Review of Grandparenting with Grace

In this post, I’m pleased to share my tiny little corner on the internet with guest reviewers, Jerry and Linda Mead.  Jerry is a retired minister in the PCA, and he and Linda have three adult children, five grandchildren, and one additional grandchild who is currently preparing to make his arrival later this year.  I offer their review of Larry McCall’s Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation here unedited and hope this resource can be useful for many of their peers. Grandparenting_with_Grace_Thumbnail__42118.1547653485

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A Review of a Significant Book

I have sat with a young woman who talked of being raped by her step-father from the time she was 14 until she was about 17. Her mother either didn’t want to know or was too drunk to care.

I have been in the emergency room with church members when they were told that their loved one lying before us was brain dead and that only the rescue measures were keeping him alive. They turned and looked at me with the implied question, “What do we do now?”

I have had a neighbor knock on my front door at 3:30 AM to ask me to call 9-1-1 because his brother was lying unresponsive on the bedroom floor. He had died of a drug overdose. The 9-1-1 operator asked me to check and see if my neighbor’s brother had a pulse while we waited for the first-responders to arrive.

I have prayed with a woman whose husband was so verbally and emotionally oppressive toward her that she had to flee their home in order to feel safe. Her church leaders only wanted her to meet with him to work toward reconciliation.

These experiences don’t make me an all-star. They just mean I was the one placed in the path of those who were suffering. No amount of training can make one prepared for the gravity and gut-wrenching nature of these situations. No book that one can read or course that one can take or counseling cohort one can participate in could ever fully deflect the emotional impact of being asked to bear these burdens. But knowing that one is going to be involved in some form of helping field (e.g. pastoral ministry, hospital/hospice work, military chaplain, etc.) and not receiving any training or not preparing oneself for the impacts that are sure to come only means one of two things (if not both): 1) you will be wounded more severely by hits you didn’t see coming because you didn’t expect them and should have; and 2) you will worsen the trauma of those you are seeking to help. There is help to be found. One can begin to prepare. One should begin to prepare.

Dr. Diane Langberg’s book Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores is an amazing step forward in preparing people for what to expect if working with traumatized people (i.e. abuse survivors, rape/trafficking survivors, etc.). Dr. Langberg has worked with trauma-related issues in the counseling field since the 1970’s and has traveled globally to study, as she puts it in several places, “the litter of hell” that is left scarring our fellow humans.

This book is not enjoyable. There were days I tried to read it while eating my lunch, and I couldn’t because it was making me nauseous to read of such evil being perpetrated on other people. However, it is quite possibly the most important book I’ve read since I finished seminary in 2006, and it is my hope that this book will have a broad readership, especially in the Church, since it is the Church’s calling to be a minister of mercy to the oppressed and afflicted (James 1.27) in whatever community She finds herself. And rest assured, they are in every community. We will meet them if we are being faithful.

What follows is a kind of review, but not really. Really all I’m doing here is listing my recommendations for various people groups that would derive benefit from this book.

  • Recommendation for men preparing to become ministers: Read this whole book. You and I will most likely never be an expert in trauma or even counseling, but we are often called upon to be like a spiritual first-responder. Dr. Langberg has stared into the face of horrible evil both within the church and without. This isn’t just evil that has marred people who show up at church. Some of this is evil perpetrated by church leaders … self-deceived, self-justifying, sheep-devouring church leaders. Yet Dr. Langberg still loves the Church. This is your calling, so learn from her. You will enter into the lives of wounded, raped, abused, and oppressed people in your community, some of which have been victimized by church leaders or other people who claimed the name ‘Christian’. You must help the wounded; and when their trauma infects your days and nights, when their wounds make you want to hate the Church, you must realize your own need for the risen Christ. And you must remember that it is the same Church that Christ shed his blood for.
  • Recommendation for Church leadership/elders: Each Church session/consistory/board of deacons should have at least one person who is conversant with this book. I would go so far as to say that every single church elder should read the chapter “Understanding Domestic Violence”. Many are quick to say that the words “abuse/abuser” don’t appear in the Bible. But the words “oppressed/oppressor” are prominent words (Pss 9.9, 12; 12.5; Prov 31.8-9; Jer 22.3 to name a few). Study those words and you will see that the Church is called to look like the Lord in defense of the oppressed. This includes demanding more than a few tears from the oppressor/abuser. Dr. Langberg’s words about self-deception and repentance in this regard (both below and elsewhere) are worth the price of the book:

“Anyone who engages in abusive behavior has practiced self-deception. They have practiced avoiding the truth. To think that someone can practice a sin pattern for years and simply say “I am sorry” and be all better is to fail to see sin as our God does… True repentance is consistent change demonstrated over time and is shown to be real when the cup is bumped again and again and something new spills out indicating a new pattern.” p. 265 {emphasis original}

  • Recommendation for Church members: Read chapters 1-7 and 11. These chapters will teach you much about the mind of Christ, his heart for the oppressed and the suffering, the nature of sin and self-deception, and our own proclivities to avoid suffering and grieving people because their suffering and grief make us uncomfortable. However, what did the Son of God do for us? He set aside His glory. He entered our darkness. He laid down His right to comfort to enter into the human condition. He was the Word of God made flesh… the Word of God applied to suffering, despairing, grieving humanity. This was no glib and light-hearted jaunt in applying the Word of God to humanity. So just as Christ didn’t glibly apply himself (the Word of God) to His people, but rather entered into our state of grief and pain, so we need to learn to apply ourselves (embody the Word) thoughtfully and carefully to those who have survived/are surviving oppression, pain, trauma, and grief. Dr. Langberg is master instructor in this area and your church will be better equipped if you sit at her feet for a while.

For the Church in general and for those who are involved in helping fields in particular, we are involved in stepping into the litter of hell when we minister to the oppressed, the suffering, the grieving, the abused. But their pain, rage, grief, addictions, fear, obsessions, despair, twisted thinking, volatile emotions, etc. are not the enemy. Sin and death are the enemy, and the Lord Jesus has already conquered them. He calls us to join him in his work of turning back sin and death. Dr. Langberg makes this point beautifully as she relates the ministry to the suffering to the raising of Lazarus from the grave in John 11. I’ll let Dr. Langberg have the last words here and invite you into this work:

“[Jesus] engages human beings in the resurrection process. Now, someone who can raise another from the dead is surely not troubled by a little stone being in the way. It was not necessary that people remove the stone, but he catches them up in his resurrection work. He calls Lazarus out and engages humans again. “Unbind him.” Lazarus… cannot see, is bound with clothes that restrict him, and he stinks. Jesus calls people to assist…He could just as easily have Lazarus come out free of grave clothes. Stones and sheets are not a big deal if you can raise the dead. God has called you and me to participate in his resurrection work. We do ordinary things like move stones and remove grave clothes. He has called us to go with seemingly ordinary methods into the place of death and darkness… [But] no matter how good you are at rolling stones, handling stench, and removing grave clothes, you cannot raise the dead. He is the resurrection and the life.” pp. 75-76 {emphasis original}

Enduring Alarm Moments

“Think about when you accidentally set off an alarm and you hear a sample of what people in crisis are experiencing. There is a lot of emotional noise in their lives; there is chaos… If people seek you out during their alarm moments, they will bring you their noise… We are uneasy in the face of unadulterated terror and pain. When an alarm goes off, we want it stopped… When an alarm goes off, fleeing is a normal response. Alarms mean things are not okay. How can we have staying power in alarm moments like these?”

Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores

Review of “What are Spiritual Gifts?”

What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional ViewWhat Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View by Kenneth Berding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a grind to get through but the author has done solid exegetical work. It is a great antidote to the conventional approach to the idea that Holy Spirit gives special abilities at conversion that need to be discovered and that the church has to somehow figure out how to match its needs up with these oft-hidden gifts among its people.

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Review of “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

Do I “…see strangers as neighbors and neighbors as family of God“?

Do I “…recoil at reducing a person to a category or a label“?

Do I “…see God’s image reflected in the eyes of every human being on earth“?

Do I know that I am “…like meth addicts and sex-trade workers…,” …taking my “…own sin seriously – including the sin of selfishness and pride“?

Once I’m done asking myself these jack-hammer questions, I can move on to the second paragraph in the preface to Rosaria Butterfield’s most recent book The Gospel Comes with a a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.  Whew.  But for a person that’s being honest with their heart’s default mode and their daily practices, that’s about the pace of the book from launch to landing.

In a sense, Dr. Butterfield’s book is a little like Aslan, good but not safe.  But that’s kind of her point.  If a life motivated by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is safe and comfortable, then it is a life unfamiliar, in some very practical ways, with the God who entered the un-safe-ness of life under the sun in order to love and rescue the unwashed and the unworthy.  So in her very narratival fashion, Dr. Butterfield walks her readers along the smooth and jagged edges of what it looks like to regularly open one’s home to neighbors, dogs (hers and the neighbors’), strangers, church members, grad students, at least one black snake, and a seemingly constant stream of children (the source of the aforementioned reptile).  She draws the reader along with story after story of how regularly having people in the home opens up an expectation that no topic is off-limits.  As she says, “We were – as we almost always are around here – a politically mixed group.  Unbelieving neighbors and church members all together (p.120).”  But this is all what we might expect if the people seated around our dinner tables reflected our neighborhood as often as it it did our hand-picked group of friends.  As she says a little earlier, “The gospel creates community that welcomes others in… It isn’t always easy.  It begins with recognizing people as your kin (p.86).”

Dr. Butterfield’s book excels in amazing ways at setting a vision for radically, ordinary hospitality and its transformative power for our post-Christian culture.  Her closing list of “Imagine a world where…” is pure gold and worth typing up and putting on the refrigerator or bathroom mirrorWhile she does get down to the practical and the nitty-gritty of what it looks like to practice radically ordinary hospitality (see her “The Nuts and Bolts and Beans and Rice” in the concluding chapter), this reviewer’s fear is that this vision of hospitality is so far from where most people live right now that folks won’t know where to start and, in turn, fail to do so.  We all know that feeling well.  You get up on Saturday morning determined to clean out the cluttered garage only to raise the door, see the mountain of undifferentiated stuff that has to be tackled, and then close the door in favor doing some other task your familiar with.  So if I had to recommend a starting place, I would simply offer Dr. Butterfield’s wise words from her conclusion:

In married households it is vital that both husband and wife share a calling for hospitality and work together to establish a budget for time and food and people.  Wives, let your husbands lead. Husbands, be sensitive to your wife’s energy level… the pace is set by the one who feels the most frail… [Hospitality] should make us stronger in Christ.  If hospitality becomes a point of contention, something is wrong.  Stop and reevaluate.  Pray.  Map out goals and values.  Be a team.

Of course the ministry of hospitality isn’t simply practiced by married couples (something Dr. Butterfield says as well), nor will it look the same for all households.  For instance, I have a single friend whose hospitality ministry looks like foster-parenting two children taken from a home due to the current opiate epidemic.  I have another set of friends who are hosting an international exchange student; another set of friends who gave a lady a home during a period of time when her marriage was crumbling; and another set of friends who are slowly working their way through the church membership rolls and inviting a different family over each Lord’s Day.  At the end of the day, Dr. Butterfield’s vision for practicing radically ordinary hospitality is as bold and bracing as it is alluring and refreshing.  If Christ’s redeemed people began practicing and coordinating this kind of hospitality, then walls would crumble as our doors opened, and we would be able to “…put the hand of the hurting into the hand of the Savior (p.207).”