3 lessons learned from Code for the Kingdom Seattle

Visiting teams at Code for the KingdomAfter 36 hours of hacking, 12 teams of technologists, entrepreneurs and designers presented their solutions to 7 challenges at Code for the Kingdom Seattle. The excitement was palpable as people demoed what they built together and recounted how God energized them for the task. I certainly felt like I was living the dream.

You can read my thoughts as a participant of a previous hackathon here. This is briefly what I learned as an organizer.

Lesson #1 – Social time is not a waste of time

Despite my past distaste for undirected socializing, I discovered that the act of convening itself satisfies people’s real need for company, other goals aside. Each participant had different reasons for coming, but we shared a common desire to exercise our skills, to not be isolated, to get to know each other, and to help one another.

By the end, some people grew in technical prowess, others got a solution for their problem, some were reinvigorated by the energy of their peers, while others gained new friendships. The value delivered to each person could not have been meticulously planned ahead of time, but it could only be realized by convening. As an introvert, I was reminded that good things happen when you simply show up.

Lesson #2 – Affirmation energizes everybody

The excellent book Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (affiliate link) convinced me that praising people for the ways they reflect God’s character is an essential element of Christian community. Affirmation brings a breath of fresh air to relationships and energizes people to continue doing good. Chris Armas, the primary organizer of Code for the Kingdom, is the first person I’ve encountered who consistently practiced it. His ability to bring together a team of volunteers and motivate them around a common cause was amazing and his method was simple:

On every weekly call, he would genuinely ask “how are you?” and sincerely end with, “how can I serve you?” Throughout the preparation and duration of the event Chris would notice even the smallest positive contributions and affirm them without ignoring the work still to be done.  This is admittedly an oversimplification of all the behind the scenes work he had to do, but the affirmation was contagious. I started imitating him and took great pleasure in refreshing others, resulting in a virtuous cycle of mutual refreshment.  “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25).

Exercise: Try affirming Godly behaviors that you notice in other people 5 times today.

Lesson #3 – Generosity breeds generosity

Code for the Kingdom was free for all attendees (registration was refunded if you showed up). This was made possible by the sponsors, the two largest being Leadership Network and Faith Comes by Hearing. Their generosity created an atmosphere of a bias for action and a freedom to experiment (I wouldn’t be able to put on an event like this myself for fear of wiping out my savings in one go :-)). At the same time I learned that generosity is not opposed to frugality–on a Costco run, we would still locally optimize how much we spent on snacks and drinks, etc.

People were generous not only financially, but also with their time and labor. Shannon Thompson meticulously served as the event coordinator and made several runs with Chris to Costco and Walmart to ensure the rabid developers were well provisioned for their red-eye programming. Shamichael Hallman captured every important moment to ensure we had great coverage of the event and Blake Burris confidently guided the group as the master of ceremony. There were many more volunteers, some of whom had come from out of town to be there.

Can you imagine what it was like to be in a room filled with such generosity and service? It made me not want to miss out on the joy of giving. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b)

Next Steps

Want to bring Code for the Kingdom to your area? Get in touch with one of us here.

Want to join a community of generous people using their technical, design, and entrepreneurial gifts to advance the gospel? Sign up at here to stay connected.

The Journey of Faith – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 3 of 3)

Captain’s Log, March 12, 2014 AD

After a challenging 5 months, the motivational actuators are back online and we are resuming progress on our voyage. To my surprise, the most difficult part of the adventure so far has been maintaining focus and motive power. It would have been preferable to journey with a fleet rather than a lone ship, but such is the nature of a pathfinding mission. There was also a month of infection, which damaged our starboard auditory communications capabilities. We were immobile for weeks.

The E.M.O. shields have been battered for months in no small part due to bipolar fluctuations, resulting in several power failures within the ship, but thankfully many of the storms have subsided and we now have time to recover. In the meantime we invested in “capability enhancements” that may prove useful in the future.

We are currently assisting another fleet tasked with networking and mobilizing ships for the Prime Directive by seeding the ecosystem necessary to resource, train and deploy them. A regional launch event takes place in two weeks.

We were recently put in touch with a fleet that was en route to strengthen an alliance with an advanced tech division and they invited us to come along. We discovered some synergies between our missions, but the details need to be worked out and we have asked central command for further instructions.

====== END LOG ENTRY ======


In the previous post in this series, I briefly shared the TheoTech vision. These are some of the struggles I’ve encountered in pursuit of it.

Struggle #1: Looking back

Feeling like I had little to show for the past months, I couldn’t help questioning myself. Did I make a mistake? No finished product, no customers, no investors, no co-founders. Competition seemingly leagues ahead with an accelerating pace to boot. Several people wanted to recruit me for their work–I wrestled with the allure of progress, ample pay and working with a great team–but having entered this work because of God’s call, it would also take his call to send me elsewhere.

Whenever an interesting opportunity or major setback arose, I remembered these words:

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)

While some people complimented my guts for leaving a stable job to pursue an uncertain vision, I don’t feel gutsy. There are days when I simply cry out to God admitting that I am unfit for his kingdom and feel like turning back and giving up. On other days I distract myself with short term pleasures so I don’t have to think about it.

Struggle #2: Waiting

I had hoped by this point to have found a disciplined rhythm, served many major happy customers, met a co-founder to labor with or a sage-mentor to teach me or a kingdom investor to fund me. Instead I find myself wavering between depending on God and wanting so badly to have the help of others and then feeling confused over how the two are appropriately compatible (the merit and grace tension).

The truth is that I’m still waiting on the Lord for a breakthrough.

On the one hand, I think there is so much more I could do, which paralyzes me with self-defeating guilt over not doing enough. On the other hand, I believe that if God wants the vision to happen, he must be the one to bring it about, which paralyzes me with resignation over the apparent lack of divine aid. I accept that things take time, but “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12a).

Struggle #3: Going solo

Being alone, in particular, has proven far harder than I ever imagined. Ideas that should be inspiring become overwhelming when they completely fall on the shoulders of one person. Even simple tasks are hard to push to completion without the moral support and assistance of others. Time spent on one task is time taken away from others–and context switching dissipates any momentum in a direction.

I suppose my experience illustrates Ecclesiastes 4:9-10:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”

Many people counseled me to wait until I had a team, but believing that I had been called in that season led me to jump anyway, asking God to provide co-laborers and trusting he would provide. While I have been blessed by a supportive community, I still feel the need for people doing the work with me.

Fighting for Faith

In spite of these struggles–the temptation to turn back, to impatiently strive for success, and the craving for company–I must give thanks for what has happened since November. By God’s grace I:

Most recently, I met with the senior leadership of Wycliffe Associates to explore ways to accelerate Bible translation having been connected through a professor I met at Urbana two years ago. For all that has been accomplished, I confess that “it was not I, but God’s grace working in me.”

Unfortunately, when I contemplate these things, I also find myself anticipating disappointment instead of being hopeful. How treacherous! Why is God’s grace towards me producing anxiety instead of thanksgiving?

After reading Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God (affiliate link), I realized that each struggle was simply a lack of trust. The very thing God wants, I withhold–not so much my money, time, labor, or sacrifice, but simply my trust. I want to merit success, to have confidence that I am good enough and deserve to make it, with the progress to prove it. God wants me trust that he is good enough, that his grace will ensure that I make it even though I don’t deserve it, with the Spirit to prove it.

This very act of writing is a fight to believe:

The Road Ahead

That in my loneliness, God is with me. “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, see context for conditions)

That in my waiting, God will keep his word. “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:45)

That in my persevering, God guarantees a great reward. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Conclusion

So can we create Earth’s most God-centered company? A place where righteousness, justice and steadfast love dwell? A place where truth and peace prevail over politics and people compete to show kindness? Can we foster a culture where people flourish in their gifts and where success aligns with the things God cares about most–loving Him and one another? Can we innovate on behalf of the gospel? Can we hasten the return of the King by cultivating the fruit of his Kingdom to the ends of the earth?

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20b)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

A venture calvinist must walk by faith and not by sight.

Reflection: What goals and dreams are you striving after? What would it look like for you to trust God for them instead?

What I hope to do – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 2 of 3)

What is the most amazing, delightful, life-changing product, service or experience you can think of?

Take your time…

Palouse Falls

The Life-Changing Product

I believe 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 the 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 magical, revolutionary, life-changing “product” there is and it is one we need continually.

The Mission

So here is what I hope to do: I hope to help people experience the power of God’s love for them through technology entrepreneurship for the gospel.

  • Technology – Instead of accepting the status quo, we invent and simplify solutions to problems. We constantly discover new ways of doing things, cultivating the best ideas into real products and services.
  • Entrepreneurship – We take responsibility for delivering value to real people in a sustainable and profitable manner. We iterate, learn, risk and suffer whatever it takes to fulfill the mission.
  • Gospel – We measure ourselves by the values of God’s kingdom and shape what we create accordingly. We know the solutions we deliver cannot substitute for God, but trust that all good things we make can help people hope in, enjoy and obey Him.

Let me share two specific examples of pursuing this mission.

First, in Scripture, we see people praying that others would have the strength to know the greatness of God’s love towards them. We also see examples of sharing the gospel with others. Unfortunately, many of us are so busy with our own lives and problems there is little temporal or mental capacity for praying for others and cultivating relationships outside of our existing circle. Both we and others miss out on the joy. Ceaseless is an initial attempt to solve this problem by bringing to remembrance people to pray for.

Second, preaching and teaching are common means God uses to help people experience his love–but what if people cannot hear the message in their language? Or what if churches are so segregated by language or ethnicity that the experience is incongruous with the message? The Synchronous Presentation Framework is a prototype solution for this problem used each week at my church.

Admittedly, technology is no substitute for the work of God in people’s hearts, but it should be employed where it can make a difference.

The Vision

The happiest investor is one who sees a great return on investment not only for himself, but for everyone served by his capital. The happiest laborer is one who is rewarded for the fruit of his labor and is satisfied that it made a difference. The happiest customer is the one whose greatest needs and desires have been met beyond what they ever imagined. I hope the interests of all three can be aligned in the service of God’s kingdom.

I dream of a day when you can visit any church and hear the gospel in your heart language and experience it’s power lived out in the community. I dream of a day when every person on earth is personally prayed for by Christians and experiences the difference it makes. I dream of a movement of investors, laborers and customers who together know the riches of God’s love and thereby bless the world at large with the products of their just and fruitful collaboration.

I suppose I dream of the kingdom of God. What’s your dream?

venture calvinist
definitions
  1. someone compelled by the love of God to embark on risky adventures for the sake of the gospel because he/she loves others and trusts in God’s sovereign grace.
  2. a “speculator” who makes themselves and all they possess available for innovative projects that magnify the supreme worth of Christ and bless the world at large because they trust in God’s sovereign grace.
  3. a silly pun on venture capitalism which allocates money to high risk/high reward opportunities frequently in the technology industry.

See also: Why I Left Amazon – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 1 of 3)

Next: The Journey of Faith (Part 3).

Why I left Amazon – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 1 of 3)

In his commencement speech at Princeton renowned entrepreneur Jeff Bezos challenged the graduating students:

  • How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
  • Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
  • Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
  • Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

These were convicting questions after working for three years at Amazon (affiliate link). Before joining, I wanted to start a company based on my research in automatic language translation. I competed in business plan competitions, vigorously working to turn ideas into products that could help people, but as my degree came to a close, so did the doors of opportunity.

Dejected, I submitted resumes to recruiters at career fairs and despite interviews and offers found myself in deep depression. Through my parents’ comfort and counsel I eventually came to terms with the death of my dream and changed my ambition to simply serve God faithfully where ever he sent me.

That place turned out to be Amazon and it was an incredible blessing.

What I learned at Amazon

Working closely with world-class engineers motivated me to become skillful enough to scale up and productionize any idea. I learned that things take time. I learned the importance of figuring out the right thing to build instead of building as an end in itself (balanced with a bias for action). I learned how to recruit and how to work with and lead a team. I gained a treasured community of Christians at Amazon, and organized events to discuss the Theology of Technology and to compare Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. I loved my team and enjoyed a comfortable income with which I could bless others.

But on a lonely May Friday night, everything changed. The dream came back.

The Adventure Begins

Exhausted after working late, I plopped on my bed and tried to take a nap. But instead of dozing off, I felt wide awake and it seemed like the Lord said to me:

“Chris, I want you to leave your job and devote your attention to the purpose to which I have called you and trust me to provide for you”.

I wasn’t sure. So I talked with family and friends who expressed concerns for my welfare, but nothing that led me to doubt the call. It seemed in line with Scripture since it was calling me to trust in God and to holiness.  After a period of discernment, I told my manager of my intention to leave and agreed to stay until the completion of the big project my team was working on.

In the ensuing months, my heart sank like a teabag in an eco cup. Self-doubt, fear of failure, attachment to my team, my salary and my identity as an Amazonian, fear of being alone, of being put to shame and looking crazy for doing this without being “ready” or because “God told me to”, hearing about competition, hearing cautions about making money in the faith+tech space, and innumerable other anxieties plagued me.

The Lingering Question

Some of the hardest conversations were with people who recommended that I do things on the side until I had something solid. It was common sense, but I felt speechless because I believed God called me to leave my job. So during a weekend at Cannon Beach, I pondered the question:

“What can you do after you quit that you could not do before?”

There had to be something more than just giving time and attention to my dream. While praying on the serene shores of the Oregon coast, I arrived at an answer:

“By leaving you can witness to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ”

I could show that He is more valuable than money and more desirable than a life of comfort. I could show that following him is more secure than a successful career. If minimizing regret and the promise of independence, riches, fame, adventure and changing the world are enough to motivate people to entrepreneurship, how much more should God’s call compel me to go? How could I joyfully invite others to trust in my Savior, if I would not trust him in this matter?

And so it was settled. Despite all of the pros and cons, I had to leave Amazon in obedience to God’s call. I wanted to show by my actions that Jesus Christ is more precious than anything else I desire in life. So when the project wound down, I submitted my letter of resignation, celebrated with my colleagues and began a new adventure.

In my next post, I want to get you excited about the vision :).

Call to Action

If you’re a Christian, is God calling you to do something challenging? Does it help to know that this is an opportunity for him to show his trustworthiness in your life?

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, do you believe there is some other person or cause that you can unreservedly devote your passion, affection, intellect and energy to? I believe there is no greater pleasure than giving unmitigated love to Christ because he is worthy of it all. And though I still have far to go, this is the joy I would like to invite you to as well.

Please share your comments below!