3 Hackathon Inventions to Help You Enjoy ALL of God’s Word

Have you read the entire Bible?
Do you think God wants you to?

Do you feel bad for not doing it? Are you tired of people (or yourself) telling you you should? Do you “play it safe” by sticking to comfortable passages you are familiar with? Passages that seem relevant?

Or maybe you wish you had a way to help others enjoy more of God’s Word?

What if technology could help you & others enjoy the whole counsel of God?

In an age when the Bible is freely available in apps and online, it can be tough to find innovative ideas in this space, but the Holy Spirit is never short on creativity :-).

Teams at the recent Code for the Kingdom @ Microsoft hackathon (pics & tweets here) produced 3 tools to help you engage with and enjoy ALL of God’s Word. (Note: since they were built in less than 24 hours, you can play with the demos, but they aren’t production ready yet).

1. DiscoverBible / Didaskalos

discoverbible-homepage

A team of four amazing interns (Eric, Jamar, John, Shane) built a website that helps people discover more of the Bible through machine learning. Users start by entering a passage they are familiar with.

discoverbible-reader
They read the passage and when they click next, they get a related chapter of the Bible they they have not read yet.

The team used topic modeling with non-negative matrix factorization to automatically calculate relevance scores between chapters of the Bible. These scores, along with a vector of which chapters the user has already read are used to determine what chapter of the Bible someone will get next.

By reading four related chapters every day (you can think of this like an automatically generated adaptive Bible reading plan), people can read through the entire Bible by beginning with familiar texts and branching out to related parts of the Bible they have not read yet. These juxtapositions produce new insights.

2. Scripture Insight

Alfred, a developer with the Bing team wanted to rank Bible verses using Bing search volume statistics. By visualizing it into a “social” Bible reading experience, he discovered something stunning. The most popular verses are shown in big purple font. The least popular verses are shown in gray small font.

Look at this passage from the Beatitudes, particularly verses 3-12:scripture-insight-example

Thankfully, the beatitudes are quite popular and important to the body of Christ. But did you notice that verse 7 and 10 are smaller? Why are these verses less searched for?

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Hmm…maybe it’s time for your pastor to preach about that :-).

Scripture Insight provides a social reading experience where people can see what verses are important to the Body of Christ as well as what verses may be overlooked. And this helps us pay attention to everything God is saying, not just the passages we like.

Find your own social Scripture insights by reading through Matthew here and share what you discover in the comments.

3. Visual Studio Scripture Integration

Okay, this is for all the software developers out there. Hacker Wonseok built a Visual Studio integration that lets F# developers conveniently access Scriptures right from their editor. He used TypeProviders and the FaithLife API so that Intellisense can provide autocompletions for Scripture citations and texts.

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Why is this cool?

If you’re a data scientists or developer you can be reading the Bible while pretending that you’re working…and you can easily write programs with Scripture content, whether for textual analysis, natural language processing of Scripture data, etc.  Wonseok did a demo of getting ordered term frequencies for a passage of the Bible with one line of code.

And if this technology is adapted for a general editor, I think it could be an elegant user experience for pastors and authors writing about Biblical content. Authors can pull in Scriptures without ever having to leave their editor to search or copy and paste since everything would be available as an autocompletion. And when you make it really easy to look up, include and reference Scripture in your sermons, you often end up with more Scriptures in your messages, so that your audience is exposed to more of the whole counsel of God.

Why God should be your customer

This is what happens when you start with God as your customer and work backwards. You get technologies that are not merely solving a problem or felt need for people, but you get inventions that help people do more of what God desires–in this case engaging with, enjoying and obeying EVERY word of God.

And we know this is something God wants:

  • Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, ESV)
  • “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD” (Acts 20:27, ESV)
  • “ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

Instead of building yet another Bible reader, these teams have created innovative ways to help people enjoy the whole counsel of God.

When you make God your customer, you invent products that transform people’s lives by helping them pay attention to all that God says and not just what they like.

When you make God your customer, you end up creating something…prophetic. It doesn’t simply conform to market demand, but transforms the markets to fit with what God desires.

You deliver a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

If you’d like to be part of a community practicing technology entrepreneurship for the Gospel (beginning with God as your customer and working backwards to invent products that deliver what He wants to see in the world), check out http://www.theotech.org.

Faith+Tech+Entrepreneurship Q&A

Fremont Bridge

I recently had the privilege of sitting on a panel discussion about faith, technology, entrepreneurship and Sabbath rest for a class of students from Gordon Conwell Seminary co-taught by my friend Al Erisman. It was a great mix of students ranging from age 22 to 70 with varied professional backgrounds.

Here are some of my prepared responses to the questions I received ahead of time:

What was life at Amazon like?

Let me give a backstory to frame my discussion about life at Amazon. When I started there over 5 years ago, I was a green bean software engineer fresh out of college. I wanted to start a company with my graduate research work, but when those plans fell through to my great disappointment, I resolved to make it my ambition to serve God faithfully where ever he sent me for as long as he wanted me there.

So when I started at Amazon, I actually had minimal expectations and simply kept my head down and did my work. Over time God began connecting me with other believers at Amazon and we eventually formed a group to study the theology of technology. We started with From the Garden to the City (affiliate link) and transitioned to other books about faith in the workplace and I noticed that many times some of our most meaningful conversations were about encouraging one another through the trials of the workplace and praying for one another–side note: I think there is a large opportunity to send and provide “corporate chaplains” to serve people in tech companies.

We eventually did a series comparing Amazon’s Leadership Principles, which are a key part of our performance review process, with the Scriptures. It was called “Succeeding at Amazon as a Christian” and it was a big hit. I would send out write ups of our discussions to the christian-interest mailing list and I got replies from people in South Africa and Japan for example saying, “This is amazing, please keep it up, I wish I could be there!”

The simple, but powerful conclusion of the study was that God in fact disciples us in and through the marketplace and specifically conforming to Amazon’s vision of leadership in many ways helps us conform to the image of Christ and vice versa. There are limits to this of course, but by and large as Christians, we have the confidence that we can and ought to excel in exhibiting Amazon’s leadership principles. In places where those principles are not being manifested, we ought to work to change the culture so that they not only conform with Amazon’s principles, but also give people a foretaste of God’s kingdom.

How do you think theologically about technology & its creation?

I think one of the major insights I gleaned from From the Garden to the City is that God is redeeming not only human beings, but also human makings. The Scriptures say that the glory of the nations will be brought into the Kingdom of God at the end of the age. God intends for the things we create to be included in his glorious new creation and that infuses both the acts and artifacts of technology with significance–they are all designed to display the glory of God in very particular and marvelous ways.

How does your faith inform your technological work?

I think I begin with the assumption that the two are already integrated at the source. Faith is not something tacked onto an essentially faith-less product–when you begin with that approach you end up with some potentially weird applications like a church attendance tracking program that uses facial recognition to automatically track everyone who attends your events–kind of creepy and not something you would like associated with God’s Kingdom (caveat: I think there are thoughtful ways this tech might still be used).

If we are to invent on behalf of the Gospel, our creations ought to reflect the glory and flavor of the Kingdom of God that the Gospel proclaims. So this begins with a deep understanding and empathy for what God truly loves, values and delights in. One powerful text that comes to mind is Jeremiah 9:23-24 (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.’

So if we take these words seriously we learn some values that as technologists/creators we should seek to embody in our creations:

  1. Technology should not exalt man’s wisdom, might or riches.
  2. Technology should be designed in a way that calls attention to God
  3. Technology should be designed to help people know and understand God
  4. Technology should promote steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth.

If God is the customer we aim to delight, then in the least we should have these tenets in mind as we do our inventing.

Let me give an example from a product TheoTech is currently developing called Ceaseless. This is an app that helps you pray for others. I created the first draft during a season of life when I felt like my prayers were so selfish, being always about me, my problems and needs. I wanted to pray for others more, but it often felt like an overwhelming to-do list.

So I created a Facebook app that sent me a daily e-mail with 3 Facebook friends to pray for each day. This was a surprisingly simple habit to adopt and eventually about 70 people were using the app with me. And to my surprise after 6 months, I checked the numbers and the 70 of us had personally prayed for over 20,000 people.

Doing some math, I realized that a seemingly impossible goal was actually within reach of my generation: together as Christians we can personally pray for everyone on earth. If each of us had 130 unique friends, it would only take 55 million Christians (less than 1% of the world’s population) to pray for everyone on earth, just by praying for 3 friends a day.

Now you may wonder: is this an outcome God desires? I believe it is based on 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV):

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

And the beautiful thing is that technology is what makes it possible for us to fulfill this biblical exhortation. Faith and technology go hand in hand.

On a more detailed level, I could go into the design of the Ceaseless app itself (it is now available in the App Store). We wanted to create an inviting experience–something beautiful and simple that you would look forward to doing everyday.

Prayer shouldn’t feel like a to-do list. Praying for others shouldn’t feel like clicking a “Like” button. It shouldn’t feel like a Facebook news feed with an endless stream of prayer requests that would only overwhelm you and cheapen the experience.

So we made several design decisions:

Keep it simple. We only show 3 people to pray for each day.

Make the experience personal. You’re praying for people. Requests are transient, but people are forever. So instead of a request management system, let’s build software that helps you cultivate relationships with God and others.

Aim for comprehensiveness. Ceaseless helps you pray for others–it is technology designed to help you step outside of yourself and love your neighbor. And not only your Christian neighbors, mind you, but also people who would never ask you to pray for them–like non-Christian neighbors, colleagues and friends.

Make space for God. At the end of the day the joy of using Ceaseless must come from God hearing the prayers of his people and answering.  The experience of the app is not designed to simply give you a dopamine rush from fulfilling your prayer duties for the day or from getting an alert telling you that 20 friends prayed for you. The app is designed to invite you into God’s presence and to help you remember how he responds to your requests–the joy must come from God’s action and not simply human interaction. What might happen as believers around the world increasingly pray for relationships & people they have never prayed for before?

So these are some of the design principles that went into the creation of Ceaseless and as you can tell it is very intimately informed by faith–the whole app is designed to help people exercise faith in their walk with God and in their requests for his transforming power to work in the lives of others.

What is your passion and how does it relate to your faith?

My passion is to activate a movement of technology entrepreneurship for the Gospel. This means beginning with God as the customer and working backwards to invent the products he wants to see in the world. I gave an example earlier and I would love to see more and more people activated to do what they really love in a way that delivers results God wants to see in the world.

I fully embrace a theology of work that infuses all labor done for Christ with meaning and significance. Anything we do for the Lord and in the Lord is not in vain. I also believe that much of the time we are not thinking critically, systematically and creatively about how our work can more closely align with God’s will in the world and his grand purposes. Whether in explicitly Kingdom-oriented work or in work that the world generally considers valuable, I think having this mindset of beginning with God and working backwards has the potential to unleash joy, creativity and Kingdom outcomes like never before.

Coding in the Dark: The Risks and Rewards of Innovating for the Kingdom

What is it like to live at the intersection of faith, technology and entrepreneurship? What makes taking risks for the Kingdom of God worthwhile even in the face of failure?

Find out in this talk.
(Given as part of the “Technology and the Word” series at University Presbyterian Church. Part 2 can be found here).

Good morning friends, my name is Christopher Lim and I am a technologist. This means that I invent technology as well as use it. After spending three and a half years as a software engineer at Amazon, I felt called by God to embark on an adventure to use my technical skills to advance the Gospel, to help people know and follow God.

Before I share my story with you today, let me define what I mean by the Gospel.

God created a good world and put it under the management of human beings so that it would flourish. Unfortunately, those human beings were incited by God’s enemy to disobey God’s command. They thought they could know better how to run the world than him. Their disobedience, called sin, ruined God’s creation and resulted in the pain, suffering, injustice, violence, strife, death and every other evil thing we experience today.

God could have scrapped his creation and restarted it, putting it under new management and judging human beings for their error. Instead, he decided to save his creation by saving human beings from their sins. To the first human beings he made a promise that one day, their descendant would defeat God’s enemy and then through promise after promise down through the centuries, God made preparations for the unveiling of the Savior of the world.

At the right time, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to take responsibility for all the sins of the world from beginning to end. Jesus Christ took the blame for all the terrible things his human creatures had done and he died in their place. He is the picture of the perfect leader who so loves those under his authority that he lays down his life for them.

He was buried and three days later rose from the dead, becoming the prototype, the forerunner of what God would do for all human beings that believe in him. Jesus returned to heaven where God exalted him to the place of highest authority in his entire creation and one day he will return to restore creation and judge human beings. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be forgiven of their sins and receive the power of God’s Spirit to manage their lives. On the day when Christ returns, they will be raised from the dead to rule the new creation God is bringing so that it flourishes as he intended from day one. Everyone who rejects Jesus Christ’s authority will be cast out of the new creation. Everyone who accepts it will live forever.

This is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is everything under his management. When he is obeyed, everything flourishes. When he is disobeyed, everything falls apart. So when I speak of “The Risks and Rewards of Innovating for the Kingdom”, I mean the risks and rewards of inventing technologies that help people experience the joy of believing in and obeying God so that they will one day become rulers of God’s new creation.

One of the things that Jesus Christ commands is for this gospel to be proclaimed to every nation on earth because he wants people from every nation to be saved and to inherit his Kingdom. The task of spreading the message in word and deed is what I mean by advancing the Gospel and it is why innovation is essential.

Without innovation we are stuck with the status quo.

There is no better example of this than Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press. I will let him speak for himself:

“God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread the public treasure. Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, but multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine…”

Gutenberg combined existing technologies into a solution that enabled the affordable mass production of books and the world would never be the same. He did it in part, for the sake of the Gospel–he wanted everyone to have access to the Bible. He innovated for the Kingdom of God and today we enjoy the fruits of his invention.

Since then, technology has continued to revolutionize human communication time and time again.

This dashboard shows how rapidly content is being created and shared around the world. Human beings are interacting with each other on an unfathomable scale.

In the few seconds between the time when I visited this page and took this screenshot, more than $82,000 was spent on Amazon. Almost 200,000 tweets were produced. There were over 1.9 million new posts on Facebook. And over 119 million emails were sent. All in a matter of seconds.

It’s overwhelming. And no one is affected more than my millennial generation. For example, this chart from the book The Hyperlinked Life, states that 49% of millennials feel that personal electronics sometimes separate them from other people. They end up consuming the endless stream of information on their devices rather than interacting with others around them.

I know that some people advocate disciplines like taking technology retreats without Internet access in order to reconnect with people face to face. While this is a valid technique, I would argue that it is better to invent new technologies that mitigate existing problems and advance the values of God’s Kingdom instead. What if technology products were designed to not simply connect people, but to help them cultivate healthy relationships with God and one another?

Whether we like it or not, information and culture is being created and shared faster than ever. The pace keeps accelerating and the best way to widely influence culture is to contribute and innovate rather than to retreat. Those who create the future are best positioned to influence it.

As believers what we invent and create must be infused with the values of God’s Kingdom. By doing so, we not only help people live out the Gospel, but we also give the world a delightful foretaste of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, since getting the Gospel to everyone on earth requires courage, invention, creativity, skill and passion we end up creating opportunities for people to do what they love for a cause that matters–and that gives them contagious joy.

Imagine a congregation of people not only gathering for worship on Sundays or serving meals at a homeless shelter or teaching Sunday School classes, but coming together to collaborate, developing and using their most valuable skills to advance the Gospel. Imagine a congregation fully supported and unleashed to do what they really love to advance the Gospel. The energy, joy, vitality and creativity would be incredible.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

Pursuing such a vision of community and technology requires risk. You have to give up the familiar, the comfortable, the known and enter the foreign, the uncomfortable, the unknown. And when your innovation impacts people who are nervous about change, you will face great resistance and adversity in addition to the existing obstacles of self-doubt, persistent failure and feeling alone.

But the good news is that it’s worth it. Let me show you why by sharing my story.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a software engineer at Amazon for three and a half years. Everyone there is measured by a leadership principle called Customer Obsession: “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competition, they obsess over customers.” This fits exactly with the company’s mission of being “Earth’s most customer-centric company”.

After my second year at Amazon, I started a small group called TheoTech to study the theology of technology with my colleagues. We eventually did a series comparing Amazon’s leadership principles with Scripture to see how we could grow as Christians while succeeding at the company.

I was preparing for the discussion on Customer Obsession, when a thought crossed my mind: “What if God was the customer? Could you build a company that began with God and worked backwards to deliver the outcomes he desired? What would Earth’s most God-centered company look like?”

It was interesting, ambitious, bold, but it also seemed too idealistic, so I just prayed about it and let it be. But God would not let it be.

On one lonely May Friday night I came home exhausted from work. I plopped on my bed and wanted to take a nap. Except I couldn’t. 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 I have called you to and trust in me to provide for you.”

My immediate response was, “really God?”

Was I making it up or was it really Him?

I told my family and trusted friends about it. They were supportive and wanted the best for me and were mainly concerned for my welfare:

What about my career?
How would I be able to support a family?
What about my education and training–is this what it was for?
How would it impact my finances and relationships?

At the end of the day, the call seemed in line with Scripture since it was calling me to trust in God and to pursue his purpose. So after a few weeks of praying, talking and thinking about it, I told my manager of my intention to quit and agreed to stay until the completion of the big project my team was working on.

Now before you say, “Wow Chris, you’re a gutsy risk-taker”, let me tell you that in the following months, my heart sank like a teabag in a cup of boiling water.

I was very attached to my salary and my respectable identity as an Amazonian.
I was going to miss my team.
I was afraid of being alone.
I was afraid of being put to shame and looking crazy for doing this without being “ready” or because “God told me to”.
I was afraid of competition.
I didn’t know how I could make money in the faith+tech space.
I was plagued by self-doubt and the fear of failure.

The most emotionally difficult conversations were with well-intentioned people who recommended that I do this 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 what finally gave me the confidence to make the jump?

I was with my family at a conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Walking along the beach and praying, 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 pet projects and ideas.

This was the answer I discovered for myself: “By leaving you can witness to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ.”

I could discover for myself and show that He is more valuable than money and more desirable than a life of comfort. I could discover that following him is more secure than a successful career. If other people could be motivated to take risks to minimize regret, get financial independence and recognition, experience adventure, pursue passion, delight customers, change the world, et cetera, how much more should God’s call motivate 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. When the project wound down, I submitted my letter of resignation, celebrated with my colleagues and began a new adventure.

Now the truth is, despite my conviction, I didn’t know what I was doing. The path before me was shrouded in darkness. So naturally, I started doing what I knew best: code.

As a kid I loved being left alone in a room full of legos for hours. I could let my imagination run wild and implement my ideas brick by brick. Coding can be a lot like that. If you meet a pale coder who stayed up all night, bleary eyed and wired from caffeinated drinks and wonder why he would do that to himself, that’s why. He’s been in labor, trying to make his ideas a working reality and the process of trying, failing and figuring out how to make it work has completely captivated his attention.

The first product I spent time coding after I quit had to do with prayer. I noticed that my prayers to God were rather selfish–everything was about me. I knew from Scripture that God really wants us to pray for others. For example, the apostle Paul passionately prayed that believers would have the strength to know the greatness of God’s love for them. He also taught them to pray for everyone (not just believers), especially people with power and authority. Unfortunately, many of us are so busy with our own lives and problems that it’s hard to remember to pray for others, especially people outside of our closest friend circle.

My solution to this problem was to build a service that integrated with Facebook and sent me an e-mail with 3 friends to pray for each day. I made it bite-sized because I wanted it to be inviting instead of overwhelming. Over time as the service cycled through my friends I would eventually pray for all of my Facebook friends.

I called this service Ceaseless and invited some people to join.

After about 6 months of praying for 3 friends a day, I discovered that with 70 users we had prayed for over 20,000 people. My mind was blown.

Assuming everyone had completely unique friends, 10 million Christians doing this could pray for the 1.3 billion people on Facebook in less than 2 months. Beyond that, it isn’t hard to see that if we can do this for the 1.3 billion people on Facebook, we could also pray for the 7.2 billion people on earth.

What would God do if we prayed for people we have never prayed for before? What might He do as we pray regularly for others with all the breadth and depth that he invites us to?

I unapologetically want to see God do incredible things in my generation. Prayer seems to be the first step he expects of us. I invite you to join us at www.ceaselessprayer.com. On a side note, I also built a beta version of Ceaseless that churches can use to help leaders pray for members. It sends leaders an e-mail with three members to pray for each day so that nobody falls through the cracks. I would be happy to share it with your church if desired.

Now as I mentioned earlier, I was just coding away doing what I knew best when God provided an unexpected connection soon after I quit my job.

This connection was Chris Armas, a man who is now one of my mentors. At the time he was leading an initiative to activate technologists and entrepreneurs for God’s kingdom by launching hackathons around the world that solve global problems from a Christian perspective.

A “hackathon” is like a marathon, but instead of running for 26 miles, developers collaboratively code for up to 36 hours to deliver a product solution to some problem they care about. In the beginning, people share their ideas, then they form teams, then they code, and then they present what they built to a panel of judges and the community. The best outcomes are rewarded with prizes.

Because it aligned with what I believed God called me to, I became an organizer for the Seattle Code for the Kingdom hackathon. We convened about 120 people to build solutions to challenges like:

How can we bring God’s word to a mobile-first generation of children?
How can technology help a homeless person find a home?
How can we leverage technology to create, cultivate and strengthen some of society’s most foundational relationships–marriage, family, and friendships?

One of the winning projects was a tool called WordCross. This web app enables parents to create Scripture-based crossword puzzles for their children. They select a list of verses and concepts and WordCross generates a puzzle from those verses complete with clues.

After organizing the Seattle event, I flew down to compete in the Bay Area Code for the Kingdom hackathon. One of the sponsors was a ministry called Faith Comes By Hearing. Their mission is to get God’s Word to every person. They do this by making the Bible freely available in audio, visual and textual formats in as many languages and platforms as possible. They challenged the participants to invent technologies to help spread awareness of the Bible in Chinese social networks.

My team worked on integrating Ceaseless with their Digital Bible Platform and the Chinese social network Ren-Ren. The aim was to help people pray for their Ren-Ren friends and share the Scripture verse of the day related to prayer. To my surprise our idea won two prizes.

Faith Comes By Hearing was so supportive they even provided server space and some designer resources to help make the Ceaseless vision come true. I flew to their headquarters in New Mexico with my dad and it seemed like doors were opening up for TheoTech the company and Ceaseless the product. We even flew to Hong Kong and Indonesia to promote it.

But while everything seemed great on the outside, something was wrong inside of me. I was doing the work and grateful for the progress, but deep down, I didn’t believe I would succeed.

I listened to my self-doubts. People unsubscribed from Ceaseless and it made me feel like all my work was worthless–even though others said they loved it. I didn’t see the growth I hoped for and was not motivated to achieve it.
I started worrying about my finances. I didn’t raise investment, had no revenue, and not enough user growth to warrant a “figure out the business model later” approach.
I spent too much time doing things I’m not good at (like fundraising, marketing, growth-hacking, etc.) instead of the things I am good at (like building the product). This made me feel constantly unsuccessful, which discouraged me from even trying.
I found out Facebook was making changes to its API that would fundamentally break the existing version of Ceaseless.
I felt alone and lacked the discipline to motivate myself, much less motivate my team.
I felt overwhelmed with other personal problems in life.

This apparent lack of success in every facet of life led me to question whether or not God really called me to do this. I had doubts that God would confirm his promise and come through for me.

I got depressed. I couldn’t care anymore, I wanted to give up and if I did, the dream was dead for sure.

The end result?

I let everybody down. I let down my team who had given their time, talent, and commitment to making Ceaseless a reality. I let down Faith Comes By Hearing, which invested its resources to help us deliver. And ultimately I let God down.

I said he was my customer, but instead of delivering the result he wanted, I got lost in my own self-centeredness and gave up. I was so worried about whether or not people liked what I was doing or if it was successful that despite my pretenses of doing it for God, it was really about me.

This was a very recent discovery for me and it took a timely and kind rebuke from my mentor Chris Armas to realize it. I let my customer down. My instinct was to try to pay everyone back, but then I realized–they don’t want to be “paid back”. Everyone wants the result. My team wants to make something useful and good. Faith Comes by Hearing wants the app. God wants the result of people personally praying for one another so that everyone is covered. The only option, the only way to make it right would be to deliver the result. That is what my customer truly wants. He does not want a refund.

And this marked the beginning of my repentance.
Up until that time, I was full of self-pity.
I kept asking:

“Why did God call me to this?”
“Why am I failing?”
“Why am I alone?”
“Why can’t I get this done?”
“Why did I take all those risks for nothing?”
“Why is there no reward for my labor?”
“Why am I facing disappointment in every part of my life?”
“Why don’t I care anymore?”
“Why isn’t God coming through for me?”

It got so bad that I told God one night, “Lord if this is your call for me, I need you to give me the enduring motivation for it. Not one day’s worth, but day after day after day. If I wake up tomorrow and it’s not there, I’ll take it as a sign that you will something else for me.”

And the next morning, the motivation was there, burning like a jet engine ready for take off. God answered my prayer. I had forgotten my “Why?”, I had lost my way and at my moment of deepest desperation, God brought it back at just the right time.

Not only that, but I found an answer to all my self-pitying questions. To my surprise it echoed the answer I received at the beginning of my journey. You cannot make this stuff up.

“Chris, you’re enduring all this because this is what it takes to show the supreme worth of Christ.”

This is what it takes to show that Christ is enough even when you have–figuratively speaking–lost everything you hoped for and desired. Christ is enough even when you have lost the motivation and the passion and are left with nothing but disappointment.

I must be brought low in order for Christ to be lifted up.
I must be humbled and weakened for Christ to be exalted and glorified.
I must be emptied in order for Christ’s fullness to shine in me.

How else could I truly know that Christ is worth it unless I lose everything else and still find him to be enough?

And I consider this discovery the highest reward of innovating for the Kingdom of God.

When you take a risk, it means that you can and will fail. But when failure itself is a reward, you cannot lose. I believe this is in part what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life (not take risks) shall lose it, but whoever desires to lose his life for my sake (take a risk with guarantees of failure) shall find it.”

Failure is an opportunity to discover that Christ is still enough for you in the hardship of that circumstance. It gives you the conviction that he is your irreplaceable treasure in every circumstance.

Friends, if you do not know Christ, I invite you to believe in him and discover the joy of his goodness in the ups and downs of life for yourself. He promises the great reward of a transformed life today and in the future, the chance to rule with him over a new, perfect creation forever. He promises to always turn the failures and successes of your life for your good and I testify from my life that he is faithful.

Friends, if you do know Christ, I invite you to consider what risks God may be calling you to take to advance His Kingdom. What gifts and passions has he entrusted to you and what is the outcome he wants to see? Do not be afraid to pursue His call because He will be with you even in the times of deepest despair and you will discover for yourself the awesome power He will exercise to uphold you and help you.

And in addition to this reward, you will also gain:
Precious mentors and friends
Uncommon experiences
Insight and Understanding
Faith
Conviction
Joy

If you would like to join a community of people using their gifts to advance the gospel, I invite you to submit your e-mail address at www.theotech.org. We’re building a site to bring people together for this purpose.

Now, I want to close with a word for churches. How can churches help people do what they love for a cause that matters? How can they specifically unleash the technologists and entrepreneurs and millennials in their community to advance the gospel?

The truth is that we’re all trying to figure this out together, but I want to offer two suggestions.

The first is to use the things these tech entrepreneurs and millennials are building for the Kingdom. Try out their ideas. Share them with others. For example, you can help me by using Ceaseless, giving me feedback and sharing it.

The second is to support them. Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road. Technologists frequently face failure because their ideas don’t work the first few times. People look at them funny and wonder why they’re messing with the comfortable status quo. They often feel underutilized at churches that simply ask them to run powerpoint slides for example. Many millennials are struggling to find stable jobs, but eagerly want to do work that fits with their gifting.

Churches are not well-equipped to solve these problems, but they are very good at bringing people together. That’s what you can do. Support and host events that convene the community so that they can support and serve one another. For example, I am helping organize a Code for the Kingdom hackathon in Seattle from October 2nd-October 4th. Your church could help by sharing the event with your community, activating volunteers and being one of the sponsors.

So in conclusion, what are the risks and rewards of innovating for the Kingdom?

The risk is failure, loss and disappointment. You could lose your money, your time, your opportunity costs, your reputation, your career, your relationships, your health and much more.

But the rewards make it worth it. You will discover Christ to be your all-sufficient treasure. You will connect with amazing people that will enrich your life. You will have your needs provided for. You will have the joy of doing what you love for a cause that matters. And by faith we know that in the Lord all your risk-taking, creative labor will never ever be in vain.

So let’s take risks to accelerate the Gospel together. This will be the subject of my talk on March 29th.

Thank you and God bless you.

Questions?

 

A Letter to the Church from a Technologist

Letter from a technologist to the churchDear Church,

We love you, but sometimes we feel like you don’t get us. We’re builders, explorers, inventors. We love making awesome things and sharing them with the world. We love seeing the future and making it real for others to experience.

We love creating the impossible.

We love wowing people with that magical moment when what we build exactly meets their needs. That moment when dreams come true. We don’t mind working hard, putting in long hours, trying and failing and trying again, because we crave the reward of seeing our ideas come to life and benefitting lots of people.

We love talking and working with others who share our pleasure.

We don’t mind helping adults learn how to use their iPhones, getting the projector working, or making a beautiful website–it’s just that we can do so much more.

We’re just like everybody else. We want to connect our faith with our passion. We want to use our gifts to advance the gospel, to advance the Kingdom of God. We want to do what we love for a cause that matters.

It’s hard to find this in the secular workplace and it’s really hard to do this alone.

Can the Church be the place? Can it be the place where we develop our technical gifts? Can it give us the opportunities to cast a vision, experiment, try and fail and try again to build things for the Gospel? Can it bring together the community we crave?

Will the Church help us to help her?

We love you Church, that’s why we want to give you the best we have to offer: our creativity, our skill, our inventiveness, our focus, our drive, our curiosity.

We want the Church to lead the change curve, to out-create, out-invent, out-innovate the world, contributing to the state of the art for the sake of the Gospel. We want to contribute our unique gifts to creating amazing foretastes of God’s Kingdom for others to enjoy.

Dear Church, will you help us do this–for the glory of Christ and the salvation of the nations?

Love,

Your Technologist Brothers and Sisters


Translated into Bahasa Indonesia:

Kepada Gereja,

Kami mengasihi Anda, tetapi terkadang kami merasa bahwa Anda tidak mengerti kami. Kami adalah pembangun, penjelajah, penemu. Kami suka membuat hal-hal yang menakjubkan dan membagikannya kepada dunia. Kami suka melihat masa depan dan membuatnya menjadi kenyataan untuk dialami oleh orang lain.

Kami suka menciptakan yang mustahil.

Kami suka membuat orang kagum dengan menggunakan saat yang ajaib di mana hal yang kami buat memenuhi kebutuhan mereka dengan tepat. Saat di mana mimpi menjadi kenyataan. Kami tidak keberatan untuk bekerja keras, memakai banyak waktu, mencoba dan gagal dan mencoba lagi, karena kami ingin melihat ide kami menjadi nyata dan membantu banyak orang.

Kami suka berbicara dan bekerja dengan orang-orang lain yang memiliki kesukaan yang sama.

Kami tidak keberatan membantu orang dewasa belajar bagaimana cara menggunakan iPhone mereka, cara menggunakan proyektor, ataupun cara membuat situs web yang indah – hanya saja kami dapat melakukan jauh lebih banyak dari itu.

Kami sebetulnya sama seperti orang lain. Kami mau menghubungkan iman kami dengan kegemaran kami. Kami ingin menggunakan karunia kami untuk memajukan Injil dan Kerajaan Allah. Kami ingin melakukan hal yang kami sukai demi tujuan yang bermakna.

Hal ini sulit ditemukan di tempat kerja sekuler dan sangat sulit untuk dilakukan sendiri.

Dapatkah Gereja menjadi tempat untuk itu? Dapatkah Gereja menjadi tempat untuk mengembangkan karunia teknis kami? Dapatkah Gereja memberi kesempatan bagi kami untuk membuat gambaran, bereksperimen, mencoba dan gagal dan mencoba lagi untuk membangun sesuatu demi memberitakan Injil? Dapatkah Gereja membuat komunitas yang kami ingini?

Akankah Gereja membantu kami untuk membantunya?

Kami mengasihi Anda, Gereja, dan karena itulah kami ingin memberikan yang terbaik yang kami miliki kepada Anda: Kreativitas kami, kemampuan kami, daya temu kami, fokus kami, semangat kami, rasa ingin tahu kami.

Kami ingin Gereja untuk memimpin gerakan perubahan, untuk mengalahkan dunia dalam mencipta, menemukan, dan berinovasi, serta memberikan sumbangsih kepada perkembangan jaman demi kepentingan Injil. Kami ingin menyumbangkan karunia kami yang unik untuk memberikan gambaran lebih awal tentang Kerajaan Allah yang luar biasa yang dapat dinikmati oleh semua orang.

Gereja terkasih, maukah Anda membantu kami untuk mewujudkan hal ini–demi kemuliaan Allah dan keselamatan bagi bangsa-bangsa?

Dengan penuh kasih,
Saudara-saudari Anda yang ahli teknologi

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!