I’m grateful and honored to be a contributor to this season’s issue of Worship Leader Magazine. It’s been a passion of mine to encourage worship leaders in their shepherding, pastoring, and formational callings.
My inclusion in the magazine all started with a surprise phone call from an old friend; David Bunker. I was signed to a record label that David worked with back in the day. We’d had some rich ministry memories over the years, and it was encouraging to hear his voice – a blast from the past! David had been following my work with worship leaders and as a spiritual director, and he challenged me to write about the intersection of those two ministries.
My first step in tackling a writing project like this was to do a quick Google search on “spiritual direction and worship leading” to see what others were saying about the topic. Well, to my utter astonishment, guess who was listed on the front the page of the internet?
Believe it or not, it seemed I might’ve already been an expert, a primary voice on the matter…and I didn’t even know it!
I set to work right away fleshing out the ideas, concepts, and practical advice floating around in my head, and with David’s continued encouragement, a few articles began to take shape. I was grateful to get rich input and suggestions from colleagues at Biola University who’d studied with me and from other worship leaders in my community. The resulting articles formed three blog posts, available on this site.
David had begun working with Worship Leader Magazine as a guest-editor, and he’d mentioned the possibility of including some of this writing of mine in an upcoming issue. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but one hazy, golden-hour evening, out on a restaurant patio in Ojai with a longtime surfer buddy, a text came through from David with the news… “Justin, I believe you have something important to share. Darlene Zschech, Rory Noland, John Michael Talbot, Carolyn Arends, and Ruth Haley Barton are IN! Are YOU?” I was so overwhelmed by the weight of these well-known names all strung together that it took me several minutes to even realize what he was talking about… Oh, the magazine! Yes! Of course I’m in! *raising-hands emoji*
It truly is a huge honor to be included in this company of leaders, authors, spiritual directors, and musicians. I’m thankful to Chuck Fromm, David Bunker, and Worship Leader Magazine for inviting me in and for believing my experience in practice could contribute to this important conversation. The intersection of spiritual formation and worship is a place of deep soil, the spot where real growth happens. I’m looking forward to all that God can do in and through us as we continue to cultivate the ground here and plant seeds for generations to come!
I’ve been sitting on this story for a couple months now and finally finding the moment to share it. The timing is interesting because Lent is approaching…but more on that later.
It was a sunny, crisp Southern California day in November. My friend Pete and I were driving up the coast toward Ventura, excited to be extended an invite to Larrivee Guitar‘s “Friends and Family Day” at the factory. I was imagining a huge crowd and the slight possibility of not even being able to get in, but God seemed to have parted the waters because when we arrived the place was empty.
We were greeted by the small team of guitar builders and waisted no time in getting down to the business of talking through what we were interested in seeing and what kind of guitars might be lying around for a steal. I’d been on the lookout for a new guitar for about a year, but I really wasn’t sure what I was really searching for. I wanted a story, mainly. I wanted an experience, not just a guitar from a music store’s crowded walls. There was a big, beautiful SD-60 up for sale that had been Larrivee’s flagship factory guitar for many years, and Pete fell in love with it right away. It sounded deep and rich, with years of loving play wear, but the neck was a bit thick for me.
What I really started to gravitate toward was the smaller, 12th fret 000-60. The new model had a slimmer neck, and this smaller body shape was just perfect. Problem was, there weren’t any of these available in the factory that day. Pete pressed the Larrivée guys a bit for a sample, and well, after a bit of digging, there was actually one, lonely, 000-60 up in the racks, but it wasn’t completed yet. It was about 85% done and still needed some final touches. I held the partly finished, tape covered, dusty guitar in my hand, and knew; this was it.
Some lively discussion ensued about how and when the guitar could be ready to take home. We offered to buy lunch for the technical team if they’d do it right then, but that was met with some reservation. Just when it looked like the whole idea might not happen at all, up walks the man himself, Mr. Jean Larrivée; the patriarch, the inventor, the master-builder. His quick walk, jolly face, and upbeat tone hid the fact he’s been making guitars for over 50 years. He still had that Santa Clause like sparkle in his eye when he talked about the instruments, and he was innocently enthusiastic about my new-found love of the 000-60. He gave his team the nod that this guitar could be finished over lunch and even offered a personal tour of his factory in the meantime. Pete and I knew in a second this was a rare opportunity, one of those situations that may never come around again, and we all shook hands on the deal.
Here’s the shot of Mr. Larrivee and me with the never-before-played 000-60.
Hearing Jean’s stories as we walked the factory that day will be something I’ll never forget. Pete and I would just stare at each other from time to time, wanting to pinch ourselves – was this really happening? We marveled at the pallets of exotic woods from around the world, curing in stacks, the humidifier room where guitar bodies were resting in their new-formed shapes, and floored by the one-of-a-kind, ancient, handmade “machines” that automated some aspects of Jean’s guitar building.
There’s too much to list here (and some things we swore secrecy about), but a kaleidoscope of images will be forever burned into my memory. Everything about this experience was an overwhelming joy. I think God answered my prayer for a “story” and not just a guitar. At the end of the day, Jean posed one final time with me and the finished instrument. He said he didn’t sign them inside anymore (couldn’t get both his hand and a Sharpie into the sound hole very easily), but he graciously signed a custom label that I could put in later. How a craftsman continues to be so passionate and inspired after 50 years was beyond comprehension. He still comes into the factory almost every day to put his personal touches on each guitar.
I’ve been playing this amazing new instrument for a couple months now, and I can truly say it’s the most lavishly manufactured, quality sounding guitar I’ve ever held in my hands. I feel blessed every time I pick it up. But that’s the irony here; I’m sharing this story a couple weeks before Lent begins, and I’ve decided to put the Larrrivee away for the 6-week season ahead. Lent is a time of stripping away, a time to get in touch with our limitedness, and confess in honesty our brokenness and need for a Savior. To that end, our church will practice “A Cappella Sunday” on March 1oth, relying on our voices alone, taking us back to our roots, and my new, gorgeous 000-60 will stay tucked away in its case. It’ll be a few weeks before I play a guitar again on Sunday morning, and even then, in my own personal Lenten tradition, I’ll be lugging around my big, beat-up Hummingbird until Easter morning. But what a glorious Easter that will be…enhanced by the feeling of opening up that case and bringing out the Larrivee once again! Thank you, Jean!
* This devotional is meant to be experienced weekly; for the four weeks of Advent and the week of Christmas. Feel free to pick one day during the week to spend some extra time with these reflections. Lighting a candle to begin your time each week would be ideal, but not critical. Journalling your thoughts and responses to God is encouraged, as well.
* I’ve been inspired by Biola University’s Advent devotional, and it’s available HERE.
* The music is from my album Noel. The poems come from Malcom Guite (an English poet, church leader, professor, and musician) and the photos are taken by Farrah Fox (a Richmond, VA photographer and writer) with a film camera as autumn took hold of the south.
WEEK 1 – HOPE
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:4-5
The first candle of the Advent Wreath, the “Prophecy Candle” or “Candle of Hope”, is traditionally purple. We light this candle because, like God’s people centuries ago, we also look forward with hope to the coming of the Shepherd. The purple color of the candle reminds us of the seriousness of our hope.
Hope is a light shining in a dark place. As we look at the lights of this first week of the Christmas season, we celebrate the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”.
PRAYER:Dear God, we hope for your coming as our Good Shepherd. Please gather us in your arms, feed us with spiritual food, wipe away every tear from our eyes, and “let your face shine, that we may be saved”. Come, our Shepherd! Amen.
WEEK 2 – JOY
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” – Luke 2:10
The second Advent Wreath candle, named the “Shepherd Candle” or “Candle of Joy”, is pink in color. Pink represents joy or rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season away from repentance and toward celebration. From hope, joy grows.
We reflect on the subject of joy to remind us that when Jesus is born in us we have joy and that through him there will be everlasting joy on earth.
Joy is a light shining in a dark place. This week, we celebrate the joy we find in Jesus Christ.
“St. John’s Eve”
Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill
Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:
‘He must increase and I diminish still,
Until his sun illuminates my night.’
So John the Baptist pioneers our path,
Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,
Unlatches the last doorway into faith,
And makes one inner space an everywhere.
Least of the new and greatest of the old,
Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,
He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold
The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”
So keep his fires burning through this night,
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
PRAYER:Gracious God, you came to us in human flesh and you abide with us in the Holy Spirit. Fill us with your joy, and help us shine as a light to the world. Through Jesus Christ, who makes our joy complete. Amen.
WEEK 3 – LOVE
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” – Matthew 1:23
The third Advent Candle color is purple. It’s called the “Angel Candle” or the “Candle of Love”.
We light this candle because, like God’s people centuries ago, we also need a Savior who will forgive our sins. The purple color reminds us of the sacrifice found in true love: Mary’s sacrifice and Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
Love is a light shining in a dark place. As we look toward this third week of Advent, we celebrate the love we have in Christ.
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.
PRAYER:Dear God, in You, we rejoice. We know that because of your great love for us, we can live lives of sacrifice and love with one another. As we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth, also fill our hearts with love for the world, that all may know your love and the one whom you have sent, your son, our Savior. Amen.
WEEK 4 – PEACE
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
The fourth Advent candle, called the “Bethlehem Candle” or the “Candle of Preparation”, is also purple in color.
We light this candle of “peace” to remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that through him real peace is found.
Peace is a light shining in a dark place. As we look toward this fourth week of Advent, we celebrate the peace we find in Jesus Christ.
“O Rex Gentium”
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.
PRAYER: O God of all good gifts, we desire to know you fully; to understand completely your love for us so that peace may truly dwell in us. Help us, during this season of preparation, to remember the true meaning of readying ourselves to participate in your peaceful and loving ways. Give us the courage to spread the message that your peace and love is for all people. Grant healing in our personal lives, and throughout the world, that we may more deeply know Your peace. Amen
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” – Luke 2:11-14
Christians around the world light the last, white candle on Christmas Day to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the prophets promised so long ago, God has come to us; and with the shepherds, we are filled with wonder and amazement.
We are filled with great joy and celebration, because Christ is born in Bethlehem. God’s Son has come into the world to be our Savior! And he will come again in glory.
“Christmas On the Edge”
Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.
And from this day our world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.
PRAYER:Lord, you come as a tiny, fragile baby; yet we know that you are God and you are with us. May the celebration in these moments remind us that you are the light of the world and that if we follow you, we will never walk in darkness but will have the true light of life. Dear God, we rejoice in the birth of your Son. May we worship him, welcome him, and make room for him in our hearts. O come, let us adore him! Amen!