Josh j Smith

Good Friday Thoughts
April 15, 2009, 3:34 pm
Filed under: religion, theology

Today is Good Friday.  Lent is coming to a climax and it will soon fade with the arrival of Easter.  All the efforts of denying myself will culminate into a beautiful celebration of resurrection.

I don’t like it.  After several years of practicing Lent, it is my first year I’m regretting this season ending.  I will get lazy without the purposeful struggle of denying myself.  I then question – what is the point of Lent if all I do is go through the motions of reading a Lent Reader, make small attempts of denying myself, and stop eating sweets just to enter back into my normal way of living on Easter Sunday?  It is as though the 40 days were an anti-vacation just to make my normal life better.  Or, like when western christians go on mission trips just to get a perspective of how “blessed” we are.

If that is all Lent amounts to, I have achieved being more selfish then when I began.  If that is all Lent amounts to, I suffered only to make my world better.  I suffered to stop eating sweets so that to eat something sweet in 40 days will be so much better.  It is not suffering, but merely delayed gratification.

The narrow way of denying myself has the expected blossom at the end the further I enter into the mess.  But it doesn’t happen because of something I did, blossoms spring because of a cosmic encounter.  The more I am able to enter into the mess the more I am able to rely less on myself.  In turn, the more Jesus is heroic.  In turn, the more I am grateful.

The struggle of becoming a new creation is Lenting all the time.  Becoming a new creation is the art of entering into our messy hearts to let Jesus in.


Greener Grass
October 3, 2008, 1:04 pm
Filed under: theology | Tags:


I was caught off guard a couple of weeks ago.  The older couple stood in front of the community on Sunday morning and began to tell their testimony in the form of a fairy tale for the sake of creativity, I guess.  I was barely listening, and then they quoted the infamous passage that is a comfort to all.  The one where God says, “For I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  I frantically picked up my bible to look at the passage in its entirety hoping to find a reason not to hope.  

Why would I not want to hope?  I don’t know.  But have you ever noticed that testimonies in church are typically happily-ever-after stories.  The crappier it is before God delivers – the better the story.  My only complaint is that they are a bit cliche.  And is there ever an appropriate time for testimonies to be pre-redemption.  Maybe it would allow room for people to provide hope to each other in other forms.    

So I read all of Jeremiah 29 for the remainder of the couple’s testimony.  It was a moment where everything in the room seemed to fade away and heaven began to descend.  I was reading the words off the page, but it as if they were cutting out the rotten spots my heart had formed.  It was a moment where all had come together and I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

The irony of the infamous passage in Jeremiah 29  is that God was challenging his people to be present in the midst of suffering.  He was challenging his people who became exiles, living in a foreign land, to be a blessing to that land as if it were their own.  In other words the hopeful words in Jeremiah 29.11 are NOT words to hope for something better later.  They are words to make the present better.  

The cheesy testimony was not so cheesy anymore.  Gina, my wife, was caught off guard to point of crying.  God graciously forced us to listen to what he wanted to say, when we probably would have used the testimony as comic relief.  



Not Just a Cup of Coffee
August 12, 2008, 1:58 pm
Filed under: theology | Tags: , , , ,


About three mornings a week Lee comes to visit me as I open the coffee shop.  Lee is from California and California is what describes him.  Although I only spent  a week in California I feel as though Lee’s jean, bear foot moccasin, hat, beard, and pony-tail wearing are typical features for a laid back Californian.  He is just what the east coast needs.   He is passionate about trying to figure out how everyone can have enough money, to stop worrying about dying and focus on living.  

Our mornings are spent drinking lattes and coffee talking about his next journal entry on red bubble. Philosophy Lee is what he likes to call himself when he is communicating his agenda for positive thinking.  Some read books, desk calendars, verse of the day, or for those of us who know nothing else- Daily Bread pamphlet you steal from the church pew.  For me it is chit-chatting with Lee.

It has been a blessing talking with Lee because he is outside the Christian norm.  It is one thing to brainstorm and dream about the implications of gospel in a seminary classroom or at church meeting.  It is another thing to talk with a friend outside the bubble, and yet still think of how Jesus is the author of redemption.  Most days we agree to disagree.  And some days I disagree just to play devil’s advocate with his philosophy.  It is fun.  

The beauty of it is that we both are seeking to make this world better with each moment, with each conversation, with each day, and with each neighborly encounter.  I would like to think that Jesus is present in the midst of our differences. 

What makes Jesus LORD is not my ability to prove it to Lee.  Jesus is LORD because his kingdom story emerges through our agendas.     

people of God
June 26, 2008, 2:27 pm
Filed under: theology | Tags: , , ,

The perception I get from the conversations I have with some of the Kmer people, is that America is the “land of opportunity” still.  It seems as though they gaze upon me similar to how I gaze upon an iPhone.  I guess this is what it means to covet.  But my goal here is not to convict the Kmer people of coveting, but to express the tension between a person’s desire for gospel against their desire for a western lifestyle.  This tension is worth our time because it has implications for how we are missionaries to foreign countries.    

I am not one to judge another’s salvation, but I feel it is wrong to ignore the implications of my citizenship upon people and the gospel.  when a group of white middle class Americans decide to join forces and inhabit a country, similar to Cambodia’s conditions, for the sake of planting churches and spreading the gospel, I question whether the native people become Christians for the kingdom of God or the empire of western civilization.  Thus, their commitment to Christianity is merely a means to becoming American.     

My problem with being American is from a global context.  We are one of the most feared and powerful nations.  As far as land size and resources, we are an extremely blessed country, but extremely under populated for how much land we have and how much resources we consume (waste).  In a global context, I think America are the rich who are getting richer, and countries like Cambodia are the poor who are getting poorer.  And we all know what it feels like to be poor (even when we are not) we gaze upon the rich as though they have found life.  At the same time we all know what it is like to be rich.  We all have those possessions that we want only for ourselves and we will do anything to make sure it stays that way.  We develop individual defense programs.   

I began to soften my blow toward American by comparing westernization with ancient Israel’s invasions when they were moving into the land of Canon, the Promise Land.  I thought about God’s missional prerogative to reveal himself as the God of gods through the language of war.  I remembered Rehab’s faith and commitment to Israel and their God because she heard not what Israel did to the other nations, but what Israel’s God did to the other nations; the other gods. 

I began to think that maybe God has a missional prerogative with westernization.  While   people might become christian to be more western, God can easily change our means to achieve personal glory to become his means for his glory.  In other words, God is not too small to transform the desire for the people to be western into people of his kingdom.  

After this epiphany, I still felt uncomfortable with my citizenship.  I also realized that the western movement is not a good comparison with Israel’s entrance into the Promise Land because Israel was a nation of slaves, nomads, refugees, they were a bunch of no-namers shaming the strong, wealthy, and proud.  So,I have decided that it is impossible to be an American Christian (or whatever you want to call someone who follows and has faith in Jesus).  The problem is whatever I do it is still from an American perspective.  

In the midst of this tension where I think the beauty and mystery of the kingdom of God resides.  I think this is what Jesus meant when he said you cannot see the kingdom.  The kingdom is within.  When Jesus prayed that his disciples would be in the world, but not of it – I think it might have been this issue.  

Since I belong to Christ and am part of his kingdom.  God’s kingdom allows me to observe my context from a distance in order to engage it with gospel in a language that resonates with my neighbor.  I am of Christ, but in America.  I am of the kingdom of God, but in Baltimore MD.   



Forgiveness | additional thoughts
November 12, 2007, 8:32 pm
Filed under: society, theology | Tags: , ,

I was reading over my previous post and had additional thoughts.

I thought it was interesting that on Halloween they made sexual offenders post a sign on their door saying “No Candy At This Residence” in Maryland. My wife, Gina, commented that it is smart – keep them away from the temptation of making the mistake again. Gina is very wise. But now everyone will judge and socially outcast that house, that family, that person because of the sign. The names on the internet are a subtle way of communicating the truth, but the sign is full exposure to neighbors, friends, and coworkers.

The problem I have with this is not the necessary action to protect children – please protect children and protect the offenders from hurting children and people. The problem is our exaggerated judgment upon these offenders for their mistakes. Would we treat these people different if everyone else knew all the things we struggle with. If there was a list on our door or on the internet that revealed all our sins, would we be so quick to judge? Would we be so quick to outcast people?

Isolation deceives. We isolate ourselves so that we will not be isolated. We hide the truth from people because we know how they will respond – as if no one else makes mistakes or does things they are embarrassed of. There are too many pastors, leaders, business professionals, husbands, wives, and children that are in isolation because they know that if they confess the truth it threatens their livelihood. At one degree it might be necessary to loose the job or temporarily be isolated from normalcy. So we take the risk of isolating the truth of our inner struggle to avoid isolation from things we depend on – job, friends, family, house, neighborhood, reputation.

Forgiveness frees people to be vulnerable. If we learn to forgive the big and the small offenses, it might save a divorce, stop a school shooting, prevent people from becoming sexual offenders, and hault rising prices caused by thievery (maybe forgiveness is the answer to rising gas prices). Forgiveness is the reason to confess. We might find that upon confessing we put our livelihood at risk, but having our livelihood in isolation is hell on earth. At least, loosing our livelihood for confessing the truth is choosing the road that leads out of hell.

The majority of us would agree that stable marriages, safe schools and neighborhoods are all good things. The Kingdom of God is this and much more, but it means that we must be risky. Jesus came to us with an agenda for us to follow. He knew that people are not going to be vulnerable all the sudden. He knew that people are not going to be radical forgivers unless they see others forgiving them radically. With small, subtle changes in our own life and patterns, we will achieve what we all strived for through our own agenda – making a difference.

September 23, 2007, 8:37 pm
Filed under: society, theology | Tags: , ,

There was an interesting conversation on NPR centered around sexual offenders and their names published for all to see on the internet. There is tension because the life of this sexual offender is forever influenced by this public information, yet this public information is deemed valuable to concerned neighbors and co-workers.

As I understand it, as long as the name resides on the list everyone has the right to treat the person as an outcast. Can the person be forgiven for such a crime? And does forgiveness for this mean the name being deleted from this list? Finally, does forgiveness mean that person should be trusted again?

Forgiveness, too often, is taken lightly. If we were honest with ourselves, we would know that fear drives us to keep people who hurt us far away. So we say we forgive, but in our hearts we know that this person will never be the same to us. Not only are offenders outcast by those they hurt, but those never hurt or will hurt or even know. Outcasts are not a result of crime, they are a product of unforgiving people.

Is it possible that when Jesus challenges us to forgive over and over, that he is actually challenging us to trust and continue to trust that person no matter how much they wrong us? Is it possible that Jesus is challenging us to wipe the slate clean when we forgive people, to treat them as if they have done no wrong? Finally, what would this world look like if we forgave like that?

It is easy to assume the worst. However, maybe the Kingdom of God can be experienced through this radical type of forgiveness. It would be ridiculous if people kept trusting and forgiving, but in many cases that is what Jesus calls to be – ridiculous. We might come to find that the lack of authentic forgiveness is the reason for increasing violence, sex offenders, and injustice.

Forgiveness frees people to be vulnerable. The more forgiving we are, the more people are willing to be vulnerable and confess what makes them inhuman; the more willing we will be to confess our inhumane acts. Forgiveness is a full expression of love that moves us closer to finding out what it means to be human. I am sure that the prodigal son that Jesus talks about, never felt so human than when his father treated as if he never left.

July 12, 2007, 12:34 am
Filed under: theology

I saw our baby for the first time. It made the pregnancy seem all the more real when we saw our baby jump quickly and settle slowly in the embryonic fluid. The nurse was able to print off some pictures for us, and we are excited to share them with all of you.

One of our favorite pictures was the baby’s foot. I would love to say it looks like mine, but that is impossible because Gina says I have hobbit feet. They are big and hairy. I cannot help but think about the journey my child is going to choose. As a soon-to-be parent it is easy to criticize and imagine ourselves as the perfect parents and being the one’s to inspire our children to follow the simple and narrow way, but the truth is I have trouble following that path. I suppose that is part of helping my kids follow that path is to explore and search together as opposed to having everything figured out and just feeding the answers to him/her.