Thoughts on the Bezos’ Divorce

I was sad to read that Jeff & MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

After commenting on Amazon Leadership Principles, Jeff Bezos’ biggest fear and also comparing Bezos’ wisdom with the Bible, it was disheartening to see a leader I respect choose divorce.

Others have explored the implications of the divorce to Amazon investors, the challenges of marriage among startup founders, as well as the modern trend of “conscious uncoupling”.

I do not know Jeff personally, nor am I married, so I’m not here to judge. I just want to take what he and MacKenzie wrote at face value and think about what it means. I’m processing out loud.

Here’s their Tweet:

Frankly, my heart winces at these well-crafted words. They project unreserved optimism without acknowledging pain. While a respect for privacy and not going into the reasons why is understandable, this level of positivity perplexes me.

After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation…

It sounds like Jeff conducted an experiment to see if he and MacKenzie would be happier apart. Although it may have been a long process with “great deliberation and consultation” (cf a recent Amazon shareholder letter on decision making), experimental separation combined with loving exploration seems to result in a foregone conclusion.

New relationships are front-loaded with excitement. If you think short-term, this will always feel better than going back to long-running unresolved marriage problems. How does this decision accord with ownership and long-term thinking?

Lucky, grateful, would do it again…

The gratitude expressed in the Tweet is fantastic, which makes the decision to divorce all the more jarring. Perhaps it means that their choice doesn’t erase any of the goodness of the past–they just want to be freed up for the future.

But something feels off about that logic…maybe because it epitomizes the modern conception of marriage as self-fulfillment?

Using Amazon’s language of Customer Obsession, we could ask, “Who is the ‘customer’ of marriage?” Is it the partners, the children, society, God, or maybe all of the above? If marriage were a product (it’s certainly more than that), what would it look like to work backwards and iterate so that it fulfilled more of its purpose?

Labels have changed from married to divorced, but we’re still cherished friends…

What’s significant about dropping the marriage label? Jeff and MacKenzie are already parents, friends, partners, individuals and a family. What does it mean to be cherished friends, but no longer a married couple?

I’m guessing that it means you don’t have sex, no longer express intimacy or romantic affection towards one another, and drop all expectations of exclusivity and personal commitment. Which leads to the seemingly impregnable question: Why?

Not to belittle or oversimplify the very real struggles of marriage and the uniqueness of every situation, let’s imagine applying Amazon’s 5 Why’s exercise to this situation:

Why is marriage no longer a suitable label for our relationship?

Because we don’t love each other.

Why don’t we love each other?

Because we don’t spend time together.

Why don’t we spend time together?

Because we want different things.

Why do we want different things?

Because we already have all we want materially and the things money can’t buy require sacrifices we don’t want to make for each other.

Why won’t we make these sacrifices for each other?

… at this point, I find Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8-9 incisive…

What now?

The Bible teaches Christians to pray for those in power. Money is power and the Bezos are the richest couple in the world.

So last Thursday, I gathered with 30 other people in South Lake Union (Amazon HQ’s neighborhood) to give thanks and pray for the Bezos, their family, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, the whole Seattle tech scene, the relentless tech culture and the Christians who work in it. We also prayed for each other and for the impact of the tech industry on our communities.

If you’re a Christian reading this, may I invite you to pray for Jeff, MacKenzie and their family?

And if you want to pray with others, you can join our next Seattle meetup or Contact Me if you’d like materials to help you start a Pray 4 Tech gathering in your community.

Leadership mistake: Worrying about the wrong things

Leadership often begins with vision, a description of where you’re leading people. It takes courage to cast vision because: what if you’re wrong?

Irresponsible leaders couldn’t care less. They’ll say whatever it takes to get what they want in the moment.

But I’m guessing that many people are overly cautious about sharing what they see.

So here’s two mistakes I’ve made regarding vision to encourage you to voice your vision to others (if you’re like me).

Mistake #1. Worrying about naysayers instead of finding and investing in soulmates.

Whether it’s due to insecurity or upbringing, I’ve always been driven to convince people about my ideas.

I think through every possible objection and summon rigorous counterarguments before anyone brings them up. I want to be right.

Unfortunately, such intellectual effort is not only exhausting, but often unnecessary (and paralyzing). I end up communicating with people under the assumption that they will reject me. I assume they are looking for a reason to say, “No” to my ideas.

The fear of rejection makes it so tiring it’s easier to not even try.

I don’t publish the blogpost. I don’t send the message. I don’t deliver the presentation.

That’s not leadership.

Correction: Focus on finding and investing in “soulmates” instead of worrying about “naysayers”.

“Soulmates” want to understand and strengthen your vision. They want to be persuaded and even their most critical feedback is for good.

“Naysayers” for whatever reason want to tear your vision apart. Don’t worry about them. Circumstances outside your control have to change for them to be open to your vision.

So make your pitch and discern if the person you’re talking to is a “soulmate”, “naysayer” or something else. Invest in your “soulmates”.

Mistake #2. Worrying that the vision is too big to achieve instead of inviting others to think big with me.

My school system (Seattle Public Schools / University of Washington in the 1990s-2000s) primarily rewarded students for being self-reliant. You do your homework, take your tests and get graded individually.

Unfortunately big visions are typically group projects. You can never personally get all the skills, resources and time required to make a big vision come true.

Since self-improvement and individual achievement have long been my main source of positive reinforcement, it’s difficult to ask for help and invite people to join me. Perhaps I’m scared of the risk & responsibility.

So I naturally think small. I limit my vision to what I can personally achieve. And guess what: that’s really sad because the big vision is what can really enrich people’s lives.

That’s not leadership.

Correction: Clarify your vision by ignoring your personal means, resources and know-how. Think big and describe the vision in sufficient, inspiring detail so that others want it too.

Then work backwards.

What does the full vision require? What is the best contribution you can personally make? What do you need others to do? What can you achieve immediately? What can you achieve in a decade?

By not limiting your vision to your personal capacity, you lead others into previously unimaginable possibilities.

PS, I suppose it’s time for me to take my own advice :). I’m still discerning the big vision for TheoTech, but invite you to join our Facebook group if you want to be part of the journey. You can also follow our story on YouTube / Podcast sites.

Why church small groups discussions fail

Have you experienced this?

Awkward silence lingers until the small group leader tentatively asks another question. Everyone stares at their toes. Someone offers a nervous answer. The leader tries to parley it into a discussion, but no one really opens up.

OR

One person babbles endlessly about their ideas or problems while everyone else smiles and nods politely. They want to move on, but the master conversationalist is too oblivious to make space for others.

OR

Smiles and hugs aside, everyone is putting up a front and trying to look good in front of the group. Conversations are surface level and the discussion is perfunctory (e.g. filling in the blanks in a handout with the obvious right answers).

OR

Everyone is nice to each other and loves talking about football, work, relationships, etc. But when it comes time to talk about God or the Bible, the mood shifts from a lighthearted gathering of friends to a serious high-pressure environment where everyone must bare their soul to experience enlightenment and transformation.


I cherry-picked these scenarios, but there’s many ways you can get that uncomfortable vibe when a small group discussion isn’t thriving.

In the back of your mind, you may be asking:

“Why am I here? This is a waste of time…”

Here’s one idea for how to change that:

Focus on discovering and unleashing each other’s gifts.

We’re individually supposed to fan our gifts into flame (2 Timothy 1:6). So why not help each other do this in our small groups?

We’re supposed to spur each other on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). So why don’t we make that the main goal of our small groups?

If you’ve felt bored, disappointed or maybe even guilty over letting your gifts languish and not using them fully for God’s Kingdom, don’t you think other people might feel the same way too?

What would it look like if the goal of your small group were to activate each other’s gifts and release them into the world?

I think it’d look like Paul’s description of how the Body grows up in Ephesians 4. It might even look like the seeds of a second Reformation.

So, what God-given gifts will you fan into flame?

And when you’re in a small group, how will you help fan into flame the gifts of others?

PS, I started this post over 5 years ago, so I’m not singling out any particular church. As part of a New Year commitment to write more regularly, I decided to polish the draft and ship it in 2019 🙂

Faith, Tech and Entrepreneurship: What difference does it make?

What difference does faith make when it comes to technology entrepreneurship?

This talk answers the question by comparing and contrasting Jeff Bezos’ wisdom with Biblical wisdom. By considering the commonalities, we discover what’s still missing, pointing us to the ways faith makes a difference in our pursuit of technology entrepreneurship.

Note: The manuscript and slides below are from a talk delivered at the “Vocational Thriving in a Changing World” conference in Seattle, WA on May 5th, 2018. Full slides are available here.

Outline:
1. Is Bezos Biblical?
2. What’s missing
3. TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant
4. How Faith Makes A Difference


Is Bezos Biblical?

About two weeks ago, Jeff Bezos–the founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world–received the Axel Springer Award for his innovative achievements in e-commerce and digital journalism. During the corresponding interview Bezos talked about: “leaving a steady Wall Street job to start Amazon, why his rocket company Blue Origin is his most important project, and what it’s like to have Trump as your biggest critic”.

Here’s what he had to say about a few topics relevant to our conference today:

First, when was asked how he was able to leave his cushy Wall Street job to do a startup, here’s what he said:

when you have loving and supportive people in your life like Mackenzie [his wife], my parents, my grandfather, my grandmother, you end up being able to take risk because I think…you kind of know somebody’s got your back and so it’s just an–I don’t even think you’re thinking about it logically–it’s an emotional thing.”

“So I think it’s, anyway, I won that lottery, I won that lottery of having so many people in my life who have given me that unconditional love

Interesting. Jeff Bezos says that the unconditional love of his family and community were the key to his risk-taking.

What could this mean for Christians who confess the unconditional love of God?

Shouldn’t we be unleashed to think big and to take big risks for God’s Kingdom?

And if we aren’t, what does it say about the love in our churches and our personal experience of God’s love?

Second, let’s talk about criticism. Here’s what Bezos said about being criticized:

“Well, first of all, with any criticism, my approach to criticism and what I teach and preach inside Amazon is when you’re criticized, first look in a mirror and decide are your critics right? If they’re right, change, don’t resist.”

Interesting. Doesn’t this sound a lot like biblical wisdom? For example, Proverbs 15:31-32 says:

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.

Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.

How about generosity? Bezos is the richest man in the world, surely he could be doing so much more to help others? Some of his critics are pretty unhappy with how he uses his money.

Well, here’s how Bezos responded:

I’m finding I’m very motivated by the here and now…when you go study homelessness, there are a bunch of causes of homelessness. Mental incapacity issues are a very hard-to-cure problem, serious drug addiction, a very hard-to-cure problem, but there’s another bucket of homelessness which is transient homelessness, which is a woman with kids, the father runs away, and he was the only person providing any income and they have no support system, they have no family. That’s transient homelessness. You can really help that person. And you by the way, only need to help them for like six to nine months, you get them trained, you get them a job, they’re perfectly productive members of society.

Whatever critics may say, they can’t deny that his pragmatic and short-term approach to giving is reasonable. In fact, it resonates with what the Apostle Paul said he wanted Christians to do in his letter to Titus (3:14):

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

Lastly, here’s what Bezos had to say about something very important to a lot of Christians in the tech industry in particular… on work-life balance:

…this work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees, actually, and senior executive[s] at Amazon too, but especially the people coming in. We’re asked about work-life balance all the time and my view is that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade off and the reality is if I’m happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy, and if I’m happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. And so it actually is a circle, it’s not a balance. And I think that that is worth everybody paying attention to. You never want to be that guy…who as soon as they come into the meeting they drain all of the energy out of the room. You can just feel the energy level go whoof …you want to come into the office and give everybody a kick in their step.”

Some people may cynically think work-life harmony is an excuse for overwork and I’m guessing Bezos doesn’t intentionally rest on a Sabbath day, but even this response has echoes of Biblical wisdom, for example Proverbs 11:25 says:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

So what’s the point? Why do I point out the resonances between Bezos’ words and Biblical wisdom?

It’s twofold.

First, I want to show how much the capital “c” Church–of which I am a member–can learn from leaders in the tech industry. Not to overstate it, but I fear complacency, cowardice and incompetence in the Church has damaged the cause of Christ more than persecution.

  • We’re more ambitious for our careers and salaries than we are for God’s Kingdom.
  • We tolerate ineffectiveness and laziness in Christian community that would be unacceptable in the professional world.
  • We forget rigor, due diligence, and accountability when it comes to Christian leaders and causes only to get blindsided by scandal and mismanagement.
  • We uncritically assume our activities are aligned with God’s Kingdom so we can focus on pursuing our own comforts, interests and definitions of success.
  • We forgo Biblical sacrifice and suffering, believing worldly methods can accomplish God’s will.
  • We seek fame, riches and recognition for ourselves, thinking we can use it as a platform to glorify God.

I don’t like speaking this way. It’s hard to be vocally self-critical.

I know it doesn’t equally apply to everyone and that there are nuances in every person’s situation. But I’ve spoken in these terms to drive home the point that we as the Church have much to learn and much room to grow.

If technology’s power can be so effectively harnessed by entrepreneurs like Bezos to deliver spectacular shareholder value and reshape our entire world, shouldn’t it be intentionally and effectively leveraged to advance the Gospel?

The Gospel is not a hobby or a community service project. The Gospel is God’s power to save the world. If we can make our greatest strengths productive for companies in the marketplace, how can we make them productive for the Gospel too?

Which leads to my second point. In all of the biblical wisdom espoused by Jeff Bezos, what’s missing?

What’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom?

Bezos doesn’t make any reference to the Bible, God, Jesus, the Gospel, or the church, yet his answers resonate with biblical wisdom. Can we just follow what he says?

What does faith have to do with any of it? What does the Bible have to meaningfully say about technology and entrepreneurship beyond what he’s said?

To think about this question, I want to share with you this diagram I made that has helped me think about vocational integration. If you’ve heard of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, maybe you could call this “TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant for Faith-based Vocational Integration”.

TheoTech’s Magic Quadrant

On one dimension you have a range from explicitly non-Christian to explicitly Christian. On the other dimension, you have a range from the Kingdom of this World to the Kingdom of God.

 

The reason why this diagram is helpful for me is that it keeps me from making the mistake of collapsing the two dimensions.

Growing up in church, it’s really easy to mistake everything Christian with God’s Kingdom and everything non-Christian with the world.

But it only takes a little bit of experience to know how much sin, incompetence, deception and abuse happens in the Christian sphere. And it only takes a little bit of experience to discover how much justice, creativity and good there is in the non-Christian sphere.

The church has suffered great harm from the collapse of these two dimensions because it has cut it off from a lot of godly wisdom simply because it lacked the Christian label, while simultaneously embracing worldly practices simply because they were labeled Christian.

By putting each dimension on its own axis, we end up with 4 quadrants. Here’s how I’ve labeled them.

In the top left, we have explicitly Christian appearances, but beliefs and practices that are actually aligned with the Kingdom of the World. When we find laziness, cowardice, injustice and deception in quadrant 1, we are in the Hypocritical quadrant.

Below that we have the non-Christian realm intersecting with the Kingdom of the World. This is evil in its most obvious forms. For example sex trafficking. There’s nothing redemptive about it because it violates the God-given worth of its victims, abuses their sacred sexuality and robs them of their freedom.

This is the Disintegrated quadrant.

To the right we have the non-Christian realm intersecting with the Kingdom of God.

This is the “Aligned” or “Common Good” quadrant. I might place the philanthropic work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to alleviate global poverty here for example.

And above that we have the Integrated quadrant.

This is where the opening lines of the Lord’s prayer are fulfilled. Not only is God’s will practiced in justice, righteousness and steadfast love, or God’s creativity reflected in wonderful inventions, but God’s name is also explicitly hallowed.

By putting “How close is it to the Kingdom of God” on a different axis than “How Christian is it?” we have a category for all the ungodly things that happen in explicitly Christian contexts. We also have a category for all the glorious and good things that happen in explicitly non-Christian contexts. And as Christians in any context we can discern the “True North” of God’s Kingdom and actively move things in that direction.

Applying the Magic Quadrant

Let’s look at a few examples of how to use these quadrants.

How many of you have heard of Theranos?

Theranos is a startup founded in 2003 that claimed to revolutionize medical testing through new technology that could run comprehensive tests on just a few drops of blood. This would make medical testing incredibly affordable for the masses. The founder was a brilliant storyteller. Widely praised by the press, Theranos eventually raised $700 million at a $9 billion valuation. It sounds fantastic, the kind of company that would fall under the “Kingdom Aligned”/“Common Good” quadrant.

But in March of 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the company with defrauding investors by lying about the company’s technology and business performance. It turned out the tech was a total failure and today its value is virtually nil. Not only were investors swindled, but thousands of people who used the unreliable technology may have been misdiagnosed and harmed.

If you were a whistleblower in such a company, Christian or not, your actions would have aligned with God’s Kingdom and pushed the company towards the Aligned quadrant.

For a second example: How many of you have experienced a church scandal or at least a serious church conflict?

Isn’t it scary when God’s Word and Christian religiosity are used to cover up lies, protect abusers, or swindle people out of their money?

When you stand for the truth in such situations, perhaps at great personal cost to your relationships and reputation, you’re pushing things away from the hypocritical, worldly quadrant and towards the Integrated quadrant. You’re fulfilling Jesus’ description of being salt and light.

Alright, so this is how I think these quadrants can show us what’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom.

The biblical resonances in Jeff Bezos’ thinking exist in the “Kingdom Aligned” quadrant. That’s what makes it so insightful and effective. It’s not explicitly Christian or Gospel-oriented, but as Christians we affirm and learn from it. It reflects God’s wisdom and simply acknowledging God as its source would move it towards the Integrated column.

However, it’s not enough for us as Christians to stay in the “Aligned” quadrant. If we do, we get stuck in our faith.

If the most we can say about being a Christian engineer is “be a competent and honest engineer”, then the Christian adjective doesn’t really make a difference.

Many people want to do good, find meaning and purpose in work, express their creativity, make good money, and serve with excellence. It’s all well and good, but to paraphrase Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “If you’re just as good as everybody else, what’s the point? … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We live in a post-Christian context. If your faith has nothing meaningful to add, maybe we’d be better off just going to top tech conferences like AWS:Reinvent or Google I/O. Maybe we’d be better off learning leadership from Jeff Bezos than pastors. Maybe we’d be better off creating the wildly successful startups of tomorrow rather than investing in church planting.

But I hope to show you, as this diagram makes clear, that these options are not mutually exclusive and that faith does make a big difference–if we’re willing to act on it.

How Faith Makes a Difference

So how does faith make a difference? Here are three ways that I see faith making a difference for technology entrepreneurship.

#1: Faith makes God your ultimate customer
#2: Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy
#3: Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission

Faith makes God your ultimate customer

First, faith makes God your ultimate customer.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The customer is always right” or “The customer is king?” Well I learned from one of the panelists we will hear from later today that in Japan, they actually say, “The customer is God.”

okyakusama wa kamisama desu” / 「おきゃくさま は かみさま です”」

Wow.

In a consumerist society that supremely values the customer, the only way a Christian can be faithful is to say, “God is my customer.”

Now you may ask, “Chris, that sounds nice, but what does this actually mean in practice?”

And I’d like to give you two approaches one is top-down, the other is bottom-up.

First, when God is your customer, it means that you will apply God-centered design instead of human-centered design in everything you create. You will deeply empathize with what God desires and study the Scriptures to understand his vision. Then you will work backwards to design a product or service that delivers the results God wants.

In my company, we’ve tried to practice this principle in the design of a prayer app called Ceaseless. We worked backwards from 1 Timothy 2, where the Scriptures say that God wants Christians to pray for all people because He desires all people to be saved. With that user goal in mind, we built an app that helps Christians do God’s will when it comes to prayer.

 

Instead of adding a Facebook “pray” button or focusing on ways to request prayer, Ceaseless is designed to help you pray for others.

It integrates with the address book on your phone and shows three people to pray for each morning. By showing you the full breadth of your relationships one day at a time, Ceaseless helps Christians, not only have more discipline or enjoyment in prayer, it actually helps Christians pray according to God’s will and desire that all people be saved.

That’s one very practical example of the principle of “God is my customer” in action. That’s the top-down Bible-based approach.

There’s also a bottom-up people-based approach.

We believe God became a human being and walked among us. The Incarnation, God in the flesh, means that many of the tools of human-centered design are transferable to a mindset where God is the customer.

Let’s pretend you own a food truck startup making multi-ethnic food available in highly trafficked locations on-demand. I actually heard a pitch for a startup like this by some students from Seattle Pacific University. They called it “Chomp!”.

Anyway, let’s say you were creating this startup. What would it look like for God to be your ultimate customer?

Well, let’s imagine it’s 1pm and Jesus literally shows up at your food truck because he wants some of your famous jambalaya, Ethiopian flatbread and spicy popcorn chicken.

I’m drooling. It may feel silly, but let’s think about this.

What if Jesus showed up as a customer? What kind of experience would you want him to have?

What if your truck was really popular and he had to wait in line for an hour in the rain–what would you do for him? What if he showed up and didn’t have enough cash–how would you treat him? How would you treat your God?

Although the idea may seem comical at first, the principle is powerful. Making God your customer is a driver for innovation and excellence. It applies the words of Jesus: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Faith makes God your ultimate customer.

Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy

Okay, a second way that faith makes a difference in technology entrepreneurship is that it makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy.

Today’s tech founders are so valuable and powerful because they’ve had spectacular exits. They’ve taken their startups from zero to a large acquisition or successful IPO.

They’re now so rich that they aren’t really sure what to do with all that money.

So what do they do? They set their sights on even bigger dreams. Some focus on immortality through medical science, some focus on saving humanity from the AI-apocalypse while still others focus on space, the final frontier.

Here’s what Jeff Bezos said he would do with his 12-digit net worth:  

I believe on the longest time frame — and really here I’m thinking of a time frame of a couple hundred years … I believe…that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work I’m doing.”

“I’m pursuing this work because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren to lie in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change and let’s think about what powers that. We are not really energy constrained…Now if you take baseline energy usage…and compound it at just a few percent a year for just a few hundred years, you have to cover the entire surface of the Earth in solar cells. So that’s the real energy crisis and it’s happening soon…So what can you do? Well, you can have a life of stasis where you cap how much energy we get to use…[Or] take the alternative scenario where you move out into the solar system. The solar system can easily support a trillion humans, and if we had a trillion humans, we would have 1,000 Einsteins and 1,000 Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources from solar power and so on. Why not? that’s the world that I want my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren to live in.

That’s Bezos’ vision of humanity’s salvation, filling the heavens (aka space) where we will find limitless resources to provide for all of humanity’s needs.

Let’s compare this with the Christian vision of salvation through a snippet from Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Although it’s apocalyptic literature, I think we can say that in the long term future of God’s plan there will be infinite energy, unparalleled beauty, boundless life, complete healing, righteous power and deeply satisfying relationships with God and one another. Everything will finally make sense. Everything will finally be made right.

Christians in technology and business need to grapple with this.

What does salvation mean to us? What’s the endgame?

Which story are we living? Where do the narratives align and diverge?

Bezos sees energy scarcity as one of humanity’s biggest existential crises and he wants to use his billions to solve it by sending more humans to space. We see sin and Satan’s dominion as humanity’s biggest existential threat and we want to see billions of people experiencing the power of the Gospel so that they can inherit a renewed, flourishing planet and Universe that the Creator will give to us forever.

Yes, space exploration can serve the common good and align with God’s vision for humanity. Human beings reflect God’s glory by being relentlessly curious: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). Whose to say we won’t be a spacefaring civilization in the New Creation?

 

But as Christians, we must also seek the uncommon good. We must lead not only in creativity, curiosity or ethics; we need to lead in eschatology, in hope. We can’t be ashamed of the hope of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for every human being not only in the past, not only in the distant future, but in the here and now.

If we really believe that through faith in Jesus Christ, God will raise us from the dead and give us a magnificent inheritance in the New Creation forever, it will change the way we go about building companies, inventing technologies and serving the common good.

Everything we create will be yet another foretaste of the future we believe God is preparing for us. We can’t help but infuse our products, services and organizations with the flavor of God’s Kingdom. And anytime our customers, investors, employees, vendors and colleagues delight in what we do, we’ve inadvertently witnessed to them about God.

The Kingdom of God is like a startup, let’s call it Gospel Inc. At the price of his blood, Jesus acquired us from being slaves of the Devil and now he’s made us co-owners of his company by giving us shares.

Right now our shares may not seem like they’re worth much. Gospel Inc. hasn’t gone IPO yet. But it has paid dividends through the joy and power of the Holy Spirit that we experience today.

And one day, when Jesus returns, when the New Creation finally launches, when Gospel Inc. goes public, our shares will be worth infinitely more than we ever dreamed.

As of this writing, 1 Amazon stock would cost you $1,580 (5/6/2018) $1,974 (9/25/2018).

The price of a share in Gospel Inc.? Free.

The value? Priceless.

Isn’t this why the Scriptures say, “Good news is preached to the poor”? The poor may not be able to buy Amazon stock, but they can receive by faith in Christ, something worth infinitely more in the long term. And when we use our Amazon stock to share with them the good news in word and deed, we show that our hope is in that future too.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it in 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy.

Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission

Every modern organization has a vision and mission statement. Churches, businesses and even small meetups have a reason why they exist and how they fulfill that purpose.

A lot of books, teachers and coaches focus on how to help you find your calling, your purpose, your personal mission(s). I get it, everybody wants to know “Why do I exist?”

However, I think sometimes we can get stuck and frustrated trying to figure out our passions, interests and skills instead of lifting our heads and being captivated by the big picture vocation God has given to the Church.

What if instead of working forwards from our personality and life situation towards what God might want, we worked backwards from God’s vision and mission to our circumstances and calling?

Here’s how we’ve tried to do it in my company TheoTech. We’ve built a real time translation product called spf.io with a very succinct and common good mission: “To make every event accessible in any language”

Spf.io enables events like this one to be accessible to people in many languages with the tap of a button on their smartphones. I can speak freely and you can receive captions or translations of what I say in real time. It has widespread applications throughout society and I think spf.io’s mission is something that a lot of people can get behind, Christian or not.

But where did this mission come from? It came from God’s vision and mission.

In Revelation 7, the Apostle John receives a vision from God where he sees people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping Jesus together. In Matthew 24, Jesus specifically says that the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to every nation before the end will come.

So working backwards from this criteria, we decided on a mission for our product spf.io that would align with God’s as best as we could: “to make every event accessible in any language.” If that mission is fulfilled, it will contribute to the gospel being preached to every nation. If that mission is fulfilled, it will contribute to foretastes of God’s vision by making it possible for people to worship together in many languages every Sunday in every church.

 

That’s one example of how faith has informed and shaped the way we practice technology entrepreneurship. It’s how we move from the “Aligned” quadrant to the “Integrated” quadrant.

Faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission.

So what?

So what.

You may think, “Chris, that all sounds really cool, but what does it mean for me in my work? I’m not a senior leader. I’m not an influencer. I’m still just learning, trying to figure out the basics. I just need to make a living. I want to integrate my faith and work, but what can I do?” (Start now. Build God’s Kingdom into the DNA of your career from the outset.)

Or maybe you think, “Chris, you’re crazy. You take the Bible too far to the extremes. Can’t we just do good works, succeed in our jobs and lead a quiet, dignified life as the Bible says?” (You can do all these things. But just know that they are not all of what God calls us to. You get to choose how much you want to buy into the Kingdom of God.)

Or maybe you’re thinking, “Chris, this is too abstract and impractical. I’m bored at work and stuck in a dead end job with a manager who doesn’t care. I’m tired of the drama and just want something more fulfilling that pays well.” (God cares about your work. When you make it about serving Him wholeheartedly instead of your boss, you may find the freedom, joy and guidance you’ve always longed for.)

Well I’m glad you asked, because we’re about to get really practical.

I’m going to invite three panelists to share about how they’ve practiced faith and work integration in tech, their struggles as well as their successes. (Unfortunately panelist responses were not recorded.)

But before we move on, let me restate the outline of this talk.

We started by asking, “Is Bezos Biblical?” and traced through some of his thinking and how it aligns with what the Bible says in several areas. The Church has much to learn from technology entrepreneurs and Bezos in particular. He may be a modern Cyrus or Solomon.

Then we asked, “What’s missing in Bezos’ wisdom?”

I showed you this diagram to help categorize our experiences and orient our actions towards God’s Kingdom in any context. In whatever quadrant we find ourselves, our organizations, or our societies, we serve as salt and light by relentlessly pressing into the Integrated Kingdom of God quadrant. Being a pastor is not anymore significant than being a software engineer, but serving God’s Kingdom is significantly different than serving the Kingdom of the World.

Next, we asked, “How does faith make a difference?”

I gave three examples of how faith impacts technology entrepreneurship:

First, faith makes God your ultimate customer. In a world-age where the customer is god, making God the customer is not merely a nice idea–it is the only way we can be faithful to Christ while benefitting society and thriving at the same time. By obsessing over God as your customer, you get to know God better.

Second, faith makes eternal salvation your ultimate exit strategy. Instead of hoping to become overnight billionaires by going IPO, we fix our hope on the return of Christ as our true reward.

Third, faith makes God’s Kingdom your ultimate vision and mission. Even though we don’t always have control or even clarity about our personal or organizational visions or missions, we proactively seek to align any areas of our influence with God’s stated plan.

All Things Work for Good?

I got to preach from my favorite Bible passage on August 2017. If you’ve ever struggled with believing God loves you, this message is for you! 🙂 Below is a recording of the sermon as well as the English manuscript.

All Things Work for Good?

My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. It goes like this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

I can’t remember when it became my favorite, but I do remember why. As an anxious young person, that verse was a great comfort whenever I was afraid of a bad outcome.

Before taking important tests, before violin auditions or sports tryouts, before applying for school or jobs, before nerve-wracking interviews, before asking a girl out, before difficult conversations and major decisions, I could pray and remind myself that for those who love God, all things–including the possible undesirable outcomes–work together for good.

So all I had to do was love God…and go crazy doing everything I possibly could to ensure that I got the outcome I wanted.

Sometimes things would go well. When they didn’t, I could attribute it to God’s will and trust that it would work for my good. This was my way of practicing the saying, “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” It was a form of therapy, a way to let go of negative things outside of my control by believing something better was on it’s way.

As Christians we can be conditioned to always look for ways God is turning unwanted circumstances for good. But, as I’m sure many of you can attest, life does not always follow this pattern.

Eventually, you hit a stretch, a prolonged season of trials, disappointments, hurts, failures and defeats. A season of doubting God’s love. A season that feels like it will not end until it contradicts and crushes your formerly childlike faith.

This season began for me about four years ago.

Weathering the seasons of doubt

To keep a long story short, about four years ago, I believe God called me (and confirmed it through trusted friends and family), to leave my job as a software engineer at Amazon in order to start a technology company that would make God its customer. A company that would obsess over God’s desires and work backwards to invent products that would aim to fulfill those desires.

It was like a voice saying, “Chris, I want you to leave your job and devote your attention to the purpose I have called you to and trust in me to provide for you.”

And so I did. I co-organized an event bringing together Christian technologists to use their tech skills to build solutions to Kingdom challenges. We launched Ceaseless, a free smartphone app that helps people pray for others by showing them three contacts to pray for each day. I built spf.io the real time translation solution my grandma is using to get this message in Indonesian right now, believing that it would help churches reflect the multilingual glory of God’s Kingdom.

Yes, by God’s grace we’ve accomplished many things, but what is the #1 thing a business needs?

Paying customers.

And this was the great struggle. We certainly had fans who were supportive of our mission, but paying customers were scarce.

I wanted to trust that God would provide, but many times it felt like I was providing for myself. It felt like I was being faithful and giving my best to serve God’s purpose only to find that seeking “the Kingdom” first wasn’t working.

Maybe it isn’t more blessed to give than to receive. Maybe God won’t bless and establish the works of our hands. Maybe God called me to failure to humble me. Or to mimic ancient Israel’s grumbling: Maybe God brought me into the wilderness to kill me.

When everything feels hopeless, Romans 8:28 can become a forgettable platitude instead of a strong comfort.

Today, I’m using my story in conversation with Romans 8 as an example, but the real aim is to help all of us remember and rejoice in the hope of the Gospel, so that in the most difficult circumstances we are facing or will face, we can praise God for His unfailing love and obey Him.

I think sometimes we feel far from God, not because God is far from us or doesn’t “get us,” but because we don’t “get him”. The Bible helps us to “get him”, so that instead of assuming we know God, we get to have the heart to heart conversation with God that we need. And not just a one-way, “I’m pouring out my guts to you God” conversation, but also the “I’m listening…oh, so that’s what’s on your heart…I see”

What are we hoping for anyway?

So let’s read through Romans 8 beginning with verse 14.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

A little commentary here: Paul has explained the new identity in Christ we receive as a free gift, and the holy living it creates by the Spirit (as opposed to the law, which could only condemn). The spirit of slavery to sin controls us through the fear of condemnation and death.

The Spirit of God whom we receive by faith casts out fear and testifies that we are God’s children. This includes the intimacy of crying out to our Dad as well as the regal privilege of inheriting everything that belongs to Him, namely all of Creation.

But God’s promise and inheritance come with suffering. God’s children suffer with Christ because suffering is the prerequisite to glory.

Let’s continue with verses 18 to 25.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

So first Creation is groaning. Adam’s sin subjected Creation to futility and decay–it can’t fulfill its purpose, its full potential. Creation desperately wants to be set free, so it eagerly awaits the revelation of the glorified children of God, those who are to rule Creation, so that it can be unleashed to its full glory also.

Second, we are groaning. Why do we groan? Well, it’s not because someone told a bad joke. It’s because we’re in pain. Creation is in the pains of childbirth and we are in the pains of waiting for the day of our adoption when we will attain the full rights and privileges of being children of God, a major one being immortality, eternal life, the redemption of our mortal bodies for new glorified ones.

This is the payoff. This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is why we put our faith in Jesus.

Why were we justified by Christ’s blood? Why were we saved from the wrath of God? Why were we reconciled by Christ’s death and saved by his life? It was for this, getting in on this resurrection from the dead is what the Apostle Paul and us have been hoping for all along.

Let me restate it. We are hoping and eagerly waiting for the day when God will restore and glorify all of Creation, beginning with us, his children, who are to inherit the New Creation and rule it with Christ.

Paul is lifting our sights here to show us why our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. He zooms out to a cosmic scale, stretching our imagination and making us think bigger and bigger in order to feel the vast scope of God’s redemption, so that we get why the groaning and waiting is worth it.

When we’re clobbered by our circumstances, we need to Think Big. We need to zoom out and think about the Big Picture of God’s redemption. Don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel. One of the mistakes I often make is to shift from the Big Picture hope to the small. I interpret Romans 8:28 in light of my immediate circumstances and shift my hope from receiving a resurrection body in the new creation to a particular relationship, a financial breakthrough, defeating an adversary, a miraculous healing, etc.

If I shift my hope and get disappointed, I end up doubting God’s love and God’s goodness. I try to clobber the circumstance into a lesson learned. I try to psychologize why the bad circumstances are actually good. I get obsessed expecting that God must do the impossible in my life (for his glory of course!) only to feel utterly let down when he doesn’t.

Even if I get what I want, shifting my hope is dangerous because I get comfortable thinking I must be in God’s will because of my successful circumstances and so in love with the comforts of this world, I stop hoping for the Kingdom of God.

Keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel.

Getting the help we really need

Now on to verses 26-30.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

So we read earlier that Creation groans for the glory, that we ourselves groan for the glory, and now we read that God’s Spirit groans with us.

I have a friend who likes to end every phone call with, “Brother, is there anything I can do for you?” and it’s funny because most of the time it catches me off guard and I just think of something he can pray for me.

If God were to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I’m sure we would blurt out quite a few ideas, but pretty soon the breadth of our requests would be so overwhelming, we would be too weak to think, much less say them all.

And here is where the Spirit comes to our aid, groaning with us and turning our groans into intercessory prayers that God fully understands. You have a Comforter who fully empathizes with your inexpressible pain and expresses it to God for you. Think about that.

How we know God absolutely loves us

And now we come to my favorite verse Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Why? Why do we know this? In Romans 5, Paul wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is a past reality that assures us of God’s love.

But in Romans 8, we read about the future reality that assures us of God’s love: God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. Keep in mind, this image is not just character, it’s a full likeness that includes an immortal resurrection body. We will be with Jesus and we will be like Jesus biologically as well as spiritually.

This is why we know all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who love God’s Son, for those who love the future God has prepared for them. It is a future so certain, Paul writes about the progression as if it has already happened: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Now Paul knows that some people may still have doubts.

“What if this glorious future does not apply to me?”

“What if I sin and fall out of God’s favor?”

“What if someone or something powerful attacks me to prevent God’s good purpose for me?”

“What if my life falls apart and everything goes bad? Does that mean I’m separated from God’s love? Does it mean God’s purpose for me failed or wasn’t good after all?”

He immediately addresses these doubts in verses 31-38

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is Paul’s response to any lingering doubts that God loves you.

First, God has proven that he is for us, not against us. God gave up his Son for us all, how could he ever be against you? On the contrary, he is so for you, that he will give you everything along with his Son.

Second, sin could separate us from God’s love, but God has already declared us just and Christ, the very person who was condemned for our sins, lives and continues to pray for our salvation with complete authority. Any accusations against us would defy God’s righteous judgment that we are justified and any condemnation for sin has already been fully exhausted on Christ–there is no condemnation left for those in Christ Jesus.

And lastly, suffering circumstances cannot separate us from the love of Christ. The Gospel teaches that we are fundamentally inseparable from Christ who loved us. He is in us and we are in Him and we are one. So, it is impossible for suffering–even the worst kind–to cut us off from his love. Whenever it tries, Christ in us makes us more than conquerors and the circumstances are overturned for our good instead.

Nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Conclusion

So what happens when we are absolutely convinced that God loves us?

Take a moment and think about that. In the hard trials you or someone you love are facing, what happens when you’re absolutely convinced that God loves you?

I’ll close with some of the things I thought of:

When we are absolutely convinced that God loves us, we stop going crazy trying to figure out how all things work together for good when they really feel like they aren’t. We stop interpreting negative circumstances and suffering as evidence that God doesn’t love us. We stop blaming ourselves for our failures and circumstances. We stop blaming God for our circumstances.

And what do we start doing?

We start to love God for giving us everything to ensure we are glorified with Christ. We start to love our neighbors as ourselves hoping that they too will share in our future inheritance in the New Creation. We start to rejoice in our sufferings because we finally believe they just aren’t worth comparing with our future glory. We start to identify with Christ as closely as he identifies with us in everything: the terrific, the terrible and even the mundane. And lastly, we start producing an abundance of good works because we simply can’t contain our eagerness for God’s good Kingdom to come.

And that is why Romans 8 is my favorite text.