Saturday, August 20, 2016


The night I had to preach without notes at Hope City Church ‘coincidentally’ was about God putting Philip into an unscripted situation where he would have to improvise based on the Spirit’s leading. Here’s the version with notes.

Acts 8:
26-28 Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29-30 The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31-33 He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter,
    and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
    He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
    since he’s been taken from the earth?
34-35 The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36-39 As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.
40 Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.

God prompted this highly unusual, unscripted opportunity. The Holy Spirit is your teacher leading you into unusual scenes where you can play a part. How unusual was this event?

1.     The Unusual Place & Time

God had a strategic time and place for Philip. It was specific—noon today at that desolate road going from Jerusalem to Gaza. Where are the desolate places and when is the time to go there? Desolate may mean working in an Inuit village or it may mean a high-rise condominium in Downtown Vancouver. It may be this neighbourhood.

We need a theology of place, understanding that the earth is the Lord’s and he wants His glory to be revealed in every place. People on a mission from God recognize that we must be interrupted from our place of choosing to venture into the world we are less familiar with.

Sometimes it will be a call to Thailand, but more often it may be to the people living next door or the person who cuts your hair. Where are you going today? Listen for your prompting. Learn to recognize why you are at the places you go.

2.     The Unusual Person

The Ethiopian Eunuch was on assignment 4000 kilometres by chariot away from his home. A flight that would take us 4.5 hours would have taken him weeks. That is a long time to be away from home on a mission. He was an unusual man in that he was a eunuch. These royal servants had been emasculated to prevent them from getting into trouble with the royal harem. We would see him as a sexual minority. He was a financier doing business for a foreign dignitary, the Queen of Sheba.

There are people you encounter who are far from home and involved in business that you have no familiarity with. Philip gets into character by getting curious and asking a question.

It may feel bold for some, but asking what a person is reading is conversational. Improv artists must observe the scene and find their way into dialogue. How observant are you when you need to be?

3.     The Unusual Concern

Perhaps the Ethiopian man was a Jew. Perhaps he was a curiosity seeker trying to understand the world around him. He had the scroll of Isaiah and was using his long journey to study.

Philip is in the unusual place to meet an unusual man with an unusual concern. The Spirit makes an unusual request of Philip. Run alongside the chariot and ask the man if he understands what he is reading. Not, what are you reading—instead do you understand it.

Picture that scene… running alongside a chariot to ask if the man understands what he is reading. Sound awkward and unusual? God will sometimes lead us into awkwardness.

As the Spirit leads, the door is opened to reveal Jesus to the Eunuch. The Spirit is also speaking to the man who then requests to be baptized. Philip has responded to God and the unusual conversion has taken place. Then, the Spirit is leading Philip elsewhere to reveal the gospel to others.

What is God calling this church and perhaps specific individuals into? Because the Spirit of God is alive in you, there are specific answers that will emerge to interrupt your life plans.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Musicians often fall into two categories. There are the conservatory-trained musicians who perform with sheet music in front of them and then there are those who rely more on musical memory and improvisation and a simple lead sheet with cues to guide them.

Playing by ear means you rely more on what you hear happening with other players and fit in with what sounds good. Playing by ear requires great attentiveness to the other and a willingness to stretch what you know into new expressions.

Following Jesus is more like being a jazz player feeling their way and creating in the moment rather than sticking strictly to a script that includes every note and an expectation that you will not vary.

When the apostle Paul was mentoring Timothy in his ministry, he had these words of wisdom.

2 Timothy 4:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction...
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

In other words, get ready. Prepare yourself for planned and unplanned encounters. You have a ministry and need to maximize each opportunity to let God reach others through you. This is not a job that you go to and leave at quitting time. This is an on-call vocation where you will always be ready to do what you’ve been made for.

Part of your life as a follower of Jesus will include times of improv. Jesus sent out disciples to be messengers of the Kingdom and told them to travel light. They were not to bring an extra coat or purse. They simply were told to take the message and go improvise in the towns they would visit.

If they would end up in trouble, Jesus had simple instructions.

Luke 12:
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Like a prompter feeding lines to an actor, the Holy Spirit wants to teach us how to improvise by listening to cues and then responding.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Recently I spoke at Hope City Church in Barrie, Ontario. It is a new church meeting in a downtown theatre. They are involved in street ministries similar to what I experience at New Song Church.

Before the service, the pastor and some of his lead team met with me to discuss urban ministry and ask questions from my experiences. We swapped stories and shared guiding principles that help us focus on whom we need to be as workers with Jesus in the streets.

One of my thoughts centred on being flexible. All of our preconceived ideas of how to be effective often get sidelined by the need to be lead by the Spirit in the situations we find ourselves. I described it as doing ‘improv’.

Do you remember high school drama class where you learned to be given a hypothetical situation and then improvise your lines to create a story in that moment? You could not prepare for improvisation. You simply had to be there and respond to an unusual set of circumstances.

And then… we went to the church service where Kevin Saunders and I played music as 2fish, our acoustic duo. Right after a certain song, it was my turn to preach. For the first time I can recall, I had left my preaching notes back in the car and it was now time to preach. I had to improv. Fortunately, I was familiar enough with the message to preach without notes or a Bible.

That is improv. Being ready to preach, help someone in distress, take charge in a chaotic situation, make a spontaneous gift…

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