Woke up to a stunning Facebook message this morning. I saw the death notice of a man I so admired and respected, and whose occasional company I enjoyed greatly. His crisp, clarion voice of true authority; and sharp, sincere gunshot laughs; his strong smile; eyes that led like a long dock out into deep waters…gone? Dead? Impossible!! He’s ten years younger than I am and in better shape. Let me reread this. I rubbed my eyes and wiped sleep off my face, but the words on the page remained unchanged. “We are devastated by his loss”, Keri wrote. I am in that gutshot we. Something like an earthquake rattled the shelves in my mind. Containers of fond familiarity and jars of pickled reassurance smashed on the rocks of reality below. Waves of shock and confusion hit. Sorrow for his wonderful wife, his kids, his son’s upcoming wedding… all swirled together into a melted mental muddle. As I stared at my monitor, it kept ringing with replies to Keri’s post from friends and loved ones. “Boink, boink, boink”, sounds of life echoing back from a well of sorrow to news of his death. What? How? Why? Too much to process. 51. Spring Gardening. ER??
No, no. Restart, reboot. It can’t be true. Surely this is one of those elaborate Eastern European scams from Slovenia you hear about on the news. I had a false obituary posted on line a few years ago that led to Ancestry . com or something. That’s it. Just restart your computer and update your malware, that’ll do it. Good as new….
No matter, Chris is, was, and will forever be a man of God. The only question is this: Is the rest of Chris T. Little in heaven now? A big chunk was already there. “He is surely with Jesus now… cuz he always was”, a soundless voice fluttered across my mind, like a dusty butterfly… “he always was”. As I stared at his name, Little Christ kept imprinting on my brain. Pastor Chris T. Little was a Little Christ in our community. Like Jesus he was deeply loved by many but also deeply depreciated by folks who should have known better. And there are always the folks with one footprint in each camp, watching which way the winds of popularity blow. No matter. Chris loved you all because he forgave you all and trusted Jesus to do the math. He did not waste time on bitterness, jealousy, or pretense. His words “I don’t have time for that”, echo in my memory. That’s one thing I loved about him: he spoke the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, many folks like their truth the same as their hot dogs–slathered in sweet relish. Chris, however, spoke the mustard seed truth. That’s what mattered to him.
When I first met Chris, I noticed our extreme differences. I never imagined that we would call one another friend one day. He was a Navy engineer and a United Brethren pastor. Those of you who know me know that I am not an institution, authority-loving sort of guy. I am a former English teacher and a current professional counselor. Okay, and I’m a rebel. I backed into God while covered in the excrement of my own sin not out of my own proactive glorious righteousness. But Chris never asked me to give a faith doctrine defense in order to stand next to him. No time for such nonsense– like Jesus.
Chris and I consulted on some shared cases. Ours was a two pronged approach– his side was spirit led; my prong was more secular, mental health led. Still, we respected one another and were good teammates, serving God in different and unequal ways. He was the quarterback. I blocked.
One epic case we shared over nearly three long, tough years. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the details, so I’ll keep them confidential as they should remain so. However, Chris stood tall and immovable against Satan’s powers and principalities. His voice thundered with the Holy Spirit as he claimed the truth of the Scriptures and refuted the lies and deceptions of Lucifer’s minions. In the process a soul was rescued from the bloody battleground between heaven and hell. As each brain curdling encounter ended victoriously, he’d smile and laugh at the incredible happenings we had witnessed. “Well that was fun, huh?”
We talked a lot back then. I never would have managed to come through that extraordinary experience without him. Like any friend I’ve lost in my life, I wish I’d talked more often, but there was no urgency, or so I believed. But there is urgency if you do not take your next breath or day of life for granted, or believe it’s an automatic that you will awake in the morning. Once he said out loud what we both were thinking, “You think God is gonna ask us to do this again now that we’re trained?” My answer? “I sure hope not.” And yet, compared to being comfortably alone versus uncomfortably present with my departed friend, I would gladly take the discomfort option all day long.
I pray that his mission, though cut short, was still complete. Chris T. Little was a good and great man. Yet he was a humble servant of Jesus Christ. A Little Christ who led and fed many souls at the altar of God, one mustard seed at a time. Mother Teresa was a Little Christ. St. Paul. Martin Luther King too. They revealed the majesty of our Supreme Savior in how they lived their humble lives amid a forest of mustard trees.
Dying in one’s own garden seems poetic as well. Planting requires effort up front and patient faith in the future crop. Although Chris is no longer with us, his crop will be a hundred hundred fold. John 12: 24 tells us, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Until we meet again, my Little Christ friend, in a forest of mustard trees. Be with God.