Ruling and Reigning as God’s favorite


favorite noun [C]

UK US favorite UK   /ˈfeɪ.vər.ɪt/ US   /ˈfeɪ.vər.ət/

  • a thing that someone likes best or enjoys most
  • a person who is treated with special kindness by someone in authority
  • the person or animal most people expect to win a race or competition:

I am God’s favorite – He likes me – He enjoys me, He makes sure I win.

And – don’t panic – He likes you too!

We find it hard to understand how we can both be God’s favourite because we live in a finite world of limited resources – someone can only be a winner because someone else is a loser – but with God we are all winners!

There are no limits to what he can do – because one person was blessed, it does not mean he is not able to bless another person too – because you had a miracle – does not mean that I can’t have one – there is no daily quota on miracles. Because you already had one miracle in your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t have another one – there is no life-time limitation on how often God can be good to you.

Jesus spent three years on earth trying to undo some of the crazy wrong thinking that was deeply ingrained – not in the minds of the pagan Greeks but in the minds of God’s chosen people. Here is a great example:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” – John 5:2-8

So what was all that about? This man wanted to be healed and clearly there was a possibility of being healed at this particular place from time to time. The story went that an angel stirred up the water and whoever got in there first would be instantly healed. This is what the invalid is trying to tell Jesus: “I know healing is possible but it’s a lottery, even worse it’s a race – and being a cripple I am not ever going to win that race!”

So Jesus appeared to demonstrate to the cripple –

  • you are also the favorite
  • you can also win
  • God’s healing is here for you too
  • It doesn’t matter how many other people got in the water first, God is still able and willing to heal you!

A lot of the Bible is actually preoccupied with explaining how things that used to be limited to certain special people are now available to all of us – we are all God’s favorites. Even the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob didn’t really get this. Isaac thought he had only one blessing – he meant it to go to his first- born, Esau, who was his natural favorite, but Jacob tricked him and got the blessing. Esau was distraught and begged his father to bless him as well. But his father was adamant:

“Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. (Genesis 27:36)

It’s a tragic story – not least because it’s not true. God the Father subsequently blessed Esau – so much so that Esau had no problem forgiving Jacob. When Jacob finally met up with his estranged brother, sending a massive gift of livestock and presents ahead of him, Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself!” Jacob could rob Esau of his father’s blessing but he couldn’t rob him of his heavenly Father’s blessing.

Later we see that Jacob and his sons have still not understood this principle. Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob. It had negative implications for his life because the favour of his father brought the jealousy of his brothers. (This may also have been because of Joseph’s own arrogant attitude!) But God’s favour was with Joseph in every circumstance – even in slavery, even in jail, even before Pharaoh.

By the end of his life he understood what his favour was for – not solely for his own benefit (though I would guess there might be some perks to being Prime Minister of Egypt!) When Joseph finally met up with his brothers, he had also come to the place of forgiveness, saying: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45:4-6)

So Joseph has not only understood that he is the favourite, – he has learned to live with being the favourite – and how that means an overflow of favour for others in his life: for his family who mistreated him and even for a whole foreign nation.

Every one of us needs to know that we are also blessed – with the blessing that falls on the favorite son or daughter. I am not just living in the favour of God – I am God’s favorite.



a moment in mid-air


I used to be a plate-spinner. It was a great trial to me when I was younger that I was moderately good at lots of things and highly remarkable at nothing. I always wanted to find the ONE THING and be exceptional. Then God said to me – “You’re a plate spinner – get over it! You are a multi-tasker. You are privileged to have your finger in many pies, to add value to lots of different people and situations; you are blessed that the plates rarely crash. I have given you grace for this.” So I spun plates for a good while until, towards the end of a difficult season, I sensed that something was changing. And as I enquired about this God said “You’re right, things are changing. You are still in the circus (isn’t life always a circus?) but now I want you to be a trapeze artist.” I have to say that it sounded more glamorous than plate-spinning. An upgrade? I was sceptical that I’d heard right. Then a couple of months later, at a conference, a women who hardly knew me, (though I knew that she was reputed to have a prophetic gift), came up to me out of the blue and said ” I see you on a trapeze.”

When God speaks that clearly it’s comforting to know you have heard right, but it doesn’t always help with the application. The trapeze conjures up many images – flying for one, and I knew that this was definitely a season of release, a season to find again the freedom that has always been something worth fighting for in my life and in the lives of others. But I also knew that it couldn’t be as easy as it looked – I have watched the incredible performances of Cirque de Soleil, Madame Zingara and more recently we had lots of fun at the Aussie Circus. Those acrobats and high-wire performers leave you breathless – they are skilled to the level of Olympic gymnasts and you realise that they didn’t get there without a lot of dedication and hard work. So maybe focus was the key – at last a season where God was allowing, maybe even requiring me to be more focused. But everyone in the circus family has a specialisation of sorts – what was particular about the trapeze for me?

I was struck by the incredible teamwork of the flying trapeze families – trust and timing are essential, holding tight and letting go at the right moment. Immediately I could see an application for this season where Richard and I are beginning to travel again and are balancing the demands of Hillside with the exciting development of stronger partnerships with the Durban city churches and the more regional House Without Walls initiative. I could see myself flying between the grip of these complementary but quite different circles of relationship. This was happening quite literally in the last two weeks: we spent an incredible weekend of fellowship and team building with the Hillside musos; back for Sunday night where we were blessed by a guest worship team from the Rock Church; Monday to Thursday with the Durban metro churches, brainstorming cultural and social transformation; then on Friday we were off to Harrismith with a small team of Hillsiders for a regional gathering of House Without Walls; Sunday morning Richard was back in Hillside (preaching the message on focus!) The trapeze image was becoming very clear to me as I climbed out of the fifth different bed in ten days and set my heart to focus on worship in the Harrismith meeting. This was beginning to look more exhausting than spinning plates!

But in the time of worship I found (as often happens for me) the revelation that brought the grace for the season I am in. There is a moment when the trapeze swings back, the rope goes slack and the trapeze artist literally hangs in mid air. It’s the “be still and know that I am God moment” when everything stands still. It may only be a moment – it’s not the point of balance because everything is crazily unbalanced and about to hurtle you forwards into the next thing. But it is the moment that keeps you sane. It is moment when I wrote the poem above (because writing always helps me to find the still place inside.) I don’t just want to survive the next season – I want to thrive in it. I want to be fully present to every person and situation that I lock hands with. I want to fly in those crazy moments when I let go and take a risk and I want to regularly “just hang” for a moment in what Eugene Peterson calls “the unforced rhythms of His grace.*”

(*Matthew 11: 28-30 Message translation.)









2016: a call to worship


It is not unusual for me to have a “seasonal song” in my heart in any given period of time. In the turnover between 2015 and 2016 (at the end of a tough year and with slight apprehension for what the new year would bring), I found that the words resonating in my head were from Amanda Cooke’s song Shepherd

In the process, in the waiting,
You’re making melodies over me.
And Your presence is the promise
For I am a pilgrim on a journey.

You will lift my head above the mighty waves.
You are able to keep me from stumbling.
And in my weakness
You are the strength that comes from within:
Good Shepherd of my soul
Take my hand and lead me on.

I am sure I am not the first pastor that, humbled by the task of being a shepherd to others, has lain down on a couch, recited the 23rd Psalm to myself and cried out that I, too, need a shepherd. As often happens, one particular line jumps out at me from Amanda’s song – “you are the strength than comes from within” and I am reminded that I can only begin to do what I do from the knowledge of who I am – a child of God: mysteriously and miraculously, the Spirit of the living God within me is able to rise up and enable me not only to know Jesus, my good shepherd, but to be Jesus, the good shepherd that others need to meet.

Amanda continues:

You make my footsteps and my path secure
So walking on water is just the beginning.
Cause my faith to arise, stand at attention,
For You are calling me to greater things.

 It seems to me that we have spent a long time in the season of trying to fully apprehend the grace of God by which we are called sons and daughters. We are no longer slaves to fear (thanks, Jonathan Helser, for the theme song of a whole generation). But we are not yet the warrior army that I saw recently in a prophetic dream. For many it has been a season of survival – we are grateful that we have stood under the intimidation of the enemy and the shaking that comes when everything (yes, everything!) around us seems to be changing. We are standing, but the shoulders are a little stooped and the head is bowed down and we are weary (not the greatest way to begin a year.) I sense the Holy Spirit urging us to attention, calling us to greater things. Look up, into the eyes of the shepherd whose love, pouring out on us, makes all things possible. He wants so much more for us, more than we even dare to dream for ourselves.
Worship is a key moment in this process of rising up because it focuses us again on the wonder of who He is and the debt of love and gratitude that can only be paid by relational connection – there is nothing he wants from me more than to be with me.

Oh how I love You, how I love You
You have not forsaken me
Oh how I love You, how I love You
With You is where I want to be

 Worshipping together is a profound declaration of the love we have for him and for one another. We are looking forward to a season of worship at Hillside where we meet our maker, together, drawn by his love, in great expectation of what he wants to do in us and through us in the season ahead.

The mystery of the Messiah

Jesus pic

In the second half of 2010 Hillside Church had a season of 24/7 prayer, which was a fun but profound opportunity for creative spiritual growth. We dedicated a room to the process, organised a roster of people to pray one-on-one or with a prayer partner, day and night. We furnished the room with couches, candles, paints and crayons, CDs and musical instruments. It was fun to see what people wrote or drew on the walls or in the prayer journal. It was inspiring, touching, encouraging and heart-breaking, all at the same time. One night this huge painting appeared, covering one entire wall. To this day we don’t know who did it (anyone willing to own up?) It was as if Jesus himself decided to appear in the middle of our devotions and reveal something of himself.

I have been meditating a lot lately on the hiddenness of Jesus – how he seems to remain very incognito when you are really looking for him, then steps into the spotlight when you are least expecting it.
I wrote a poem about this mystery: hope you enjoy it.


Why am I loved by strangers?
Kings and wise men – people I esteem,
but are not close to me,
arrive at my humble shack
bearing gifts they barely guess
the significance of,
while those closer to home
don’t get what’s going on;
perhaps they expect more
than I am ready to give, shrug
and turn away. Though one day,
when I am ready
to reveal who I am,
I will be bold enough to step
into the centre of what
they thought was a celebration
and pour out a vintage
that makes every else
look cheap.


In a creative worship session towards the end of last year, God showed me a picture of an eagle in flight. Attempting to capture this vision on paper, I was pretty dissatisfied with the result. Somehow the head and the body were not going in the same direction. Then God spoke to me quite clearly and said, “you can’t paint the eagle right because you haven’t decided if you are looking up at it or down on it.” Wow! Perspective really matters and I guess I realised that God was inviting me up higher – to see things from His perspective. Which is actually where we are – seated with Christ in heavenly places. Having just spent a few days with Steve and Wendy Backlund at a Global Legacy retreat in Pretoria I was reminded very strongly of this – to change your life, your situation, your effectiveness – you just need to change the way you think – stop believing the lies of the enemy and start actively engaging with God’s truth about who we are, and where we are seated.

eagles flightlr

Huge Holy Spirit, small container

Danger pressure sign

Today I had the privilege of explaining to parents and visitors the high value we place on Children’s ministry in Hillside Church. We love our kids (and grandkids!) They are our most precious commodity. But they are not just our hope for the future – they are the church of today. And as Seth and Laura, our dear friends from Bethel frequently point out, they don’t have a junior Holy Spirit – they are filled with the same Holy Spirit who inhabits the grown-ups. It struck me that one of the implications of this is that when you compress a large body of Holy Spirit – the very breath of God – into a rather small container (like our pre-schoolers) you end up with a highly pressurized container – a gas tank, if you like. So one of our goals is not just to fill out kids with the knowledge of God, but to let the Holy Spirit explode out of them, as He wants to do.

We are privileged to have a dedicated team of teachers who not only impart wisdom and knowledge to kids, but who are able to connect kids to the Presence of God. For example, Sherileen, whose daytime job is to teach three year olds in our Little Heroes Preschool, has an incredible gift for getting really small toddlers to encounter God, to hear him and to minister to one another – even kids from families who are not regular church-goers. We saw this gift in operation last year in the preschool section of kids’ ministry with the toddlers having throne-room encounters, and also out on ministry trips where Sheri got the kids giving “blindfolded” prophetic words of incredible accuracy over one another. Sheri is moving up to the junior department this year to unlock the same potential in the older kids but don’t worry, the toddlers won’t miss out as there are some prophetically gifted moms and dads ready to step into the gap to continue the process of keeping up the Holy-Spirit-air-pressure in our smallest containers.

In May 2010 when Richard and I travelled with Hilton and Janine to visit Bethel church in Redding, California we were expecting to be blown away by the presence of God in the worship, miracles in the healing rooms, and Richard even experienced the tangible atmosphere of a “culture of honour” at the check-out till in the bookstore. But for me, the greatest experience of the presence and power of God was actually in the Kids’ department. Now Bethel Church are very protective over their kids and the Kids’ ministry is a lock-up secure facility, – you don’t just wander in there. But we had an inside track through Seth Dahl and Laura Griffis, who ministered at Hillside Kids Ministry conference in 2009, so we had the privilege of sitting through one of the Kids’ services. Worship was led by our friend Tanner Hotchkiss, who stayed with us in 2009 and introduced Richard to the idea that he is “awesome”(!), Seth preached and the kids ministered. In fact there was a lady with terminal cancer who had come all the way from UK to get the Bethel kids to lay hands on her for healing.

But what impressed me most about the Bethel kids was that they are still just kids – some were lost in worship, some were having sword-fights with the flags, some were annoying one another, some were seeing angels and having conversations with them about what they had come to do. There were no “holy-Joes” – they were just normal kids who had been unleashed to be gloriously supernatural and Spirit-filled. This is how we see our kids at Hillside. We are not concerned to control their behaviour and ensure that they perform adequately in all things spiritual, but we do want to unlock their destinies, being convinced that they are able to minister even from their immature minds and bodies, not just to one another, but for the benefit of the big people too. So Big People, watch out – there are some dangerous little Firestarters in our midst – let’s handle them with (loving) care.