A Second Reformation?

Summary

What would it look like around the world as people catch what it means to serve God in all areas of our lives?

What would it mean for our churches to experience a Second Reformation?

We explore the history of the first Reformation to uncover the striking similarities to our present situation–similarities which explain why we’re ripe for a Second Reformation.

By seeing the implications for our society, churches and personal lives this talk presents a kind of roadmap for leaning into what God is doing in our disruptive times.

Listen on YouTube or read the manuscript below.

[Note: Catholics are welcome in this conversation–we are exploring history to understand the present situation we all face. Historians may also point to other occasions that could be called second theological reformations, but this talk focuses on the social, political and technological dimensions that make our time particularly disruptive.]

Outline

Listen to this talk on the Theotech podcast (subscribe on Apple or Google podcasts). Subscribe to the TheoTech mailing list for expanded ideas from this talk. Support our work on Patreon.

Manuscript

Today, we’re discussing the possibility of a Second Reformation. What it would look like, why now, what it’s impact could be and what that means for you and me.

The First Reformation

But before we begin, let’s consider what happened in the First Reformation.

If you’re not familiar with the origin story, it goes a bit like this:

In 1515, Pope Leo X needed money to build St. Peter’s Basilica. He had a revenue stream through the sale of indulgences, which were said to absolve people from sin in exchange for money, regardless of contrition.

Johannes Tetzel, a Dominican preacher was commissioned to sell these indulgences in the region of Bishop Albrecht. He was an effective growth hacker, inventing a catchy slogan, “When the coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs” that soon reached the ears of Martin Luther in the neighboring region of Frederick the Wise.

In 1517, disturbed by the sketchy theological basis for indulgences and by the manipulative religious extortion happening at the expense of his people, Luther posted his 95 Theses–written in Latin–to start a scholarly debate.

But this soon spun out of control into what we of the Internet age might call a “flame war”.

Why did it go viral?

Unbeknownst to Luther, someone translated the 95 Theses from Latin into German–the language of the people. Gutenberg’s printing press, invented about 77 years earlier was already widely in use, printing books for the wealthy. But Luther’s 95 Theses was a major breakout hit that demonstrated the scale of its disruptive potential. Within 2 weeks, pamphlets of Luther’s writing had spread throughout all of Germany.

Other Reformers from other regions joined the debate and started new threads surrounding the authority of the Pope, the Scriptures, the nature of salvation, and much more. The floodgates were opened, society was upended and there was no going back.

Five years after the 95 Theses were posted, Luther published a popular vernacular German translation of the New Testament and completed the whole Bible 12 years later. His translation was unique for its basis in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and high quality German that commoners could understand. The result was an explosion in Biblical literacy among ordinary German speaking peoples and a unification of the language. It busted the privilege of the religious elite and gave the movement legs, which leaders would parlay into greater freedom.

Different Reform movements allied to secure religious freedom and in 1526, an initial imperial parliament gave each government within the Holy Roman Empire permission to decide which religion it wished to follow. But 3 years later, this freedom was rescinded and Lutheran teaching was condemned resulting in an April 20th “Letter of Protestation” by the German princes and delegates of the Imperial Free Cities. Incidentally, this letter received legal status as a formal complaint on April 25th–490 years ago, to the day.

This is where the word “Protestant” in “The Protestant Reformation” comes from.

And so we come to today.

History is messy, but I want to draw out a few observations from the First Reformation to get hints for what a second might look like.

My first observation is that the Reformation was initially about correcting an injustice in the church. The church was corrupted and having monopolized salvation and the Scriptures, it ended up selling the forgiveness of sins to enrich its hierarchy.

Second, the Reformation was effective because of translation and technology, which rapidly reached and connected diverse people into a greater movement. Without the translation of the 95 Theses into German and the printing press to affordably put these pamphlets in the hands of every person, no movement would have formed and the status quo along with its injustice would have prevailed.

Third, this movement was enabled by innovations in the arts and humanities and resulted in the prolific creation of new artifacts and institutions to carry it forward.

Beyond the numerous pamphlets, songs, cartoons, sermons and other creative works generated by the Reformation, Luther’s Bible stands out as the powerful artifact that reshaped all of Europe. It was made possible by the Christian humanist scholar Erasmus who published bible manuscripts in the original language. And it resulted in a unified German language as well as a pluralistic polity with new religious and political freedoms.

And perhaps an even bigger outcome? The emergence of vocational integration. Every person in every discipline had a contribution to make for the glory of God. The sacred/secular divide was broken.

So what might these observations mean for “A Second Reformation” in our day?

The Injustice in our Day

Let’s begin by talking about injustices we see in the church in America today.

Yes, there’s everything from abusive leadership to sex scandals to plagiarism to embezzlement. Jesus said there would be wolves in sheepskins who would not spare the flock.

But let’s talk systemically–institutional churches, the Christian market and the non-profit industrial complex. What injustices do you see?

[ Discuss examples from the audience ]

I want to highlight one systemic injustice I’ve noticed. Bear with me as I speak boldly, but generally–I’m not referring to any church in particular.

I think the injustice in our day maybe less in the use of money, but in the use of time. Churches waste people’s time. And by extension they devalue their labor.

The sacred secular divide enables church institutions to claim greater significance for the activities and needs of the church, which justifies extensive unpaid labor and time. Instead of activating and unleashing people to use their most valuable gifts to build up the Body and bless the world, churches pull people into church activities to serve the church community in cookie cutter roles.

Not only are people expected to volunteer, but much of their efforts are ineffective at producing change, which is at the heart of meaningful labor. When you work, you never want to work in vain. That’s what makes people quit their jobs.

When you volunteer at church, you go through the motions, but to very little effect and may try to resolve the cognitive dissonance by attributing it to a different spiritual economy or a different spiritual causality. In actuality, much of the action keeps people busy, distracts them, gives them something to do in order to involve them in church as an end in itself.

This is an injustice.

Instead of selling indulgences, churches try to be value-added resellers of meaning, purpose and relationship by claiming eternal significance when you participate in the activities and work of the church. But deep down, I think many people can tell it’s grasping at straws. They can seek their need for meaning and connection elsewhere.

Completing the Truncated Gospel

Strangely enough, this error flows from a misunderstanding of salvation–it flows from a truncated Gospel.

When you hear the word “salvation”, what do you think of? I think for the majority of Americans, it would mean a personal relationship with Jesus that ensures you go to heaven when you die because your sins are forgiven by believing he died for you and rose again from the dead. That’s not the Gospel–in the least it is incomplete.

What’s missing?

When Jesus began his ministry, he preached, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” When Peter preached at Pentecost, he said, “Believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the promised Holy Spirit.” When Paul spoke of what happens when we die, he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he/she is new creation. The old has passed, the new has come.”

The Gospel was that God’s cosmic purpose to unite heaven and earth in Jesus Christ through the Church is being fulfilled. Jesus through his death on the Cross not only bore our sins, but also became the seed for the New Creation, which would be given as an inheritance to everyone in Him.

The apostles bore witness to his Resurrection inviting all people to repent and believe in him so they would become a new redeemed humanity that would inherit and rule this New Creation with Christ. In the present time, every believer receives the Holy Spirit as a downpayment in advance of this promise.

So, the hope of the Gospel wasn’t to go to heaven when you die. It was always, a New Creation ruled by a New Humanity redeemed by Jesus Christ–aka the Kingdom of God.

Do you see the difference?

When salvation is understood merely as forgiveness now and eternal life when you die, all work unrelated to these two things are demoted in significance. But when salvation is understood as God making all things new in Jesus Christ and giving it to redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and nation to rule, all work done in Jesus’ Name is significant and all people in Jesus Christ are indispensable.

Making disciples is no longer about making converts to our way of life–it’s getting people ready for the New Creation through the good works God has prepared for them to do today.

It is in a sense vocational integration.

So if the First Reformation broke the institutional church’s unjust monopoly on salvation and Scripture by making God’s Word available to people in their own language, then perhaps a Second Reformation will break the monopoly on what it means to serve God by unleashing God’s people in every vocation to be productive for God’s Kingdom throughout the world.

Why is the time ripe for A Second Reformation?

Now, what I am saying is not new. Vocational integration has been a movement for some time.

What makes our present time ripe for A Second Reformation?

I want to suggest three things: Technology, Politics and Translation.

The First Reformation started about 77 years after the invention of the printing press, which enabled mass communication.

The political situation was a highly fragmented, restive Holy Roman Empire. Local rulers saw in the Reformation an opportunity to press for greater freedom and oppose the hegemony of the empire.

And translation lit the fuse of Luther’s 95 Theses by pushing it out of academia and into the international political scene. It brought together diverse people from many nations into a continental movement that disrupted all of Europe.

Today, we have the Internet, which recently turned 30 years old. It amplifies mass communication to the extreme where everyone has access to overwhelming amounts of information for free and anyone can distribute their own ideas–as long as they can get attention.

We also have a highly divided political situation in America, which cuts through our churches. It’s exacerbated by the ways we’ve come to use the Internet and other countries have taken advantage to undermine the United States. Trust in general, feels scarce.

And advances in AI and automatic translation mean we’re approaching human quality for many major languages, driving down the cost and speed of translation and enabling diverse people to connect and collaborate even internationally in unprecedented ways.

Something disruptive is coming.

What will be the impact on the church?

So what does this mean for reforming the church?

Here are three ideas.

First, gatherings must shift from being a product to be consumed to a platform for productive vocational integration. This requires a change in the pastoral role and turns denominations from being clergy-oriented to focus on equipping and unleashing the saints. It also makes church gatherings “lightweight”.

Second, technology must be used for large-scale ongoing interaction and collaboration rather than just mass content distribution and consumption. This may even go beyond off-the-shelf collaboration software like Slack or WhatsApp and require churches to become innovative creators and early adopters of technology, not just consumers.

Third, church communities must embrace the unity in diversity that bears witness to the Kingdom of God. This means including and empowering people with disabilities and people who speak many languages because they are indispensable to our witness that Jesus is Lord.

Let’s dive into each of these ideas in turn.

From Product to Platform

The first idea is a paradigm shift from church as a product to church as a platform. What’s the difference?

A platform empowers others to build on top of it. A product satisfies a felt need.

For example, Amazon Web Services is a platform that equips startups to build products that meet customer needs like ordering a pizza through an Echo. Platforms like AWS have a brand, but customers don’t choose to subscribe to Netflix because they built on AWS.

Similarly, the church is a platform that equips saints to produce good works which satisfy God’s desires for them and for the world. God is the customer. The church gathered is not a product that meets the felt needs of those who attend. It is a place of shared discernment and pursuit of God’s will.

The Apostle Paul frequently used the analogy of building in reference to the Church where each person gets to build on the foundation of Christ and each person’s work will be tested at the return of Christ.

His description of worship gatherings in 1 Corinthians 14:26 seems to be an example of one way church services can be a platform for all members of the Body to exercise their gifts in an orderly way to build up the Body:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

There are other ways as well–steps to take that move from church as a product towards church as a platform.

Some churches have discussion groups on certain Sundays where people can think through Scripture together and benefit from the gifts and perspective of every member of the Body.

Some parachurch ministries form vocational integration and discernment groups for people in different industries and spheres of society to practice the implications of the gospel in their work.

And some events like hackathons, which can be extended to prayathons, preachathons and pitchathons, facilitate in an orderly way the sharing and exercise of every member’s gifts, ideas and contributions to build up the Body of Christ.

The common thread in these models is that every member of the Body of Christ is doing the work of the ministry together with their Spirit-given gifts.

This is how the Body is built up according to Paul in Ephesians 4:

[God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In this picture, our church gatherings and institutions become like a spiritual infrastructure or spiritual skeleton, connecting people who are equipped and activated to build up the Body of Christ.

A New Role for Pastors?

Many pastors and laypeople are burnt out because they are not fulfilling their roles. Pastor teachers are not to do the work of the ministry, it is too much for them! They are to teach and equip the saints. And this goes far beyond preaching a sermon or visiting someone in the hospital.

Saints have work to do and that work happens outside where they gather on Sunday. Pastor teachers must help them make their strengths, their work, productive for the Kingdom of God. Pastor teachers must equip them to think theologically about their work, to discover how their work bears witness to the Gospel of the New Creation God will give us in Christ, and how to be motivated to carry out their work as unto God.

Pastor teachers must set an example for saints to not love money or worry about money, to find their identity in Christ instead of their work, to practice justice, righteousness and steadfast love, to be a courageous witness and a humble and generous leader, to find their place in God’s story, their role in the Body, how they build up the Body and to help them maximize their impact for God’s Kingdom.

Then the work of the ministry will be effectively accomplished by the Body of Christ. Then our churches will be a platform that unleashes the gifts of every member to bear fruit for the Gospel in every sphere of society.

This function is desperately lacking in the institutional church today, but a Second Reformation might change that. I have heard from so many people that their motive for entering the pastorate was exactly to equip the saints and unleash them for the work of ministry, but the existing church systems, expectations and structures made it virtually impossible to change the status quo.

Which leads us to the next big idea of using technology to bust the status quo.

Busting the Status Quo with Tech

Whether the church changes or not, society is being disrupted by technology. The pace of innovation has increased to the point where breakthroughs are happening in the span of years rather than centuries. That makes it very hard to hold on to your traditions and survive.

Churches in America may have a Facebook page or a website. More affluent ones may even have an app. They use it to share announcements, accept donations and post videos.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s stuck in the age of the printing press!

Print was a one-way medium for mass communication. The Internet is a two-way medium for mass, group and private communication. Not only that, it gives us the capacity for real time feedback.

We have the capacity for massive many-way communication. We can now connect people to one another on a regular basis across the world for free.

Think about that.

Not only do we have access to feedback loops that we can learn from and adjust to, we can also help people directly engage with one another in order to do the work of the ministry God has called them to do.

We already see evidence of how technology is helping the church transition from product to platform.

Around the world, small groups of believers are growing exponentially while remaining connected to one another via group chats in WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other apps. Removing the requirement of physical buildings for churches has resulted in a lightweight, networked infrastructure that enables people to gather on demand, collaborate and act on a fluid basis.

They share videos and pictures and texts of what God is doing throughout the day. They are passionate about hearing God’s will and obeying. They share requests for prayer and pray together in many languages via video conferencing.

What could happen if our category for church shifted from primarily a physical gathering place and 501c3 to instead emphasize the relational networks we’re connected to in-person and now through technology? Would it change when and where we gather? Would it change our liturgies? Would it change our business model? Would it change our expectations for pastors and staff?

I think so.

I think it could free up pastors to show up at many people’s places of work. It could result in flexible gathering times and locations to create space for people of various scheduling and geographical constraints. It could create a new expectation of personal relationship with church leaders and personal investment as co-laborers for the Kingdom. And from that could flow a new business model oriented around investing in God’s Kingdom throughout society and in the world rather than growing a church budget.

And now we get to one of the most important ways I think technology can disrupt the status quo.

The Community as the Witness

Earlier I mentioned that the First Reformation resulted in the prolific creation of new artifacts and institutions to carry it forward. And that this was well-represented by the Luther Bible and the early stages of denominationalism.

I expect a Second Reformation to also result in the prolific creation of new artifacts and institutions, only this time we may have YouTube videos instead of pamphlets, apps instead of books and networks instead of polities.

And if the First Reformation resulted in the Word of God being available in every language–which we’re still working on!–I think an enduring “artifact” of the Second Reformation might be the People of God united across many languages.

Here is what I mean.

As the internet reaches the ends of the earth, the truncated Gospel message can theoretically reach the ends of the earth also. Just buy enough Facebook ads so that people get exposed to a gospel presentation in a 15 second spot right? Translating the spot into every language will be easier and faster than translating the Bible and once everyone has a chance to believe, Jesus is going to return. Done!

I think we all know that this isn’t how it works.

It turns out that bearing witness to the New Creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Jesus requires a community of diverse disciples who love one another as Jesus loved them. In such communities, people experience the power of the Gospel, not just the message.

Unfortunately, most churches around the world remain segregated by language, race and culture. Before, there were practical barriers to language diversity, but as technology enables us to bridge that, we’re running out of excuses.

The Apostle Paul explicitly rebukes Peter for rebuilding the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles as out of step with the Gospel. He goes on to teach church integration across weighty cultural differences as the way we learn to imitate Christ’s attitude of self-denial and welcome in Romans 14 and 15.

Diversity is a Gospel issue.

Furthermore, against the backdrop of a rapidly diversifying and polarized society, our message will sound increasingly meaningless unless the language diversity of God’s Kingdom is reflected in our communities. As the Internet commoditizes our message, the reality of our integrated communities must be the witness that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus makes us one.

Project Pentecost

So in anticipation of a Second Reformation, I’d like to ask you to join something my company launched called Project Pentecost.

It’s a movement of people and churches who want to reflect the diversity of God’s Kingdom in their gatherings.

If you believe God’s Kingdom is incomplete without the Deaf, the blind and people of many languages, and if you want to do everything in your power to welcome them and unleash the gifts of every member of the Body of Christ, then Project Pentecost is for you.

In the short term, we’re campaigning together to make Pentecost a thing. We want Pentecost celebrations to be as big of a deal as Easter or Christmas. It’s the day Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit on the Church and opened the gospel to many languages.

What if this Pentecost tens, or hundreds or even thousands of churches create foretastes of God’s Kingdom by incorporating other languages in their celebrations?

Here are a few ways Project Pentecost can help with that:

We’re providing a video of people from many nations glorifying God in many languages that helps you feel connected to the global Body of Christ and catch God’s vision for unity in diversity.

We’re providing a series answering from Scripture the hard questions of:

And we’re providing an open-licensed worship song that has been translated into multiple languages that you can sing, perform and translate freely.

And after Pentecost, we plan to continue collecting and sharing the learnings and stories of how the Holy Spirit is uniting us across languages, cultures and abilities into the brilliant diversity of the mature, beautiful Bride of Christ.

If God wills, we may one day see a world where every church is accessible in any language and people from every tribe, tongue and nation glorify God together with one voice–a foretaste of the God’s Kingdom that people can experience today.

Join the movement at projectpentecost.com

Conclusion

So in conclusion, what would a Second Reformation mean for you and me?

The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses went like this:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Perhaps that’s where we can start–with repentance.

It’s true, the sacred secular divide has devalued your work and vocations outside of the institutional church. The teaching of a truncated Gospel may have hindered your fruitfulness for God’s Kingdom. And our churches all struggle to welcome people different than us.

But instead of feeling bad or angry or acting out of guilt, what if we repented–what if we changed our minds?

What if we realized that our work and vocational integration isn’t just about us finding purpose–it’s about others? And it isn’t just about people like us. It’s about people from every tribe, tongue and nation–including people with disabilities–who are gifted by the Holy Spirit and have an indispensable contribution to make to the Kingdom of God.

What if we realized that God is using our vocations to fulfill the Scriptures?

What if we understood what repentance meant in our field, just as John the Baptist specifically explained to soldiers, tax collectors and others in Luke 3?

What if our personal ambitions were eclipsed by Jesus’ heart’s desire?

Jesus Christ is returning for a beautiful holy bride, consisting of people from every tribe, tongue and nation who are made into one new humanity through union with him. She’s going to reign in the New Creation with him when she finally matures to reach his full stature. She’s clothed in bright, pure linen, which are the righteous deeds of the saints–those good works which God has prepared in advance for each saint to do in the cosmic project of building up the Body of Christ.

As that Body, we must work together, equipping, unleashing and activating each other to fulfill God’s call so we can be complete and ready for the New Creation at Christ’s return.

Let’s get to work. Soli Deo Gloria.

Listen to this talk on the Theotech podcast (subscribe on Apple or Google podcasts). Subscribe to the TheoTech mailing list for expanded ideas from this talk. Support our work on Patreon.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is God using your vocation(s) to fulfill the Scriptures?
  2. How can the church serve as a platform to support and unleash you to use your most valuable gifts to bear fruit for the Gospel in every sphere of society?
  3. How is God calling you to create and to be that platform to activate and unleash others?

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.

Why Code for the Kingdom?

For the recent Global Code for the Kingdom Hackathon, I had the privilege of sharing “Why Code for the Kingdom?” This is a video and manuscript of the talk.

Brothers and sisters, welcome to Code for the Kingdom! My name is Chris Lim, I’m co-organizer of the Seattle hackathon and creator of Ceaseless, an app that helps you pray for three friends each day so that together we can personally pray for everyone on earth.

Having been an organizer and participant, the founder of Code for the Kingdom, Chris Armas, asked me to share my thoughts on “Why Code for the Kingdom?” What does it mean to Code for the Kingdom?

If you’re like me, you love to build, to explore, to invent. You love making awesome products and sharing them with the world. You love seeing the future and making it real for others to experience. You love tackling seemingly intractable problems with ingenious solutions. You love crafting delightful experiences that bring a smile to people’s eyes. You love seeing your ideas come to life and benefit lots and lots of people.

But for all these loves, most of all you love Jesus. You want to combine your passion for technology with your love for Christ. But there aren’t many opportunities to do that in a meaningful way with like-minded people.

That’s what Code for the Kingdom is about.

It’s an event and a movement convening bright technologists and entrepreneurs to use their gifts to advance the Gospel together. It’s a place where we take seriously the idea that God is our ultimate customer. He is the one we’re seeking to please and delight with our work. We deeply empathize with what he values, pay attention to his specifications, and apply all of our creativity, thoughtfulness and skill to deliver products, services and experiences that will make him happy and bless the world. And we do this, not alone, but in a community of people who share the same God-obsessed passion.

So as an event, Code for the Kingdom, is designed to be an inspiring foretaste of God’s Kingdom where people work together to use their gifts in technology, design, entrepreneurship, and every other discipline to deliver amazing and creative solutions that demonstrate the love of Christ for the world.

Now this happens in both large and small ways.

When you see a stranger struggling to debug his code at 3am in the morning before his pitch and step in to help him out, you’re creating a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

When you forgo your idea in order to serve someone who needs a team and help them succeed you’re creating a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

When you boldly stand up and share your idea for advancing the Gospel even though you feel scared or unqualified, you’re creating a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.

And of course, when you sacrifice your weekend and beyond in order to create solutions that will help release the oppressed, teach God’s Word, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, support the church, build up the body of Christ, and bless the world, you’re creating foretaste of God’s kingdom.

So as a movement, Code for the Kingdom is about activating and unleashing people to do good with the grace God has given them; to use their gifts to advance the gospel. We are a community of people from around the world on mission together, serving one another, doing what we love and contributing our creativity, our skill, our inventiveness, our focus, our drive, our curiosity and all the best we have to offer for a common cause that matters: the Kingdom of God.

You see, there are many good causes in the world and we will be addressing several of them during our hackathons. But as Christians, what gives these causes significance is that they are delivering foretastes of God’s promise. We build things to help us enjoy and share with others our dream of a new creation, our hope of the day when God will make all things right in His kingdom forever. Through the things we build we invite the world experience the joy of having Jesus Christ as Lord, and to believe in Him so that they will also receive the marvelous new world he longs to give us.

Code for the Kingdom is an opportunity for you to carry on Jesus’ mission with the specific gifts, skills and passions he has given you. There are still people around the world who need to hear and experience the gospel of the Kingdom. You still have brothers and sisters who need to hear and believe the promises Jesus has made so that we can finally receive them together.

Could this be in part what your technical, entrepreneurial, artistic and other gifts are for?

When Jesus began his ministry, he quoted Isaiah saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” ‭‭(Luke 4:18-19, 21 ESV)

And Jesus has gifted us and given us His Spirit to carry out these and many other good works in his Name.

Do you love the poor as Jesus loves the poor? They are all around us–across the street and around the world. Why not use your technological privilege to serve them, to show and tell them about the kingdom Jesus wants to give them? Perhaps beginning with something as simple as feeding them and giving them access to clean water.

Do you hurt when you see people taken captive by physical or spiritual powers? Do you ache for those who are physically or spiritually blind or deaf? Why not use your gifts to help them hear and see and set them free? What can you invent to encourage people when they are down and overcome the strongholds that bind them?

Are you broken and angered when you see oppression, corruption and injustice? Why not use your gifts to help bear witness to the truth, to mitigate the abuse of power, to give a voice to the voiceless, to protect the vulnerable and strengthen the weak?

Then as we proclaim the message of God’s kingdom and invite people to trust in Jesus, they will know what we mean because they will have experienced a foretaste of it for themselves.

So why Code for the Kingdom?

First, because we love the King…
Second, because we love His people…
Third, because we love His world.
And fourth, yes, because we love to code…

Thank you for being here, to God be the glory and have fun at Code for the Kingdom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without innovation we are stuck with the status quo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On one lonely May Friday night I came home exhausted from work. I plopped on my bed and wanted to take a nap. Except I couldn’t. Instead of dozing off, I felt wide awake and it seemed like the Lord said to me: “Chris, I want you to leave your job and devote your attention to the purpose I have called you to and trust in me to provide for you.”

My immediate response was, “really God?”

Was I making it up or was it really Him?

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

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

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

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

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

The most emotionally difficult conversations were with well-intentioned people who recommended that I do this on the side until I had something solid. It was common sense, but I felt speechless because I believed God called me to leave my job.

So what finally gave me the confidence to make the jump?

I was with my family at a conference in Cannon Beach, Oregon. Walking along the beach and praying, I pondered the question: “What can you do after you quit that you could not do before?”

There had to be something more than just giving time and attention to pet projects and ideas.

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

I could discover for myself and show that He is more valuable than money and more desirable than a life of comfort. I could discover that following him is more secure than a successful career. If other people could be motivated to take risks to minimize regret, get financial independence and recognition, experience adventure, pursue passion, delight customers, change the world, et cetera, how much more should God’s call motivate me to go? How could I joyfully invite others to trust in my Savior, if I would not trust him in this matter?

And so it was settled. When the project wound down, I submitted my letter of resignation, celebrated with my colleagues and began a new adventure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end result?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and God bless you.

Questions?

 

What is our place in God’s story?

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

We moved locations a few times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then some very painful things happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or will it be something more?

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

I do not intend to answer all of these questions.

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

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

Where we came from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want to be like Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who then is Jesus?

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the new temple where people meet God.

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

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

Who then are we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of the apostle Peter:

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

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

Consider what this means for your life.

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

Where are we going?

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

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

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

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

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

Where are we now? What time is it now?

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

Consider King Jesus’ commission to his disciples in Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is God is calling us to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

We humbly ask in Jesus’ Name,
Amen.