A Digital Kingdom for a Digital World

This talk was originally delivered on September 15, 2018 at the GottDigital conference in Darmstadt, Germany.

Outline / Slides

Manuscript

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am honored to be with you today to share about the grace of God, in activating a movement of believers in the technology industry to use their gifts to advance the Gospel.

Guido, thank you for the invitation to speak and for the labor of love you have put into organizing this conference. I’ve already learned so much from you about what God is doing in Germany and I hope that the stories I share today will accelerate the good work that is already happening here.

My goal today is to share 3 things:

  1. How have I seen God use digitalization to build the Kingdom?
  2. How is God using digitalization to bring about our future?
  3. What is God calling us to do today?

By the end of this talk, whether you are a technologist, a pastor or a student, I hope you come away with the conviction that God wants to use you to build His Kingdom through the digital transformation we are experiencing and gain a clear idea of what your role could be in the movement.

So let’s begin by briefly considering the impact of digitalization in general.

The Impact of Digitalization

I grew up in the era of long distance telephone calls via landline. It’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, making a phone call from Seattle to Indonesia could cost up to $1/minute.

That price made calling home a very special occasion. I remember my dad would gather the entire family in our living room to make sure we each got a chance to say “hi” to grandma and hear her laugh. We had to schedule the time for the call to make sure we called when she would be available. And once we connected, every minute was precious.

Today, my dad chats all day long with his siblings in Indonesia over WhatsApp. He’ll do a video call with my grandma whenever he feels like it. And best of all, the price is free. Free unlimited video calling to halfway around the world.

The digital transformation has taken less than thirty years to completely change how we communicate.

And this change is accelerating.

This is an oversimplified timeline of some communication history highlights.

First, God created Adam and Eve, breathed life into them and gave them the gift or technology of spoken language.

Eventually, around 3200 BC, writing was first invented and developed over time to include alphabets and ideographs.

Then it takes four thousand six hundred years before Gutenberg invents the printing press in Europe around 1440 AD, introducing the technological basis for mass communication, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

Around 500 years later in 1948, Claude Shannon lays the foundations for digitalization with the introduction of Information Theory. For those who are not familiar with it, let me quote an MIT Technology Review article on the significance of his discovery:

Shannon showed how the once-vague notion of information could be defined and quantified with absolute precision. He demonstrated the essential unity of all information media, pointing out that text, telephone signals, radio waves, pictures, film and every other mode of communication could be encoded in the universal language of binary digits, or bits-a term that his article was the first to use in print. Shannon laid forth the idea that once information became digital, it could be transmitted without error.

From there, it took about 50 years for IBM mainframes to give way to personal computers running Microsoft Windows and for the Internet–or the world wide web specifically–to be created in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Then in 2007, Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone to the world, ushering in the smartphone and mobile internet revolution.

And 5 years later in 2012, a stunning breakthrough by students of University of Toronto Professor Geoffrey Hinton in applying deep neural networks to image classification spurs the current Artificial Intelligence Resurgence. It is also the year that Facebook reached the 1 billion user milestone.

From 5000, to 500, to 50, to 5 years, the pace of communication technological breakthroughs keeps accelerating exponentially.

This is the Digital Transformation we’re experiencing.

So what impact does it have on God’s Kingdom?

I think there are some very obvious examples such us:

The distribution of the YouVersion Bible App, which in April 2017 had been downloaded more than 268 million times, making 1492 versions of the Bible freely available to people on their smartphones in more than one thousand languages.

The proliferation of church and evangelism websites and Christian blogs, along with the influx of Christian content in social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Apple Podcasts and Twitter. Many people who would not otherwise have access to the Gospel because of social stigma or legal bans are hearing the message through these platforms.

The creation of specialized IT applications for churches and ministries like church administration software, worship lyrics presentation software, Bible study software and donor relationship management systems.

These are all very clear examples of how God is using digital technology through churches in the present age.

However, I believe there is a much bigger story about how God is using digitalization to build His Kingdom, one that goes beyond incremental improvements to how Christians practice their faith in the day-to-day and connects more broadly with God’s cosmic purposes.

That is what I wish to speak about today.

How God is using digitalization to bring about our future

As Christians living in a digital age, we have the unique challenge of figuring out what this transformation means for God’s story and our place in it.

As this timeline shows, we believe so many of the most significant events of human history have happened in the ancient past.

The creation and fall of humankind. God’s judgment on creation through the flood. The confusion of languages and division of peoples at the Tower of Babel. The call of Abraham to be father of a chosen nation that would bless the world. Israel’s enslavement in Egypt and subsequent Exodus to the Promised Land. The giving of the Law of Moses and the eventual formation of the Kingdom of Israel. The anointing of a human King whose descendant would build a house for God. The construction of the Temple and its subsequent destruction due to Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant with God. Israel’s exile and return along with a promised new covenant. The reconstruction of the Temple. And of course the birth, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel to all creation.

How is God using digitalization to drive forward this story that He has been telling throughout human history? How is God using digitalization to bring about the future that He promised from the beginning?

The answer is that He is doing it through the Body of Christ. He is doing it through us.

To demonstrate this, let’s read several excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The first passage is Ephesians 1:7-10; 18-23.

In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

This is the mystery of God’s cosmic purpose: to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The unity that God wills is brought about through Christ as head over the church, the Body of Christ. God brings about this unity by uniting us with Christ.

Let’s continue by reading Ephesians 2:6-10, 18-22

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is where God’s cosmic purpose becomes personal. By grace, through faith, we are raised with Christ and seated with him. We are God’s handiwork, God’s product. God made us and he made us for a purpose: to do good works. Not random good works, but specifically designed tasks, “hand-crafted” by God.

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Now God’s cosmic purpose becomes communal. In Christ, God is joining us together as individuals into a beautiful house, a holy temple for the Holy Spirit to live in.

Next let’s read Ephesians 3:6-11; 3:20-21

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

So tying this back to God’s purpose of unifying heaven and earth we see that God does it through the Church in Christ Jesus and that is how God’s wisdom is displayed and God’s glory revealed.

Let’s pause here and think about a few things that digitalization has done to the church, the people of God:

First, digitalization has disrupted the old ecosystems and gatekeepers. Before, you had to go to seminary in order to become an accredited pastor and teach at a church. Today, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to write a blog, share a song, or broadcast a sermon to share their message with the world. This sounds like the orderly and participatory worship described in 1 Corinthians 14.

Before churches would compete with other churches for attendees on Sundays, but today churches compete with everything under the sun for people’s attention. Before people had to buy physical bibles, in much of the world today the bible is ubiquitous and free. This sounds like a good thing.

Second, digitalization has connected previously impossible relationships. Our conference organizer Guido found me by searching the Internet, found Code for the Kingdom, heard one of my talks on YouTube, connected over email, talked with me on Skype and finally, after many months we met face to face a few days ago when he picked me up at the airport. This relationship would not be possible without digitalization, but look at what God has made possible through it. It resonates with God’s purpose to bring people together in Christ.

Third, digitalization has increased the scope of our responsibility to God and the world. Before obeying Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself was limited in scope to your neighborhood, your place of work and local community. Today, digitalization and the Internet have put the world in our pockets. The world is our neighborhood now, which means the scope of our responsibility to love our neighbor has increased by an order of magnitude. That sounds like it fits with God’s plan to bless the world through the Church in Christ.

God is using digitalization to disrupt, reform, renew and empower the Church to fulfill her destiny.

What is God calling us to do today?

So in light of God’s cosmic purpose and the role of digitalization in bringing it about, what is God calling us to do today? What role does God have for you in the Kingdom?

In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul wrote:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Our role in God’s Kingdom is to do our part so that the Body of Christ is built up in love. The Church as the Body of Christ is like a spiritual infrastructure or scaffolding that unleashes us to use our gifts to do the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do–to use our most effective and productive gifts to build up the Body of Christ into the Temple of the Lord.

So let me ask for your opinion:

How well are our church institutions today fulfilling this function?

Are there ways they can better equip the saints and unleash them to use their gifts, to do the good works God prepared for them?

I want to share one model that churches and communities like this one can use to fulfill this function. It’s called Code of the Kingdom.

Code for the Kingdom is a hackathon and movement that brings together Christian technologists, entrepreneurs, designers, analysts, pastors, missionaries and other creatives to build technical solutions to Kingdom challenges. Thousands of people around the world have used their gifts and passions to advance God’s Kingdom through these events.

The hackathon model has also been adopted by other Christian organizations like Intervarsity, Cru’s Indigitous, KingdomCode, FaithTech and others.

Let me play a 2 minute clip to give you a feel for the experience.

[ Play https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNCyqX-4PBY ]

So let me walk through an example of what it’s like from a prior Code for the Kingdom Hackathon.

  • At the beginning of the event anyone with an idea will have 2 minutes to share it at an open mic. So 15 ideas means ~30 minutes.
  • Then each person with an idea gets a sign and everybody mingles to chat and decide which team they want to join.
  • They will form teams and brainstorm about how they can take the idea to the next step. Then they implement the idea and prepare for a final presentation for it. Some people pull an all-nighter, others take a nap–either way, it’s lots of food and lots of fun.
  • On the last day of the event every team has the opportunity to pitch their project to a panel of judges. These judges get to vote on the projects they want to award with seed money to help it grow. The audience also gets to vote for a “people’s choice award”.
  • Then we end with a prayer and blessing and everyone goes home energized and inspired with new ways they can use their gifts to advance the Gospel.

The hackathon model is flexible way to help people use their gifts for the gospel in community with other like-minded people. It doesn’t have to be a large scale production. In fact I started by hosting simple hack days at my home with just a few friends.

These kinds of experiences bring people together, not just to talk, but to do something. They create an opportunity for people to use their gifts for the Gospel. They are an opportunity for each son and daughter of God to discover their calling and how to use their gifts to do the good works God has prepared for them.

Now one of the challenges we faced with Code for the Kingdom was including people who were not technical. We did not want to limit the event to only coders, designers and startup founders. So we tried several things like having technical workshops, having Bible teaching and a prayer track and mentors.

But as I thought about the situation a bit more, I realized something incredible: many of the key people who made Code for the Kingdom possible were not coders!

So for everyone in the audience who isn’t technical, let me share a few different personas to help inspire you with ideas for how you can use your gifts as a part of this digital movement for God’s Kingdom.

The Entrepreneur Persona

The first persona is the entrepreneur. You may not know how to code, but you have an idea and are willing to sacrifice to make it real. You have taken responsibility to do whatever it takes to give birth to an initiative and help it grow.

My friend and mentor Chris Armas is a good example of that. He is the founder of the Code for the Kingdom hackathon movement. I have his permission to share some of the trials that led to the movement, so let me share with you the origin story.

Chris is a serial entrepreneur, originally from Venezuela who started his career in business creating interfaces for operating trains.

After achieving some success in the business world, he longed for something more. As he put it, he wanted to live a life of significance, not just success.

Long story short, Chris was asked to join a church growth think tank called Leadership Network to lead a church planting initiative in India. Tens of millions of dollars were allocated by a major donor’s foundation towards the endeavor and they had a mission of planting thousands of churches within the next few years.

Immediately after he got that invitation, he got a competing offer to run CitiBank’s International Wire Transfer division–a very lucrative position. He asked for the discernment of his mentors and through the counsel of several brothers and sisters in Christ, discerned that God was calling him to India.

Confident in God’s call, Chris dove headlong into the work, applying the experience and wisdom he gained through the marketplace to the task at hand.

However, all was not well.

During a surprise trip to India, Chris was not welcomed with open arms. The local partner refused to meet him and he realized that they had been cheated. As he interviewed pastor after pastor that the grant was supposed to fund, he discovered that they were getting paid less than a third of the stipend that they were to receive per month. There was systemic corruption.

Chris returned to the United States depressed and they withdrew from the program entirely.

The initiative that Chris believed God had called him to serve in was over.

Why did God call him out of the marketplace to lead such an initiative? What was he supposed to do now? Look for a job?

Oftentimes responding to God’s call does not produce the results that we expect.

At the request of the founder of Leadership Network, Bob Buford, Chris joined a team to leverage the connections between innovative and entrepreneurial movements within the Kingdom. The idea was that by bringing together innovators, entrepreneurs, leading nonprofits and Kingdom investors, they could catalyze an ecosystem that would bear a lot of fruit.

Believing that God had called him out of the marketplace for a reason, Chris started to explore other possibilities and came across Startup Weekend. This is a weekend where aspiring entrepreneurs rigorously test their ideas by talking to potential customers, collecting real-world feedback on their idea and pitching to an audience of judges. Winners get seed money to start their companies and everyone who participates gains hard-won, rigorous experience.

Chris flew to Silicon Valley to experience one of these weekends himself and he came away inspired by what such an event and movement could mean for the global church. Why?

He realized that technologists and entrepreneurs, the startups changing the world were the culture makers and influencers of our digital age. He realized that this vitality and entrepreneurial energy could transform churches to empower the people in the pews to use their most excellent and valuable gifts to advance the Gospel.

Chris once said to me that he felt like a rhinoceros because he couldn’t see very far in front of him, but had to charge forward by faith into whatever God had next. He would always remind me that God has prepared many good works for us to do, not just one single work. The hard experience of discerning the will of God and failing taught him to stay open to the Lord’s leading instead of being fixated on why his plans failed.

So like an entrepreneurial rhinoceros, Chris charged forward, creating the concept for a Christian hackathon, pulling together the resources and the team to debut a world class event in the heart of Silicon Valley. He brought together leaders from the technology industry, local churches, non-profits, VCs and global ministries so they could spend the weekend together, connecting with like-minded individuals in order to create technological solutions that would advance God’s Kingdom.

He called it: “Code for the Kingdom”

And a movement was born.

This is the role of the entrepreneur.

You may not be a pastor. You may not code.

But your ministry is hearing God’s call, stepping out in faith, making the sacrifices, shouldering the risks, adapting to constant change, and bringing together the relationships and resources necessary to create value and fulfill the mission God has given you. You are essential to building up the Body of Christ.

The Pastoral Persona

The second persona is the pastor. How do pastors use their gifts and skills in a digital movement?

Well, I’d like to introduce you to Shamichael Hallman. He was a pastor from Tennessee who heard about the first Code for the Kingdom and immediately jumped on a plane to attend.

Today he works in civic technology and authored the first book about Code for the Kingdom titled, “Hacked: How a Christian Hackathon is Shifting Traditional Engagement Models and Creating an Ecosystem for Life-Transforming Technology”

While many pastors may view digitalization as just a way to expand their reach through a social media presence, livestreaming worship services and making sermons available for download, Shamichael viewed it as more.

He viewed it as–dare I say it–an opportunity to reform the church. What do I mean?

Pastor Shamichael noticed that many churches were not effectively engaging with the people creating technology. Many pastors lacked a robust theology of technology, they viewed it as a morally neutral tool that was for other people to worry about. At best, they would think about how technology could help church programs and goals. They weren’t awake to the way digitalization was changing the world around them and they so often overlooked the people in their pews who were leading the digital transformation.

In many churches, the technologists creating the software that runs the world are merely asked to run a powerpoint, create a church app or lead a small group. Hasn’t God gifted them for so much more?

As a pastor, Shamichael wanted to offer the church a new model for discipleship. He wanted to help churches better fulfill their role of empowering and unleashing Christians in the technology industry to use their gifts to bear witness for the Gospel. And in order to do so, he had to practice what he preached.

Even though he isn’t a coder, Pastor Shamichael participated in several hackathons, pitching ideas, collaborating with teams and affirming people that God is calling them to use their technical gifts in significant ways to build the Kingdom.

He went so far as to write the first book documenting the Code for the Kingdom movement. It’s called: Hacked: How a Christian Hackathon is Shifting Traditional Engagement Models and Creating an Ecosystem for Life-Transforming Technology.

In his role as a pastor, Shamichael has stood out as a powerful encourager who continually prays for Christians in the technology industry and reminds them that whatever else the world or the church may say, God has truly gifted and empowered them to use their technical gifts for the Gospel.

The Missionary Persona

Third is the missionary persona.

I can’t show his picture, but my friend Chris–I have so many friends named Chris–is another member of the Code for the Kingdom movement. He’s been an organizer and participant, but what I think is unique is the way he views digital technology in relation to his work as a missionary.

Instead of simply being a user of technology, he wants to create it. He wants to make technology that can be a force-multiplier for missions work.

Although he is not primarily a coder, Chris is leading a team of developers to build a Salesforce for missions. They are creating an open source platform that missional networks use to connect people interested in Jesus with network members for in-person follow up.

Already, the platform has been deployed for two missional networks as well as many individual missions teams. And these groups are already reaping the benefits. As you can see in this chart from a North African missional network to the unreached, out hundreds of thousands of people who see an ad impression, thousands inquire about Jesus resulting in hundreds of in person follow ups and a few baptisms, new churches and new church planters.

You can get a case study of the impact of the technology at kingdom.training and you can participate in the open source project by visiting disciple.tools.

Even if you cannot code, as a missionary, you can be involved in digital projects as a team leader, tester, trainer, promoter, user and so much more. In doing so, you use digital to accelerate the Gospel.

The Wildcard Persona

Last, but not least I want to talk about the wildcard persona.

This is my sister and co-Founder Natasha. She’s a very talented person, but if you ask her “What are you good at?” she often shrugs her shoulders and says, “I don’t know…”

I want to share her story because I realize that some of you may feel like: “I’m not a techie, entrepreneur, pastor or missionary…is there a role for me?”

Natasha will be the first to tell you that the answer is “Yes!”

My sister is a former Treasury Analyst at Amazon. She was responsible for accurately transferring hundreds of millions of dollars between Amazon’s bank accounts to ensure all payroll and other expenses were properly funded every single day. I remember that she even had to handle Cash Operations for Europe for a time, meaning that she would get up at 4am to ensure Amazon’s European bank accounts were properly funded.

I think this sounds impressive, but Natasha is perhaps too modest to acknowledge it.

But what does cash operations have to do with the gospel? How can she use her gifts for the gospel?

Well until my company becomes as large as Amazon, there may not be a way for her to directly apply that skill in our context.

But she took her operations background and adaptability to help make Code for the Kingdom happen in Seattle multiple times.

Natasha would fill in the gaps, encouraging people when they felt overwhelmed, collaborating with people who needed a team or felt like they had no skills to contribute, handling logistics and food preparations to ensure the entire event went smoothly. She sourced merchandise, created marketing materials, helped run ads and much more to make the event possible.

By overcoming her self-doubt, she adapted and took on many jobs that made her ambiguity over her gifts not a weakness, but an asset.

So, I say to you today, even if you feel like you have nothing to offer, the truth is you do. And you must.

The Holy Spirit has gifted you even if you cannot see it yet and your heart to see other people activated for the Gospel and willingness to do whatever it takes is a powerful gift in and of itself.

Conclusion

As followers of Jesus we must have the conviction that God has given us the digital skills, resources, capabilities and tools of our day for reasons that go beyond entertainment, productivity, profit and communication as good as these all are.

We must accept the responsibility God has given us to reform, renew and transform the future so that it reflects the Kingdom of God and bears witness to the Gospel: that Jesus Christ died for our sins, is risen from the dead and will return to give us a new Creation free from Satan, sin and death and full of righteousness, peace and life. This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come.

That is our hope isn’t it?

Yes, we weep for the world to repent and receive mercy and healing from God. And we are ultimately hoping that Jesus will return to judge the world for its injustice, immorality and idolatry and give eternal life with true joy, true wealth and glory in a beautiful restored world to everyone who believes in Him.

Our job as Christians living in the Digital World is to ensure that this transformation is used for the Gospel.

Today, God is calling you to use your digital gifts for the Gospel.

Will you be a developer for the Gospel?

Will you be a designer for the Gospel?

Will you be an entrepreneur for the Gospel?

Will you be technologist for the Gospel?

In whatever you do, will you be for the Gospel?

In Ephesians 5:25-32, Paul wrote that Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her…to present her to himself as a radiant church without blemish. He wrote:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Although I am builder who loves creating amazing technology that reaches the world, I’ve come to realize that there is something God desires far more than the next billion dollar unicorn startup.

God deeply desires the Bride of Christ.

The Bride of Christ is God’s most beautiful creation.

And we are the body of Christ, united and led by the Holy Spirit, fully exercising our most excellent gifts, adorning the Gospel with good works. We are the Bride, waiting for and hastening the return of Christ who will soon make all things new.

God is using digitalization to unite heaven and earth in Jesus Christ through the Church.

God is using digitalization to connect and unleash Christians to use their gifts to build up the Body of Christ.

Therefore, God is calling us to use digitalization to do the good works he has prepared in advance for each of us to do.

Let’s join His movement.

Amen.

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.

What Have I Been Up to Lately?

It’s been awhile since my last post, so here’s an update on one major thing I’ve been working on lately. My company TheoTech, built spf.io, a product that provides AI-assisted real time captions and translations of live events.

You plug in audio from the soundboard, spf.io converts sound to text, translates it and distributes subtitles/captions to people’s smartphones.

This past weekend, we used it to run everything from slide projection and video playback (NO Propresenter or Powerpoint needed!), to of course real time English captions and Spanish translation. One speaker even controlled slides from her smartphone without any training!

It was an exciting milestone. Seeing the product mature enough to handle everything was particularly gratifying.

Many people ask how to pronounce spf.io and what it means. Here’s the story behind the name [the rest of this post was originally posted on the spf.io site].

How it all started

Many years ago I took a class on entrepreneurship. We formed teams to write a business plan and pitched it at the end of the quarter. The iPhone had just revolutionized the world so my team pitched a real time translation app.

The problem was that pitches can be pretty boring without a product demo. You can talk about the problem and market opportunity but unless your audience experiences the solution, it’s all theoretical. So I decided to build a “minimum viable prototype” or MVP.

My MVP was a powerpoint slide with the picture of an iPhone in landscape mode. I scripted an introduction in Indonesian and put the English translation in the picture of the iPhone. Kind of lame, I know. But then I added animation so that the text would appear character by character.

I memorized what I wanted to say, practiced the timing a few times, and presto! A magical demo.

On the night of the pitch, I nervously walked up to the front, took a deep breath and started speaking in Indonesian so my audience could feel the confusion.

Then I advanced the slide.

An early prototype of spf.io

Suddenly, the English translation appeared, in sync with my speech in the giant iPhone mockup projected behind me. The class erupted with cheers and applause.

Despite my “smoke and mirrors” prototype, they were impressed and delighted to “understand” my language.

A better way to do translation?

Fast forward several years later to the inception of spf.io.

We were feeling the painful drag of doing bilingual worship services at my church. Service lengths were doubled and people were tuning out half the time, hearing a language they didn’t understand–or worse, hearing the exact same thing twice!

There had to be a better way.

Then I remembered what I did for the business class. Even though my MVP felt silly, I realized that my audience loved it and that it actually worked! They didn’t care that it was scripted, they loved the experience and my presentation became “performance art”.

So I built a prototype for my church to make it easy for the pastor to upload his manuscript and project the translation on screen, in sync with what he said. I called it the “Synchronous Presentation Framework”. (I’m a nerd, I know).

I used the internet to keep everything in sync so the pastor could release his manuscript from an iPad and the translation would appear on screen. I also built a mobile view so people could follow along on their smartphones in the language they preferred.

That’s when I bought the domain name spf.io. I wanted to keep it short to make it easy to type on a phone. I also wanted it to not mean anything in any language to avoid problems down the line.

What spf.io means

In the beginning, I kept spelling “s-p-f-i-o” out literally until my co-founder pronounced it “spiffy-oh” one day. It felt right and the name stuck around ever since.

When people see “spf.io”, they may feel confused about what to call it, but when they hear it pronounced “spiffy-oh” it suddenly makes sense and that tiny moment of understanding brings a smile to their face–a moment that mimics the joy we hope to spread through our product.

So what does “spf.io” mean? Technically, it means “synchronous presentation framework,” but I hope one day it means “the joy you feel when you finally understand someone for the first time”.

What spf.io can do today

A screenshot of spf.io in landscape mode, showing a slide with subtitles overlaid.

Spf.io has come a long way from the early prototypes.

We now support automatic captioning of live speech, automatic translations into more than 60 languages, automatic slide translation and much more. We also enable humans to intervene at any time to keep quality high.

All of this is carefully designed to create a simple and seamless experience for your audience. They just visit a url, select their language and get translation on their mobile device. They can even hear the translations read to them!

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

——

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Would you or someone you know like to try our product? Drop us a line today to get startedhttps://spf.io.

Faith and the Tech Sector

How can we support, activate and unleash technologists to use their gifts to advance God’s Kingdom?

In this talk I share the massive opportunity for the Church (especially in the Pacific Northwest)–so massive it would be irresponsible not to pursue–as well as 4 methods and 6 models for doing so.

This talk was delivered at the Christ and Cascadia 2016 conference. A recording, manuscript and slides are below.

Overview

The Opportunity

Good morning, my name is Chris Lim, and I’m Founder and CEO of TheoTech. Today I’m going to share some thoughts on Faith and the Cascadian Tech Sector.

Whether you are a pastor, a business person, a technologist, or simply a follower of Jesus, my aim is to inspire you with what God could do in our local technology industry to advance his Kingdom. I want to show you examples of what has already been happening and how you can get involved in advancing God’s Kingdom with technology.

In February 2015, the Washington Technology Industry Association released the “Information and Communication Technology Economic and Fiscal Impact Study”, which revealed some surprising facts about the Cascadian Tech industry. Here are some highlights:

There are 238,900 workers in the Washington tech sector spread across more than 8600 companies. Of these, about 90,000 are coders and each coder generates 7 additional jobs.

In 2013, the industry paid $22 billion in wages contributing more than $2 billion in taxes. The total market value of the Washington state technology industry exceeds $1 trillion dollars.

That’s some pretty heady stuff. Globally renowned companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon have infused Cascadia with a tech culture and their outsized impact means that whether we like it or not Cascadian values and cultural exports have significant influence around the world.

So point number 1: the Tech Sector is hugely important.

I cross referenced these statistics with the Pew Forum’s religion research for Washington in 2014. I was surprised to learn that about 60% of Washingtonians identify as Christian. 32% identify as religious “nones”.

Now if you’ve been in the tech sector for awhile, you probably feel like these statistics should be reversed. At first you might feel lonely. You may be the only follower of Jesus on your team at work. In a company of 25,000 maybe only 10 people show up to a weekly prayer gathering.

In an industry full of extremely intelligent and successful people who largely think they don’t need faith or Jesus, you may feel like simply minding your own business and keeping quiet about the Kingdom of God.

But I think you’d be mistaken to do so. God has placed you in this powerful industry for a reason and gifted you with technological acumen so that you can bear witness to his Kingdom. Don’t be afraid, you are not alone. God is with you. In fact, in many ways, I think He is presenting you with an enormous Blue Ocean opportunity.

Instead of 60%, let’s assume 20% of the Washington tech industry identifies as Christian. That would mean 18,000 coders who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. Wow, 18,000? What could God do with 18,000 coders? I’m going to share some ideas shortly, but let’s briefly consider the financial power of the industry.

Assuming the 20% ratio holds, we would expect Christians to earn about 20% of $22 billion or $4.4 billion. If they allocated 10% of those wages to funding work that explicitly advances God’s Kingdom, there would be about $440 million in annual revenue available to make disciples of all nations.

To give you some perspective, $440 million is comparable to all of Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, and it is larger than InterVarsity. It is about half of World Vision’s annual revenue. This global work could be supported by the giving of the tech sector of just Washington state.

I believe many Cascadians are already very generous, but imagine what could happen if we saw this kind of generosity coming from the tech sector? What would be possible if more than 20% of the tech industry became followers of Jesus?

I did the math with these assumptions and every time someone in the technology industry becomes a follower of Jesus and invests 10% of their wages explicitly in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom gains almost $10,000 in free cash flow annually.

So one hundred new tech disciples unlock $1 million of free cash flow for the Kingdom of God.

Now like any other technologist, I don’t like being viewed as simply a dollar sign for this or that cause. But I wanted to call out the immense influence of the Cascadian technology sector and with it the immense responsibility of the Cascadian Church to make disciples of people in the industry.

And for those of us in the industry, perhaps the words of Paul to the wealthy Corinthian church apply:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich…

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.

As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”…

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (excerpts from 2 Cor 8, 9)

Now, I think this generosity goes far deeper than money. God has entrusted technologists with gifts and skills and wisdom that, like the craftsman who constructed the Tabernacle, can be explicitly applied to advancing God’s Kingdom. And I think the Cascadian Church must support these software craftsman in using those skills to create foretastes of the Kingdom.

4 Ways to Unleash Coders for the Kingdom

Here are four ways it can do so:

First, theological instruction, second kingdom witness, third technological activation, fourth eschatological entrepreneurship. Let’s briefly survey all four and give special attention to number 3.

So number one, Theological Instruction.

When John the Baptist and Jesus started proclaiming the Gospel, they said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” John in particular was approached by tax collectors and soldiers asking what it meant for them to repent and he said, they should collect no more than owed and to stop abusing their power to extort money.

In our present day we often speak of how business and the marketplace advance the common good. This is good. People need to understand intimately how their work reflects and advances God’s Kingdom and they need to be instructed and helped in the process of discovering how their vocation explicitly glorifies Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t happen automatically, so we must preach and teach life in the Kingdom of God. We must proclaim God’s vision and show the correspondence between present reality and the trajectory of history with the prophetic word.

Then by breaking it down into the nitty gritty details of daily work from code reviews, debugging, performance reviews, human-centered design, artificial intelligence and everything else we equip and release believers to use their gifts to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom in every sphere of life.

Theological instruction is therefore intimately connected to Kingdom Witness.

Not everything in the tech sector is good and not everything is bad. By thinking deeply about Scripture and being led by the Spirit in the royal law of love, Christians have a special discernment about what can be affirmed in the industry and what must be corrected. With boldness we must speak up for what is pleasing to God in technology and call for repentance in the areas that are contrary to God’s design.

And the interesting thing is that much of the industry is open to listening.

You might find that surprising, but I want to call out some recent things that have been coming out of the industry with respect to artificial intelligence. With one voice, all industry leaders from Bill Gates to Jeff Bezos believe AI is going to disrupt and reshape society.

On the one hand, it has great potential to make our lives healthier, more convenient and connected. But it also has great potential to cause massive job loss, it poses ethical dilemmas in cases like accidents between self driving cars and it brings up deeply spiritual questions about the nature of intelligence, consciousness, and what it means to be human.

Recently industry giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google formed a “Partnership on AI to benefit people and society”. They want it to be an open platform for engaging the public about AI and society, which means that it is an ideal forum to bear witness about God’s Kingdom as the industry navigates really difficult questions about AI and the ways technology can be used to benefit humanity instead of destroying it.

6 Models for Technological Activation

Now I’d like to dive into the third way the Cascadian Church can unleash coders for the Kingdom: Technological Activation.

As I mentioned earlier, if 20% of the tech industry were disciples of Jesus Christ, we would have about 18,000 coders who have been gifted by God for an amazing purpose.

The Church must help these believers to use their gifts to advance the Gospel, not simply invite them into cookie cutter volunteer roles. There will always be a place for serving as an elder, volunteering on a weekend or leading a Bible study, but these believers have the capacity for so much more.

So here are 6 models for activating technologists to use their gifts to advance the Kingdom.

The first model is a hackathon. It’s basically 48-hours where like-minded people collaborate to create solutions to Kingdom challenges, particularly with tech.

You don’t have to be a coder to participate–applying and adopting technology for the Kingdom is as important as creating it. But a hackathon is a place for do-ers. People who want to get their feet wet with new technology, people who want to use their skills and do something about the challenges they see in the world from a Christian perspective.

Do you know people like that? Are you one of them?

Hackathons

So let me walk through an example from last year’s Code for the Kingdom Hackathon.

First we start with prayer, an introduction and then an open mic. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has an idea can get in line and share it with the room for 2 minutes. Then each person with an idea gets a sign and everybody mingles to chat and decide which team they want to join.

Once everybody has a team, it’s time to get to work. Some people pull an all-nighter, others take a nap–either way, it’s lots of food and lots of fun.

On the last day of the event every team has the opportunity to pitch their project to a panel of judges. These judges and the people get to vote on the project they want to award and those projects compete at the global level to get further support, momentum and distribution.

So after nearly 48 hours, we celebrate God’s grace over the weekend and go home and sleep.

So the hackathon model is very flexible and a great way to get people started using their gifts for the gospel and getting connected to and inspired by other like-minded people. It’s something that your church can do–all you need to do is provide the space, the time, the food and a program. It doesn’t have to be 48 hours, it doesn’t have to be a big production. Again, at the heart of it is activating people to use their gifts for the Gospel by bringing them together for a period of focused and intense, but fun collaboration.

You’re all invited to this year’s Code for the Kingdom Seattle hackathon. It is going to be next weekend from Friday to Sunday at Seattle Pacific University. Here are some links where you can register and learn more. Come and see for yourself what it’s like and please share it with other do-ers!

Since my time is almost up, I want to briefly touch on the other 5 models of engagement.

“Bezalel” Open Source Model

One is the Bezalel Open Source Model. Open Source means that the intellectual property behind the software you produce is licensed in a way that enables other people to read and contribute to the source code. How many of you use Linux? Linux is so ubiquitous, powerful and flexible because it is open source. Developers from all over the world can contribute to the code base and use it for their own purposes.

In the case of Linux, it’s original creator Linus Torvalds is known as the BDFL or “Benevolent dictator for life” because he has the final say in whether or not to accept people’s code contributions to the Linux kernel. In some ways he is like Bezalel the master craftsman overseeing the construction of the Tabernacle to fulfill Moses’ specifications. That is why I call it the Bezalel Open Source Model.

At my company we’ve open sourced Ceaseless, an app that helps you pray for others.

The app is available for iPhone and Android. It shows you three contacts to pray for each day so that over time you pray for all the relationships in your life. You can download it at ceaselessprayer.com

The advantage of making the app open source is that other people can contribute to making it better and more suitable for their use cases. They don’t have to work for your company or organization, yet if they find the app useful and want to make it better, they can be a part of improving it.

You can see here that Ceaseless has a team of 14 people who are largely volunteers, contributing to the app. So this is a way beyond hackathons that people can continue using their technological gifts on explicitly Kingdom-oriented software projects over time.

Again, if you’d like to try out the app, you can download it at ceaselessprayer.com or if you’d like to contribute to the code you can check it out by searching for ceaseless-prayer on GitHub.

Missional Communities in Corporations / Corporate Chaplaincy

Model number 3 for technological activation is missional communities in corporations.

There are believers in companies like Microsoft and Amazon who gather for regular prayer and the word. When I was an engineer at Amazon, I convened a group of believers to study the Theology of Technology because as creators of technology we have a great opportunity and responsibility to infuse what we build with the values of God’s Kingdom.

This was consistently a refreshing time, not only to think about the Kingdom of God, but also to encourage one another in the daily struggles of work. God uses groups like this to make disciples in place–making disciples directly in the marketplace and at work.

If you are a pastor interested in serving the tech community, I’d love to speak with you about the need for corporate chaplaincy.

Missions/Non-Profit Platforms

Model number 4 is the Missions model, or non-profits that create technology platforms that others can build on.

One example of this is the Digital Bible Platform from the ministry Faith Comes by Hearing. By making their Bible content available through an API, developers can easily integrate Bible content in their apps. Ceaseless for example uses the Digital Bible Platform to show a Scripture related to prayer each day as a devotional aid.

So if your church or non-profit has certain kinds of data that it can export via an API, creating a platform is a way to engage and activate technologists to build things that will advance your mission.

Software Foundations

[Skipped in the talk recording]

Model number 5 is the institute or foundation model and this is related to the missions model, except that it is more explicitly focused on technology. How many of you are familiar with the browser Firefox? Did you know that it is created by the Mozilla foundation, which believes that, “the Internet must always remain a global public resource that is open and accessible to all”.

I mention them because I think there is similarly a need for a Christian software foundation which can steward the software generated by many developers to address Kingdom challenges so that the projects and its impact can outlast the individuals who started them.

Eschatological Entrepreneurship

And so we close with Model 6, Entrepreneurship or as I like to call it Eschatological Entrepreneurship:  Spirit-filled leaders fully exercising their gifts everywhere and together to hastening the coming of Christ.

One local example of this is a startup led by my friend Jonathan Kumar. His company, GiveSafe helps people be the hands and feet of Christ when they see someone in need.

Basically their company partners with non-profits to distribute bluetooth beacons to people experiencing homelessness. Then if you have their app installed on your phone, you’ll get a notification when you are near a beacon. From that notification, you can read the person’s story and give money to help with their needs. The money goes to an account they can use to get goods and services from non-profits and vendors, so that you can give without worrying about the money being used for a negative purpose.

A second example is my company TheoTech and our product SPF.IO. It’s a product that lets you speak freely in your language while providing subtitles in real time on people’s smartphones for those who are hard of hearing or do not speak your language.

The Kingdom purpose of this product is to empower churches to reflect the multilingual glory of God’s Kingdom. Churches should be a foretaste of heaven and SPF.IO is meant to help make that possible.

The common good purpose of this product is to help minorities have access to the same experiences and services that English-speakers have. Talk with me afterwards if you’d like to use it in your church or organization.

For the long term, I believe that paying people market rate for using their technological gifts to advance God’s Kingdom requires prosperous for-profit companies that have business objectives explicitly aligned to Kingdom objectives. That is one reason why I created TheoTech and why I believe Model 6 is an essential component for long-term activation of technologists for the Kingdom.

So there you have it. 6 ways the Cascadian Church take advantage of this amazing opportunity to accelerate the Gospel and make disciples of all nations through technologists and technology. I realize we covered a lot of ground today and so I want to leave you with one simple call to action as a next step.

Come to Code for the Kingdom Seattle next week. See for yourself what God is doing about Faith and the Tech Sector.

Thank you.

3 Learnings from Life After a Break-in

We were gone for only two hours. My sister and I came home from lunch when I noticed my laptop was missing.

“I think we’ve been robbed.”

My sister thought I was joking until she noticed her laptop was missing too. I ran downstairs to my room. The thieves had rifled through my drawers and taken cash.

I dialed 911.

Two hours later an officer showed up and walked through the house with me trying to figure out what happened. It wasn’t obvious how the thieves entered and escaped–every door and window seemed locked and undamaged.

Then we walked to the back porch and he pushed on a pair of french doors. Deadbolted, locked and yet they swung open.

“The wind could blow open that door!”

The locked deadbolt gave us a false sense of security since the second door was supposed to be pinned to the door frame, but had no visible affordance to indicate if it was pinned or not.wp-1458607587406.jpg

My sister and I immediately got to work.

We asked friends for prayer and help, filed a police report, called insurance, reset passwords, activated Find/Erase My iPhone through iCloud, placed watches on credit cards, the whole 9 yards. We installed new security countermeasures and did a long overdue spring cleaning cleansing.

I didn’t want to sleep that night. My room felt unsafe, unclean and violated so I ended up dozing off at 3am in the living room.

My sister and I had just been discussing forgiveness over lunch that day and the irony of being simultaneously robbed was not lost on me. God was up to something good in all this, but what?

Here are three things I’ve learned in the short time since the incident and I’m sure there’s still more wisdom to gain with time.

Learning #1: Theft deals far more damage than the loss of goods.

The burglary makes me feel angry and anxious. It makes my home feel unsafe. The thieves took the tools my sister and I need to do our work. We spent several days dealing with the fallout of their actions. We have to deal with the risk that people will steal the private information on our devices and use it for nefarious purposes.

The thieves may have thought they were simply taking valuables to get easy money from an unsuspecting home, but the actual cost of their actions is far greater than the value of what they took.

To generalize/personalize, I’m beginning to pay more attention to how even my minor irresponsibilities have an outsized impact on others. I can’t isolate my irresponsibilities to myself. None of us can.

Learning #2: Cash flow can’t be stolen and heaven is the only place to accumulate assets.

As a young entrepreneur, I’ve often heard the phrase “cash is king” and now I’ve learned a new reason why.

Thieves can steal assets. They can steal goods in a warehouse, a package on the curb, office supplies, laptops, money in the bank, etc.

But they cannot steal real, healthy customer relationships resulting in ongoing revenue and a continuous in-flow of cash going forward. Cash flow is resilient to theft.

I think this correlates with Jesus’ major point about treasure:

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NET, emphasis mine)

The Kingdom of Heaven is the only completely safe place to store your assets. Your earthly assets can be destroyed, corrupted, compromised and stolen. Setting your heart on earthly asset accumulation means putting your heart at serious risk because it is only a matter of time before your treasure will go away.

Alternatively, if you spend life on earth maximizing Free Cash Flow for the Kingdom and transfer as much wealth as possible to the Kingdom of Heaven, you win forever. Luke records one explicit mechanism for this value transfer:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34 ESV, emphasis mine)

What does this mean for us? It means this life is the time to take risks, not play it safe. Now is the time to vigorously and generously labor for Kingdom cash flow, not comfortably sit on your assets. Now is the time to sow and reap (and give), not store up excess grain in a barn and take it easy for the rest of your days and lose your soul in the process (cf Luke 12:13-21).

Learning #3: Vigilance, Diligence and Aggressive Security Measures Apply to Spirituality.

This experience snapped me out of my complacency.

I cleaned up my house and put long overdue things in order, increased the privacy and security of my home, conducted a security review and improved everything we could think of.

And then I took a break and enjoyed having an orderly home and more orderly life. For all the grief and loss suffered, we received an even greater outpouring of sympathy, concern and kindness from family, friends and neighbors. Thank God!

Then while joyfully meditating on these things, I realized something.

This is exactly what I should be doing in my spiritual life.

Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10 ESV)

Abundant life must be guarded with greater vigilance than my home. It’s way more valuable.

Before, I assumed my house was safe. Now I assume it’s always being scouted, tested and targeted. Instead of letting thieves have their way, I prepare by mitigating risks with controls and respond by neutralizing threats.

The same applies to my spiritual life. Satan is a cunning and menacing adversary, constantly casing, canvassing, and prowling around like a lion waiting to strike (1 Peter 5:8-10).

The gift of faith that gets me in on Jesus’ life is the supremely precious asset for life on this earth. So when it comes under attack, I shouldn’t give in. I shouldn’t succumb to feelings of self-pity, doubt, surrender, fear and depression. I should fight.

I should take precautions and install countermeasures to mitigate the risk of these infinitely precious assets from being stolen or damaged or compromised. I should fight for joy and protect it with greater vigilance, diligence and aggressiveness than anything else.

Here’s to praying that I will!

Question: When was the last time you did a security review of your life (physical & spiritual)? What security mechanisms did you put in place to protect it?


PS, here are two Christian books that I read a long time ago, which have newfound relevance. One delves into “heavenly asset accumulation” and the other discusses “spiritual asset protection” (affiliate links):

PPS, I get this verse better now. The first few days after the burglary I wanted to stay home all day with a frying pan in hand to wait for the thieves to return :).

But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:39-40 ESV)