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In Memoriam: Thomas Ashcraft (1937-2017)

 

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My thirty-two years of ministry have been exceptionally joyful – in large part, I believe – because of the wonderful staff associates God has given me.

Tom Ashcraft, who passed away last Thursday, was among the best.

I remember the first time I met Tom. We had an opening for music director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Recently retired to the area, Tom was not currently serving a church. His daughter Stefanie, a good friend of our family, mentioned that he might be interested in the position.

It took enormous effort to contain my enthusiasm. First, finding a talented music director committed to traditional Christian worship is not an easy task. And then there was the additional fact that Tom was a legendary choral director in the PCA.

Before our meeting, I listed all the reasons why I hoped he would at least consider the position. Whatever persuasive skills I have, I was ready to deploy them.

Tom entered my office, we shook hands, and then sat down. Tom looked at me, and said, “Well, when do I start?” Thus, without fanfare, our relationship began.

During the time we worked together, Tom made all the music selections for Lord’s Day worship – not just choral selections, but hymns and responses, too. I had complete confidence in his choices. He prized what I prized, texts faithful to the scriptures and that the congregation could sing with confidence.

Tom was a leader, a model servant of Jesus Christ, and a man to be followed.

He had suffered poor health for sometime, and I was concerned that the responsibilities of his work might be too much.  I shouldn’t have been; he was tough. He always reported for duty, prepared and cheerful, never complaining.

I encourage my staff to park away from church buildings, and leave the best spaces for visitors and persons in the congregation who need them. Of course, I never expected Tom to do that. One evening at a Bible Conference, I stood out in the parking lot, winds howling and flurries falling. In the distance, I saw a couple bundled up, walking to the building. It was Tom and Emily! Whatever the standards, he met them, whether expected of him or not.

I remember the first time Tom led the choir on a Sunday morning. Same choir as the weeks before, but the volume was noticeably improved. One of the entrepreneurs in our congregation came up to me after the service and said, “Now there’s a leader. He can take the same group of people and get so much more out of them.”

During the time he served with me, I watched Tom build the choir and incorporate young instrumentalists into the worship of the church. Tom put to lie the myth of the generation gap. Young men and women want skilled, competent, and experienced leaders – leaders who set high standards and care about the glory of God and the people they serve. Tom was that kind of leader.

Tom and Emily brought professionalism to our choir rehearsals, and also plenty of good cheer. His and Emily’s 57 years of marriage was a testimony to faithfulness. That their two daughters, Alicia and Stefanie, are faithful servants of PCA churches speaks volumes of their character as parents.

I pray that God will comfort Emily, Alicia, and Stefanie, and the grandchildren. Tom has entered glory, but his presence among us will be sorely missed. His example will endure, and his funeral service will be a time to give thanks to God for a life well lived. It will also give opportunity to take to heart the biblical admonition: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

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Obituary for Thomas Ashcraft

 

Westminster Presbyterian Sanctuary Dedication

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My remarks today at the dedication of Westminster Presbyterian Church’s new sanctuary in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Today we celebrate a milestone – the dedication of your new sanctuary.

Milestone achievements don’t come easily. This one hasn’t. You’ve made it here because you’ve done thousands of small things right – the thousands of quiet and loving and faithful acts of Christian care you’ve given each other. Most of these had nothing to do with the building you dedicate today. But without them we would not be here.

The foundations of your sanctuary were laid not two years but six decades ago when Paul and Loraine Alexander devoted their lives to building a church and school that would serve the people of Huntsville in the name of the Lord.

Only the Lord knows how many times since then the word has been taught at Westminster. Week-by-week, you – the congregation – have joined with your pastors to instruct the children of the church, to visit the sick, to comfort the suffering, to console the mourning, to restore the fallen, to welcome the new Christian, and to extend friendship to those the Lord has sent. Thousands upon thousands of small acts of care performed in the name of Christ and according to his word. That’s the foundation upon which this beautiful new sanctuary rests.

So many examples come to mind. I’ll share only one.

Nearly a decade ago you chose to put the needs of your school ahead of your own desire for a sanctuary. That choice revealed not just your priorities but also your character.

The word school is impersonal. So let me rephrase – you put the needs of precious covenant children and their families first. For seven years, without complaint or recognition, scores of you came to the gym on Saturday nights to set up chairs. Each time a set-up team came and labored without fanfare, you imitated your Savior as you looked to the interests of others.

Today we celebrate. Enjoy! Your sanctuary is a milestone achievement.

But tomorrow return to your strength – doing the small things right.

All buildings are temporary. None of them lasts. This one won’t.

But God’s people, body and soul, belong to him for eternity. Therefore, the worship and teaching that will take place in this beautiful sanctuary will produce fruit that will last forever.

How sweet and awesome is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

In your new sanctuary, treasure Christ. Treasure his word. Treasure his people. And your sanctuary will be full of the Savior, and, truly, a sweet and awesome place.

 

Sunday, December 29, at Westminster

SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP (9:30):

Nathan Eldridge, preaching
Psalm 37:1-22
“Delighting in God”

No Sunday School or evening worship this week.

Click here for the Sunday, December 29 bulletin.

Sunday, November 17, at Westminster

Click here for tomorrow’s bulletin.

MORNING WORSHIP (9:30): 
Charlie Wingard, preaching
Ecclesiastes 6:7-7:14
“Living Wisely in a Broken World” (5)

ADULT SUNDAY SCHOOL (11:00):

1. READING THE BIBLE BIBLICALLY
A study of how to use the structure, genres, and themes of the Bible to read it with more wonder, depth and understanding. Having considered how these aspects are seen throughout Scripture as a whole, we will apply them to reading select books of the Old and New Testaments.

2. INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN ETHICS
Using the Westminster Larger Catechism, the class surveys important moral decisions that contemporary Christians face. Issues include the role of God’s law in a believer’s life, the sanctification of the Lord’s day, abortion, capital punishment, end of life issues, sexual purity, fidelity in marriage, homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” attitudes toward government and property, responsibilities to the poor, truth-telling, and Christian contentment.

3. EVENING WORSHIP (6:00): 
Nathan Eldridge, preaching
Ephesians 2:1-10
“Why Grace?”

Westminster’s Tuesday Morning Men’s Group

31h23Sg7uVL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Next Tuesday, November 19, my men’s group begins discussing Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem. We meet at 7 a.m. at Blue Plate Cafe on Governor’s Drive. Nat Causey leads the group. If you need a copy, let Nat or me know.

From the back cover:

“Just one look at our jam-packed schedules tells us how hard it can be to strike a well-reasoned balance between doing nothing and doing it all.

“That?s why award-winning author and pastor Kevin DeYoung addresses the busyness problem head on in his newest book, Crazy Busy – and not with the typical arsenal of time management tips, but rather with the biblical tools we need to get to the source of the issue and pull the problem out by the roots.

“Highly practical and super short,  will help you put an end to ‘busyness as usual.'”

Westminster Home Groups

Several Westminster small groups meet this fall

The group I lead meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at the home of Matt and Rebecca Harness. A 6:00 p.m. dinner will be followed by a time of prayer, and a Bible study and discussion about what it means to imitate Christ. Childcare will be provided at the Harness home.

We start this Thursday, September 12. If you have questions, please call Matt, Rebecca, or me. We would love to have you join us.