When our kids were in grade school, we pastored a wonderful church on the Oregon Coast for several years. Coastal towns can be great places to live, and our family still looks back on those years with great warmth and affection.
Shortly after we arrived in Newport, 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 but because God had decided to do something new.
During one Sunday service, the sanctuary was filled to overflowing, and the worship team 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.
On the way home, my then eight-year-old son, David, asked to ride shotgun with dad 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 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 recapping all the wonderful things God had done that day.
I drove about a block before looking over to make sure my son had heard my correction. I saw tears in his eyes. The once joyful face of my little buddy was now broken and downcast. His eyes brimmed with tears that began to roll down his face.
I glanced back at the road and realized I had done something terribly wrong. Then David spoke, and I looked toward him. He said, “Dad, I think you need to go away somewhere and find out why you get mad at me sometimes when I try to talk to you.” Then he turned his face toward the passenger window.
In that moment, I felt like the largest lineman in the NFL had just gut-punched me. Shame and sorrow came 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. I looked over at David. He still had his face turned away from me, pressed against the rain-soaked window. I began talking to the back of his head.
“David, you are more important to me than 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 not 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. When Jan and I thought we had a situation all figured out, David would add a piece of wisdom that would give us a deeper Kingdom-understanding. Like his biblical namesake, our son had a heart for God.
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 still impact 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 it can be to witness God at work, that work never takes priority over people. Jesus came and died for people, not great church services or great life accomplishments.
The day I failed miserably as a father is one 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 our parked car on the streets of Newport, Oregon.