Today, I was going to write about the power of brokenness and how God can use our times of feeling abandoned to bring about good in our lives.
But then, late yesterday, I lost a good friend.
Craig was a fellow pastor in Ridgway. He was probably the most cooperative pastor I ever knew – always looking for ways to bring churches and pastors together.
He was a truck driver who left what he knew to attend Bible college and seminary, who left Illinois and his family of origin to come to Pennsylvania to serve a church.
Craig was a friend who was always trying to build bridges, who for years hosted a weekly prayer time for pastors, who loved to play his bass with whomever was willing to worship with him, and who always seemed to see the good and the possibilities, even when things were the darkest.
Ministry can be the most wonderful and most terrible of callings, professions, whatever you want to call it. One moment, you can be experiencing the joy of playing a very small role in seeing someone’s life turn around; a few weeks or months or years later, you can experience a feeling of deep hurt and even betrayal as people you love and have poured your lives into refuse to return your phone calls. Later, you might hear through the grapevine that they left your church and are attending another church because you offended them, didn’t have a big enough vision, or any of a hundred other things. As a pastor, you sometimes experience the joy of working with a board that is united and desires to see God move, or the despair of working with a board that either questions your every move or directly opposes your every idea. At times, it is the most lonely of callings; at other times, the most fulfilling and community-filled. You are often misunderstood. You pour your life into your church and your people, and in return, experience seasons of great appreciation, and sometimes, feeling unwanted, unnoticed, and taken for granted. (Perhaps that’s being too real, but for most pastors, it is part of the reality of life in in a parsonage.)
Craig handled all these highs and lows, gains and losses, and much more with quiet grace, compassion, and love. Although the last year of his life was very difficult, and near the end, his church was closed by the denomination, I never heard him complain or criticize anyone. I learned much from him, but perhaps the most important and most consistent examples I saw were gratitude and the joy of worshiping, even when things were very difficult.
Cancer took Craig. It stole a man with one of the largest hearts that I’ve ever known – a man who, with his wonderful wife Jean, raised 8 wonderful children, took in many abandoned newborns until they could be placed in foster care, and fostered many other children over the decades of their lives together.
Cancer stole a man who loved his family, loved his church, and loved his community – a man who didn’t just say that he loved, but demonstrated his love with his actions every day.
Cancer stole a man who was a gifted communicator, who used shovels and hats and playlists and all kinds of different props and costumes and whatever creative methods he could come up with to communicate his life’s message – that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for everyone.
Cancer stole my friend.
But cancer didn’t win.
Because as much as Craig loved people, he loved God even more.
As much as we all will miss Craig – as much as we will mourn and grieve his loss – we will also rejoice.
As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”
Yesterday, Craig closed his eyes for the last time. Well…for the last time until the resurrection. Until Jesus returns.
Although I won’t see him, won’t be able to enjoy a cup of coffee with him at Joey’s, I know I will see him again someday.
What gives me hope, what I know for certain, is this: that the moment Craig closed his physical eyes here, he opened the eyes of his spirit and saw his Lord welcoming him, arms wide open, a smile of joy on His face.
And in that instant, the first words Craig heard were these: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord!”
Well done, my friend. Thank you for running your race well.