Investing in Outcomes Money Can’t Buy – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 4 of 4)

Outcomes money can't buy.Image by Ervins Strauhmanis, CC2.0

As described in What I Hope To Do, I believe one of the greatest experiences a person can have is an unquenchable desire for God, which finds in Him more love, satisfaction and joy than they ever imagined. This is the kind of experience I want to invest in for others to enjoy. But, practically speaking does it make sense to do so financially?

Assuming that offering people overflowing joy in God as a value proposition is even feasible, could it be a business? What would be the just exchange of value? Can you and should you build a business model around wowing people with the grace of God, over which you have no control? Assuming you could and should, would you stake your real, hard-earned cash on it?

I want to focus on answering the last question in this post from an emotional (not technical) angle. Through seasons of discouragement and disbelief, God has comforted me with these three perspectives on my money and investment in this cause. When things seem impossible, these thoughts have strengthened my emotional fortitude by turning gloom into thankfulness and joy.

Perspective #1: There is no shame in saying, “Lord, I have nothing left to give.”

Have you ever watched your bank account go down month after month after month? It’s not a pleasant feeling. Being a self-funded entrepreneur can be a lot of that.

I’ve been tempted several times to shift from my main purpose for the sake of short term revenues like consulting gigs, but I have to keep testing each opportunity against what I believed God has called me to. Sometimes I do wonder what might happen if there is no breakthrough and my bank account goes to $0.00.

I’ve been comforted with the realization that even if I reach a point when I say, “Lord, that’s all I got. There’s nothing left to give.” it would actually be an occasion for joy and not shame! Why should I be ashamed of giving all I have for His purpose? To the contrary it would be an honor to show how much He is worth.

Texts for consideration:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands,with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-31 ESV)

A woman came up to [Jesus] with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:7-13 ESV)

Perspective #2: If God wants to see more of this, He will provide for it.

When I feel inadequate and resource-constrained, I have often fallen back on this prayer: “God if you want to see more of this work and outcome, you must provide for it. You’re the one who can bring it about.” If my work produces the fruit He wants to see in the world, then as the supremely wise and wealthy investor, He can direct resources appropriately to get more of the returns He wants.

At TheoTech, we focus on pursuing the outcomes God desires. He is our investor as well as our customer and if by grace we produce more of what he wants, we trust in him to supply what is needed continue. If he chooses not to, then we trust his discretion and pursue whatever else he directs our labor and attention to.

Texts for consideration:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11 ESV)

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9a ESV)

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 ESV)

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. (Psalm 107:33-38 ESV)

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13 ESV)

Perspective #3: What if God gave you an outcome money cannot buy?

One of TheoTech‘s tenets is, “We will love God, not money”. This is not because we disregard money, but because we want to trust in God and serve Him alone.  We want his interests to drive our decision making instead of financial incentives. We long for the outcomes that only God can bring about. The outcomes that you couldn’t buy even if you were a billionaire. The outcomes that a purely pecuniary outlook would not value.

For example:

  1. What if Ceaseless started turning people’s hearts outward by lifting up others in prayer? What if God opened amazing opportunities to share the gospel in word and deed as a result? What if people experienced the love of God–especially those outside the Christian bubble–because we increasingly prayed for them individually?
  2. What if people all around the world (including the illiterate) became conversant in the stories, ideas, arguments, values and promises of the Bible? Even if many do not believe, we could have meaningful conversations with one another about questions & truths that deeply matter, which would influence everything from public policy to entrepreneurship to education to personal conduct, etc. (This is the aim of something called Project FIG).
  3. What if the walls of separation that segregate the Church by language today came down and anyone in the world could experience a foretaste of the unity of God’s kingdom by visiting any local church? What if in the Church, even minority languages had a voice and people could proclaim the glories of God to others in their native tongues so that the gospel is shown to be for every nation? (This is the aim of a project called SPF.IO).
  4. What if believers around the world were unleashed to use their unique gifts and passions to advance God’s kingdom vision while blessing the world at large? (This is the dream behind TheoTech itself).

Where could you go to buy these outcomes? There is no Fortune 500 company, no venture capital firm, no NGO, no university or other organization where you could dump a load of money and say, “Make it so.”

Even so, TheoTech aspires to be such a place. It’s not swimming in cash, but hey, I have a rich Dad who has divine leverage :-). Indeed, it seems that with God we deal more in the currency of faith than cash.

When I feel discouraged by the smallness of what I have to offer compared to the vastness of the vision, I draw inspiration from the question: “What if God used this little I have to make something amazing happen?” It would be an unspeakable privilege to see him do the impossible with the “five loaves and two fish” that I (and others) have put in to bring about even one of these priceless outcomes.

Texts for consideration:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:15-21 ESV)

What’s your perspective?

What’s your perspective on faith, money and investment? How do you choose where to direct your capital? What kind of outcomes (other than financial) are you pursuing? How do you deal with financial anxiety?

Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Thanks!

3 lessons learned from Code for the Kingdom Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #2 – Affirmation energizes everybody

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

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

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

Lesson #3 – Generosity breeds generosity

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

Captain’s Log, March 12, 2014 AD

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

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

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

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

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


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

Struggle #1: Looking back

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

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

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

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

Struggle #2: Waiting

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

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

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

Struggle #3: Going solo

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

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

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

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

Fighting for Faith

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

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

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

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

This very act of writing is a fight to believe:

The Road Ahead

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your time…

Palouse Falls

The Life-Changing Product

I believe there is nothing more satisfying or delightful than to know the vast riches of God’s love for you. It heals wounds no hands or words can touch. It produces overflowing joy that never grows old. It brings peace that overcomes the darkest of fears and washes away all anxiety. It is a mouthwatering foretaste of the glory of God’s kingdom. Nothing can compare with it.

I came to this conviction following a childhood of relentless achievement and striving to impress others. The only way I knew to affirm my worth was to earn people’s admiration and affection by exceeding their expectations. Exhausted from living this way, I found myself in a double of life of outward excellence and inward emptiness. I turned to things like games and pornography to dull the pain and satisfy my craving to be loved, but ended up in a cycle of guilt, shame and worthlessness instead.

Then, amidst my helplessness, I experienced the power of God.

Out of the blue, a friend from middle school contacted me on AOL instant messenger sharing his struggles with addiction and how God set him free. He did not know what I was going through, but God used his vulnerability to give me hope and that evening I began to experience a season of grace and freedom like I had never known before.

This grace enabled me to come clean with my family and prepared me to understand how Jesus’ death in my place and resurrection had the power to transform my life.  Though I heard the message growing up, it was at a conference later that year when I finally experienced the truth that in spite of all I had done wrong, all I failed to do, all expectations I failed to meet and all the filth accumulated in my life God accepted me, loved me and gave his Son to die for me. I did not need to win his approval or impress him, but was simply and completely loved by him as demonstrated on the Cross and attested to by the Spirit.

This realization transformed my exhausted drivenness into immensely productive contentment. It healed my soul so that I no longer medicated pain with porn. It moved my heart to ceaseless praise. My self-absorbed personality turned outward in genuine love and generosity. This experience and others like it have led me to conclude that the knowledge of God’s love in Jesus Christ is the central need of all people. It is the most magical, revolutionary, life-changing “product” there is and it is one we need continually.

The Mission

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

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

Let me share two specific examples of pursuing this mission.

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

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

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

The Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Next: The Journey of Faith (Part 3).

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned at Amazon

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

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

The Adventure Begins

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

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

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

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

The Lingering Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call to Action

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

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

Please share your comments below!