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Serving with Dignity

February 14, 2015

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Serving is the most dignified of human enterprises. It engages us in God’s economy – where humans are helped. God is Helper, Servant, and Friend – the standard bearer of servant-ness. He serves us by graciously giving us gifts. And we honor Him by graciously giving and receiving these gifts with others. Serving is dynamic; it is a rich discourse, a dialogue, and an opportunity. It is more than a one way flow of resources – that’s just giving. Giving is an important aspect of serving but not the whole of it. Giving is made whole when it is fully dignified – genuine, godly, purposeful and interdependent. In this way, giving and receiving become serving and serving is how humans are helped. That means you and me and everyone else. And thank God, because we all can use the help.

The most fundamental of God’s gifts is dignity. This is why people matter, why you matter. And it comes from the fact that you and I and everyone else were created in God’s image. Dignity essentially means value. All people have dignity. All people have value. This means that everyone has something to offer, an asset that can be engaged for the benefit of others. When we engage these assets that we all possess in the context of a dignified relationship and for a good purpose, then we have the makings of a new and impactful paradigm of service – Serving with Dignity.

But this not how we tend to think of the words ‘dignity’ or ‘service.’ We don’t see service as a dignified human enterprise. We tend to think of dignity as something of a high-brow affair and service as a particularly lowly endeavor. But both of these words are in need of some clarification and Dignity Serves aims to do just that. Its purpose is to help you appreciate the dignity you and others possess to such a deep extent that you are eager to both give and receive with joy; that you are eager to embrace your dependence on God – the most universally true aspect of what it means to be human.

If you learn to more deeply enjoy your dependence on God, you will learn what serving with dignity is all about. Serving with dignity is all about actively participating in God’s economy of serving – recognizing his gifts, receiving his gifts, sharing his gifts. He has all the resources. He has all the assets. Thankfully, he dispenses his assets with mindboggling graciousness. Humans are the recipients of his grace, the sharers of his gifts. Serving with dignity is first about receiving these gifts, which are usually dispensed through the agency other people. And then it is about sharing these gifts in kind – with empathy, compassion, and generosity.

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We all need help.

January 21, 2015

Homeless friends praying

During a lunch appointment with two fellow co-laborers in Christ we were talking about how to dignify the culture of service for a group of youth who wanted to serve people in need in their community.

We bounced around a few ideas and talked about the importance of keeping the numbers low, serving with dignity, entering with a posture of humility and other things that needs to be addressed so that missions trips don’t turn out looking like a trip to the zoo to see the poor people and the way they live.

We then began to dream about what it would look like to do something radical with the way we serve. I suggested taking a group of youth into a suburban neighborhood with manicured lawns and praying for the needs that lie hidden under the immaculate looking houses.

Then I sensed the Spirit say to take it to the next level, what if we went and invited some of my homeless friends in our community to come with me and my friend Malcolm to pray in a more affluent area in the city.

As with all things, the idea sounded good, but would this really happen? I left lunch and made a few phone calls to a couple of trusted people to make sure I wasn’t out of my mind.

I then drove to the Wendy’s where our friends hang out and explained what I was thinking. I asked them for their help to pray for a more affluent neighborhood in Atlanta.

After clarifying what we are doing, we drove to Powers Ferry Road and stopped in the parking lot next to the OK Café. We got out and prayed over the needs of the community. We did it in a sensitive way as not to draw attention to ourselves and commit the same mistakes that many do when they come into our community to help. The next time we go we hope to meet some people to know how to best pray for them.

After we got done praying, one of our friends, named Larry, started to walk towards the grocery store. I called out and asked Larry where he was going. He responded, “I’m going to shop for souls Pastor.”

We all have needs. The more I live and work among people who are struggling, the more I realize that maybe God has me here for my own salvation? Maybe I am the one that needs salvation from my longing for security and attachment to things?

Dignity Serves says, “The goal of Christian service should never be about solving problems. It should always be about inspiring servant‐ness: an active receptivity to the love of God, through which we learn to properly love ourselves.”

The more I work for Polis and press into this idea of not trying to solve people’s issues and only invite people to help, the more I see God’s hand change their lives and mine as well.

Do my homeless friends need to “get their lives together”? Yes, probably.

But, guess what? So do people who live in extreme comfort and are obsessed with their possession. I am one of them.

We all need to get out lives together. And this is why we need the gospel every single day. We are all a mess in need of the grace of Christ.

On the way back to the community our friends talked about how good it felt to be able to help and give another community. Far to often they are only on the receiving of being helped. One friend commented that this was the first time in three years that he has been outside of the neighborhood.

Maybe when we begin to stop “helping” people and learn to share in Dignified Interdependent relationships can both parties experience the grace and love of Christ and be healed?

What Feeds Your Soul?

March 19, 2013

By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – February 1, 2004, was a game-changer. That day, God asked me to step down from ministry.

It was my first ministry experience, and it ended badly. Without delving into details, three pastors resigned from the church. The resignation letters were read from the pulpit that Sunday morning.

I was one of three.

I vividly recall sitting in pew, beside my future wife, surrounded by students I loved for almost three years. Tears streamed down my face. How had this happened? I had graduated from one of the best Bible colleges in the country; I had interned at a mega-church with a thriving youth ministry; I had built this small youth ministry whose numbers had grown fourfold.

Amid my tears, I realized that, after journeying to the depths of my soul for seven years, I needed the ministry more than the ministry needed me. I was struggling mightily with something called co-dependency.

Codependency is defined: “to be dependent with.” Allow me to sum it up more simply:  People (like me) need something.

I needed ministry to feel safe. Ministry had defined me. I found validation and acceptance in being a pastor. A minister.

Consider this question: Maybe I need _________ more than that _________ needs me?

That Sunday in February, Jesus called me out of ministry by calling me to Himself.

We all do it. We find validation and acceptance in things or possessions or people – jobs, cars, clothes, relationships with spouses or “soul mates,” children, or friends.

What would happen if Jesus decides to strip away these things or people? Would we be able to function? Remember that Jesus said, “Leave everything and follow me.”

A counselor friend, who knows my journey and speaks into my pain, continues to challenge me to “hold ministry loosely.” Without an ongoing recognition of my emptiness, I can quickly succumb to temptation. My temptation is how ministry validates me and feeds me.

This is why I love the way Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians. Verse 3-10 contains three long sentences, specifying what Christ has done for us. Paul’s words are:

  • “Spiritual blessings in Christ”
  • “He chose us in Him”
  •  “Adoption to sonship”
  • “In Him we have redemption“
  • “He made known to us”
  • “He purposed in Christ”

That’s how Christ defines us. He feeds our soul. Not ministry. Not positions. Not relationships.

Nothing external can ever provide that for which our soul longs.

The answer is Christ, and Christ alone.

How do you define yourself?

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

The Power of Community: How Daniel Returned Home

April 13, 2012

Daniel and his children reunite in Ohio.

By Dan Crain 

ATLANTA – When Daniel left home six years ago, addiction guided his path, and he might as well have walked off the face of the Earth.

His parents’ parting words to him: “Don’t ever come back here.”

He left everything behind: his home, his job and, most important, his kids.  His destination was addiction, bouncing between prison and the streets.

About a year ago, Daniel left prison for a third and final time.

Daniel’s testimony last week riveted each of us: He was going home.

Soon after getting out of prison, Daniel visited Church on the Street’s ministry, Retreat from the Street. Its members strive  to live in community with Atlanta’s most vulnerable men and women — those who live  on the streets — and welcome them into fellowship.

Daniel began to show up for a simple breakfast, Bible study, prayer and lunch on weekdays. After awhile he decided it was time to get serious. Daniel gave his life to Christ.

This was just the beginning of his journey. Church on the Street continually held its arms open, welcoming Daniel into community.

He felt God’s Spirit say to him, “If you stay apart of this community, there are some wonderful things I want you to receive from them.” Daniel did not want to stand in the way of God’s blessing by thinking he was OK. He was not OK. He knew he needed help. Once he admitted this, blessings came.

In the Church on the Street community, everyone plays a role — everyone is asked to contribute. One of the first opportunities Daniel was offered was to clean the bathroom to serve the community. Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know — the only ones among you who will be really happy are those that have sought and found how to serve.”  God has given everyone a gift to serve community – even if it is as small as cleaning toilets.

Daniel remarked that he immediately felt the love of the Church on the Street leaders. They were not interested in just giving him food and clothes and sending him on his way. They took time to get involved in his life. To have such love extended unconditionally, instead of with  judgment, was absolutely crucial to Daniel’s journey.

He shared that one of his struggles is a predisposition to look down on people on the streets. Despite being an addict, he had taken solace in the fact that he was not as bad as someone who has a stronger addiction to crack cocaine. Truth is, we all find ways to judge others in order to escape the reality of our own pain, regardless of where we find ourselves.

Since he has been a part of this community, he has felt his impulse to be judgmental disappear. His conversation and spirit are also different. Just simply by being apart of this community, he has experienced change. This place and its people have become his family.

After a few months of spending time with this community, he was offered an opportunity to get off the street. What sets  Church on the Street apart from many houses of worship is its dedication to actively and intentionally  embrace the homeless, welcoming them into community. This is particularly true for Daniel. Elders in the church invited Daniel into their homes, and they have benefited greatly from his friendship.

Daniel commented at one point that, “This place is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Through being a part of community, he has sensed God’s Spirit say to him, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased.” After 20  years of struggling with addiction, he is at last beginning to experience healing.

And in community, his gift of cooking was discovered. He was named the chief chef of the Church on the Street’s kitchen. (Oh, and Daniel already had his culinary degree.)

He is now on his way home to a small town in Ohio. Through God’s grace, he now has custody of his three youngest children. These kids are special because they never gave up on their daddy even though he had given up on himself.

He also has a solid support system through a church in the hometown.  Interestingly, the small town in Ohio has a huge methamphetamine problem. Daniel’s church has reached out to him to know how to best reach out to people who struggle with addictions to meth.

These are the kinds of ministries that Polis is trying to encourage people to emulate. A ministry that is purely focused on giving and receiving with the most vulnerable in the context of community. It is in this context that people’s talents are engaged for the betterment of the city.

The myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is just that, a myth.

What is the best way to experience change in our lives? It is in the realm of community. No one is self-sufficient. We all need each other.

What I love about this story is that Daniel spoke of personal responsibility. He spoke of realizing his need to change. But, he spoke of it all within the context of community. No one changes alone.

Crain family

Crain family

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

What is the definition of Spiritual Gifts and how do they compare?

November 21, 2011

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a great time to reflect on our God-given gifts. Have you ever reflected on the spiritual gifts you have?

There are approximately 18 spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament, primarily found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.

According to www.churchgrowth.org/cgi-cg/gifts.cgi:

“Spiritual Gifts are tools God gives to Christians to do the work of the ministry – to fulfill the Great Commission to reach, baptize and teach and to minister to one another.  Every Christian receives at least one gift at the moment of salvation.”

God created each of us with wonderful skills, abilities and talents.  The Holy Spirit helps us focus and mature the use of our gifts for building God’s kingdom from the moment we become followers of Christ.

If you are curious, here is a list of the spiritual gifts and their scriptural references from www.eleventalents.com

Administration/Ruling –  See I Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:8, Titus 1:4-5
Apostleship – See Ephesians 4:11, I Corinthians 12:28, Acts 1:21-22, I Corinthians 9:1
Discernment – See I Corinthians 12:10, Acts 5:3-6, 16:16-18, I John 4:1
Evangelism – See Ephesians 4:11, Acts 8:5-12, 26-40, 21:8, Matthew 28:18-20
Exhortation  – See Romans 12:8, Acts 11:23-24, 14:21-22, 15:32
Faith – See I Corinthians 12:9, Romans 5:1, 12:3, Hebrews 11
Giving – See Romans 12:8, Acts 4:32-37, Galatians 4:15, Philippians 4:10-18, II Corinthians 8:1-5
Healing – See I Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30, James 5:13-16
Helps/Serving/Ministering – See Romans 12:7, I Corinthians 12:28, Galatians 6:1-2
Interpretation of Tongues – See I Corinthians 12:10
Knowledge – See I Corinthians 12:8
Mercy – See Romans 12:8, Luke 10:30-37
Miracles – See I Corinthians 12:28
Pastor/Teaching – See Ephesians 4:11, I Peter 5:1-11
Prophecy – See Romans 12:6, I Corinthians 12:10, 14:1-5, 30-33, Ephesians 4:11, I Peter 1:20-21
Teaching – See Romans 12:7, Ephesians 4:11
Tongues –  See I Corinthians 12:10, 30, 14:4, 39, Acts 2:4, Acts 19:6
Wisdom – See I Corinthians 12:8, James 3:13-17.

How do these spiritual gifts compare with the fruit of the Spirit?

The Apostle Paul lists the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 as “…. love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”   Fruit of the Spirit in our lives result from the personal transformation we experience each day by following Jesus.  The fruit is a revelation of the heart of God that the Holy Spirit compels us to share with the needs of our neighbor(s).  We are living unfulfilled lives if we do not experience giving and receiving this Fruit of the Spirit with each other.

If you are curious, go ahead and take at least two or more Spiritual Gift tests online and see if you find one or more repeated, God-given gifts that you confirm are special tools you use to serve others.  They are good to know when defining your calling.

Once you have discerned your calling — whatever spiritual gifts you have — training with Dignity Serves can inspire you to more properly engage the talents or gifts of others.

Never forget, however, that your first calling is to love and to be loved.  Through Christ we have a lot of Fruit to offer and to accept, using the spiritual gifts God gave us.  Christ is the ultimate example for us of love and dignity.

Try sharing your love today.

1000th person experiences Dignity Serves

August 25, 2010

We have been teaching Dignity Serves now for roughly two years and recently led the 1000th person through the curriculum. More importantly those who have gone through the study consistently report growing in their faith, becoming more committed to God and asking for help, and report learning how to serve others more effectively. Many people claim that the principles completely reshape their understanding of how to help. Nearly everyone also claims that they would recommend the materials to a friend. This is all good news. It’s been a blessing to be involved. I’m looking forward to the next 1000.

I find myself learning something new every time I teach a lesson. People in groups bring many creative insights to the table and stretch my understanding of how best to help others. I am working to incorporate what we’ve learned from groups. Version Four is nearing completion. The main changes are the removal of some content and the addition of more instruction for leading groups through the exercises.

Here’s a picture from the group. Can’t decide who exactly is the 1000th person. I’m going to just say it’s Russ, the guy in the red shirt. We should give him a prize. The group is from Rock Orlando, a new church and outreach center. They are an awesome group. Look for them to be a part of some amazing stories of transformation.

How many Thanksgiving baskets did you hand out?

December 5, 2009

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone it’s time to assess how our efforts went to extend the spirit of the holiday to those in need. Churches usually do one of two things – provide a community Thanksgiving dinner or give out care baskets with the necessary items for a family to have a Thanksgiving dinner at their home. Afterwards, we ask ourselves, “Well, how many did we hand out?” It is a sensible question but it’s not the most important question. Arguably, the most important question is “What was the real impact?” If our aim went beyond seeing how many dinners we could serve or baskets we could hand out, it will take time to assess what really happened. If the numbers were our goal, then our work is pretty much done, just count ’em up.

I worked with Summit Church to put on an event with a different aim – forming relationships between families from very different life situations, the proverbial haves and have-nots. This is no small feat. We also gave away some baskets. In that sense, it was a traditional event. Because we invited those who were receiving baskets to help put them together, it was quite a different type of event. We had a dozen tables set up each with a mix of Summit families and families that had been invited. They shared a breakfast snack, a game, conversation, prayer requests, and putting baskets together. Everyone was then invited to the church service and most accepted the invitation. The event had a wonderfully warm, homey feel thanks in large measure to Tracy Beeson, the children’s director at the church who organized the event.

Summit is no small church. Had the goal been to give away baskets, hundreds of baskets could have been given out. The goal was stronger relationships though, between individuals, families, and with God. There were 106 people at the event, roughly half of which were Summit families. Everyone made a connection and is being encouraged to pray for one another. Steps are being taken to follow-up and extend additional invitations to be involved with the church. Relationships take time and are harder to assess than numbers of people and turkeys. Relationships are what matter though. In time, we will have a much better idea of the real impact of this event but the stage is set for something powerful.

Allow me answer the initial question. We gave out 70 baskets in total. The have-nots gave out more than the haves. Everyone had a good time. God was honored and everyone was given the opportunity to see themselves as a giver. I’ll keep you posted about the relationships.

Here’s a few pictures:

Asking for help at the last minute

November 17, 2009

is a bit lame but that’s just what i did to Dan Crain this past Saturday at the first POLIS (www.polisinstitute.org) CNT training. He graciously helped out – a lot. His help was invaluable. We set up the room for the 17 people who came to the training and he stayed after to help go through a crash course in the Dignity Serves curriculum with a new friend from Chicago. Then we broke everything down and he carted me home. Three cheers for Dan. Thanks!

The training event was part of the Collaborative for Neighborhood Transformation. This is an initiative of the Polis Institute to build teams that will engage in the long-term work of neighborhood transformation in the 100 distressed neighborhoods of Orange and Seminole Counties in Florida. There are 507 neighborhoods total in these two counties (U.S. Census Block Groups). Stress level was determined by looking at six indicators – income, education, crime, health insurance, family structure, and housing. In order to help transform these neighborhoods into places of hope and strength, a patient process of discovering the assets, hopes, and concerns in the neighborhood will need to be rekindled or begun.

The teams that came to the training did so out of a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ as the message of hope for our distress. This message is holistic and addresses physical, spiritual, and emotional needs with a promise of redemption. It addresses whole people, with needs and gifts, whole families, whole neighborhoods. Those that attended the training represented several areas in the county and were introduced to the first part of this process – “asset mapping” whereby you learn about the resources, talents, interests, and physical assets in a community rather than just needs. As this information is compiled, groups with shared interests will then be convened to work together for a common goal. These small, informal groups may be the seeds of change many in these distressed communities have been hoping for.

Here are a few pictures:

Compassion flows from the Corner

November 16, 2009

Compassion Corner Volunteers

On Saturday November 7th, a team of volunteers from Compassion Corner, a ministry to the homeless in Orlando, went out and served the community side-by-side with people from Summit Church. One group went to the House of Hope and did a landscaping project, another helped paint a house with the Orlando Initiative, and still another did a prayer walk through the Old Cheney community.

The event was truly impactful to the volunteers from the Corner. When we returned to review the day, one of the volunteers said joyfully, “They asked me to come back!” This may sound like a small thing but one of the greatest injustices levied against our friends and neighbors without regular homes is demonstrating by word and deed that we don’t need them. Nothing crushes hope more effectively.

The volunteers from the Corner made a difference in the community and got to experience the joy of helping others. Another volunteer said, “It was a good thing we did today.” Indeed it was.