The Last Chapter

You have probably wondered why you have not received replies to your most recent letters to my father, Les Thompson.

On behalf of myself and my brothers, Ken, Gregg, and Ed, I am writing to let you know that my dad passed away last week after a long battle with failing health. My father spoke of you often and told us how much he enjoyed his correspondence with you. Because of your special relationship with our father, we wanted to send you one more letter.

DEATH IS FRIGHTENING FOR ALL OF US. When someone we know and love dies, we’re reminded of our own mortality. Death is the last enemy we must face, even as we cling to Christ by faith. Were it not for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the promises of God that we will share in His resurrection, death would be terrifying! We would grieve the death of a loved one like people who have no hope. But Jesus has changed death for us!

Two months ago I received news that my father had undergone emergency surgery and was in the intensive care unit of the hospital. When I got to the hospital, I found my dad groggy from pain medicine, but recovering from the surgery. The next day he was moved to a private room and we began to talk about getting him home. His condition was complicated, but it seemed he was mending well.

Two days later, he began to lose blood and he called us to his bedside to say goodbye. With tears in his eyes, he told us he was dying. He spoke tenderly to my mother, assuring her that she had been all he could have ever asked for in a wife and mother. He told her he was sorry he had not been a very good husband. Then he turned to my brother and to me and said he was sorry he had not been a better father. We assured him that he had been a wonderful father and my mother assured him he had been a great husband. But our assurances didn’t seem to comfort him. We can see the outside  –  what a man has done or how he has treated those around him  –  but we can’t see a person’s heart. My dad seemed to be facing the truth about his own sinful heart and, knowing he was about to die and stand before a holy God, he was grieved by his own sinfulness. How could God welcome him into heaven? He didn’t deserve heaven!

We could have tried to comfort him by reminding him about how he had given his life to serving the Lord Jesus. We could have reminded him of all his accomplishments: he raised four sons who are all walking with Christ, he was faithful to his wife, he had written books and articles that helped people understand God’s Word better, he had helped encourage and train thousands of pastors. We could have appealed to the many friends who considered him a wonderful man of God. But I don’t think any of that would have comforted him or renewed his hope in the face of death.

Instead I reminded my dad of the gospel of God’s grace. God’s acceptance of him did not depend on what my dad had done for God, but on what Jesus had done for him. Jesus had paid the debt for his sins when he died on the cross, so my dad could be accepted as righteous before God’s judgment seat.

God’s acceptance of him was a matter of grace, not of works. As we spoke of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, my dad’s fear passed, and he began to talk about what it would be like to see Jesus. We talked about what heaven would be like and about the promise of a new heaven and new earth, about God’s promise to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Hope replaced fear. Trust in God’s love softened the sting of death. Wonder and amazement at God’s love filled his heart with joy, even as he felt the sorrow of leaving loved ones behind.

It was our hope that he would recover enough strength to return to his home, but that was not to be. Over the next weeks, he experienced good days and bad days. I grieved for him as I saw him lose his strength and become completely dependent on others to do the most basic things for him. I heard him pray often, asking the Lord why he had to suffer so much before he could let go of life. But through all the suffering, there was confidence in Christ’s love and a readiness to step into God’s presence.In God’s goodness, my dad didn’t die that night. His bleeding stopped and his body began to recover some strength. Over the next couple of days, his sons and their wives, his grandchildren, his brothers and one of his sisters came to visit him. He was able to speak to all of them and encourage them with words of blessing and love. We laughed together and prayed together around his bed.

On the afternoon of August 30, 2011, God granted his request. He quietly slipped from this world into God’s presence. He was finally face-to-face with the Lord Jesus, whom he had loved for so long. We have felt the pain of grief as we have lost one we loved deeply. But mixed with our sorrow is joy! We cling to God’s promises for those who die in the Lord and trust that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

And so, Carlos, I share with you these things to offer you comfort. You have lost a friend and mentor. Know that he loved you and prayed for you often. Know that his prayer for you was that, by God’s power at work in you, you would “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

May God bless you and the church you serve as you continue to minister the gospel to those God has entrusted to your care. And may the message of God’s mercy and grace for sinners through faith in Christ Jesus be the focus of your ministry.