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?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texts for consideration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texts for consideration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

Texts for consideration:

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

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

What’s your perspective?

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

Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Thanks!

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

Captain’s Log, March 12, 2014 AD

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

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

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

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

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


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

Struggle #1: Looking back

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

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

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

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

Struggle #2: Waiting

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

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

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

Struggle #3: Going solo

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

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

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

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

Fighting for Faith

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

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

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

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

This very act of writing is a fight to believe:

The Road Ahead

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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