Aroma

Posts about the mission, vision, values, future of our Aroma Project in Taipei Taiwan

_________ is dead; what’s next?

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Our lives are constant transition, or so it seems. We are constantly seeing the “circle of life” lived out. One thing starts with blazing fury and seems to faze out with equal vigor. When products fail, when leaders step away, when marriages end, when things don’t go as planned, when it feels like everything is exploding (or imploding) right before our eyes, what do we do? We often ask ourselves, “what’s next?”

The great news is God is not a God of confusion, but clarity. And what’s more, God is not accustomed to change. He’s dealt with more change than anyone else. He’s had to initiate a plethora of plans in order to accomplish His purposes. One example of God’s ability to execute His purposes regardless of the situation is that of Joshua. Here’s how God commissions Joshua to accomplish His purposes after a huge transition (the death of Moses, the leadership staple of Israel for nearly a century).

Joshua 1:1-9 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success[a] wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

One thing is clear: God’s plan is Joshua. He wants to partner with Joshua to lead Israel into the Promised Land, a place replete with blessings. But how does Joshua get there? What’s next?

A Culture Worth Remembering

The first step is actually a look: a look into history. In the first few verses, God recounts the current situation and what He’s already promised to Joshua and subsequently Israel. God recounts that Moses is dead, but God still has active promises waiting to be fulfilled. God already promised Moses (v. 3) and will still go good on His promises. The first thing Joshua had to do was remember where he came from, both physically and spiritually. Joshua was born in Egypt. He knows what it’s like to be in slavery and that God’s freedom is better than slavery any day. Joshua’s also been one of the few who’s always stood for God’s truth. He was one only two of the 12 spies who gave a good report in Numbers 13. Spiritually, Joshua learned from some of the best. In Exodus 33:11, we see that even after Moses departed from His times with God in the tent, Joshua still kept hanging around. Joshua was bred in a culture of honoring God’s Presence in His life. He’s heard the stories. He’s lived the stories.

What stories have you heard? What’s your culture? Where did you come from? Physically, you’ve got a heritage. I’m sure it’s not all daisies and roses, but there is something of value there. What has God already given you through your physical family? friends? coworkers? classmates? What’s your culture? What’s more, what’s your spiritual heritage? Ephesians 1:5 tells us that we were adopted into God’s family. If you believe in Jesus, your spiritual heritage is adoption. God, who saw you clearly and knew everything good and bad about who you would be, choose to love you unconditionally and pour out His grace and mercy on your life. Further, Romans 11 says we were grafted into the blessing that God had planned for Israel. As believers in Christ, we’ve been connected into all the Promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). That’s a culture worth remembering and cultivating.

A Connection Worth Maintaining

The second step is also less active: a connection with God. The middle verses of Joshua’s commissioning are ripe with God’s invitation to intimate connection with Himself. He says things like “just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (v. 5) and “you will have good success” (v. 8). At the same time, this connection is contingent largely on one thing: keeping in line with God’s Word. He says, “do not depart from it either to the right or to the left” (v. 7). Remember, Joshua is accustomed to time with God. He’s heard all the words Moses has written down. And God says, “Your success, Joshua, is based on one simple thing: stick on the path I’ve already outlined.” This connection is the single most valuable thing Joshua can hold onto.

It’s also evident that as believers maintaining our connection to God is of the utmost importance. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “remain in me and you’ll bear much fruit” (John 15:5). An orange tree doesn’t have to work hard to produce oranges. An orange branch connected to a tree doesn’t have to work hard at all. It’s a natural result of connection. But if you cut off that connection, try as it may, that branch is not going to give you an orange. 100 years from now, most of what we do will not matter. In fact, 1,000 years from now, the only things that truly remain will be the things we’ve done in love through our connection with God. One of the most beautiful things about this is that it absolutely abolishes the idea that we have to prove ourselves or prove our honor. Instead, we see that our honor comes through Jesus, and we have no need to fight for anything else than that. We’re above disappointment; we’re beyond failure, because our God always has another plan to accomplish His purpose if we are willing to stay in it with Him.

A Courage Worth Acting Upon

The third step, however, is the crucible of life: being courageous. God concludes his time with Joshua with this phrase: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). If you read through the rest of Joshua, you’ll see all of life isn’t peachy keen. Joshua faces many difficult and even terrifying situations. It’s no wonder, God has to say, “Be strong and courageous” a number of different times! And yet in the whole Bible, Joshua is one of the only main characters who has nothing bad written about him. This is a man who knows his culture, maintains his connections, and acts with courage. But not just Joshua, whenever God gives us a command, it actually comes with the seed of grace to fulfill it. God doesn’t ask us to do anything that we’re not capable of because we’re in Him.

So it goes with us: anyone willing to act in courage will be someone who is used greatly by God. Thus, God is inviting each of us to make courageous decisions. Maybe it’s the decision to begin a relationship with Him, or the decision to let go of an idol or sin-pattern holding you back from the Promised Land. Perhaps, there is truth you need to share in love, or someone from the next generation (physically or spiritually) you must invest in. It could even be the decision to leave the safety of your current job for something else God has for you.

Even with all of the great things that happened in Joshua’s life, he was still just a glim reflection in a mirror of what God did through Jesus (1 Corinthians 13:12) as the fulfillment of all of God’s work. Perhaps, one of the most amazing mysteries of our lives is this: “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). If you’re facing something in life, the chances are good that you’ve already been empowered by God to accomplish what it would take to solve that problem or bring that breakthrough. But before you say no because it looks overwhelming, please first take a good look at the culture and connection into which God’s invited you. And then thoughtfully ponder which courageous decision you’ll make today!

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Are you a designated survivor?

Sometimes, my wife and I have been known to watch a little TV. Recently, we’ve been into a show called Designated Survivor (click for the trailer). The basic premise is that the least likely candidate to be president suddenly finds himself in the oval office after an act of devastating terrorism. I believe one reason why we like the show is because we see and relate to the struggles our protagonist, Tom Kirkman, goes through. He’s constantly questioning if he’s doing the right thing. And it seems that when something is going well, it’s only a matter of moments before something unexpected hits. At one point, I turned to Jamie and said, “This show is like leadership therapy.” Perhaps, it points to an issue that we all face. Aren’t we all feeling that we’re in the fight of our lives? Don’t we all have days, weeks, sometimes even months, where it seems like one thing after another and we just can’t seem to get a break?

Recently, it does feel a little that way. We’ve been having difficulty in a couple areas of the ministry. There are struggles in the cafe, whether it be figuring out adequate staffing, meeting goals we set out for ourselves at the beginning of the year, or confirming that we’re accomplishing meaningful, impactful ministry. And we’ve been struggling with church ministries. It seems a lot of people are feeling drained and overwhelmed with ministry responsibilities. Across the board, many of our staff are transitioning or preparing to transition within the next year. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic. In fact, I love my life and really am thankful for all the wonderful things I get to experience. Yet, sometimes, I find myself questioning: am I really the person for the job? Is this the right spot? What’s even happening? And will tomorrow be worse? Perhaps, a lot of this is my fault. What could I do differently?

So, I’ve been taking more time to ask these big questions. What’s my calling/purpose/passion? Who are my friends? How am I supposed to accomplish what I’m called to with who’s in my life? A couple things have happened to me in response to this recent line of questioning.

First, I heard an awesome sermon about prioritizing God above all else, because, as the pastor says, “Our priorities are much different when we’re on the front lines. We don’t have time to worry about what’s not important.” Our calling is first and foremost to Him. We must hold on to that fact. Around this time, I recalled my dad’s life verse, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Second, I read an article on frustration. In a nutshell, frustration helps us know a few things: 1) we’re getting close to breakthrough, 2) we still have passion, 3) we’re still in the game, 4) we know what not to do :-), and 5) we can find a better way. The one that stuck out to me most was regarding passion. Our frustrations help us see where our passions are and help us know what we need to press into. Yeah sure, there are struggles. Who doesn’t have struggles and frustrations? And if you have some of these, congratulations, you might just be onto something good (spelt G-o-d).

Finally, a friend encouraged me to read Matthew 6:25-34. It’s that passage that says don’t worry. We usually gloss over that, right? We know not to worry. But do we really? Do I really trust that God has treasures in heaven (6:19-24) that far outweigh anything this world has to offer? Do I really believe that generosity (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18) will make a difference? It seems, then, that this life is pretty straight forward. We put our eyes on Him, seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and in turn he prepares and provides everything we need (6:33). He provides the calling, the season, the anointing, the friends, the ministry strategy, the everything!

What does all this mean for me? It means that even when things frustrate me, lead me to feeling desperate, or to want to quit, if I’m still here, I’m the designated survivor. I’m the one God has chosen for this hour. If that’s true, then with God all things are possible (Mark 9:23). And what does that mean for you? Whatever you’re facing. Even if it seems everyone else is gone, you’re not sure if you are the right person, you’re not sure about much and everything seems to be creeping in on you, tell those lies to stop and remember, you’re God’s chosen designated survivor and He’s going to provide everything you need as you seek Him and His Kingdom!

Who’s decision is this?

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How are decisions made in your world? Does someone from the outside just dictate everything? Are you on a team of people that decide together? Do you have areas and projects in which you get to exercise authority? What does the day to day look like?

A couple of years ago, we found a decision making grid that looks something like this.

You can see that the grid looks at a person’s latitudinal authority + the step at which they are in the process. It’s helpful, especially as leaders, to clarify this as early as possible so that everyone understands who has authority and how close we are to a decision. I find this grid useful and hope maybe you will, too.

I was recently challenged to think more about the overall structure of an organization as well. There are some key terms we often think about: leadership and management. In some contexts, we talk about governance and administration. Perhaps, it’s important to make distinctions between these two so that we can understand our roles within organizations. A plethora has been written on leadership and management already. I’ll only add white noise, if I try to add to the conversation. I’ll just point out the metaphor of a ship. Some are responsible for the direction of the ship (leaders). They look ahead to the next steps and attempt to guide us that direction. Others are responsible for the inner workings of the ship in the present (managers). They do a great job of making sure everything is smooth sailing, so to speak. Governance and administration might be thought of similarly. When given governance authority, you’re responsible for the general direction of the ship. When you are given administrative authority, you’re responsible to make sure we continue in the direction as smoothly as possible. Distinguishing these types of roles can help with clarity and communication in your organization.

That’s Interesting (and Important)

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We’re all going somewhere. We don’t always think about where we’re heading or what our final destination is, but we’re all heading somewhere.

In a conversation with a friend, we started talking about how the world works.  We looked around and saw lots of interesting, fun things that ended nowhere good. That’s part of the enemies plan: to entertain us out of and away from anything of lasting value. The Bible says lasting fruit comes from connection with Him. At the same time, we know that people who desperately need Jesus (all of us 🙂 aren’t aware of it. We’re constantly looking for other things and misplacing our ultimate desire for God as a desire for _______ (you can fill in the blank).

So, we devised a plan, to help people go from “interesting” to “important.” We were doing this in Chinese, so I want to give a shout out to the fun Chinese phrase we came up with: 從有趣到有意義. We decided that many times people aren’t really interested in what’s important. They settle for what’s entertaining, or what’s urgent, or what’s on their Facebook feed. We too easily settle. But what if there were things that were meaningful but started with something interesting. I see examples of this in things like Aroma’s weekly event, Coffee Talk, where students “interested” in learning English begin to discuss meaningful topics. The challenge, however, is in doing both sides with excellence. Some people want to focus all their energy on the meaningful side and end up with something that’s not interesting at all. Others like fun, but have nothing meaningful on which to focus.

I dream of a day when people with meaningful work to be done can see an increasing number of people investing in their work creating pathways from “interesting” to “important” for society. I believe it will take a number of things:

  • We need understand the meaning of important. It’s not always the most urgent. It’s not always what’s in front of us.
  • We need to stop shooting charities in the foot. Read Uncharitable or watch the author’s TedTalk for more on this matter.
  • We need to free ourselves to think creatively about how to approach the important issues.
  • We need funding models that allow interesting and important to co-exist.

Here’s to interesting and important together towards a better future!

Culture-Context-Christ

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A while back I was challenged to think about the way I dealt with culture. I heard the challenge described in these two aspects that are to be held in tension: high context and low context. I’m not going to go in depth about how these cultures function. For that, I recommend this blog.

But one thing that did stick out was how I need to continue growing and adapting. I come from what is generally considered a low-context culture (the United States), but have been living in a high context culture (Taiwan) for nearly a decade. I’ve seen myself change in many ways over the last few years. For example, I sometimes avoid directness more than I did in college. I often find myself expecting people to read my body language and pick up on what I want, rather than telling them explicitly. In some ways, this may be good. Perhaps, I’m naturally finding ways to connect with Taiwanese.

While this may be beneficial (or potentially harmful depending on how you look at it), I want a Kingdom Culture more than I want to belong to any particular other culture. I appreciate the example we have in Jesus. He lived an “incarnational-hopeful culture,” in which he could meet us at our level and experience life with us, while preventing himself from diverging off the path of what He knew was right. Ultimately, He was able to honor people (John 4, woman at the well) regardless of culture, but also call people out when necessary (basically every time He talks to Pharisees, see John 8:44 if you need proof).

My prayer is that each of us would learn to discern the way Jesus did: connected and relevant in the cultural context while inviting into the glory of Heaven.

2018 New Year’s Hopes and Resolutions

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about some of my personal hopes and aspirations surrounding 2018. Already, we’re two weeks in and good things are happening. Here are a few of my thoughts on the year. These are not in any particular order :-).

  • 2018 has been pronounced as a year of jubilee (emancipation and restoration), or celebration. We are expecting that God’s going to do great things this year.
  • I’m excited about reading the Bible. I’ve always loved Scripture (I’m a Bible and Theology major for heaven’s sake), but there’s something special about this year. As a church family, we’re going to read through the entire Bible starting in March. And I have the privilege of leading us through a sermon series in which we learn how to understand and apply Scripture in our lives for the course of an entire year!
  • Jamie and I are reading (albeit slowly) Emotionally Healthy Leader. Growing together with Jamie is something that excites me greatly and will happen more in 2018!
  • Our church is shifting its focus to put meeting together in groups at the forefront. Our aim is to focus on discipleship through these groups and to help people grow personally (in worship, prayer, Scripture), in community (through sharing and leadership development), and on mission with God’s heart for the world (through various trainings as well as opportunities to serve and minister). Small groups will be one of the primary areas in which God meets us this year.
  • In realigning our strategy, I’m spending a lot of time crafting the model for our cafe’s and church plants. We already have a second location open. Throughout this year, we’ll begin adding various church ministries like small groups, outreaches and eventually Sunday services. There’s already a buzz of anticipation!
  • I feel that God has spoken to me personally about the importance of continuing to strengthen my coaching and mentoring relationships, both the ones in which I am coaching and the ones in which I am being coached. One amazing fruit that’s come from this already is a partnership with a professional coaching friend who’s walking me through a ten year career plan. Our first conversation helped me land on three main areas of focus for my life moving forward: coaching relationships, strategy development, and musical worship.
  • I signed up for an online course regarding worship. There’s a lot to take in, but so far, so good!
  • I’ve made a commitment to running 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) per week for 2018. That will put me over 1,000k and nearly double what I did last year. I think it’s a manageable pace and so far, so good.
  • 2018 will include another 3 month trip back to the States and one of the biggest speaking engagements of my life.
  • Our Cafe continues to make forward progress. I have the blessing of walking alongside leadership to promote healthy spiritual life and onward growth.

I’m sure there will be more. What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Big Game Fathering

Warning – potential spoiler alert.

I recently watched a movie called “Big Game,” starring Samuel L Jackson and Onni Tommila, which chronicles the coming of age of a young boy.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. I’ll try not to give away too many spoilers, but I was amazed at the way Jalmari Helander, the director, depicted Oskari’s (Tommila) rite of passage and how Oskari crossed paths with Moore (Jackson). Essentially, we have a classic terrorist act as the backdrop of the movie. And Oskari becomes the unlikely unlikely hero.

What captivated my attention for all 87 minutes was the parallel of Oskari’s life and passage into manhood with every one of our lives and the way we grow and mature from boys to men or girls to women. I have to admit I don’t know as much about the way it works for women, so I’ll speak mostly from a man’s perspective.

In Oskari’s culture, you go out into the woods on your 13th birthday and hunt an animal in order to show your manhood. All the men of the village send you off into the woods and wait your return with whatever animal you were able to kill during your night-long stay in the woods.

At each progression in the story, we learn more intimate details of Oskari’s growth. A book that explains this progression well is called “Fathered by God,” by John Eldridge. I highly recommend it.

But I wanted to point something out. In all cultures throughout time, we see a motif of coming of age or rite of passage. Yet, in today’s society we are increasingly unaware of the role fathers, and father figures, must play in the lives of young boys. It’s this rite of passage that helps us mature from boys who are beloved cowboys to men who are warrior kings.

The difference? A personal responsibility toward a call. We see this in Oskari as he steps up and takes responsibility for the situation in which he finds himself. The world needs people who are willing to step up and take responsibility, even in situations that aren’t their fault. And the world needs examples of father figures who can establish moral authority, confer identity, provide emotional security, and affirm potential.

What happens if Oskari doesn’t make it through this rite of passage? He misses the chance to be affirmed in his potential. He finds himself without a clear identity and lacking the correct mindset that moral issues are his responsibility. His emotional insecurity will lead him to look for opportunities to medicate rather than facing difficult situations and emerging victoriously.

I applaud Oskari’s culture and father for providing him the opportunity. I applaud Oskari’s unending passion to do what’s right regardless of the consequence. And I applaud father figures and sons who do likewise.

I have seen several rites of passage in my life. There was my first job, 8th grade graduation, my first trip overseas, model UN and Mock Trial, among others.

Have you had a rite of passage in life? What was it? What happened? Can’t wait to hear your story!