I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:12-21
A young pastor died on Wednesday. Chris Nietubicz served as associate pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Giddings, Texas. He was young, a father of two delightful children, son-in-law to members of the church I serve in Cypress, Texas, and one of the members of the PLI Leadership Essentials group I coach. I shake my head in disbelief as I type this. It is so very sad.
Elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4:13), Paul reminds us that we grieve when someone dies, but we do not grieve as others do who have no hope. So, first of all, let us grieve. We will miss Chris’ to-the-point, unapologetic, and clear confession of the faith. We will miss hearing the expression of his sincere desire to serve faithfully. We will miss his willingness to share himself with us. We will miss learning of his afternoon road trip to see Texas wildflowers. We will miss his understated (but very real and present) sense of humor. I can see him now, chuckling and finding humor in the appropriate moments of life.
We will miss his friendship. We will miss his desire to see things move forward at his church, and learning of his work to that end with the leaders there. We will miss his serious engagement in learning about leadership and mission, faithfulness and family.
His family will miss their husband and dad. They will miss their son and son-in-law. His church will miss their pastor. The school will miss their advocate. The community will miss their model citizen.
We are sad. We have experienced a loss. Lord, help us!
We are grieving. But we are not without hope, for we believe that Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control (Philippians 3:21).
So we carry on. We learn to number our days (cf. Psalm 90:12), and recognize that to live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). God will win. He has won. He is victorious. Chris no longer suffers. Hope for him is realized. Ours, too, will one day be realized. Jesus died for our sins. He rose for our justification. Jesus reigns at the right hand of God. He will come again and take us to be with himself on the Great Last Day. Until then, we call out to God. Until then we do what we can to love and support people who have lost loved ones.
Until then we look to God for help, comfort, peace, and an abiding purpose. And we have that purpose, for we live on. God has things to do in and through us. And we wait…grieving in hope. Our bodies are weak to be sure. But we will be transformed, and in that we hope.
One of the members of our PLI Leadership Essentials coaching huddle of which Chris was a member offered the prayer of Psalm 77 (below). It is most appropriate. Another offered this eloquent prayer:
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
How my heart hurts for this family. Dear Jesus, please wrap these kiddos up in your arms. Draw them in close like their daddy would. Hold them tight. Speak words of hope to Lauren and comfort her as her husband did. Spirit, envelop this family, as they are part of Your own, and surround them with the family of Christ, who in hope look to the resurrection. Support them in all their needs, and forsake them not. They need you, Jesus, to be the rock of their lives. Christ is risen! You are risen! Proclaim your victory! Death is defeated. You are alive, and so to shall we live. Amen
Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.
Pastor Mark Anderson, Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.