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3 Weeks Since Tom’s Passing: Getting Back on Our Feet

September 26, 2014

Our little church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is breathing a bit easier this week; in fact, there is a fresh fragrance of long-missed joy starting to blossom throughout our congregation.  The reality and earnestness of life is taking root within our assembly.  Day by day this past week I have seen, felt, and enjoyed it.

1aThis entry is a bit late; please forgive me.  I intended to write last week, but I couldn’t seem to find the words.  Our church was struggling in a gray area, situated between mourning and hope, groping a bit for significance and comfort.  I started and stopped this blog numerous times and couldn’t seem to get my fingers to the keyboard.

Even now I feel that I’m fumbling, but please bear with me and I will give you as best an update as possible.

Our church is healing, and I don’t say that as a throwaway statement.  There is no self-pity, nor is there a batch of cliché-filled conversations about the brevity of life, God’s mysterious ways and let’s-pick-ourselves-up-and-move-on. Each person is incubating his or her thoughts and processing them daily.  Our banter is what you might call normal.  Our worship time is deepening.

Ah, but we do miss Tom Craig.  That will never go away.  Our pastor was a beloved man and will be in our hearts for all time.  Pancreatic cancer may have taken his life but it didn’t take his impact.

This week has been powerful. No, that sounds too cliché.

What’s the word I’m looking for?

It seems to me that for our church members, this week has been like … an unveiling.

Yes, that’s it. A revelation of sorts. A gentle revelation. Not a grandiose explosion of fanfare, but a gentle pulling back of the curtains. I see it happening in various groups, Bible studies and families within our assembly.

We gathered at church, circling around the Word to see God’s instruction as we take another week and handle the loss of our pastor Tom, a devoted and loving man whose death by cancer has torn deep into the heart of our assembly. The Sunday morning teaching could not have been more appropriate.

In the first service our study was in seeing how God’s ways are mysterious, incomprehensible, and yet ingenious. We turned to Deuteronomy 8 while Bobby read a quote from writer Margaret Clarkson:

“We may not demand of a sovereign Creator that He explain Himself to His creatures… God had good and sufficient reasons for His actions; we trust His sovereign wisdom and love.”

Then Bobby read aloud Romans 11:3:

“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!”

Bobby can read this with conviction and impact. Bobby is a quadriplegic, having been crippled from a car wreck years ago. His leadership and Godly courage have never failed to impress me, because his day-to-day demeanor speaks even louder than his preaching; this man is always kind. Because of his Spirit-embedded gentleness, his words ring especially loud in the face of crisis. We are understanding a deeper trust in God and His direction. Bobby challenged us as we entered into small-group discussion time: Can we trust Christ with our lives? Can we trust Him with all of our being, including all that we own?

We’re unveiling the richness of trusting God. We’re being made aware of the treasure found in fully trusting the Father with our lives, every corner of our existence.

For me, the trust comes as I give the Lord one of my most cherished possessions: time. I want to be part of the unveiling and get to see the new blessings, but something keeps blocking my view.

It’s Time, alright. With a capital T.

You see, I’m almost always in a hurry.

Each school day I roll out of bed at 4:25 am and ready myself as I try to incubate new ideas for the classroom – maybe something I read last night or heard in a conversation. As I shower and dress I keep a steady eye on the clock, fighting to stay on the schedule I set for myself years ago. Since the school year started in August I have followed a rigid system for the week: On Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays I head to the gym for exercise; Tuesdays and Thursdays are days where I get to school an extra hour early so I can further research current events to incorporate into the day’s Bible and Psychology classes. At the latest, I will be on the computer by 6 am, racing the clock to get all my research, correspondence, Bible study and creative projects complete before the first students enter the room at the beginning of the day.

That’s been my routine in teaching since the 1990s. I must stay on the clock.

Oh, it continues during the day. At each Bible class period my eye constantly flies to the wall clock throughout the fifty minutes. I fight to squeeze in a new Koine Greek memorization, a quiz, a Bible passage about Christ, a review game, a college preparation tip and even a few minutes of debate before the bell rings. Psychology class is just as hectic – there is so much I want to share.

At the end of the day I line up my counseling sessions and quiz grading so that I can make it home before dinner. If I clear Dyestone Gap and get down Ball Road, onto Chert Pit Road and past the Cedar Bluff exit at the right time, I can make it home within seventeen minutes.

I live by the clock.

Time is my companion. Or my competitor, however you look at it. In either case, time is more than dominant in my life – it’s a governor that sets the speed of my whole existence. Try as I might, I am subservient to it.

My devotions get squeezed in. My counseling sessions are clipped into minutes. My family time is regulated.

Is Time a monster?

Time is a thief?

No, it carries a greater impact that that.

Wow, I realize that in many cases to me…

Time is a god.

Time can almost be an idol to me.

And to make matters worse, when Tom first passed away, Time tightened its grip on me. It spoke in a very clear voice to me.

Do you see how short life can be? If you don’t respect me more, Your life can fritter away. Follow me more closely, and I’ll make your existence more meaningful.

And Time took center stage in front of God.

But then I heard Bobby’s lesson. Then Dave spoke in the main service. Then our school had a Spiritual Emphasis series of assemblies, with a speaker hammering home the point that solidified what Bobby and Dave were saying:

“Listen to what God is saying: ‘I’m your Father. Remember Me? I want to be first in your life. Everything else comes second. In fact, the approach to all the cares of the world should be considered as hate, compared to me…'”

“‘You keep talking about loving me, but you have greater loves in your life. It’s like you don’t know Me. You cannot love someone you don’t know…'”

The school student body responded. It’s wasn’t about emotion, but we got emotional. It’s wasn’t about correcting behavior – it was about Jesus.

My school, my church family, and my very own self have awakened and responded. This unveiling is bringing a great joy to us all.

Joy, I said. Not static obedience or a relief from a guilt complex. Real joy in life.

Longfellow once wrote:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!

You hit the nail right on the head, Henry.  Full agreement on this side.  We don’t want to hear a funeral dirge of hopelessness.  Our existence is not shallow or vapid.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal…

No, indeed.  Our goal is much higher than six feet under the ground.

It’s with God the Father, wrapping our arms around Him and rejoicing in a future we can only dream of.  It’s embracing Jesus, and knowing peace for the first time in our lives.

It’s being in the midst of the heavenly angels…

…which reminds me.

I need to tell you about Tom’s last hours and his encounter with angels.

I want to  get Kim Craig’s permission to write about it.

But when I do, you’ll want to share it with your friends and church family.

Stay tuned…

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  1. Much appreciated post. Thanks.

  2. Thank you. Enjoy your posts so much. Eagerly anticipating hearing about Tom’s last hours.

  3. Just wanted to say thank you so much for your updates these past few months. It has been a real blessing. I knew Tom & Kim when they were at Calvary in Simpsonville.

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