Dunkin’ Donuts and Planting Pastors

26 04 2010

I have come to Okinawa every year now for over ten years, and I think I know almost every pastor on the island.

Right now, I’m eating sushi, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and pondering the challenge of developing future spiritual leadership on this island.  I’ve spoken every night and several times a day for a week, spending almost every waking hour with these gracious, caring, pastors—eating, sipping tea, laughing and sharing our hearts and lives.

Last night I spoke at one of our network churches.  Liz and I stayed up until midnight with the pastor and his wife, sharing pictures, and talking about old times.  Together with my friend and fellow pastor, we reminisced of the days of trouble.  You see, he and I got into trouble together – big trouble in 1989—in ways that would change the direction of our lives as pastors.

It all began with a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts when I was a missionary in Okinawa.  Yes, Okinawa has Dunkin’ Donuts. And the Japanese like donuts almost as much as sushi.  If you tasted their version of Dunkin’ Donuts, you would understand why.  Anyway, one morning we were sitting around drinking coffee and stuffing our faces with cream-filled when he asked me, “Steve, what do you think my church needs?”  After thinking for about three minutes (which is deep meditation for me), I said, “Your church needs to learn how to worship Jesus.”

Thus began a journey that got both of us in a heap of trouble! 

He asked me to teach his church how to worship, so that is what I did every Wednesday night. But more than just a sermon, back then my style was to teach for a little while and then to demonstrate how to worship.  The demonstration time involved closing our eyes and worshipping to music playing over my stereo.  On one fateful night, the Holy Spirit showed up in a dramatic way, and my pastor friend experienced a baptism of the Spirit that quite literally rocked his world.

The Holy Spirit came that night during worship as the power of God hit my friend with such peace and joy that he didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours!  In fact, on this one evening his baptism into the Spirit would initiate his journey on  a road that would change the direction of his life forever.

In the days and weeks to follow, he shared excitedly about the new things God was doing in his life.  To say his Southern Baptist church was not quite as pumped up about his new-found intimacy with God is an under-the-sea, really-deep-under-the-sea-level statement.  In a short time, he was kicked out of his fellowship, and found himself on the streets wondering what had happened.

At about the same time, I was teaching my staff about more expressive worship like raising our hands, about casting out demons, and in general, getting myself into some deep theological doodoo of my own.   I could see the wagons circling, and I knew that my days were numbered.  And like my pastor friend’s experience, it wasn’t long after our Dunkin’ Donuts meeting that my life was profoundly changed – I resigned from my position with a para-church organization and joined my friend as we freshly sought God about our futures.

What an exciting time it was!  Both of us out of a job, but loving Jesus!  Both of us unsure of the direction of our future, but confident in the Director of our future.

And so last night, after all of these years, we were reunited.  We shared of our journey and the adventure.  For my Okinawan friend, God had planted him back on the island to found and pastor Agape Community Church where he continues to minister today.  God led me to Colorado Springs to plant Mountain Springs Church. 

Once again, just like we had done 21 years ago, we worshipped together on a Wednesday night.  However, on this night we were joined by a group of men and women, many of whom hadn’t even been born or saved in 1989.  Together, we were again worshipping the same Jesus that had rocked our world—the same Savior and Lord who continues to rock our world today.  Only now, there’s a church that didn’t exist back then.  All because God powerfully visited a pastor one night during worship, then planted him to shepherd His people.

I have learned that God plants pastors.  He doesn’t plant churches; He plants pastors.  Pastors are God’s methodology, His missiology. Jesus planted pastors.  Jesus is still planting pastors. I think pastors were what Jesus had in mind with His twelve men.  And it’s what He had in mind for these two pastors, one Okinawan, one American. 

Tonight, I count it an honor to be one of His pastors, grateful to be helping to plant more pastors on the tiny island of Okinawa.

When God Bypasses the Head

24 06 2008

I arrived to my office early this morning, long before anyone else had come.  It was 6am when I walked into our sanctuary and ministry center.  This is one of my favorite times of the week.  I love to get up early on Saturday mornings (a work day for me since we have a Saturday night service) and enter the darkened sanctuary with no else around.  My custom is to take my Bible, journal, and iPod and crank up the music and just walk around the ministry center and worship the Lord.  I enjoy singing along with the music as loud as I desire and knowing that no one will hear my off key, very bad voice.  At some point in my worship walk, I usually end up prostrate before God in prayer and petition.  It is a holy time.  It is also a time where I don’t study, exegete scripture, or even think about my sermon.  It’s a heart time with my Lord and Friend.

Today, as I sang myself through the lobby, I looked at hundreds of pictures of little kids that are plastered on the walls.  You see, we just finished our second extremely crowded and joyful week of Vacation Bible School.  Taped to walls all over the lobby are these photos of laughing, leaping in the air, smudge faced children who have just given their hearts to Jesus.  Hundreds of the over 950 children have said “yes” in their hearts to Christ!  It’s a heart time with Jesus for these precious children.

Once when Jesus was teaching, someone had the idea of bringing a bunch of little kids to Him for a blessing.  The disciples were not at all happy with this idea.  We really don’t know why but I would surmise that they felt Jesus’ time could be better spent.  Better spent teaching adults the great propositional and theological truths of the kingdom of God? Better spent healing the sick?  Better spent…? Just better spent.  But, Jesus said something really interesting.  Let’s pick up the story as Matthew describes it,

“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” (Matthew 19:13-15)

What does Jesus mean?  What is he saying here?  “little children…such is the kingdom of heaven?”  I’m no theologian, but I am pastor and a father (of seven children).  I have a hunch, an inkling, he is saying something like, “All you guys are so caught up in head games.  You are constantly asking me about what it is you should, could, or must do, to get into the kingdom of heaven.  You are giving me a headache.  If you are really that interested, and I doubt you are, but if you are, then quit thinking so much about it and look into your heart!  Look around you at your children.  They get it better than you do.  They live from their heart.  Find your heart guys.  The kingdom of God is a heart issue.”

The kingdom of God is a heart issue.  God often by-passes the head to get to our heart.  We believe with our heart. The head follows the heart.  It did when you fell in love with your wife (if you’re married).  It does when you go look at the puppies you’re thinking about surprising your child with.  The Bible says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  (Romans 10:9-10)  Confession is from the Greek word, homologeo, meaning to “agree” with God.  When we “believe” with our heart, we agree with God that He is God, that He loves us, that He lived, that He died, and that He rose again on the third day.  Children understand this quickly.  Children live from their hearts.  We adults have a real problem with living from our hearts.

God often by-passes the heads of adults to get to the hearts of children.  That’s what Jesus did in our story.  Just read the whole story in Matthew 19.  Jesus got tired of hanging out with a bunch of pseudo intellectuals and religious adults (and that includes his own disciples) and he just wanted to bless runny nosed, dirty faced, stringy haired, laughing, spontaneous kids.  And over the centuries, not a whole lot has changed. That’s what He did over the past two weeks at our Vacation Bible School.  We had 244 kids give their hearts to Jesus!

Jesus is still walking around.  Jesus is still looking for hearts that are open to Him.  Jesus shows up every day in our homes, our churches, our schools, and our barbecues and he’s looking for people, whatever the age, who will love Him with their hearts.  God often by-passes the head to get to our hearts.  The head always follows the heart.  So, passionately give your heart to Jesus in a fresh way.  Spend some time with your children today and ask God to give you a little bit of what they have.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Pastor Steve