How to build enduring habits

Think about the last time you felt seriously unproductive.

Not the casual “I feel like going to the beach and taking a day off”, but the “I don’t want to get out of bed and reply to dreaded e-mails” kind of unproductive.

Now, let me ask: Did you brush your teeth?

If you said “yes”, then you’ve experienced the remarkable resilience of ingrained habits. However stressful or depressed we may feel, they stubbornly keep us going. Like building relational redundancy, enduring habits are an effective way to stay productive in times of distress.

So how do you build a habit that lasts?

In this post, I want to use the prayer app Ceaseless as a case study for habit formation. For deeper insight, check out books like The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (affiliate link) and Transform Your Habits: The Science of How to Stick to Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.

Case Study: Ceaseless Prayer

In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:16 NIV). While there are several ways to interpret this verse in context, all of those ways include the notion of habitual prayer.

And therein lies a unique problem.

Despite the best of intentions, I know many Christians who struggle with prayer. Jesus characterized the problem as intrinsic to human nature with the famous words: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38b NIV)

Can we apply science and technology to these spiritual problems?

I believe the answer is yes. Humans are both physical and spiritual beings. This overlap is precisely where technology can make a difference.

One common insight from the science of habit formation is the habit loop, a virtuous cycle characterized by Reminder, Routine and Reward.

Ceaseless helps people “pray continually” by nudging each part of this cycle forward.

Step 1: Reminder – Daily Notifications

Ceaseless prayer reminderThe first step to build a new habit is to connect it to an existing one.

Ceaseless does so by showing a daily reminder in your smartphone’s notifications. Since you’re already in the habit of checking and acting on your notifications, you’ll also remember to pray for others. Tapping on the notification opens the app.

Step 2: Routine – Praying for Others

Ceaseless pray for a friendKeep the habit simple.

When you open the app you see a person’s face, name and story (notes you’ve written to help you remember how to pray for them). Note: the very first screen is an inspiring picture and Scripture to help you focus.

You see everything you need and nothing distracting. The app has chosen three people from your contacts and all you do is take a moment to pray for each of them.

Step 3: Reward – See your Progress

Ceaseless prayer progress

Feel rewarded for completing the habit.

After you swipe through the people to pray for, you get a short-term reward: a progress bar shows how many people you’ve prayed for so far. You also see the number of days you’ve prayed for others.

The long-term reward is of course the joy of loving others and watching God graciously respond to your prayers for their lives.

The Result: A Habit is Born

After using Ceaseless for over a year, my prayer life has never been more consistent. I’ve been through some very difficult ongoing trials and to my surprise God has used the app to keep me from drowning in the seas of self-pity and despair. The daily nudge God-ward and out-ward to others has helped me press on in my calling.

For Christians: God has not left us powerless. While our flesh may be weak, we have been given the Spirit. Effective habit formation does not undermine grace, but is a good use of the grace God has already given us in order to obey Him.

Conclusion

Here are some ideas you can apply to your habit-formation endeavors:

  1. What existing habits can you use to start new ones?
  2. How can you simplify the habitual action so that it becomes sustainable?
  3. What short-term reward can keep you motivated until you start enjoying the long-term benefits?

There remains of course one important set of questions lurking in the background:

  • What habits are worth adopting?
  • What am I being productive for?
  • What’s the point?

These are the questions I plan on exploring in my next post.

Succeeding as a Christian at Amazon and in the Marketplace

Are marketplace values compatible with God’s Kingdom?

Does succeeding according to corporate values and principles help us grow into the likeness of Christ?

Does following Jesus faithfully enable us to succeed in the corporate world?

In this talk (audio below), we’ll see one example of comparing Scripture with Amazon’s leadership principles to thoughtfully answer these questions. Chris will walk through a method for examining the values of your workplace and finding the alignments with the Kingdom of God and he will close with some thoughts on the recent press Amazon has received for its work culture.

Outline

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Good morning friends, it’s a pleasure to join you today. My name is Chris Lim and as a former Amazon engineer for 3.5 years, let me be the first to admit that:

Work is Hard.

I know what it’s like to stay in the office past 11pm on Halloween in order to clean up a workflow database for the next day. I know what it’s like to see people burn out from slavish pressure and poor management. I’ve seen politics kill good products, ruin careers and frustrate entire organizations.

But for all these problems let me also be the first to say that:

Work is Fun.

I love the thrill of seeing customers light up with joy the first time they use my product. I love the relief of getting to the bottom of a ridiculously complicated problem that was stressing out my team for weeks and solving it once and for all. I enjoy the pleasure of mastering new technologies and getting better and better at what I do. I also appreciate the good-natured whining that happened while hanging out with my team past 11pm on Halloween to get a job done since nobody really wanted to go home anyway.

I open with these anecdotes because I realize that my goal this morning is not to teach you something you don’t already know. Rather, my goal is to encourage you by giving a perspective on how God may be using the pressures and values of the marketplace to make you like Jesus. I hope that coming out of this talk you will feel gratitude for the way God has united our marketplace work and the work of his kingdom. And I pray that you will be unleashed to do good with the grace God has given you by making the most of everything you have to give the world a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

As Al Erisman, founding board member of Kiros likes to say, “You can serve God wherever he has placed you. You don’t have to be a pastor to serve God. God has a great purpose for work in a secular environment.” And today I want to show you an example of one way this plays out in the marketplace.

I’m going to share with you three Amazon leadership principles, compare them with Scripture and close with some practical steps you can follow to proclaim God’s Kingdom in your context.

When I started at Amazon, I was a young, naive, insecure software engineer. I knew how to program, but I didn’t know how to engineer production quality software that could serve millions of customers. I didn’t know all the tools I needed to use, much less why I needed to use them. And although I knew how to get good grades in school and finish projects, work was a completely different game. Setting SMART goals and writing up peer reviews and waiting for the results of an opaque performance review process always left me questioning if I was doing well or just a waiting to be exposed as a disappointment.

In the software world, we often follow a project management process called scrum. A part of this is something called the “Daily stand-up”. At the appointed time, everyone on the team gathers around a whiteboard that shows what needs to be done in order of priority and progress. Each member shares what they did yesterday, what they’re working on today and anything they need help with. Once everyone has given an update, the meeting is over. These daily stand-up meetings were a simple, but powerful tool for accountability.

It was after one of these stand-ups that a senior engineer on my team pulled me aside and asked me if I knew Amazon’s leadership principles. I remembered hearing about them during my new hire orientation, but I hadn’t paid very close attention. He told me:

Chris these leadership principles are very important. I know other companies might just put them on posters, but at Amazon they go into your performance reviews. It really defines what it means to be a leader at Amazon. You should memorize them.

I immediately looked up the principles, printed them out, went to a whiteboard and spent the rest of my day memorizing all 14:

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent & Simplify
  • Bias for Action
  • Dive Deep
  • Hire and Develop the Best
  • Frugality
  • Vocally Self-Critical
  • Are Right A Lot
  • Insists on Highest Standards
  • Think Big
  • Has Backbone; Disagree & Commit
  • Earns Trust of Others
  • Delivers Results.

I felt like my colleague had given me the secret playbook to succeeding at Amazon and I was going to make the most of it. Before I wasn’t sure of how well I was doing, but now I felt like I knew how to play to win.

And to a small degree, I did win.

In my second year I received an Outstanding performance review rating and a Role Model leadership rating–these are the highest marks a person can receive. I was honored with an “Above and Beyond Award” in my organization for driving the adoption of the product my team built within the company–this required taking on the responsibilities of a technical program manager while still fulfilling my role as a software engineer.

I share this not to boast–I believe everything is grace; every achievement is a sheer gift from my heavenly Father–but I share this to highlight my discovery of the power of the performance review system and the leadership principles.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You get what you pay for”.

I would like to add a new, but similar saying: “You get more of what you pay for”.

For example, if you reward people for being vocally self-critical, more people will be forthcoming with their mistakes. If on the other hand you punish people for having backbone and standing up for what they believe is right, more people will silently comply.

To put it simply: I realized that the Amazon’s leadership principles and performance review system rewarded me for conforming to Amazon’s image of leadership.

Now, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you may hear echoes of Romans 12:2 in what I just said:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Instead of conforming to the world, we know that God’s vision for humanity is to conform us to the image of Jesus as written in Romans 8:28-30:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

As a Christian, as someone who professes a desire to be like Jesus more than anyone else–more than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg I want to be like Jesus–this led me to ask:

“Does conforming to Amazon’s leadership principles help me conform to the image of Christ?”

If it doesn’t, then I risk being glorified by the world while missing out on the supremely important glory that comes from God. I risk playing the wrong game and losing everything in the end.

If it does then those leadership principles and rewards are actually very powerful tools that God is using to fulfill his promise to make me share the glory of his Son.

In order to explore this question, I decided to compare the Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and I invited the christians-interest mailing list at Amazon to join me. Together we spent several weeks over lunch carefully studying and discussing each principle.

So without further ado, let’s dive into three of the fourteen principles and see what the Bible has to say about them. For each principle, we’re going to:

  1. Define the principle
  2. Ask a few clarifying questions and
  3. Find answers from relevant scriptures.

It’s a really simple method that I hope you can take with you and apply to your own companies.

Principle #1: Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

Question number 1: “What does it mean to be an owner?”

Can anyone think of a relevant scripture?

The one we discussed is from Matthew 25:23:

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

This verse implies that as an owner, you share in the long term risks and rewards of the things that belong to you.

Now this verse refers to a servant-master relationships, which led to the next question: “How is ownership different than stewardship?”

Any thoughts?

Although they are different, a good steward always acts in the best interests of the owner, so that the actual behavior is similar.

In John 10:11-14 Jesus describes the degenerate case where the behavior is different:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

Jesus distinguishes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep versus hired hands who don’t really care for the sheep and run away when endangered. They are unfaithful stewards exactly because they are not acting like owners. Their long term well-being is not aligned with the well-being of the sheep.

Tying this back to the workplace, we then asked the difficult question: “Can you act like an owner even when you don’t feel like one? What are some reasons why you may not feel like an owner?”

Any thoughts?

These are some reasons why it can be hard to act like an owner:

One, you really may not be an owner, or you may not have the influence to affect change and benefit from the outcome of your decision.

Two, you may be driven by selfish ambition, using what you have to get ahead in the short term instead of doing what is right in the long term for others. For example, as an engineer you may design a system for the short term, expecting to get promoted and switching to another team so that you don’t have to deal with the long-term consequences.

Three, you may not want to benefit your bosses because you feel like they aren’t looking out for your best interests. You may have disagreements with those in authority that make you feel disempowered because you have to take on the consequences and responsibilities of ownership without having the freedom and rewards of it.

Now, despite these difficult situations, as Christians we believe that God is the ultimate owner. He has entrusted a stewardship to us and our reward is guaranteed by him, even if we cannot trace out the connection between the responsibilities we fulfill today and the rewards that will come in the future.

In Psalm 24:1 it is written, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;”

God is in fact the owner of all things and his incredible promise is that we are not merely stewards, but also heirs (owners!) of all things in Christ:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)

So to summarize: God owns everything and will one day give everything to us. This means that growing in ownership actually prepares us to receive the kingdom of God. Growing as an Amazonian means growing as a Christian. And the reverse is also true, growing as a Christian means being the kind of leader Amazon values.

As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

So to adapt Amazon’s definition:

Christians are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire Kingdom of God, beyond just their immediate interests. They never say “that’s not my job”.

How does that sound?

How does realizing that God owns everything and that we will one day inherit all things affect how we approach our work and our life?

Let’s go to the next principle

Principle #2: Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Question number 1: Why is it difficult to have a bias for action?

Any thoughts?

I think it’s tempting to delay decisions until they are made for us because it’s scary to take responsibility for an unknown outcome.

But let me ask, what story from the Bible comes to mind when you think of bias for action?

I think of the time shortly after Saul was anointed king.

He was supposed to attack the Philistines, but instead faithlessly cowered with his 600 men. His son Jonathan on the other hand demonstrated a bias for action that achieved a great victory for Israel. Let me read a snippet from 1 Samuel 14:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” …

Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. (see full story at 1 Samuel 14:1-14)

How is that for bias for action?

And what was the secret to Jonathan’s bias for action?

I think it was simply, faith in God. And growing in faith is exactly growing in Christ.

Question number 2: How does a bias for action fit with waiting on the Lord?

This is a very deep and tricky theological topic and in our discussions at Amazon it was hard to come to a conclusive summary. We ended up discussing what a bias for action and waiting for the Lord are not.

For example, we should not confuse procrastination or avoiding responsibility with waiting on the Lord—sometimes we already know what God wants us to do, but haven’t accepted his answer. Like the faithless Israelites who refused to enter Canaan when the Lord told them to go and then tried to invade when he told them “no” (Deuteronomy 1).

On the other hand, many Scriptures that speak of waiting on the Lord connote a stillness while he acts on our behalf:

Psalm 40 begins with “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Psalm 37:5-7 says:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

So it seems that biblically speaking there is a place for action and stillness, but at the root of both of them is complete trust in the Lord.

Let’s make decisions, act and take calculated risks by faith in God instead of succumbing to analysis paralysis or anxious toil. Growing as a person of faith and courage will result in a bias for action as well as the wisdom to know when to wait on the Lord.

And now we come to Amazon’s first and foremost leadership principle: Customer Obsession.

Principle #3: Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Do any of you know Amazon’s mission statement?

It’s “To be earth’s most customer centric company.”

Many companies start with business goals and what they already have and work forward to figure out how to capture the market and profit. Amazon wants to begin with customers–their values, needs, desires–and work backwards to invent things that will benefit them.

I’m going to share shortly how this one principle changed my whole perspective on business, but first let’s ask some clarifying questions:

What are the limits of customer obsession?

Can the customer ever be wrong?

What is the difference between giving the customer what they want versus what they need or ought to want?

I think it’s funny that lines like this are in the Bible–Proverbs 20:14 says, “It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer—then goes off and boasts about the purchase.”

Have you ever experienced that? Maybe after buying a car?

We can’t always take what customers say at face value, can we?

But what we can do is commit to loving our customers and doing what is right for them.

I’d like to recommend a book that goes into this distinction more thoroughly titled The Gift of Work: Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace (affiliate link) by Bill Heatley. He writes, “One way of thinking about service is, ‘I love you and I’ll serve you by doing what you want me to do.’ That’s perhaps one of the most common ideas today. The other idea is, ‘I love you and I will serve you by doing what is good for you, whether you want it or not.’”

True customer obsession focuses on what is truly good for customers, not simply satisfying their felt needs and desires.

Question 2: What happens when we lose customer obsession?

If you aren’t obsessed about your customers, who are you obsessed about?

Probably yourself. Or perhaps fearing or envying competitors.

Customer obsession is one way we fulfill God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. It protects us from the perils of envy and worshiping money.

Obsessing over customers is obsessing over God’s second greatest commandment.

And this leads me to the question that changed everything for me.

What if God is the customer?

What would it look like to create earth’s most God-centered company?

Could we empathize with what God values and desires and work backwards to invent products and services that deliver the outcomes he wants?

Could we intentionally align all of our labor to create foretastes of his Kingdom?

This is actually why I left Amazon and started my company TheoTech. I’m testing that hypothesis. I want to see if we can create a prosperous business by explicitly serving the interests of God as our customer. Can we be earth’s most God-centered company?

Now, the truth is, you don’t have to quit your job and do a crazy startup to do this. You can make God your ultimate customer where you are right now. And I think he wants you to.

He wants you to deeply empathize with what he values. He wants you to obsess over his desires. He wants you to work backwards from his Kingdom vision to help others experience the glory of the new creation he promised to everyone that trusts in Jesus Christ.

And not only does God want you to make him your customer, but I believe he is already equipping, growing and discipling you to do so through your marketplace experiences by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the biggest lessons that I learned during my time at Amazon was that discipleship doesn’t really happen through church programs–it happens anywhere and everywhere because the Holy Spirit is with me, guiding, correcting, teaching, prodding, encouraging and growing me.

When Scripture is applied by the Spirit in the circumstances God has arranged for my life, everything ends up molding me into the likeness of Jesus. The joys and trials of the workplace, the incentives and values of the marketplace, the successes and the failures, everything converge to grow me as a follower of Jesus. Discipleship happens in place.

What happens when things go wrong?

Now I’d like to briefly address what happens when things go wrong. Amazon may have some good leadership principles that in many ways align with Scripture, but what happens when people don’t live up to those principles? Or what if some of the principles are lacking or simply wrong?

I think the recent New York Times expose on Amazon is an example of this.

The article described the experiences of several former employees who faced hardships like being put on a performance improvement plan after returning from a pregnancy, being brought tears through bruising disagreements and unsustainably long hours.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent an internal e-mail in response to the article, which was published online and some of my friends asked for my opinion on the matter. I wrote a post titled, “Jeff Bezos’ Biggest Fear and Other Thoughts on the NYT’s Amazon Expose”, which you can read on my blog at www.meritandgrace.com, but let me give you the gist of it here.  

At every all hands company meeting I attended, someone would inevitably ask, “What is the biggest risk for Amazon?”

And in every meeting, Jeff would say something to the effect of:

The biggest risk is that we will value social cohesion instead of truth. Truth seeking is exhausting, finding the right answer, compromising with someone is easier…seeking the truth and the right answer is critical, don’t fall victim to the social cohesion mentality to compromise for pragmatic reasons.

In other words, the biggest threat to Amazon is internal politics. Jeff is afraid that the company will succumb to the game of power rather than submitting to the power of the truth. People will get tired of figuring out what is true and choose to do what is convenient.

Unsurprisingly, the terrible stories outlined in the New York Times article seem to be cases where Amazon’s leadership principles were disregarded in favor of corporate politics and bad management.

Instead of using their power to serve those under them as good leaders do, managers and individual contributors can “manage up” by trying to please their bosses for their own protection and advancement. Those bosses in turn are trying to please their bosses and so on and so forth. Rigor, reviews, goals, spreadsheets and data in this political system turn into tools for enforcing social cohesion rather than seeking truth.

For anyone with experience in office politics, this isn’t unique to Amazon. Whether people are being “nice” or “rigorous”, when everyone is looking out only for their own interests, it does “create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard.”

It creates a culture of fear, selfishness and oppression–the exact opposite of the Kingdom of God.

In response to the article, Jeff Bezos invited any employee who witnessed the abuse of power to report it directly to him, saying, “Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”

However, I know from experience that most people who are undergoing oppression are too shy or afraid to take him up on his invitation. Many victims will prefer leaving to causing a ruckus or fighting those in power over them. Many will belittle problems as minor offenses or personal differences. Many will commiserate with peers, try to give feedback to a skip-level and then give up when nothing changes.

I have seen the HR process work for a friend who spoke up and got transferred to a different team. I have seen the performance improvement process abused by a manager to get rid of a competent developer. I have seen a friend get quickly promoted twice and given a large raise in a short time. I have a seen another friend exhausted and burnt out after several years of poor leadership. I have seen managers make data-driven decisions as well as expedient ones.

My point is that business as usual is not going to work.

I think that Jeff needs to go further to ensure his entire company embodies the culture of joyful invention he experiences everyday. God has given him immense authority and holds him responsible to use it justly and kindly for the good of those under his authority.

With such a large workforce and many layers of management, mismanagement and politics are inevitable. By applying the Dive Deep leadership principle to get at the truth about why these dysfunctions are happening in his company and correcting the errors, he will not only protect his company from the threat of subtly valuing social cohesion over truth, but he would also embody a new principle:

Do What’s Right: Leaders do what is right even when it means sacrificing their own interests. They use their power to serve others instead of using others for their own ends. They commend those who do likewise and correct those who do not.

In preparing for this talk, I asked a friend who was with Amazon for three years,  “What would be the most encouraging thing I could say to you if you were still at Amazon?”

She told me, “I’ve spoken with the people at the top and we’re making changes to make things better.”

Now I haven’t actually spoken with Jeff Bezos or his team of senior vice presidents, but I have been speaking with God and listening to his Word and I think that we can safely say, “We’ve spoken with the top and we are making things better.”

This is exactly why we’re here. This is exactly why Christians are in the marketplace. To make things better. To fulfill the mandate from the top.

To proclaim God’s Kingdom and invite people to submit to God’s leadership in every sphere. To show people how good things are when God is in charge.

As Christians, we not only benefit from marketplace values and economics, but we also raise the bar on the marketplace, as salt and light, so that it better reflects the justice, righteousness and peace of the Kingdom of God.

So to summarize: today I walked you through three Amazon leadership principles. For each principle, we compared its definition with relevant Scriptures to see how conforming to that principle helps us conform to Christ.

First, Ownership: Since God will give us a completely renewed creation as our inheritance, taking long term responsibility and growing as an owner prepares us for the day when the Universe will be ours to govern.

Second, Bias for Action: God wants us to act by faith today on the promises he has made for our future. Growing in faith means growing in a bias for action, which is important for success in business as well as advancing God’s purposes.

Third, Customer Obsession: God wants us to obsess over his will and apply all the best we have to offer to fulfill it. This is nothing less than loving God with our entire being and our neighbors as ourselves.

I hope that these examples make it clear that when we excel in these principles, we not only succeed in great companies like Amazon, but we also grow up to maturity in Christ. Our work and conduct become foretastes of God’s Kingdom, an invitation for people to trust in Jesus because they’ve seen for themselves how good his ways really are and that his promises are what they’ve been really hoping for all along. And I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of success that makes my heart smile.

Practical Steps

So here are two practical steps you can take today:

The first is to simply take your company’s values and leadership principles and examine them in light of Scripture. Figure out the points of alignment with God’s Kingdom and your character. Maximize your pursuit of growth in those areas. It’s all win.

The second step is related to something I’m currently working on.

How many of you pray?

How many of you feel like your prayers tend to be self-centered?

What if there was an easy way to remember to pray for others? Not only Christians or your family, but everyone–colleagues, bosses, employees, clients, vendors, etc.?

If this piques your interest, I’d like to invite you to try a smartphone app my team has been working on called Ceaseless. If we want to see lives transformed in the marketplace, I believe it will begin with regular, earnest and personal prayer.

Ceaseless integrates with the address book on your phone and shows you three people to pray for each day. One day it may show you the love of your life and the next it may show you the annoying coworker you wish would quit already.

The point is that God urges us to pray for all people because he wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV). We invented Ceaseless to help people do what God wants them to do and if just 1% of the earth’s population prayed for 3 friends each day, we could theoretically personally pray for everyone on earth in less than a year. You can be a part of this movement. Learn more at www.ceaselessprayer.com

Thank you.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe one situation you are facing at work and how God maybe discipling you through it.
  2. What would it look like to deliver foretastes of God’s kingdom in your marketplace milieu?
  3. How does growing in the values/leadership principles of your business help you grow in Christlikeness?

Jeff Bezos’ Biggest Fear and Other Thoughts on the NYT’s Amazon Expose

Several people asked for my thoughts on the recent New York Times’ expose of Amazon Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace as well as Jeff Bezos’ response: Jeff Bezos has responded to a report slamming Amazon’s working conditions.

Some brief background about me: I worked at Amazon for 3.5 years before leaving to start a company. While there, I convened a group of Christians to study the Theology of Technology. We compared the Amazon Leadership Principles with Scripture and some of the notes from our discussions can be found here: Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian.

First Impressions

My first impression after reading the article was a mixture of amusement and compassion. Amusement because I actually have fond memories of working with some of the people quoted in the article. Compassion because although I knew their work was tough, I did not know how bad their experience was.

I found Amazon to be a place with excellent leadership principles, which unfortunately are not always lived up to. The work will absorb your life if you let it and you must set your own work/life boundaries (not balance!) because the company will not set them for you.

When you’ve decided on your boundaries and uphold them, you can enjoy the work instead of being controlled by it–even if it means the politics (and other factors outside of your control) work against you.

Bezos’ Biggest Fear

“What do you think is the biggest risk to Amazon in the next 5 years?”

I heard this question at every all-hands meeting since I started, so I figured that Jeff had it planted every single time. Here is a paraphrase of what I remember to be his response:

That we will value social cohesion instead of truth. Truth seeking is exhausting, finding the right answer, compromising with someone is easier…seeking the truth and the right answer is critical, don’t fall victim to the social cohesion mentality to compromise for pragmatic reasons.

So what does Jeff think is the biggest threat to Amazon? Internal politics. He is afraid that the company will succumb to the game of power rather than submitting to the power of the truth. People will get tired of figuring out what is true and choose to do what is convenient.

Unsurprisingly, the terrible stories outlined in the New York Times article seem less due to Amazon’s data-driven culture and largely due to corporate politics and bad management.

Instead of using their power to serve those under them as good leaders do, managers and individual contributors can “manage up” by trying to please their bosses for their own protection and advancement. Those bosses in turn are trying to please their bosses and so on and so forth. Rigor, reviews, goals, spreadsheets and data in this political system turn into tools for enforcing social cohesion rather than seeking truth.

For anyone with experience in office politics, this isn’t unique to Amazon. Whether people are being “nice” or “rigorous”, when everyone is looking out only for their own interests, it does “create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard.”

It sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes 5:9:

If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

It’s Time for a Deep Dive

Amazon has a “king committed to cultivated fields,” which unsurprisingly is accompanied by instances of oppression. The company is doing exceptionally well and from his vantage point, Jeff Bezos is, “having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.”

He takes the right first step by inviting his employees to report any signs of oppression: “But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at [email protected] Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”

However, I know from experience that most people who are undergoing oppression are too shy or afraid to take him up on his invitation. Many victims will prefer leaving to causing a ruckus or fighting those in power over them. Many will belittle problems as minor offenses or personal differences. Many will commiserate with peers, try to give feedback to a skip-level and then give up when nothing changes.

I have seen the HR process work for a friend who spoke up and got transferred to a different team. I have seen the performance improvement process abused by a manager to get rid of a competent developer. I have seen a friend get quickly promoted twice and given a large raise in a short time. I have a seen another friend exhausted and burnt out after several years of poor leadership. I have seen managers make data-driven decisions as well as expedient ones.

Practically speaking, if you find a great manager and team at Amazon, I think you will have a blast there. If you want to be a great manager and/or leader by using your power to serve others, I think many smart people will want to work with you.

But at a higher level, I think that Jeff needs to go further to ensure his entire company embodies the culture of joyful invention he experiences everyday. God has given him immense authority and holds him responsible to use it justly and kindly for the good of those under his authority.

With such a large workforce and many layers of management, mismanagement and politics are inevitable. By applying the Dive Deep leadership principle to get at the truth about why these dysfunctions are happening in his company and correcting the errors, he will not only protect his company from the threat of subtly valuing social cohesion over truth, but he would also embody a new principle:

Do What’s Right: Leaders do what is right even when it means sacrificing their own interests. They use their power to serve others instead of using others for their own ends. They commend those who do likewise and correct those who do not.

 

What is our place in God’s story?

If you haven’t had time to read the entire Bible (or want a refresher), you might like my attempted highlight reel of the story from Genesis to Revelation beginning in this section: Where we came from. By remembering where we came from and where we are going, we can better understand who we are and what we are to do in the present.

This sermon was delivered on January 24, 2015 to Indonesian Presbyterian Church Seattle where I serve as an elder.

Introduction

I’ve been with this community from day one. From the days of the Indonesian Christian student fellowship Ekklesia to the present time. My dad was a leader of that fellowship when I was born.

young_father_and_son_laptopI was the cute little toddler who crawled under the chairs of Larson Hall at University Presbyterian Church. All the ladies loved me and loved pinching my chubby cheeks and hearing me giggle.

I was the little the boy who squeaked along to Christmas carols on his quarter size violin, while everyone approvingly smiled despite the ugliness of the sound.

I was the elementary school student who recited bible verses from memory and won the award for being the most competitive Sunday School kid.

We moved locations a few times.

For me, the most memorable building was in Laurelhurst at what is now Seattle Community Church. There was a large tree in front where I would climb with my friends. We would make lego guns and run around the lawn shooting at each other, dreaming up stories of epic space battles or commando missions.

I didn’t know it at the time, but we shared the building with the up-and-coming Mars Hill Church. I think the adults were worried for our safety when they saw muscular tattooed folks wandering around the building. They always complained about the noise coming from the other services.

wpc_original_sketchEventually we left that building and came to where we are today: Wedgwood Presbyterian Church.

To be honest, my fondest memory is probably having all you can eat hot pot downstairs on cold autumn days.

More seriously, it was during our time here that I began to grow up, helping to craft the 2020 vision for our church, starting the Aletheia youth fellowship to serve those who outgrew the Sunday School and leading worship. I remember spending hours agonizing over what songs to sing, making beautiful powerpoint presentations and writing up meaningful things to share for the English service we started.

It was a lot of hard work, but I believed it was worth it since the Scriptures say:

“Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
(1 Corinthians 15:58)

Like many of you, I poured my heart and soul into this church and community.

But then some very painful things happened.

I began to realize how much of a stranger I felt like at my own church.

People were always expecting me to welcome new students coming from Indonesia since they assumed I was the “host”. But it always felt awkward—in some ways these guests were more at home at my Indonesian church than I was because it was the closest thing they had to home here in America.

I remember how hard we tried to integrate the American-born and Indonesian-born youth at our church by doing joint events and outings, but always feeling like an outsider.

One time all the young people agreed to eat dinner at a particular restaurant after church so I drove there to join them, but when I arrived no one else was there. It turns out that they changed their plans and went somewhere else without telling me. I was the outsider.

As a church we are at a crossroads. We have a difficult choice to make.

Who is an insider and who is an outsider?
Will non-Indonesians be insiders in this church?
Will my generation be insiders?
Will the children be insiders?
Will the poor be insiders?

Will the church simply be a comfortable place where people hang out with people like them and fulfill their religious observances?

Or will it be something more?

What does it even mean to be an insider? Who are we?

I do not intend to answer all of these questions.

Instead I want to zoom out and retell our story.
The big one.
The gospel.

Think of this as a highlight reel of the Bible. Talk to me afterwards if you want to know verse references.

Where we came from

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made an amazing universe to display his glory, chose a special planet in which he created life, chose a special creature named Man whom he created in his own image, breathed life into Man and gave him the privilege and responsibility of cultivating the earth, multiplying and filling it with the glory of God.

He planted a beautiful garden and put Man and Woman in the garden with only one rule: they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, a crafty serpent came one day and deceived the woman by urging her to disbelieve and disobey God for her own apparent gain.

She took the fruit ate it and gave some to her husband. Their eyes were opened, they realized they were naked, and tried to hide themselves from God. As judgment, God exiled them from the garden of Eden and cursed them. But he did not leave them without hope. He gave them animal skins to cover their nakedness and promised the woman that her offspring would one day crush the head of the serpent that deceived her.

Human history continued to unfold with Man going from bad to worse until God finally wiped the earth clean through a worldwide flood. He chose Noah, saving him and his family, to be the fresh start for humanity. They begin to repopulate the earth, but instead of filling the whole earth as commanded by God, their descendants decide to stay together and build a city and tower to make a name for themselves. So God confused their languages, dividing them into many nations and dispersed them throughout the earth.

After many generations, God calls one particular man named Abraham to be the father of a special nation through whom He would bless all the families of the earth. God calls him out of his homeland and promises to give him the beautiful land of Canaan and descendants as innumerable as the stars in the sky or the dust of the earth. Abraham believed God’s promise and God counted it to him as righteousness.

This promise is repeated to his son Isaac and his son Jacob (later renamed Israel). Unfortunately, Jacob’s family ends up in Egypt because of a severe famine in Canaan. After several generations, the people of Israel are enslaved by the Egyptians, but God remembers his promise to Abraham and chooses Moses to deliver Israel and return them to the promised land. Through many spectacular deeds God rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them towards Canaan.

Their first major stop is Mount Sinai. This is where Moses first encountered the Lord in a burning bush only this time, it is a burning mountain. All the people tremble with fear when they hear the thunder and trumpet blasts as God tells them the Ten Commandments and they ask Moses to go up the mountain to speak with Him on their behalf. On the mountain, God gives Moses the Law: a covenant that promised blessing, land, riches, prosperity, peace and happiness as a reward for obedience and curses, suffering, loss, exile and death as the consequence of disobedience.

All the people agree to the terms of the covenant. God calls Moses up Mount Sinai once again to record the design for the Tabernacle where He would stay and the rules for the priests who would serve Him. And then God wrote with his own finger the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone and gave it to Moses.

But in Moses’ absence, the Israelites grew impatient. In their boredom, they broke the covenant, created a golden calf idol, offered sacrifices to it and worshiped it as the god who delivered them out of Egypt. God sees this and is about to completely destroy them, but He relents when Moses desperately intercedes and asks God to remember his sworn promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses destroys the calf, disciplines the people and God graciously renews his covenant with the congregation. The people then follow the instructions for building the Tabernacle and the Aaronite priesthood is established to offer sacrifices to protect the people from the holiness of God lest they perish for their sins while He stayed with them. Even so, as the people journey to the promised land, they stubbornly distrust and disobey God resulting in judgment after judgment and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Finally the old generation passed away and God chooses Joshua to succeed Moses and lead the Israelites into the promised land. Against intimidating foes and overwhelming odds, the Israelites invade and successfully take over Canaan because God fought for them. They settled in the land and enjoyed some of God’s good promise. But as new generations came and went, the people forgot the Lord and began worshiping other gods. They cycled back and forth between repentance when oppressed and rebellion when at peace.

Eventually, the people rejected God as their leader altogether and asked for a human king instead. Despite their treasonous request, God rebuked and warned them through his prophet Samuel and then graciously chose Saul to be the first king of Israel. Saul began well, rallying the Israelites to fight their Philistine oppressors, but his glory did not last. He quickly went astray and arrogantly disobeyed the Lord on multiple occasions while pretending to honor God. He got so bad that God regretted making him king and rejected him, seeking a man after his own heart to take his place.

That man was David, the son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. Despite being a young, lowly shepherd boy, God chose him to be king and sent the prophet Samuel to secretly anoint him in the presence of his family. From that day forward the Spirit of God was with David and left Saul. However, he did not ascend the throne overnight.

First, a tormenting spirit was sent to afflict Saul and David was called upon to play music to ease the king’s mental disturbances. This won him favor with the king. Next David was sent by his father to the battlefront against the Philistines to bring food for his brothers. With Saul and his troops daily cowering in the face of the giant Goliath, David, with God’s anointing challenged and killed the mighty champion. This won him the praise of all of Israel and in similar fashion through trial after trial, God gradually exalted David from being a lowly shepherd boy to becoming an honored leader.

Saul perceived the threat to his power and tried to kill David multiple times, forcing David to become a fugitive. But eventually God fulfilled his promise to give David the throne and Saul ends up killing himself in a desperate battle against the Philistines.

After his kingdom was firmly established, David wanted to build a house for God because until that time, God’s dwelling place was a tent—the Tabernacle. Instead God promised David that he would make him a house—a royal dynasty from his own body that would reign forever over Israel. David is overwhelmed by this promise of an everlasting dynasty and can only worshipfully ask God to fulfill his word.

God later tells David that he chose his son Solomon to be king after him and to build the temple. So, David makes extraordinary preparations before his death to ensure Solomon has everything he needs for the work including the plans, labor, finances, materials and political support. When Solomon ascended the throne, God visited him and gave him unparalleled wisdom. He successfully built the glorious temple for God to dwell in and became exceptionally famous, wealthy and powerful.

However, later in life Solomon’s heart was led astray by his many wives who worshiped foreign gods and Israel turned away from keeping the commandments of God. After his reign, Israel split into two kingdoms with two lines of kings. Some feared God and obeyed him while others continued to lead Israel astray in worshiping false gods and behaving like the surrounding nations.

The injustice, idolatry and immorality in the land becomes so severe that God finally evicts Israel out of the promised land. The Assyrians invade, defeat and exile the northern kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians invade, defeat and exile the southern kingdom of Judah.

It is a dark time. The glory of God departs and the temple is destroyed. David’s descendant no longer sits on the throne. The Law of Moses has been broken and its severe consequences have been enacted. Abraham’s descendants are scattered to the ends of the earth and the land is no longer theirs. God’s promise seems nullified (though it actually was the fulfillment of the covenant curses).

But during this time of despair and sorrow, God sent his prophets to promise that he would gather the people of Israel from the four corners of the earth and bring them back to the land he promised to their forefathers. God promised a new covenant in which he would give his people a new heart to fear him and cause them to walk in his commandments. He promised a new covenant in which he would remember their sins no more.

And God began to make a name for himself among the nations so that even the idolatrous King Nebuchadnezzar of the powerful Babylonian Empire was humbled before the Lord’s awesome majesty.

During these days, God raised up prophets including Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Eventually the Babylonian Empire fell to the Medo-Persian Empire as prophesied by Daniel. To fulfill the word God spoke through Jeremiah, God stirred up the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to call the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the Lord.

The Jews return to the promised land in three waves over the span of almost 100 years, facing great opposition, discouragement, delays in the work and many distractions. During this season we read of leaders like Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther along with prophets like Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The temple and the city of Jerusalem are rebuilt, but the nation continues under the reign of foreign kings. The people of Israel finally put away their idols in order to worship the Lord alone and they begin to hope for the promised Messiah of whom it is written:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2 ESV)

In other words, the people began to hope for God’s chosen king, the Anointed One, the Messiah who would restore the kingdom of God and fulfill the promise of God’s global dominion. The people believed that when the Messiah came, they would finally be free from oppression, restored to the blessings of the promised land and exalted above all the nations.

Over 400 years after the time of the last Old Testament prophet Malachi, the prophet John appeared to prepare the way for the Lord, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many people of Israel repented and were baptized. Some wondered if John was the Messiah, the Christ, but he confessed that he was not and testified that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. John testified that he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove on Jesus when he baptized him and those present heard a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus was immediately led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan for 40 days. Satan tempted him to prove that he was the Son of God by using his power to feed himself, to test if God was truly faithful by throwing himself off the top of the temple, and to worship Satan in order to get the kingdoms of the world.

Jesus successfully fought back with the word of God and passed the test. God said that he was God’s beloved Son. God said that God would not be put to the test. God said that God alone was to be worshiped.

Israel constantly distrusted and disobeyed God, pursuing its own desires in its own ways, but Jesus refused to distrust or disobey God desiring solely that God’s will be done in God’s way.

Jesus refused to disobey God to satisfy his hunger.
Jesus refused to disobey God to satisfy his doubt.
Jesus refused to disobey God to satisfy his ambition.
His hunger, doubt and ambition would be satisfied only through obedient faith.
He believed the word of God and obeyed God flawlessly.

Do you want to be like Jesus?

After John was arrested for preaching the gospel, Jesus began preaching:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV)

He called his disciples, taught, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, performed many miraculous signs, forgave sins, opposed false teaching, and step by step, made his way to the cross. He called it his hour of glorification when he would be rejected and killed by the elders, chief priests and scribes and after three days rise again. Jesus fulfilled everything that the Scriptures—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—said concerning him as the Messiah even down to his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve disciples who sold him for 30 silver coins as prophesied by Jeremiah (and Zechariah).

After many failed attempts, the Jewish leaders finally manage to arrest Jesus. They were envious of his popularity and charge him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. They hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor of the region who had the authority to put people to death. Despite his attempts to have Jesus released on the grounds of his innocence, Pilate caves in to the pressure of the crowds who demand Jesus’ execution.

Jesus is flogged, mocked, spit upon and forced to carry his cross to Mount Calvary. There he is crucified for being the King of the Jews. While on the cross Jesus continues to fulfill the Scriptures with his dying breaths. He asks God to forgive his persecutors, believing that he was dying to pay for their treason against God. He cries out to God from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and then dies.

Jesus knew that the only way he could establish God’s global kingdom without condemning God’s rebellious people was by suffering God’s wrath on their behalf. Without his death everyone would be wiped out as in the days of Noah when God destroyed humanity for all its evil.

Jesus was buried and three days later rose from the dead. He physically appeared to his apostles and disciples and sent them as his witnesses to every nation on earth to warn them about the coming judgment, urge them to repent and believe in him for the forgiveness of sins, and to baptize those who believed and received the Holy Spirit as a foretaste of eternal life in the kingdom of God.

Friends, if you have not put your trust in Jesus, today is the day to do so. Save yourselves from God’s judgment and become a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Who then is Jesus?

Jesus is the offspring promised to the first woman in Genesis who would crush the head of the serpent that deceived her and sent humanity into disaster.

Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed and in whom God would give Abraham descendants as many as the stars in the sky.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who fulfilled the Law of Moses and all the terms of the covenant by bearing the sins of the world, suffering the curse of the Law, and making atonement for sin by bearing the wrath of God on the cross. In exchange he gave his righteousness, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe in him.

Jesus is the Son of David, the offspring to whom God promised to give an everlasting throne and all dominion. He is the King not only of the Jews, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, to whom God has entrusted all judgment and given all power and authority in heaven and on earth over every single nation.

Jesus is the new temple where people meet God.

Jesus is the leader who brings those who hope in him into the true promised land—a new heavens and new earth, a perfect city designed by God with everything glorious and good brought in for the enjoyment of His redeemed people and every evil, wicked, filthy thing cast out.

Take a moment to stand in awe of Jesus Christ and worship him.

Who then are we?

After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his followers:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49 ESV)

They were Jesus’ witnesses and we are the people who believe their testimony. Jesus prayed for us saying:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:20-24 ESV)

Who are we? We are people loved by the Father and given to the Son. Children of God through faith in Jesus. Disciples who abide in Christ and abide in his Word. The body of Christ, the new temple that the Holy Spirit is building to be a permanent dwelling place for God.

In the words of the apostle Peter:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

We are God’s people, God’s priests, God’s nation, God’s possession, God proclaimers, God glorifiers.

Consider what this means for your life.

What does it mean to be God’s chosen people?
Have you experienced the vast contrast between darkness and his marvelous light?
What are the excellencies of God that you are to proclaim?
Who will you proclaim it to?

Where are we going?

Now that we have glimpsed who we are, let us go to Revelation to get a vision for where God is taking us. Where are we going?pnw_pathway

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:1-8 ESV)

There are only two places to go. Outside of Jesus Christ is the fire of second death. Inside of Jesus Christ is the beautiful holy city. God is taking those of us in Christ to His promised land: a new heavens and a new earth where we will dwell with him, see Jesus Christ face to face and enjoy him forever. We will reign with him and share in his infinite glory with ever increasing joy and brightness.

Where are we now? What time is it now?

By studying the arc of God’s story, we see that we live in the last days—the days between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. We live in the days of the Acts of the Apostles as the Church progressively proclaims the gospel to the ends of the earth. We live in a time of proclamation by word and deed, a time to get the message that “God’s Kingdom is at Hand” to every language and nation on earth. Only after the gospel has been preached to all nations will the end come. Only then will every promise be fulfilled and our hope become reality.

Consider King Jesus’ commission to his disciples in Acts:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8 ESV)

I want you to consider this. If the apostles and disciples failed to fulfill their mission, there would be no Indonesian Presbyterian Church today. The gospel would have remained stuck in Jerusalem. No missionaries would have ever reached the rest of the Middle East, modern day Europe or Asia. No one would have come to America for the sake of the gospel.

We have been the beneficiaries of God’s faithfulness in sending generation after generation to the ends of the earth to proclaim the gospel so that we today could have faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. Therefore, we are under the same obligation to our King—we share a common responsibility to get the gospel to the nations that have not yet heard.

However we define who is inside and who is outside the church, the whole point is that Jesus wants the people inside to get the gospel to the people outside.

Do you want a church of friends? Fine, but the point is to get the gospel to those who are not your friends.
Do you want a church of your ethnicity? Fine, but the point is to get the gospel to those of every ethnicity.
Do you want a church of your politics? Fine, but the point is to get the gospel of God’s power to those of every persuasion.
Do you want a church of your socioeconomic status? Fine, but the point is to get the gospel to everyone whether greater or lesser than you.

Not everyone will receive the gospel, but out of those who do there will be many outsiders whom God desires to bring inside his fold.

Before we act based purely on duty, we must remember that it was God’s Spirit that activated the believers, dispersed them and empowered their proclamation.

Only after the Holy Spirit is given to the Church on the day of Pentecost, is the gospel proclaimed. It begins with Jerusalem, spreads to Greek-speaking Jews and following persecution spreads to the Gentile nations as the Roman centurion Cornelius and his whole household receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The Spirit of Jesus was fulfilling his mission of giving the entire world the opportunity to repent and believe for the forgiveness of their sins before He comes as the judge of the world to make things right and destroy Satan, sin and death once and for all. And the Spirit of Jesus was fulfilling his mission through the people He filled.

What is God is calling us to?

Brothers and sisters, I believe God is calling us to be filled with his Spirit first. Unless we are filled with the Spirit, whatever missional activities we pursue are in vain. As long as we are worldly instead of spiritual, we will only seek our comfort, self-interest, deceive one another, fight one another, hurt one another, use one another, play favorites with one another, ignore one another, and ultimately destroy one another.

But if the word of Christ dwells in us richly, if the Spirit of Christ fills us, we will love one another, we will tell the truth to one another, we will serve one another, we will lay down our lives for one another, we will fight for one another, we will teach one another, we will bear one another’s burdens, we will not show favoritism, we will not form cliques, we will not slander, we will not manipulate, but we will do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Beloved church, my message for you is to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. Repent of your sins and confess them to the Lord that forgiveness and times of refreshing may come. Your Shepherd loves you. He does not want you to perish or to suffer the loss of your reward, he wants you to flourish and thrive and to show you the riches of his glorious grace. He wants you to share in his glory and fulfill his good purpose for you. God is for you—he wants you to make it and that is why he will not let you stay as you are, he will not let you wallow in the status quo.

The Kingdom of God is at hand! It is glorious. It is full of justice, righteousness and steadfast love.

When the Holy Spirit reigns in your heart you will experience:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Do you want that?
Do you want others to experience that from you?

Beloved today is the day. If you hear God calling, do not harden your hearts. Hear the Word of the Lord and repent of your sins and put your hope in the Lord. Ask him to fill you with His Spirit and ask the Spirit to direct your life.

If you confess Jesus Christ as Lord, then honor him by obeying him. And this is his commandment: that you love one another. As Christ has loved you, so you must love one another. And this love and the Spirit’s power will direct you individually and corporately on the mission that God has called this community to.

There is one Lord and his mission is for the gospel of his kingdom to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Where we fit in that picture is something that together we must ask the Spirit to lead us in as we search the Scriptures and our own lives. It will take time. But I urge you to take the first step today by submitting to the Lord:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10 ESV)

Give him your heart—not as an act of devotion, but because you are desperate for him to make your heart right before God and to uproot the sins that cling to you so closely and to give you the fruit of his work in your life.

seattle_space_needle_sunsetAnd if the Lord wills, this can be our story. That in our time of pain, confusion, weakness and brokenness, the Holy Spirit came upon us with power and transformed us so that in a way uniquely suited to us, God made us His witnesses in Seattle, Indonesia and to the ends of the earth.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, we tremble before your awesome majesty. Who is a God like you? Holy, righteous, the creator, ruler and redeemer of all things. We tremble because we are not holy or righteous.

Despite the grace you pour out on us day after day, we forget you. We forget what your grace is for. We forget your extraordinary love for us in sending Jesus Christ to die in our place for our sins and to give to us everlasting life in a new creation without pain, suffering, sin or death. We forget that you never intended for the message of the cross to stop with us, but that you always meant for it to reach the ends of the earth so that you would be worshiped by every nation.

We are allured by worldliness. We love so many things more than we love you. We disobey you and do not give it a second thought. We seek our comfort and security instead of your kingdom and for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

O Lord, forgive us. Forgive us and let times of refreshing come. Holy Spirit, please be merciful to us and convict us personally of our sins that we may confess them, repent of them and be restored to a life of joyful obedience and unshakable faith in Christ Jesus. O Lord, restore to us the joy of your salvation. Make us a people who know who we are in Christ. Make us a people who love one another as Christ as loved us and laid down his life for us.

Father, thank you for disciplining us in love. You always give us only the best. It is painful, but already we see glimpses of your grace working holiness in us. Complete the good work you have begun in us. Fill us with your Spirit and give us boldness as you send us out to live a life worthy of the gospel and to proclaim the hope of your kingdom clearly to those who need to hear.

Give us one heart, one mind, and one voice in accord with the heart, mind and voice of Jesus Christ our King so that we may welcome one another for your glory Father.

We humbly ask in Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

My Ordination Vows

Today, I’m going to be installed as an elder of Indonesian Presbyterian Church. I confess, I find it a responsibility too great to bear, but when I consider my Lord Jesus Christ, who as the Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, I know that as his disciple I must follow him by faith.

As a witness to the promises I make to God and his people, I am publishing my responses to the 2013 Ordination Questions here.

Do you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, acknowledge him as Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Yes, Jesus Christ saved me from God’s wrath by offering himself as a propitiation for my sins (Romans 3:21-26). By faith I am united with him in his death and resurrection and will inherit eternal life (Ephesians 2:4-7). Hence, all authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18) especially over my life, having been ransomed by his blood (1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Peter 1:18). By his grace (Ephesians 2:8) I believe in one God who saves me, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the praise of His glorious grace.

Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal and God’s Word to you?

Yes, I accept all Scriptures as God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), they point to Christ (John 5:39, Luke 24:27), and cannot be broken (John 10:35) , which Christ himself did not abolish one jot or tittle, but rather fulfilled (Matthew 5:17), and is God’s unfailing word which without a doubt will be fulfilled (Joshua 21:45) and is the word of truth (Colossians 1:5), God’s Word to me by which I have been born again (1 Peter 1:23-25), which is to dwell in me richly (Colossians 3:16).

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

Yes, having read the Book of Confessions, initially compiled in 1967, I sincerely adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church. In points of conscience or disagreement, I agree to be instructed and led by those confessions in leading others while continually considering them and teaching them in light of the Scriptures they are expositing.

Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture and be continually guided by our confessions?

Yes, my ministry as defined in 1 Peter 5, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:6-16, Titus 1:5-9 and elsewhere, I accept responsibility for, by faith that Christ will supply me the necessary mercy and grace to walk in obedience to him according to the Scriptures and guided by our confessions.

Will you be governed by our church’s polity and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?

Yes, with Scripture binding my conscience, I agree to be governed by our church’s polity and discipline, loving my colleagues in ministry and collaborating with them.

Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors and work for the reconciliation of the world?

Yes, by faith and by God’s mercy, I do not desire to save my life, but to lose it for Christ’s sake, taking up my cross and following him (Matthew 16:24-25). In obedience to him, I seek to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:30-31). And having peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), my mediator, I will seek to appeal to the world to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

Do you promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the Church?

Yes, by God’s mercy, I promise with all humility and gentleness, with patience and loving forbearance, to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as is worthy of the call of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3). This unity and peace are founded upon the pure doctrine of the gospel (1 Timothy 3:14-4:16), which declares the one hope that belongs to my call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-5). With what grace God has given me, and in whatever capacity he pleases to give me to his Church, I aim to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). I aim to help protect the flock of God from human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes by helping them grow to maturity by cultivating a culture of speaking the truth in love instead of lying, deception and/or passivity (Ephesians 4:15-16) rooted in the doctrine of our new identity in Christ (Ephesians 4:17-23), which teaches us that we are now members of one another and therefore must put away falsehood and speak the truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25). Through means such as these, I hope to further the true peace, unity and purity of the Church.

Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?

Yes, with what grace God has given me, I promise to seek to do good to those he has entrusted to my care.

Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

According to God’s mercy, I promise to take responsibility for the spiritual growth of the members of this church, that they may love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves. This includes helping unleash the gifts God gives (1 Corinthians 12) them that they may fully exercise them for his glory and to do good to others (Titus 3). This includes binding up their wounds, strengthening the weak, healing the sick, seeking the lost, bringing back those who have gone astray (Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 23:4). By God’s grace, I promise to take responsibility to serve the wider body of Christ in government, discipline and decision-making and to try to reflect the perfect unity of Christ’s love and justice in my ministry (John 1:16-17).

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian (Part 6 of 6)

This is the final post in a series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and today we are wrapping it up with Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit and Delivers Results. The previous post was on Vocally Self Critical; Earn Trust of Others; Dive Deep and you can see the full list here. I want to thank the many friends who worked through these principles and the Scriptures together with me over the course of 6 weeks back in October/November–it has been a joy and I thank God for you all!


This is the last in our series comparing Amazon leadership principles with Scripture and though there remains room for further study, I hope what I’ve shared has been helpful. The good news is that growing as a leader at Amazon means growing as a Christian and although these principles do not exhaust the fruits of the Spirit or Peter’s list of virtues, let’s thank God that we can excel in following Jesus while succeeding at Amazon.

Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Why is it difficult to have backbone? Can you share examples of where having backbone resulted in a positive or negative outcome?

In our discussion, we shared about the easy tendency towards passive aggressiveness when we succumb to social cohesion. As Christians, there seems to be a tension between the gentleness we are called to and the apparent aggressiveness of respectfully challenging decisions we disagree with. Sometimes it feels like the most aggressive people in voicing their opinions “win” and the meek are ignored (allusions to Matthew 5:5?). In fact one person received feedback to the effect of, “You need to be more vocal—you’re not here to build relationships, you’re here to get stuff done!”

It seems that at the heart of this tension is a distinction over the substance of the disagreement: Don’t disagree over egos, disagree over data (aka the truth). Having backbone is not contrary to Christian gentleness when we are slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger (James 1:19). Forcing your opinion, being aggressive and not listening should not be mistaken for having backbone. Even within Amazon, this principle is balanced by diving deep into the data and being vocally self critical.

Thankfully appealing to data and appealing to customers works much of the time in Amazon. It requires more work to sedulously test assumptions and compile the facts, but doing so often influences decisions and produces results. For example, one TPM had a feature that needed buy-in from many stakeholders who were already deluged with other work. By presenting the data and demonstrating its value to the business and our customers, he was able to get the resources despite the pushback from others who were displeased.

Delivers ResultsDelivers Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

What does it mean to settle?

In Amazon there are so many stakeholders from designers to developers to legal, finance, and other teams that any new initiative is bound to face an intimidating array of challenges. When you get pushback from all sides, you keep striving to overcome them instead of giving up—this principle seems to value perseverance.

Why do leaders focus on the key inputs?

Perhaps because they cannot control the outcomes, but in a sense they have faith that focusing on the right inputs (which they can control) will result in the output they desire.

What happens if you fail to deliver a result?

This probably ties in with being vocally self critical—admit the problem first and don’t blame it on others. Take responsibility, fail fast and recover.

What are relevant Scriptures to this principle?

As you can see from the brevity of the responses to these questions, we didn’t have much time to discuss “Delivers Results”. However, as Christians, we know Jesus expects us to “deliver results” by the grace he supplies, the right input being “remaining in him”:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Paul explains that in ministry, the results are from the Lord and all ministers of the gospel can do is focus on the inputs:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Endurance and perseverance amidst trials and persecutions are also essential to maturity and finishing the race of life:

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

(see also Romans 5)

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12)

(see also Hebrews 12)

In all these we know that the end result is praise, glory and honor to God:

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Food for thought:

How is there room for grace in a corporate environment?

Are “Has Backbone, Disagree and Commit” and “Delivers Results” principles that can and should be applied outside of Amazon to churches for example?

Please leave a comment and like/share/tweet/+1 this series if you’ve found it helpful.

Thanks! Soli Deo Gloria.