My good friend and colleague, Bart Phillips, died last Thursday night. He was buried yesterday under a warm and cloudless Colorado summer sky. At just 41 years-old, Bart was in love with life. As husband to Suzi and father to three boys, ages 12, 9 and 8, he had a lot for which to be grateful.
His personal email even reflected one of his great passions; [email protected]_______.
When word came to me that Bart had collapsed inside his home on Thursday night and had been rushed to the ER, I joined several of Bart’s other close friends from Focus at the local hospital to pray. We arrived shortly before midnight and asked for a miracle. It didn’t come. Instead, we found ourselves surrounding Suzi and pleading with the Lord to comfort and console.
Death is never easy, of course, and sudden passings are particularly shocking and heart wrenching. As far as we knew, Bart wasn’t even sick or ailing (or so we thought), and he wasn’t struggling in energy or spirit. In fact, he had just celebrated his son’s birthday the night before and played a competitive game of tennis earlier in the week. But in an instant, a brain aneurysm struck, and life for the Phillips’ family will never again be the same.
Nor will it be exactly the same for me, or any of the countless people who knew and loved Bart Phillips. At such a moment of grief, I’m reminded of the famous meditation of John Donne:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
At the service yesterday, I was given an opportunity to eulogize my friend. Words laden with such emotion never come easy, and I found myself choking my way through the memorial service.
Of the things I shared, one was rather lighthearted, but mentioned for a more profound reason.
Bart was an active fellow. He loved to hunt and fish and swim with his sons. He personified a spirit of adventure, a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, even! Bart was not a tall man, but strong and athletic and he had the largest calves of anyone I knew. They were massive! Such muscle, such might.
But you know what? Bart’s real strength wasn’t found in his legs or even in his love for his family. Although his love for his family was true and sincere. Bart’s strength was found in his deep and abiding love for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He was never petty or self-consumed. He majored in the majors, was interesting and interested, and found his greatest satisfaction from telling people about the One who forever changed his life.
Bart Phillips was the personification of the great man, and I will miss him dearly. Please pray for his extended family, wife and three boys, won’t you?
I’d like to close with Bart’s own words, written upon reflection of the tragic shooting nearly two years ago at New Life Church. He and his family barely missed encountering the crazed gunman and Bart tried to put his thoughts into words. I think they have special meaning now, especially since the Lord didn’t just give Bart one more day, but several hundred.
The brevity of life once again rears its head. I think about how easily we could have run into another friend…delaying our departure 5 minutes. Tonight I hug my wife and children tighter. I look into their eyes deeper than I ever have and tell them I love them. I think about God’s grace, that He would allow me to live another day. I don’t claim to understand all that has transpired over the past 6 hours. I only claim to be the son of a living God who loves His children deeply.
Incredibly, He loved the shooter no less than He loves me. He only longed for him to know Him. Until we meet again, Bart, I am forever your friend and brother in Christ.