There is something tremendously humbling about trying to pastor a church in the neighborhood where you grew up. Rarely does a Sunday go by when I am not teaching or preaching and I look out and see someone who knew me as a teenager. I hate knowing that many of you knew me in the dumbest phase of my life. It makes me feel so hypocritical at times as I reflect back on how I treated so many fellow classmates and neighbors. It would be much easier to pastor with a fresh start, no baggage, and no preconceptions.
I was a pretty good kid by most standards. I got mostly A’s, never was in trouble in class, and by-in-large was known as being a follower of Jesus. However, there were many times when I acted the fool, said humorous things at someone’s expense, and treated people poorly. I got caught cheating on an algebra assignment, and I regret not caring for many of the hurting students around me. I suppose that comes with the territory of being a teenager and learning, but I feel the weight of those things when I stand behind the pulpit.
I often wonder how many of you remember my foolishness and questioned the beauty of Christ because of the manner in which I represented Him years ago. I wonder if my actions 25 years ago obscure the Word of the Lord as I proclaim Him now. I wonder if I am a banner for how the Lord can use foolish and broken people as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus over time. I pray that the latter is true.
I pray that this serves as a cautionary tale for all of us, but especially for young people. We have no idea where the Lord is going to place us. We have no idea what we will be called to. If you had told me at 16 that I would be in pastoral ministry just a few miles up the road from my high school I may have been more thoughtful about the lasting impact of my words, actions and attitude. I would love to go back and do it differently. I wish that I would have been secure enough to care for those who sat alone at lunch. I wish that I would not have sought humor over someone’s feelings. I wish that I would have been more vocal with the gospel. I wish that I would have considered the lasting consequences of my actions and the impact that they might have on my future ministry, specifically the perception of the preached Word on a Sunday morning.
So, for any of you out there who remember a foolish younger Nate I want to apologize. Part of the grace of aging is being able to look back and put the pieces together. But, if I only live in the nostalgic regret of past years and don’t allow those lessons to inculcate a sense of holy urgency in my life now then I remain a fool. I don’t know where the Lord will lead me, but I pray I understand that the reputation of the gospel is always at stake in my life…both presently and in the future. I represent Christ no matter what age and no matter what station. I also pray I am able to see, with great joy, the similar sanctification in the lives of others and look past what I knew them to be. God is shaping us all into the image of His Son…sometimes with great pain, but may it always be with great joy in the grace of His forgiveness.