Shortly after we arrived, we sensed that God was beginning to do something new in the church. The newness was not because Jan and I were now leading the church. The new thing happening was because God had decided to do something new and we just happened to be leading the church when God began revealing Himself in a special way.
After one Sunday service the sanctuary was filled to overflowing and the worship team had just led us into a wonderful experience with the presence of the Lord. After I preached the Word a woman ran up to me and said the words every pastor loves to hear – “Pastor, this is a revival!” I was elated to say the least.
On the way home my then 8 year-old-son, David, asked to ride shotgun with dad up in the front seat. Jan smiled and sat in the back with our daughter, Anna. As soon as we pulled out of the church parking lot, I began to talk about how powerful the Sunday morning service had been. I talked about everything in great detail. I was on fire.
After I had gone on and on about the morning service my son, with his sweet freckled 8 year-old-face beaming up at me, tried to ask a question. I cut him off like he was an interruption to The Big Shot Pastor who was now talking about all the wonderful things God had done that day.
After we traveled a block or two I looked over to make sure my son heard my correction and I saw the tears in his eyes. The once joyful face of my little buddy was now broken and downcast. His eyes brimmed with tears that soon released and began to roll down his face.
I glanced back at the road to get my bearings and then looked back at my son and realized I had done something terribly wrong. Then David spoke. As he looked into my eyes he said, “Dad, I think you need to go away somewhere and find out why each time I try to talk to you, you get mad at me.” Then he turned away from me.
In that moment, I felt like the largest lineman in the NFL had just gut-punched me. I felt shame and sorrow come over me like an intense blanket of heat. I felt I had destroyed this precious little guy who had brought me such joy in his eight short years.
It was like time went into slow motion. My foot came off the accelerator and I slowly steered the car to the curb and turned off the motor. As I looked over at David he still had his face turned away from me pressed against the rain-soaked windshield. I began talking to the back of his head.
“David, you are more important to me that any church service. I love you and realize that I just hurt you. I am so sorry, son. Please forgive me and give me a chance to never do that again.”
David is a man of mercy and wisdom – he has always carried those two gifts. Even from his childhood, and now as a full-grown man, he has extended mercy to those around him. As parents, when we thought we had a situation all figured out, David would add that one piece of wisdom that would give us a deeper Kingdom-understanding. David is a man after God’s own heart.
When I finished speaking my four sentences of repentance, David turned towards me with a gentle smile and said, “I forgive you, dad.” Those words still ring in my heart to this day and are some of the most impacting words anyone has ever spoken to me. We hugged each other. I started the car and we continued our ride home for Sunday lunch. Jan and Anna wisely remained silent in the backseat throughout the entire incident and listened to God at work between a father and his son.
I learned something that day. As wonderful as what God would do in any circumstance, those wonderful works never take priority over people. Jesus came and died for people, not great church services or great life accomplishments.
Twenty-five years ago, the day I failed miserably as a father, is a day I will always cherish. When I think of my failure, I can still see my son’s smiling face looking up at me and I can still hear his tender words, “I forgive you, Dad.” One of the most impacting church services I have ever experienced took place in the sanctuary of parked car on the streets of Newport, Oregon twenty-five years ago.