A Dying Dad’s Greatest Question to His Children

My previous posting was the testimony of a woman/wife/mother who was dying with terminal cancer.  It is an incredible testimony, though it is more a testimony of God and Truth than it is a testimony about the woman, Rachel.  I strongly encourage you to  watch/listen to what she has to say.

This post is a continuation of sorts.  I am posting a letter written from a dad to his three children.  It is written just prior to going in for cancer surgery.  It represents what this father knows is the most important question and the most important focus and the most important Truth that he can call his children to consider and believe.  I hope you read on….

Dear Sara, Ben and Bradan

Dan wrote this letter to his children before his surgery to remove a tumor on July 31, 2008. It is the same letter his daughter Sara read during the funeral service.

July 31, 2008

Dear Sara, Ben and Bradan:

I love you…more than anything, I want you to know that…and I love being your dad. In my own feeble, quite human, and imperfect way, everything that flows out of me as your dad comes from the fountain of my love for you…nothing can separate you from my love. And your heavenly Father loves you with an infinite and perfect and holy love, far beyond my love…all you have to do is look to Jesus on the cross to hear your Father’s song of love for you… “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” [1 Jn 4:10]. One of my favorite thoughts of Jonathan Edwards helps me think about it…

“Consider that the most wonderful act of mercy is already done in giving Christ to die. This is a much more wonderful act of mercy than justifying and pardoning the greatest sinner after way is thus made for it [i.e. after He made a way to pardon]. That God should show His mercy so was ten times more strange and incredible than that He should forgive your sins for His sake. Let your sins be never so great, He can’t hate your sins more than He loved His Son; and if He made His Son notwithstanding the subject of His wrath, He will be ready to make you the subject of His mercy.”

Remember this always…He loves you because He has set His love on you and He loves you because of His Son…and He could never hate your sin more than He loves His Son—nothing can separate you from His love [Rom 8:28-39].

And at the heart of my love for you is my desperate desire for you to love Christ more than anything else…or, more realistically, to spend your life passionately pursuing loving Christ supremely. In the end, nothing else matters. Jesus’ question to Peter is the one necessary question…everything else important will flow out of this one question: “Do you love Me?” [Jn 21].

You remember the story…Peter had failed as miserably as anyone could…denying the Lover of his soul, the most important Person in our lives. And this is the only question that matters: the healing and restoring question, the center of all life question, where every decision from the least significant to the most dramatic must begin, the question that reorients everything so that you can see clear, the question that will save your life from a thousand shipwrecks, and the question that will lead you to your greatest happiness. Here’s the hard part: most people around you aren’t thinking like this…and it’s going to be hard for you to be consumed with this one thing. It’s just easier to live “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum.” It’s easier not to think of loving Christ when you want to taste something that doesn’t show you love Christ: from banal stupidities like movies and music to the more complicated and messy things like friends, the opposite sex, money, and the course of your young life. And Jesus isn’t vague: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus knows…we will always do what we love most…and if we love Him most, we’ll follow Him no matter what the cost.
I’m writing this to you today because God is giving you an extraordinary, rare gift most people your age never get…and I’m afraid you won’t see the gift unless I pull back the curtain. Today you are brought face to face in deep, personal ways with the reality of life’s frailty and brevity—we are a vapor. The things that are most important are easier to see today…and everything this world has to offer [nothing you need] is more easily seen for what it is—a lie, a sad delusion. For a few fleeting moments you are given the gift of actually seeing and feeling what’s really important in this life, what you really need, if you’re willing to look at it. It will be easier not to…it will be easier not to think about “Do I love Christ?” And if you’ll ponder that question, then you have to think of what that means…what kind of time will you spend with Jesus and what will that involve [getting up early to read and pray…staying up late to hear His voice], how does that effect the friends you choose, what kinds of things you find entertaining, how will you use your time, how will you treat your family and friends, will you kill sin, how will you go to corporate worship on the Lord’s Day & why are you going, what will course of your life be…this question shapes and colors all of life.

Look around you right now…look at the people God has entrusted to your care: your mother and each other. You are to be Christ to each other…to love each other as Christ has loved you on the cross—freely, joyfully, unconditionally, sacrificially, and with all forgiveness. And you are to help each other to God. This is the great expression of loving Christ—if we love Him, we’ll love others the way He loves us. Listen to His voice: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers….Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth….And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us….In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” [1 Jn 3:16-24; 4:10-12].

And we are to take seriously the care of each other’s soul. This is what the Hebrew writer meant when he wrote this: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” [Heb 3:12-13]. Who loves like this? Who sees sin as our greatest enemy…an enemy that will kills us? Who loves us enough to come alongside with tears and plead with us to follow hard after Jesus? Who is going to love you like this? You are a priceless gift of grace and love to each other if you will get past yourself and what people think and really love each other the way Christ has loved you, the way that will bring you and the one you’re loving the greatest joy. John was right: if we don’t love each other the way Christ has loved us, we’re liars, we’re not Christians. I believe better things about you…I believe you can love like Christ and want to love like Christ precisely because Christ lives in you. This will mean that you help each other fight sin and Satan and the world…it will mean that you pray with and for each other…it will mean that you go hard after God for yourself by reading His Word every day and being attentive to you own heart.

Ben and Bradan, you are men…and men who bring the greatest pleasure to God lead spiritually by being Jesus-servants. Get past the stupidity of being embarrassed and lead our family in prayer and spiritual communion. You know everything you need to know. Now it’s a matter of whether or not you love Christ and love our family the way Christ has loved you. Now you can see what I mean: Do you love Jesus? Then love our family, your mother and sister, by praying with them and weeping over them and serving them with joy and coming alongside them to comfort them and encourage them. How will you do this? How will you display the love of Jesus to them and others?…it has to be who you are, who you are in the essence of your being. It’s not about “doing” certain things…it’s about “being” a certain kind of man—a Jesus-saturated man. Read John 13 and you’ll see [it would be good to do that now…together].

Sara, you, too, are called to love your mother and brothers with “a gentle and quiet spirit”…to joyfully, patiently, kindly love them to Christ…having spiritual conversation about the important things of life…praying with and for them…showing them the kind of woman that is truly beautiful. But all this has to be face-to-face, with gentleness and patience, hanging on to them to show them this love even when they’re wanting to pull away. Don’t taking things personally…it’s never about us…I know it’s hard because your heart is so big and full of love…so loving will be more painful for you…kind of like it is for Jesus. Ah, now you see. We love seeking our joy in the other persons joy…not in their acceptance of us. Love on, sweet Sara.

Today you are all faced with the most important question and gifted with the chance to actually hear it: “Do you love Jesus?” Now, what do you really want and how are you going to live and will you love like Jesus? I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded…but I’ve tried to live in such a way that you at least get a glimpse of what it is like to love Jesus more than anything and to love each other the way Jesus has loved us. My surgery is going to be over in a little while and this moment, this gift to hear your Savior, is going to be over. Do you really love Him? And how will you be living when I see you again…what happy, holy changes will you make because you’ve heard your Savior? What sins need to die and what rival gods and loves need to be sent back to hell where they belong? You all are at a crucial place in your lives…and here you are being given this extraordinary, rare gift by God to be sitting here in this waiting room, face to face with the most important realities in the universe…questions and realities very few people ever think about and that is to their own peril [i.e. their lives are pathetic mediocrities or worse, shipwrecks, because they never live under the question, “Do you love Jesus?”].
I’ve failed as your father in a thousand ways…I wish we could all go back to when you were two. But I can still take you by the hand and lead you to the single most important question you will ever face: “Do you love Jesus?” If you do, what difference does that make in how you live and love? Answer the question with how you live…answer the question with how you live and love each other starting today…answer the question with the rest of your life. Even if I am not here to live with you and love you, you have Christ, His Spirit, His Word, His affections, and this one question that will keep your heart and mind fixed on Jesus. Love Him. Passionately pursue all that this means. For your joy, love Jesus and hold to Him no matter what the cost. Don’t do this for me…love Him for yourselves…seek all of your life in Him.

I love you. I love you. I love you.


Do you love Jesus? …grace and peace to you.

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