Signposts: Should You Make Your Children Go to Church?

I often get asked this question from parents: Should we require our child to come to church with our family? Sometimes the child even dreads or dislikes going to church. What if we suspect that our child is going through difficult things while at church?

In this episode of Signposts I talk about why requiring church from children is an issue of priority, and how to engage a situation where your child might feel unwelcome at church.

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Google Knows Who You Really Are

Imagine if you had a truth serum that would force you to disclose who you really are and what you really think, fear, and value? In some ways, you already do: the digital search engine on your phones and devices. That’s the argument of a new book that I think ought to prompt us to think about what Christian witness should look like in the Google era.

The book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz , makes the claim that mined resources on what people search for online is more reliable for research than what they tell people in surveys. This is because, the book asserts, people don’t like to admit certain things about themselves, or to themselves.

But they’ll tell Google.

Netflix has figured this out already, the author argues. They once based their customer’s movie preferences on the films the viewer placed in the queue to be watched. Netflix found though that people there tend to place highbrow, aspirational films, not the lowbrow comedies and romance flicks they actually watch. What the consumer says is what kind of person he wants to be; what he chooses says who he actually is.

Google searches tell us more than surveys or social media posts, the book points out, because all the factors are there to make people honest. No one is there in front of you. You’re alone. You’re seeking out the answers to the questions you really have.

Some of the data this reveals is good news. People really don’t get any more depressed around Christmas or other holidays (in fact, a little less depressed, based on searches related to depression symptoms). People don’t seem to search out racist sites more when unemployment goes up. But much of the data ought to alarm us.

I expected to find bleak news on the pornography front. And there is some of that. What I found more disturbing, though, is the way digital data tell us just where we are in this country on issues of race. The “n-word” is searched at alarming rates. Searches for jokes using the racist slur can be predicted: anytime African-Americans are in the news. The search for these jokes spikes 30  percent on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Stephens-Davidowitz says data should cause us to reconsider whether racial disparities in our job interviews or criminal justice matters should be explained by American society’s implicit racism. The data would suggest that what American minorities are facing is explicit racism, just racism hidden from explicit view.

The book also shows the difference between the way people talk about their lives and families on social media, and what they really think about both. Women speak of their husbands on social media most often as “awesome” and so forth. When they Google questions about their husbands they’re usually asking why he’s so mean or why he doesn’t want sex.

This shouldn’t surprise biblical theists. The Scriptures tell us, after all, that primal humanity hides in shame before God (Gen. 3:8-10). Biblical revelation also tells us that our brokenness is what we often even hide not just from others but from ourselves (Jer. 17:9).

Looking out on our mission field, and on our churches, we shouldn’t rely on what people tell us about how happy or content or pious they are. We should know that, below the surface, they are often churning out their resentment, anger, sadness, shame, and fear.

The human heart often thinks it can cover its paths before God, saying “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive” (Ps. 94:7). The truth is, we can’t even hide from Google. How can we hide from God?

Google knows who we are, sometimes better than we know ourselves. But Google doesn’t love us. Our lives are lived before the face of God, a face seen in that of Jesus Christ. His deep inside knowledge of their lives,  good and bad respectively, of Nathanael and the woman at the well startled them both (Jn. 1:47-51; 4:29). The good news is that, in both cases and in many more, Jesus knew all these things ahead of time, and sought them, and us, out anyway.

God not only knows more than Google; he also searches better too.

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Signposts: How to Deal with a Family Member’s Racist Comments

When someone you love or are close to vocalizes a racist sentiment, what’s the best way to respond? In this episode of Signposts I consider how we can confront racial prejudice in our families in a gospel-centered way.

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In Defense of the Unspoken Prayer Request

The other day I overheard some friends, fellow believers, bemoaning several problems in American evangelical church life. One of these was the tendency of some people, in a small group setting, to respond to a call for prayer requests by asking for prayer for an “unspoken” concern. My friends sighed in exasperation and rolled their eyes. I once held the same view as they, but I’ve changed my mind. Lord knows we need lots of things changed in American Christian culture, but the unspoken prayer request isn’t one of them.

To be fair, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually heard someone give an unspecified prayer request quite that way, but over the course of my ministry I’ve heard it a lot. I’d end a Sunday school class or a small group retreat asking for what we should pray about, to have one or two people say the simple word, “unspoken.” I think we should hear this more.

The unspoken prayer request is, first of all, almost all the time a genuine asking for prayer, as opposed to a means of communicating facts to others. We’ve all been in prayer meetings where every detail of a skin-rash treatment or of a child’s honor roll grades in college are offered with the kind of specificity that, at least sometimes, is more akin to a Christmas newsletter or a Facebook post than to a petition to God.

The person who asks for a request that is “unspoken,” though, is almost always someone genuinely grappling with a burden or a dilemma. The burden is so great that he or she doesn’t even feel ready to talk about what that burden is. Why would we not want that? When the Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), why would we not want to bear even the burden of not knowing whether or how to talk about the burden?

After all, sometimes the requester is dealing with a sense of shame, or navigating how to pray for someone else without embarrassing that person or subjecting the prayed-for to gossip. We actually all have “unspoken” prayer requests. A person might ask you to pray for their Aunt Flossie’s heroin addiction, but it would be terrible to do so on the town’s Christian radio talk show. We should confess our sins to one another (Jas. 5:16), so it is good if a Christian asks her friends or her pastors to pray for her struggle with pornography. She should not make the same request as she’s leading children’s church. When thinking through how to forgive those who’ve harmed me, I can’t very well give a prayer request that is itself can be an attack on those I’m trying to forgive. Would it be better to not ask for prayer at all?

But even more than that, the unspoken prayer request is fully in line with how the Scripture calls on us to pray. Jesus teaches us how to request our daily bread, but tells us not to rattle on and on, as though it is our “many words” that gets God’s attention (Matt. 5-13). That’s partly because our Father knows what we need before we ask (Matt. 6:33), and he, unlike Baal, isn’t summoned down by theatrics or incantations (1 Kings 18:27-29, 36-38).

God calls us to make our petitions known to God (Phil. 4:6), and so it is good to do that together. But often it’s not just that God knows what we need before we ask, but that God knows what we need before we do. We often don’t know how to pray as we ought, Paul teaches us, and in that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). The person who asks for an unspoken prayer request may well just be in this process, trying to figure out how to pray and for what to ask. Maybe he or she needs prayer to be able to pray. That isn’t a sign of rampant evangelical individualism but rather the exact opposite. Moreover, the unspoken prayer request is often a confession of powerlessness, of vulnerability. God doesn’t despise that, and neither should we.

We pray often for God to revive his church, to breathe life into these dead bones. Maybe one way he will know he is doing so is when we hear more of us reaching out for one another’s hands and, with tears in our eyes, saying one word: “Unspoken.”

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Signposts: A conversation with Andy Crouch about family and technology

How do I navigate technology with my kids? In this episode of Signposts I talk with author and speaker Andy Crouch about families and the use of technology. We also talk about his new book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

Listen below, and subscribe to Signposts to get new episodes when they publish.

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