There once was a young boy, who went with his father to gather the family for a holiday dinner. He entered the car not knowing where he was going but knowing his father knew the location allowed peace and calm to enter his being.
When the two arrived, both entered the small apartment knowing that the boy’s grandmother was coming with them to dinner. As the boy turned to climb the last of the stairs, there was a second person there, a man, whose stature exceeded most. The boy’s father said, “Joey, this is your uncle John.”
This was my first introduction to my uncle, John McCandlish Philips. As he approached during our introduction, he leaned toward me, reached out his hand and shook mine saying, “How are you Joseph?”
While it appeared his hand encompassed my hand, wrist and forearm, there was a smile that broke all tension. His smile was always something that eased the struggles of life. There was a certain peace and serenity that emitted from his very being. At the time, I could not place my finger on it, but later on, I would discover the source of his peace.
Year after year, my uncle would come from his Manhattan apartment to our home. The holidays were the times we would spend with Uncle John. Every holiday, I would hope to sit next to this gentle giant and every year, my hopes came true. Just to sit and listen to him speak would allow me just a glimpse as to what was important in his life.
Conversations with Uncle John would always be about church, beliefs and politics. He would talk about and share what he was writing, what projects he was doing and where he was speaking. The tales of ministering at Columbia University was always something that he was excited about. Hearing about others coming to know Jesus and how they would impact their world was exciting and new for Uncle John. Each and every story emanated with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
On one occasion, I decided to ask my uncle a question regarding Scripture. At the time, I had been studying the prophetic events in Daniel, Revelation and other books of the Bible. I had heard of various beliefs and aspects but none appeared to be complete. As we sat there, I asked, “Uncle John, what is your view of the End Times? Do you believe in Pre-Tribulation Rapture or Post?”
My uncle’s response was quick but loving and gentle. He turned to me with a look of seriousness that made me feel guilty, even though that was not his intent and said, “What does it matter? I hold to one truth that is in Scripture. Jesus will physically return one day.”
I smiled and pondered what he was saying. Instead of pushing my agenda, I just sat and thought about what he said and how he said it. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized, my uncle was not upset, he was just making a point. The synopsis of his directness was the only area of Scripture that matters is Jesus. If the position takes you away from Jesus, then it is a position that he would not hold. It was because of my Uncle John, that I decided to study more about the end times and finally take the same position, Jesus and Jesus alone.
We had many years and dinners with my Uncle John. Christmas appeared to be his favorite holiday. Each year he would cautiously and carefully handpick each and everyone’s gift. After wrapping them with perfection and care, Uncle John would, like a craftsman, make riddles that would entertain. Each and every gift had been labeled differently. I was certain that he would spend hours just making the gift labels just to see our reactions. There were times I would keep the labels for months due to my fascination with his writing style.
When my uncle wrote, he did with vigor and style. I have yet to know or see anyone write like John McCandlish Phillips. He had a way with words that tickled the imagination and enticed the soul. One time, I tried to read his book, “The Bible, the Supernatural and the Jews.” After a couple of chapters, I became lost due to his extensive vocabulary and my lack of understanding. One holiday I approached my uncle and said, “Uncle John, I am sorry to tell you that I tried to read your book, but could not. I couldn’t understand it and got lost.”
He sat back on my parents couch, smiled and said, “Joe, don’t worry about it.” There were no judgmental words, no harsh reaction, no sadness in his heart. He understood not everyone communicates in the same style with the same words and reaffirmed me with his gentle words and loving smile that everything was going to be okay.
Over the past couple of days, I have been thinking about what to write regarding Uncle John. I can only surmise that God wanted a gentle literary giant in His presence. Although my uncle expressed that he wished another five years of ministry for the Lord to my mother, Janet De Clemente, God decided it was time for Uncle John to go home. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that at the last breath, an angel appeared to Uncle John and carried him to the feet of Jesus and once at the feet of the Savior, Jesus took Uncle John’s hand, raised him to his feet and proclaimed, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Come and enter into my rest.”
Uncle John, you will be missed in this world. Your writing style and message is etched into eternity and into our hearts. You have completed the task and run the race well. I am sure you are now worshipping the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I can only express the sentiment of our Savior as you have heard already, “Well done, Uncle John, well done.”