Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Call

"...And so "The Plan" was born. I would go to FCC, then to a seminary, then maybe get my doctorate, and then be this preacher/writer/teacher synthesis. Boy, was I going to be happy. With my vice-like fingers gripped firmly around "The Plan", I headed off to FCC. Everything was going to be great. I was going to be happy. I was going to great things for God. I was going to be in control. And then God came along and screwed it all up."

Never tell God that you aren't going to do something--because God has an awesome sense of humor, and, more likely than not, he will get just the biggest chuckle out of telling you to do it. I always wanted to do big things for God. "Here I am send me God! Use me to do the big stuff, the cool stuff, the stuff that matters!" Which sounds good. But I would always add an exception clause. "I will do anything for you God... Except that whole missions thing. Thats not really my style." I am sure God heard me, because freshman year he began to get his chuckles.

At Florida Christian College we had a class called Missions and Evangelism. Naturally, whenever missionaries are on furlough and happen to be near the school, they are often brought in as guest speakers. One day, some missionaries from China were guest speakers. They spoke of the pressing need for workers in China. They spoke about churches that would meet together and only sing and pray because no one felt competent to actually teach from scripture. They spoke about how God was changing the face of the country. And that is when it struck me. That sounds like a great ministry! That sounds awesome! That sounds like such a wonderful thing.....for somebody else to do! And I didn't think any more about it.

And why should I? That wasn't “The Plan” after all. I knew, I just knew, that I was supposed to get my Masters and my Doctorate. The only thing up in the air was where I would go. What school would I go to for my education? What would I major in? What school would I teach at? Obviously I wasn't supposed to be a missionary, but all these other decisions—they needed lots of prayer. So I would pray all the time. But from that point on, I never heard a sermon about God's plan for your life, I never had a conversation about my future, I never prayed to God about his call without China weaseling its way into my conscience. At first I chalked it up to coincidence. It was just a curious psychological phenomenon caused by those missionaries from China coming to class. Of course China would pop into my head when I just listened to an hour and half presentation about it! And once it kept popping up I just attributed it to my own memory, the contours of my brain, and the peculiar way ideas can get stuck in your head—just like some horrible song on the radio (Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, I'm looking at you). Over and over and over again it would come to the front of my brain, and over and over and over again I would dismiss it, rationalize it, squelch it and suppress it.

Maybe it was my own spiritual immaturity. Maybe it was my lack of experience. Maybe it was my need for control. Regardless, I was running away from God, plain and simple. I was Jonah and Seminary was my ship to a land far far away. I wasn't being led by the Spirit. And that was true in many aspects of my life. I knew what the Spirit was telling me to do, but I just wouldn't do it. I was living a half-life. A pretend Christian existence where I call myself a God-follower but won't actually follow. Slowly, that began to change. In my junior year I finally listened to the Spirit's voice and submitted to accountability and mentorship from others. That one step of obedience led to many more, and I was brought into a position to honestly examine my life.

I found that my “Plan” was arrogant. I found that my “Plan” was MY plan, and I realized that not once, not ever, did I pray to God when I made it. I found that I wanted my life to be about me, myself, and I; that I wanted glory, honor, and accolade--that I was prideful. And I realized that if I ever wanted to do anything great for God, that if I ever wanted to do big and influential and grand things for God, then I had to be willing to do the smallest thing for God. If God wanted me to be a janitor in a school the rest of my life, and three people would know my name—if that was my ministry and my call then I had to do it. I had to be willing to say to God “Here I am, send me—wherever!” And I had to really mean it with all of my heart. I had to find humility.

CIY saved my life. You see it it two different things to recognize you need to be willing to follow God's call, whatever it is, and actually BEING willing to follow God's call, whatever it is, with all of your heart. Just as I began to dig deep into finding humility in my heart and was accepting the possibility that going to China after I graduate might be what God wanted from me, just then, the summer before my senior year came. Through providence I ended up on the summer travel team for FCC and spent 8 weeks that summer traveling to conferences and recruiting. I say it saved my life because God used it to speak to me. You see, when you are recruiting your job is to meet new people. When you meet new people three questions would inevitably come up: Where are you from? (FCC) What are you majoring in? (Bible and Humanities) and What are you going to do with that? Or in other words, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” So all summer God had people asking me, “What are you going to do after you graduate? What are you going to do after you graduate? No, really, what are you going to do after you graduate?”

At the beginning of the summer I twisted and turned and explained to people that I didn't know, that God had just removed the plan I had been relying on so heavily for the past four years, and that I had no idea if China or seminary or something else was held in store for me. I generally said “I might, maybe, sort of, kinda, possibly be going to China. But God kept having people ask. Again and again and again. And slowly I realized: there is no maybe about this. There is no might or possibly or any of the others. God has called me to go to China after I graduate. And if he called me, I have to go.

And so I am going. For one full year I will be in China—and I can't wait to see what God has in store. I don't know if God has called me to China for the rest of my life. I don't even know if he has called me to missions for the rest of my life. I simply know that he has called me to at least go. Who knows what he will call me to do from there.

~J.L. Smith

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Plan

No one is perfect at making decisions. Everyone has their own little weaknesses and flaws to their decision making M.O.

Some people get bogged down in the details. They can't make decisions about little things like which ice cream to buy at Ben & Jerry's: Should I get a sundae or a shake or a cone? Should I get small medium or large? Should I get mint chocolate chip or coffee or brownie chunk or some combination thereof? They hem and they haw and they twist and turn--and take forever in the process-- but once their mind it is like pulling teeth trying to get them to change it.

Some people don't get bogged down at all. They just go with what they feel. Details aren't as important as the big picture. Just go and do and be. Adventure is the name of the game. They can make up and un-make up their minds without blinking.

And there are a whole mix of people in between. Me? I am one of those in between people. I am a big picture hem-haw-er. I don't care so much about the details, but when it comes to big decisions it can take me near forever to think everything through. I pick whatever makes the most sense. And once I choose, I stick with it until someone pries my cold dead metaphorical fingers off of it.

Highschool was a time of hemming and hawing. Deciding what to do with the rest of your life kind of tends to produce a little bit of pressure. Because what you decide to do determines what degree you need, which determines which college you should go to, which determines who you will meet, which determines who you will marry; it also determines how much money you will make, which determines where you live, how you live, and what you live in. One slip up here, right at the beginning of real life, and I could go tumbling down into some less than ideal/not my full potential version of my life (or so I thought then at least). So what was I going to do with my life? How can I get the most out of it? And how can I be sure I am making the right choice? You can see why I might be a high-schooler of great consternation (in case you were reading fast, thats conSTERnation, not conSTIPation. Though sometimes that did come up in a non-decision making kind of way.)

So like any good American boy, I looked at what I was good at. The best version of my life, and the most fulfillment out of my days and ways must lie in what I do best--right? So I thought about what I could see myself doing for years and years and actually enjoying. I liked writing. I was pretty good at it. So maybe I could pursue that. UF had creative writing as a degree. I could go there and bright futures would pay my way. Which sounded like a pretty good option.
But then again, there was this whole God thing. Growing up, I always said I wouldn't be a pastor. I am not too good with people and emotions and stuff. Shepherding is not my gift. But the thing about it was...I loved preaching. I mean really loved it. It was pretty much the bee's knees and the cat's pajamas all rolled into one. Plus, there was this one CIY where I said I would do ministry. How do I combine writing + God + preaching - shepherding?

After a little bit of concocting, I had it! I would become a professor at a Christian college! I was always good at school, so getting the degrees wouldn't be a problem. And it fit perfectly with all my strengths! I could write books in my spare time, talk about ideas all day, do ministry, and preach whenever I felt like it! And so "The Plan" was born. I would go to FCC, then to a seminary, then maybe get my doctorate, and then be this preacher/writer/teacher synthesis. Boy, was I going to be happy.

With my vice-like fingers gripped firmly around "The Plan", I headed off to FCC. Everything was going to be great. I was going to be happy. I was going to great things for God. I was going to be in control.

And then God came along and screwed it all up.

~J.L. Smith

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I get lots of questions. I guess that tends to happen when you travel around meeting new people and telling them about an upcoming journey to somewhere not here. "When do you leave?" "Do you speak Chinese?" "What city will you be in?" That last one always kills me. I mean, unless I say Beijing then people don't really know where the city is anyways. But those are just surface questions. Sure, people do actually want to know the answers, but when it comes down to it, it isn't what they really care about. Once you get past all upfront questions and people feel comfortable enough, they ask me what they really--deep down--want to find out: "Why the heck are you going to China?!"

It's a pretty good question. I always try to answer as best I can.

Mostly I say, "God told me to."

And that is certainly true. But it leaves out the whole story of how its true, that I often don't have time to tell--or if I do tell it I cut and edit and don't get to tell it proper. So I thought, "You know this is just what a blog is for: to tell things properly that need a proper telling." So my next couple of posts will tell my story. Did I always plan on being a missionary? Why China? What do I mean God told me to? All this and more coming soon.

Grace and Peace,
~J.L. Smith~

p.s. I know it is slightly unfair to write a whole post about a future unwritten post, and I would write out my whole story right here and now... if it weren't already one in the morning!

p.p.s. Readers will have to excuse my current writing style. Having just finished The Catcher in the Rye I have a whole host of bad habits stuck in my head.