On a quiet Monday evening, I shared this picture of two of my children holding hands on the front step of our house. Little did I know that with an innocent click of the “post” button, something strange was about to happen.

The next morning when I logged into Facebook, my eyes widened as I realized what had transpired while I’d been asleep. Overnight, my picture had gone viral. Over the next 3 days, it had over 18 million views, over 290,000 “likes,” and 29,000 “shares.” Perhaps even more intriguing were the 12,000 men and women who shared their (very candid) responses in the comments section.

Holding hands

I never could have imagined that a simple picture of my children might be controversial. But then, that was before I learned what an ugly place the internet can be.

The caption read, “This might look cute, brother and sister holding hands on the front step. But it’s actually our new punishment. Sibling fighting = time outside holding hands. Best consequence ever.” As people began to stumble across my picture, tempers started to flare. Without warning, a debate about parenting and discipline began to rage. Apparently, everyone had a deeply-rooted opinion that they fiercely held to. Peppered by colorful language, a hoard of self-proclaimed experts who believed me to be the Joseph Stalin of parenting began to tell me in no uncertain terms what a miserable excuse for a parent that I was.

Social media is a funny thing.

Here’s what I learned from my 15 minutes of internet notoriety:

  1. We need to learn how to disagree. As Chris Horst pointed out, the comment section is where civility and respect die a slow and painful death. We hide behind our screens and lob verbal grenades at others though a veil of anonymity. We emulate talk show hosts by combatively disagreeing and trample on the art of dialogue. If you truly believe that I am permanently damaging my children by three minutes of hand-holding, please let me know. But offensive language isn’t helpful and it makes your listener much less prone to hear what you have to say.
  2. Don’t read the comments or attempt to defend yourself. Jen Hatmaker, certainly a person well aware of how vicious the internet can be, graciously encouraged me to simply “close your laptop and walk away.” Good advice.
  3. Remember that behind every avatar is a real human being. In a society where almost everybody is “online”, we desperately need to remember that people aren’t profiles. Let’s refuse to interact with our online communities differently than we’d interact with our literal neighbors. As Glennon Doyle Melton once observed, “If you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.” Together, let’s inject some humanity back into the internet.
  4. One real friend trumps 1 million “likes.” No amount of virtual connection will ever be a substitute for real, true human connection.
  5. People are passionate about their kids. There is more pent-up passion on the topic of children than virtually any other topic.
  6. You never know what will go viral. I post about my kids frequently, but for some reason, this one hit a nerve. You don’t get to choose what catches on—if I did, I would have chosen this video of Myles singing Amazing Grace or the release for the book my son and I recently wrote. Since the response is so unpredictable, I’m finding that I need to be totally certain any people in my posts are in favor of the content. My kids are at an age when we’ve had the conversation about what I post about them. (Also, I discovered it’s a good idea to make sure I ask Laurel first before posting pictures of her in high school during her “high hair” stage.)
  7. The “ban” button is a wonderful thing. For those people who are simply mean-spirited, use the ban button liberally.
  8. Like a bad case of dysentery, the attention passes quickly. After three days, my Facebook activity has returned to normal. Quickly come and quickly go.
  9. Social media has left us saturated in communication, but feeling lonelier than ever. As Dr. Sherry Turkle, author and a professor at MIT, described it, “We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big pile of real conversation…Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying ‘I am thinking about you.’ Or even for saying, ‘I love you.’ But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.” Friends, let’s never allow screens to replace faces.
  10. Being a real celebrity must be terrible. I had my 15 minutes of internet fame, and I was immensely relieved when it was over. Imagine what it must be like to be bombarded by this craziness each and every day. Ever wonder why child celebrity stories rarely end well? Perhaps part of it is the inescapable pressure coming from online insanity.

Most of all, though, I’ve been reminded that because of what Christ has done, we have something better than “likes.” We are fully known, and perfectly loved. There can be no better intimacy than that. So close the computer. Open up Scripture. And remember you are loved.

If you’ve walked through your own 15 minutes of internet fame, I hope that your experience was better than mine. However, much more than that, I hope that you regularly disconnect from social media so your conversations (and healthy disagreements) run long and deep. Those are the moments in life worth treasuring, and they can’t happen in 140 characters.

Here’s to more people and fewer profiles!

Disarming the Ugly American

November 7, 2014 — 4 Comments

Despite what Ann Coulter says, I am convinced that compassion is one of America’s greatest exports. I see evidence of it every summer, as droves of men and women—stirred by dreams of radical service and love—leave their sanitized, suburban lives behind and board planes bound for the ends of the earth. That desire is a hallmark of the Imago Dei, the God who left the splendor of heaven to come to us. It reflects the Creator to His beloved creation, and there is immense beauty in that.

plane window

While I celebrate the heart behind these short-term trips, I am also deeply convinced that we can do better.

If you want a serious treatment of how to help without hurting on short-term trips, you must read Brian Fikkert’s excellent new book, Helping without Hurting in Short-Term Missions. But if you want a very quick list of some things to ensure that you don’t perpetuate the well-deserved stereotype of the ugly American, here you go:

  1. Don’t be pejorative. On the plane on a recent trip, I overheard a man describing how he was going to work with “my refugees.” While he had sponsored a village, I think we can all agree that the refugees were not “his.” No pejorative ownership of people, people.
  2. Ask before taking pictures. It’s simple, but it’s common courtesy. How would you feel if a stranger began taking your picture? What if a stranger began taking pictures of your child? Your home? It would feel invasive at best, if not threatening and dangerous. We have a word for people who do this: stalkers. Let’s not be good-hearted stalkers and agree to extend the same courtesy that we would wish to be shown.
  3. Don’t go if you suffer from extreme Mysophobia. I’ve watched some people reflexively reach for their Costco-sized bottles of Purell after any sort of direct contact with the people they came to serve. When you reach for your hand-sanitizer immediately after shaking someone’s hand or sharing a meal, the message speaks clearly across cultures and continents: You are dirty. Friends, I’m all for Purell (indeed, I’ll probably use it after shaking YOUR hand!) but please be more discreet. If you feel you need a HAZMAT suit before going over “there,” then you probably shouldn’t go.
  4. This is not a zoo. Don’t throw candy or peanuts at people. It’s offensive. Seriously.
  5. Relax if things don’t immediately work. Breathe deeply and see what God might be trying to teach you in the moment. It might simply be a time to unclench your American fist from around the clock we all love so much, and detox from your own adrenaline.
  6. Don’t complain about cold showers. You have water! Be wildly grateful for that.
  7. Don’t  immediately go into problem-solving mode. First, become obsessed with simply trying to understand.
  8. Think about long-term relationships. A mission trip should never be a one-week stand. One of the most valuable outcomes of the trip is not the wall that you painted, but the people you worked alongside. Relationships and learning are the goal.
  9. Follow up. Don’t promise that you’ll do something if you won’t. There already is a well-worn path of unmet expectations. Don’t contribute to it.
  10. Don’t freak out if you are unable to get half-caf soy iced venti mocha latte. The trip that you’re on? The gift is that it’s not about you. And surprisingly, the majority of the world gets by beautifully without a Starbucks. Leave your expectations, routines, and creature comforts on the plane—a little flexibility goes a long way.

Again, please hear me—I LOVE the heart of compassion behind short-term trips, and I’ve personally been profoundly impacted by these experiences. With a few attitude adjustments, we can continue to see short-term trips provide significant impact on the friends who go and the friends who graciously receive us.

Over the past 30 years, entrepreneurship has been in a steady decline in the USA, which means fewer individuals solving problems, creating value for our communities, and using their God-given creativity.

Are there steps we could take to reverse this slow decline?

Recently, my 9-year old son Keith and I wrote a book which attempts to equip parents and children to begin to think about entrepreneurship at an early age (check out Watching Seeds Grow: A Guide to Entrepreneurship for Parents and Children).

It’s been a lot of fun – and we hope in some small way it plants seeds of creativity with future entrepreneurs.

Here are three tips on getting your children engaged in entrepreneurship:

Tell your story: To cast a vision of entrepreneurship for your kids, tell them your simple stories. Most of us weren’t child dot.com prodigies – but we all have a story about our first lemonade stand, lawn mowing businesses, and how we ended up where we are now.

If you’re not an entrepreneur, maybe those in your family have been. Did a great-grandfather start a restaurant? Does an aunt have her own beauty salon? Instead of “business” being a vague and confusing topic, it becomes Aunt Judy’s sporting goods store. Or your childhood adventures trying to sell painted rocks as doorstoppers to the neighbors. Suddenly, becoming an entrepreneur is an achievable and exciting goal for your kids.

Take a field trip to a local business. Beyond your personal stories, you are surrounded by entrepreneurs. It could be the owner of a local restaurant franchise, the CEO of a major corporation, or a family-owned grocery store. Invite them to come and talk at your kids’ school, churches, or clubs.

Or schedule a time to visit their business. Most entrepreneurs will be thrilled to share about their business. Just ask!

Start with your kids’ favorite restaurant, toy store, or ice cream shop. They will not only learn that products do not just mysteriously appear on shelves—but that working to create them can be great fun and create value.

Read stories of other kid entrepreneurs: Another practical way to explore entrepreneurship with your children is through online resources that link kids with others modeling entrepreneurship. One such website is http://actonhero.org.

Here, you and your kids can explore the stories of a variety of different kinds of entrepreneurs. Many of these self-starters began when they were young and have valuable lessons to share about their trailblazing into the business world. Read my personal favorite – the Shafer family who created Buddy Bars: http://shaferpower.com/.

We would love to hear your stories! Tell us what you are doing with your family to help prepare for your own entrepreneurial adventures.

Summer Reading List

August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment


Several years ago, my wife helped me switch from watching television to reading books before bed (thank you Laurel!). We’ve grown to love this time after the kids have fallen asleep (or at least are confined to their rooms) to catch up on reading.

Reading fills you in a way that television just doesn’t. At a recent HOPE lunch ‘n learn, I went through a few of the books I’ve appreciated recently. What would you add?

  • To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. Simply the best sales book I’ve ever read as it encourages us to go beyond gimmicks and become rooted in relationships. This book resonates with the way we think about fundraising at HOPE.
  • The Business of Generosity by Stephen Graves. From Toms one-for-one model to corporate sponsorships, Steve’s book captures the various business models in a world of rapidly changing philanthropy.
  • The Messiah Method by Michael Zigarelli. As a former Messiah soccer player, I LOVED reading a thoughtful history of Messiah’s record-setting program. But the takeaways transcend soccer and have relevance for any form of leadership. When the former head coach Dave Brandt was told after winning an unbelievable number of national championships, “You can’t keep winning championships,” his response was “Why not? Someone is going to win. Why not us?”
  • The Heart of Business by Raymond Harris. We believe God’s Word has relevance for all of life, and this book reminds us the incredible wisdom found in the book of Proverbs to the business world.
  • The Good Egg by David Peterson. This is the story of the invention of the Egg McMuffin. I loved hearing the specific details of the tenacity and talent in pitching an idea within a large corporation like McDonalds.
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Before reading this book, I thought I understood some of the differences between men and women in the workplace. However, this book created a greater awareness and sensitivity to unique challenges women face in thriving in the office.
  • The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow. This book is brilliant advertising for One Acre Funds innovative agricultural input and training model. At HOPE, we have been rapidly growing our church-based savings and credit association model and this book allowed an inside look into a partner organization.
  • Demons of Poverty by Ted Boers. This was a heart-breaking book about development gone wrong in Haiti. Ted is vulnerable about the challenges he faced and the bigger doubts they caused. This is a compelling read.
  • Jesus is Better than You Imagined by Jonathan Merritt. This book of stories of finding God in unexpected places is written with uncommon honesty. Included is the story about when Jonathan and I were held up at gunpoint by bandits in Haiti.
  • A Resilient Life by Gordon McDonald. This story is about finding grace to live and finish well over a lifetime of service and explores the cumulative impact of our small decisions and habits.
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’ve become fascinated by research on the brain, and this book was an eye-opening exploration of scientific research about how habits shape us. We become mastered by our habits, and yet spend little time thoughtfully exploring our behaviors.
  • Dying Out Loud by Shawn Smucker. Shawn wrote this book about a missionary to Turkey diagnosed with cancer who decided to handle death within his community in Turkey – and how his death had a greater impact on the community than he could have had ministering during his life.
  • A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. This book presents the simple power of prayer, as a conversation with our Father who desires to spend time with his kids.
  • Barna Frames by Dave Kinnaman. These short books are each loaded with thoughtful infographics and insights from practitioners. Each book only takes around 45 minutes to read and presents a keen understanding of relevant issues today.

What is on your list that I should add to mine?