What comes to mind when you hear the phrase: “Accelerating the Gospel”?
Do you think of rockets launching satellites into space to broadcast the Bible to the ends of the earth–and the far reaches of the known universe?
Or do you think of a map of the world being progressively covered with decisions for Christ?
Over 2000 years ago, the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ, triumphantly entered his capital city, Jerusalem, to cleanse his Temple of corruption. It was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, but it had become a den of greedy robbers where people were neglected, manipulated, used and abused. He would soon lay down His life to rescue His beloved Creation from the deathly corruption of sin, which had rendered it fit only for destruction. His authority was challenged by those in power and he was soon crucified by His subjects for claiming to be their Lord and God. He was buried and rose again from the dead three days later.
His new, transformed body showed humankind His royal vision for their eternal future and indicated that the restoration of all things was near. The King ascended to heaven and was exalted to the place of supreme authority over all Creation. He promised that at the right time, He would return to make all things new by dissolving the corrupted creation and replacing it with a renewed, righteous and glorious world that is nothing less than heaven on earth.
Everyone who disobeys the King and rejects His good purpose for them will be cast out of the new creation. Everyone who trusts and obeys Him will be forgiven of their sins and receive a beautiful inheritance in this new Creation where they will joyfully live forever–unleashed to their fullest potential, reflecting their Creator’s glory in full splendor. In the present time they will receive a downpayment on their inheritance through the permanent presence of the King’s Spirit to empower and direct their lives.
In light of this promise, the Apostle Peter wrote:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13)
Did you catch that? According to this text, Peter specifically mentioned “hastening the coming of the day of God”–in other words, accelerating the Gospel.
Accelerating the timeline for when the King will return to give His people their inheritance and restore all things to their beautiful intended design. Mark records that the King said to his disciples: “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:10) before He would return. Jesus Christ commands this because he wants people from every nation to be saved and to inherit his Kingdom. This implies that in order to “Accelerate the Gospel”, we must help unprecedented numbers of people experience the joy of believing in and obeying God so that they will one day become rulers of and heirs of God’s new creation.
I believe this happens in two ways.
The first is focused on getting the message of God’s Kingdom to every person on earth. Last week some of you heard from Dave Hackett about how the internet has been a game-changer for global missions by exponentially increasing the scale at which the message of the Gospel can be shared, especially among the unreached. Today I want to talk about the second way and its implications for the local church. The second way is delivering the experience of God’s Kingdom to every person on earth. When the message is proclaimed and accompanied by an experience that confirms the incredible future promised by God, we have what I refer to as a “Kingdom Foretaste”.
Truth and Grace.
Words and Deeds.
The Gospel Message and the Gospel Experience.
In the high tech industry we often talk about user-centered or human-centered design: beginning with people (instead of technology) and working backwards to design experiences that fit with their desires, values, needs and traditions. We create prototype products, sometimes as simple as pen and paper drawings, to validate our ideas with people. We show it to them and observe them using it in order to ensure that it solves their problems, is easy to learn and makes them happy. We iterate through many ideas, gathering feedback, making adjustments and trying again until we converge on an elegant user experience that delights people and helps them.
The Gospel Experience
Now I want to ask you to take a moment and think about a few questions:
What is the most amazing, delightful, life-changing product, service or experience you can think of? What kind of user experience would you want to design for others? And perhaps more importantly, what would God-centered design look like? What kind of experience does He want to deliver to people?
I believe that the ultimate user experience is the love of God. There is nothing more satisfying or delightful than to know the vast riches of God’s love for you. It heals wounds no hands or words can touch. It produces overflowing joy that never grows old. It brings peace that overcomes the darkest of fears and washes away all anxiety. It is a mouthwatering foretaste of the glory of God’s kingdom. Nothing can compare with it.
I came to this conviction following a childhood of relentless achievement and striving to impress others. The only way I knew to affirm my worth was to earn people’s admiration and affection by exceeding their expectations. Exhausted from living this way, I found myself in a double of life of outward excellence and inward emptiness. I turned to things like games and pornography to dull the pain and satisfy my craving to be loved, but ended up in a cycle of guilt, shame and worthlessness instead.
Then, amidst my helplessness, I experienced the power of God.
Out of the blue, a friend from middle school contacted me on AOL instant messenger sharing his struggles with addiction and how God set him free. He did not know what I was going through, but God used his vulnerability to give me hope and that evening I began to experience a season of grace and freedom like I had never known before.
This grace enabled me to come clean with my family and prepared me to understand how Jesus’ death in my place and resurrection had the power to transform my life.
Though I heard the message growing up, it was at a conference later that year when I finally experienced the truth that in spite of all I had done wrong, all I failed to do, all expectations I failed to meet and all the filth accumulated in my life God accepted me, loved me and gave his Son to die for me. I did not need to win his approval or impress him, but was simply and completely loved by him as demonstrated on the Cross and attested to by His Spirit.
This realization transformed my exhausted drivenness into immensely productive contentment. It healed my soul so that I no longer medicated pain with porn. It moved my heart to ceaseless praise. My self-absorbed personality turned outward in genuine love and generosity. This experience and others like it have led me to conclude that the knowledge of God’s love in Jesus Christ is the central need of all people. It is the most miraculous, revolutionary, life-changing “product” there is and it is one we need continually.
Friends, if any of you have not experienced the love of Christ, I invite you to believe him when he says that he loves you and died for you, to put your hope in him when he says he will bless you with an unimaginably rich and beautiful inheritance and to obey him by loving him with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. Ask, and you will receive, it is his good pleasure to pour out his love into your heart, so that you may taste and see for yourself that the Lord is good.
The Role of Technology
So how can technology enable the local church to help people experience foretastes of God’s Kingdom like never before? How can it help churches deliver life transforming experiences of God’s grace?
For the sake of time, I can only give one example today, but I hope it is illustrative enough to let your imagination run wild with Kingdom foretaste ideas afterwards.
I once was visiting the Chicago area with my family to help my sister move for Medical School. While there, we visited Willow Creek Community Church. It had a beautiful campus and the building was so large it reminded me of a fancy airport terminal.
There were fountains in the lobby and escalators to upper balconies. We parked in section C7 and arrived just in time for the prelude music to begin.
I was surprised to find a booth with a box of wireless earpieces and a sign that read, “Live Interpretation”. I walked up to the Koreans manning the booth and asked if they had either Chinese or Indonesian interpretation for my grandma. One of them explained that they only had Chinese translation for the Saturday night service, but that they had Korean and Spanish for the 11:15 service that morning. Even though it didn’t work out, I was delighted to find a church that had the multilingual vision of God’s kingdom on their hearts.
After this, my family went into the sanctuary and sat in the middle of the main level to the left of the stage. It was enormous and beautiful. The seats were comfortable and there were two large screens to the right and the left of the stage which made it easy to see what was going on. The acoustics were perfect–the drum and bass lines of the prelude were punchy, but not ear-shattering. Voices were clear and sounded as if they came from a few feet right in front you.
At precisely 11:15, the lights dimmed and the worship team switched to the opening song: “Glory to God Forever” by Fee. The worship leader began singing the song while strumming on her acoustic guitar and the congregation rose and sang along. She had with her two backup singers, a drummer, bassist and pianist. The music was of professional quality, but not flashy or showy–it was designed to help people feel the praise rising up to our Creator.
Now despite all of this excellence, I would not quite characterize it as a kingdom foretaste–not yet anyway. It wasn’t until a few moments into the first worship song that something caught my eye.
I glanced up to my left and saw a bunch of arms awkwardly flailing and waving in the balcony. I turned my head around to get a better look.
And then my heart melted and tears filled my eyes.
It was a large group of deaf believers worshiping God with an interpreter standing before them and translating everything going on in the service. It was so beautiful to see that my heart rose in praise to God who loves the deaf, and not only them, but also the poor, the blind, the lame, the cripple, the weak, the broken and uses his power to do good to them and to bless and include them in his Kingdom.
In that moment I had a foretaste of the Kingdom of God and the fruit of the Gospel.
In Revelation 7, the Apostle John describes God’s vision of the future:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)
The Scriptures say that people from every tribe, tongue and nation will worship God before his throne together. Since local churches are gatherings where people get a taste of what heaven will be like, shouldn’t they reflect that future to the degree possible?
Now there is one way I think my Kingdom foretaste experience at Willow Creek could have been taken to another level: What if the deaf, Korean and Spanish speakers were not only worshiping with me but on stage telling of the glories of God?
In the book of Acts, one of the signs that the Kingdom of God had come was that the Holy Spirit was poured out and the people were proclaiming and hearing the gospel and the glories of God in their native language.
I wanted to invent something that could deliver more of that Kingdom foretaste.
I also had historical reasons for wanting to make it easier to create amazing multilingual experiences. I grew up in and continue to be a member of Indonesian Presbyterian Church.
In the early days everything would be in Indonesian. Since we had very few English-only speakers, we would simply have an interpreter sit in the back with a microphone and transmitter, whispering in English during the service so that people who needed it could put on a headset and understand what was going on. That’s how we dealt with the language barrier.
Later when the English speaking population grew, we would sing bilingual worship songs and have an interpreter stand by the preacher. The Speaker would speak, pause. The interpreter would speak, pause. Back and forth, back and forth.
Now you can imagine for someone bilingual, this can get pretty boring because you’re hearing the same message twice. And for monolinguals, this is difficult because you’re hearing a sentence in one language and then you need to wait 7 seconds or so until you get the next bit of communication. Not to mention that the service could double in length.
Eventually the English-speaking congregation grew to the point where we made a separate English service with its own leaders and worship team. It seemed like a conventional and pragmatic solution, but I felt like we lost something along the way. Instead of being one church we sort of became two churches that met in the same building, segregated by language and to a lesser degree, generation. We lost a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
To address this, I invented the application I’m using for this talk. I’m calling it SPF.IO for now, which stands for Synchronous Presentation Framework and you can read more about it at www.spf.io. It lets me prepare my message in one language, translate it into multiple languages and deliver subtitles in real time to create a seamless multilingual experience. The subtitles can be shown on screen or on people’s mobile devices.
With further preparation, I can deliver multilingual slides and audio to mobile devices as well–so instead of handing out wireless headsets, people can get a personalized experience on their phone. And if I need to support completely ad-hoc communication, there is a way for an interpreter to provide live captioning. This technology enables churches to have joint worship services where everyone can enjoy a personalized experience in their native language. Yes, it requires thoughtful preparation, but the technology makes it simple and seamless.
Now as an example of this, I’d like to read you a letter I wrote to the Church on behalf of Technologists. I’m going to read it in Bahasa Indonesia and you can follow along in English. (Watch the demo)
Can you imagine the potential for this technology to give voice to the voiceless, to members of the Body of Christ from whom we have not really heard? Can you imagine its potential to display the full inclusion of people from every language in the Kingdom who can now speak, listen and worship together?
Can you imagine this being used, not just by an Indonesian technologist, but by an Iraqi brother facing persecution, or a Chinese sister speaking about the Spirit’s work there, or a liberated Indian woman speaking up for her enslaved friends, or an Ethiopian pastor explaining how gospel-centered entrepreneurship is changing lives, or a Vietnamese pastor sharing about the needs of his congregation in a presbytery meeting, or a missionary giving Spanish-language updates from the villages of Colombia or a deaf sister sharing her testimony about Christ to an audience of thousands in her native language?
Taking a page from the Presbyterian Book of Order, this technology helps the Church fulfill its six great ends:
- The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind, by enabling people to receive the message in their native languages.
- The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God, by bringing people together to serve one another in love across the language barrier.
- The maintenance of divine worship, by enabling people to participate in weekly worship in their heart language.
- The preservation of the truth, by enabling the Body to listen carefully to all of its members.
- The promotion of social righteousness, by giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized and including them fully in the life of the Church.
- The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world by showing all nations that Jesus Christ is Lord not only of Israel, but of the entire world.
The unified witness of the local church gathered, in its multilingual, multicultural, intergenerational splendor is a mighty testament to the Gospel message of the supremacy of Christ. It shows the world that these people are not united by race, ethnicity, language, politics, socio-economic status, but by their King Jesus Christ. It shows the world that these people love each other so much that they work through the most insurmountable linguistic and cultural differences that ordinarily divide people in order to serve one another. It can be an awesome thing to behold.
I would like to close with a practical application based on some data Michael Adeney brought to my attention. The Brookings Institute recently released a policy paper titled, “Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas”. In their research, largely based on the 2012 US Census Bureau American Community Survey, they discovered that nearly 1 in 10 or about 19.2 million working age adults are considered limited English proficient, which correlates to 25 to 40 percent less earning power than their English proficient counterparts.
The institute conveniently provided a spreadsheet of demographic segmentations by major American metropolitan areas. Guess how many working age people are considered Limited English proficient in the greater Seattle area?
Who will bring foretastes of God’s Kingdom to these people? Who will bring the Gospel to these people? Who will welcome these people whom God loves, people to whom God wants to give His Kingdom? Who will serve and activate these people to use their gifts for the Gospel? What better way to welcome them than to use every reasonable means to communicate in their language?
I’ve heard of and seen some of the good work your church is already doing through the Global Friends ministry and Language Institute among other things. I’d like to invite you to leverage technology like SPF.IO to enhance your ability to reach people in their native language while creating amazing foretastes of God’s Kingdom for your entire congregation.
The message of the Kingdom is Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world to bring about a new, restored glorified creation and the experience of the Kingdom is the love of God poured out and overflowing in the hearts of every person in spectacular deeds of grace and truth and excellence.
Let’s do whatever it takes to deliver these Kingdom foretastes, beginning here in Seattle and to the ends of the earth. Let’s invent and adopt technology to accelerate the gospel and in so doing, let’s hasten the return of our beloved King.
Thank you. I’d like to now open the floor for questions.
This talk was given as part of the “Technology and the Word” series at University Presbyterian Church. You can watch part 1 here: Coding in the Dark: The Risks and Rewards of Innovating for the Kingdom.