Power Dynamics


When I landed a big role as executive director at Habitat for Humanity in suburban Houston one of my first tasks was to orchestrate a combined board and staff retreat to determine where we wanted to take the organization over the next five years. Our plan from previous leadership had expired and we needed a new strategy. “Great,” I thought. “Nothing like diving into the deep end to get things started?”

Fortunately for me, I’d been in the role as interim for several months by this point and had already met so many people who were willing to help. One of them was a local entrepreneur named David who liked to consult with area non-profits and help them get established. David invited me to a new winery and bistro he was opening at the Kemah boardwalk and we chatted about the affiliate and how I should approach my first year as its leader. At some point along the way David told me that he taught Business strategy classes at the University of Houston at which point I knew I had my guy.

“David, is there any way you’d be willing to lead a business planning session with my staff and board?” I asked towards the end of our meeting. “I’m not really sure where to begin and something tells me you’ve done this a time or two.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “Can we host it here at the winery? My staff can handle lunch.”

“Sold.” I said, smiling.

Well, I don’t mean to brag…but we knocked this thing out of the park. By the time we finished the plan at a board meeting two months later, people were saying it was the most fun they’d had on a retreat in years. We had put a lot of work into turning over stones and talking about areas where our affiliate was struggling. Now we had a plan and had even written a story from the vantage point of our future, encapsulating the major transitions we wanted to make as an organization. I was so pleased…

Until the following week.

I took the plan and put it in the front pocket of my padfolio and stared at a blank page on my legal pad next to it.

“Now what?” I thought.

The truth is, I knew that even if I followed my business plan to the letter, I could never force someone to write a check for the ministry. I also knew that we could galvanize all the resources and teams necessary to build houses in Galveston, an organizational goal, and ultimately learn that the barriers to building successfully in a flood plain would be too high to raise the first wall. Where was I going to get the personal, financial and organizational power to carry this vision out?

This may seem like a rabbit trail but stick with me…It occurs to me that we might just have to divorce the Kingdom of God from the American Dream. 

I don’t know about you, but I grew up learning that with enough hard work and determination the American Dream was mine for the taking. Dream is probably the right word here…what exactly were we supposed to be working so hard for? A two car garage and an acre of land? Self determination? Don’t get me wrong…the Lord and I have had very intimate conversations about my desire for a place to call my own. I don’t think these are wrong things to want and I also happen to believe that in time he will be pleased to root me somewhere. But I’ve also started to become grateful for the realization that I have no power to make these things come about and that whatever does eventually come my way is a gift and not something owed to me.

This feels like the kingdom of God to me.

In the sermon on the mount after Jesus says verse after verse about paradoxical blessing he says the following: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt 5:17

He’s referring to the oldest business plan there ever was, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. God established his own vision with his own organization, the Israelites. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God gives Moses the ten commandments and says, essentially, follow these and you shall live in my blessing and for the thousands of years that followed we are given a history of the Israelites trying to do things on their own. The nation returns time and time again with their tails between their legs wondering what went wrong.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are the new business plan; the new blueprint for living a holy, and therefore a whole, life:

  • For we know we are to have no other Gods besides the Lord and yet when we admit that we put so many people and things in place of relationship with him we are poor in spirit and inherit the kingdom.
  • We know we are to keep the sabbath day holy but when we admit that we can’t we are meek and inherit the earth.
  • We know we are supposed to honor our parents and when we fail to do this we remember how blessed it is to be peacemakers and are called sons and daughters of God.
  • We know we’re not supposed to bear false witness against a neighbor and when we finally admit our need to be pure in heart, in time, we see God.

There are different kinds of power in the world. There’s pure muscle. There’s emotional and relational power. There’s financial power and so many other forms.

As much as is possible I want to be driven by the power that’s found in the beatitudes. Its the power that does not necessarily seek weakness for its own sake but understands that in its very nature, as exemplified by the Israelites time and again, that it is simply unable to get much of anything good accomplished by determination alone. There’s power in acknowledging our weaknesses and power in asking God to carry out a plan.

2 years after we made our plan, I left Habitat to move to Atlanta. I had mixed emotions. I knew it was my time to go but I wondered where our hard work would go next. The one thing I thought I was certain of was that our attempts to start building in Galveston would dissolve. I had developed those relationships and I didn’t think we had gained enough momentum to carry this part of the plan out. Funny how things work out though. 2 weeks ago a former employee who worked for me and eventually became a board member posted a picture of the walls rising on the first house in Galveston. All while I’ve worked joyfully on the new projects the Lord has had for me here in Atlanta. I’ll take that kind of power any day of the week.









Seek First the Kingdom

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Three years ago as our time in Texas was coming to an end there was a scripture passage that I found incredibly comforting:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-27

These verses were such an anchor for me in that season. We were doing all the things they tell you not to do at one time. Leaving two jobs, moving to a new state, having a baby and starting a new career. Truthfully, it was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, God worked with us to take care of all the details in the most amazing way. With the help of this verse, we kept our eyes up on the overarching goals we new he was leading us to and let the details work themselves out day by day.

I’ve thought a lot about that one verse in particular since that transition: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” It continues to ground me as we navigate this early season of starting a family and career. It stops me often because while I know I’m not supposed to sit and stew about our bank account or elaborate plans for feeding and clothing our family its also not incredibly clear what the alternative, seeking the kingdom, actually entails.

The more I’ve looked into it, the more I find myself in good company as there isn’t much out there to read on the topic. What I do read comes bathed in precursors like: “theologians disagree mightily on this topic.” At first I took this to mean “tread lightly…this is going to go over your head.” Now though, I’m realizing its just a caution to understand that the kingdom of God, this side of heaven, is frankly somewhat mysterious. We have to take out our magnifying lens to find what it is we are looking for. I believe that’s intentional.

The kingdom of God reminds me of Paul’s attempt in 1 Corinthians to talk about love. He never really defines love but spends verse after verse trying to describe it. He says its kind and patient. Its not envious or proud. In the beginning of that passage he says that it could mean giving what we own to the poor or even offering our lives up on behalf of someone. Then he follows that thought up with the caution that even those things could be done out of our own self interest! Whats motivated by love in one person could be motivated by hate in another.

It appears that love, and the kingdom of God, resist definition.

Often, if I get curious enough, I do find myself uncovering consistent insights about the kingdom. For instance, kingdom manifestations are almost never flashing in neon lights. Usually, by the time I get there, my face is covered in sweat or dirt and my heart is a little banged up. But when I walk through that little door I eventually stumble upon the feeling is usually a familiar one…its usually some form of resting from or even forgetting about the hard work it took to get there.

Jesus almost exclusively spoke in stories when he talked about the kingdom. He wasn’t prescriptive and I think that was completely intentional. He didn’t want anyone getting away without a personal meeting with the great physician himself. Can you imagine that?

Lets say you have a strange ailment. Your body that was built for work and pleasure just won’t function the way its supposed to making work and joy near impossible. Your symptoms cycle on and off for months or years completely screwing with your plans, making typical life operations impossible. The general practitioners who try to treat you just don’t know enough about your particular disease or your particular body to do anything about it and so they keep passing the buck to this pill or that therapy wondering right along with you if they are doing anything to help.

You would understandably start to lose hope at some point, right? After years of difficulty? I know I would. But what if you found out that there was a doctor in your town who started his career studying your specific problem. What if he spent quality time with you in the exam room and you finally felt understood as he asked questions about your particular symptoms. What if he was so familiar with the disease and how it manifests that he knew exactly how to treat you. Wouldn’t your heart just completely come to rest? I know mine would.

There’s only one problem now though…you would only rest for a moment. Just as soon as you got that health problem figured out you would run into some other problem and that problem would take over until you finally realized that you needed a whole life physician. Body, mind, spirit, emotions…the whole thing needs an overhaul.

Here’s what I believe: God is willing to upend our lives through disease, debt, divorce, doubt, death and whatever else he needs to make us finally get curious about the Kingdom of God. Why? He says it right in that verse. Its where the LIFE is:

“Is not life more than food? The body more than clothes?” 

All of us have strange diseases in our lives…For some it will be a physical malady. For others it will be a difficult relationship or an unreachable goal. Most of us have more than one malady that will crop up in response to different stressors. All of these have been tailor picked for us by a God who is kind enough to have bigger goals for us than the temporary ones we prop up as permanent solutions. Relationships are useless after all if we don’t understand their deeper context. Just as a six figure salary is useless if we don’t understand how to steward money in the first place.

So in your difficulty and concern over food, clothing, health and money, the proper question isn’t “how do i position my life to get hold of these things” but “where is the kingdom invitation in my current situation? Is there something redemptive in my pain or fear that I am not seeing and need to seek out?” There are no easy answers to these questions. They can take years to figure out. But if we keep them before us I’m confident the answers will come in a way we can understand. Even if it feels more mysterious than concrete. The kingdom of God is like love after all. It defies definition but you sure as hell know it when you’ve found it.


Tell all the truth but tell it Slant-

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind –

-Emily Dickinson