did not give Job a reason why He was doing this,” Bobby continued.  “But He gave Him an answer in who He was.  Don’t lose sight of the glory of God here.”

He then quoted Psalm 119:71 and I attempted to type it onto my iPad as quickly as he related the verse:  “It was good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

My finger slipped on the keyboard and I misspelled the last word.

I typed statues, not statutes.

And I paused.

That’s exactly what I needed to see.

Our trial is important, because we learn of God’s statutes:  His leading, His direction, His firmness, His gentleness.  His unbending guidance, even when we have no idea what is going on.  (“After all,” Bobby noted, “Job had no idea of the spiritual warfare going on in the upper realms as he suffered through his trials.”)

A statute is guidance. God’s statute is protection as well as warning.

Christianity has a problem with seeing the difference between statutes and statues.  We often prefer statues, ’cause they look so good.  And we’re all about appearance in this day and age, aren’t we?

There’s our problem, then.

A statue is majestic only in its appearance. It has no heart. No wisdom. No compassion.

It is only created to make an appearance.

Nobody’s heart ever changed because of a statue.  A statue might give you an emotional lift, but it offers no guidance or support.

It gives us no hope for the future.

You know…

It just might be that our Christian generation has fallen into the trap of being Godly statues in our culture. We’re proud of our Christian title, gaining a mere notice from the passersby of the world.  Nice to look at, pretty in its pose, but no help in time of need.

Or maybe we want to relegate to having God to being a mere statue to us.  Big, majestic, and impressive.  But not too intrusive in our lives.

There’s no power with this, though.  There’s no joy in creating these types of statues.  Our little church doesn’t want stylized Christianity – we want substance in our walk with God, especially at this time.

Job found out about the statutes – the protection, the guidance, the pure power of God – and it changed him.  He found out who God was and it changed his life.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you…”

Joseph was the same way.  He faced the trials and went thru all the affliction, preparing him to be a prime minister of Egypt.  Could it be that God is preparing us for great things?  And what defines “great”, anyway?

Hey.  Maybe a deeper trust in God the Father is the greatness we can find.

We learned that Psalm 10, 22 and 74 all begin with why?  But after the author’s trial, each Psalm ends with trust and a beautiful reliance on God.

They could agree with the golden truth of Romans 11:33:  “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”  Yes, that would be great.  Enjoying a richer relationship with Him.  Employing a trust that we’ve never experienced before.  Marveling at His grace and truly sharing His magnificence with those around us.

Heady stuff, for sure.

But God is capable of doing incredible things.  He’s continuing in His sovereign plan.  What it is, we don’t know just yet.

We’re moving forward as we see how the Lord gave us a stunning glimpse of eternity in Tom’s home-going.  We pause now and again to see how this should and could change our personal lives in order that we might see Jesus more clearly and represent His Kingdom more vibrantly.

We have the opportunity to shatter any statues in our lives.  We can use this time to let God change us.

It was aptly stated in assistant pastor Dave Massa’s morning message on Luke 17: “More powerful than when God moves the natural topography of the Earth is when God moves the topography of my heart.”

Amen to that, brother.  We’re all on a learning curve here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The Lord knows how much we miss you, Tom, but we promise we’ll pursue your desire for us to know Christ better than we’ve ever known Him before.1dddd

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2 Comments
  1. Cheri permalink

    I am praying for Kim Craig your church. I met Tom and Kim at Calvary in Simpsonville while I was in college at BJU. I understand exactly how you feel. My church lost our pastor to pancreatic cancer in 1993. He had been my pastor for 19 years. It was the hardest thing I had experienced at that time.

    • Thank you, Cheri. It gets hard and even a bit confusing for us at times. The hurt is still present. We pray deeply and often for Kim.

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