Have you ever felt grief over the past? Do you sometimes long for things to be back to the way they were? In this sermon, I walk us through some of these feelings as the Israelites experienced them in Ezra 3:10-13. It’s a dramatic passage highlighting the tension between joy and loss. Even as we may experience sorrow about the past, God desires us to embrace the new things He is doing in our lives. Are you ready?
The sermon outline is below. Click HERE for the full manuscript.
THANKS AGAIN to so many of you who supported our mission trip to France through financial contributions, advice, language help, and prayers. Kennedy and I had an amazing time!
We started off the week serving at The Chateau by starting a fire. Literally…I helped start a fire. Our team was set to gather for our first meeting of the week, and my man-skills were called upon to light a bonfire and prep for a BBQ dinner. After many attempts, it did finally get going and all was well (thanks, Dad, for passing down your Eagle Scout knowledge!). We pulled together an awesome spread, ate well, and began the week sharing and praying together – and I led a few worship songs with a borrowed guitar.
The next day, the Chateau Director and I headed to a motel for immigrant refugees. We met with, shared the Gospel with, and prayed with, several people from various countries. One of the men wanted to say a prayer and put his trust in Jesus for the first time! We were also able to encourage an entire family (who gathered around us with interest and questions) to consider how Jesus was looking after them with His love. It was a moving moment.
A German youth group was headed to The Chateau for the week, so we prepped things and greeted them the following day. Our main job those first few days was laundry and making sure every bed was set up correctly for the guests.
I also had the privilege of hunting for tools in a century old shed and fixing a broken bunk bed! The team and I also began rehearsals for our musical performance, and it was a joy to get Kennedy in on the hand-drum for the first time ever and plan out some rich harmonies with one of the Summer Interns. Our street performance on Friday night was an adventure, for sure! It was the night of “Fête de la Musique” (“World Music Day”) in France, and so there were performers on every corner. We bounced around a bit and had the chance to declare in a fun, loud, and public way that we “saw the light”, that God “restores every heart that is broken”, and to sing; God, “build Your kingdom here!”
The following Sunday morning, I had the chance to join the worship team at the church meeting in The Chateau. I was all prepped with the guitar and sound system, ready to join the band, and then realized a few moments before that the chord charts are all in FRENCH, of course! I had to transpose from French to English on the fly and create this fancy cheatsheet to get me through…
In some of our spare time, we were able to take in a Saturday morning street market and tour a few old churches, marveling at the ancient architecture, the stained glass, and the mysterious underground crypts. We talked about what early Christianity must have been like in those days and also paused to consider where God’s Spirit might be moving next.
Our last few days at The Chateau were filled with laundry once again (where I learned how to correctly fold a fitted-sheet – don’t tell my wife! – and run it though an iron roller!). I also managed to unclog a shower drain, fire up a massive weed-wacker for some edging on the grounds, and repair some broken lightbulbs. Kennedy was promoted to kitchen crew for the last day, preparing and serving the meals for a group of about 30 ladies, and I pitched in on the dishwashing side of things.
After our week at The Chateau, we headed to Paris for a couple days before catching our plane and heading home. It was truly a life-changing trip. Thanks AGAIN for being a part of it with us! We are already in talks with The Chateau Director about further outreach initiatives including Writers Workshops, culinary experiences, and even a Worship Leaders Training Weekend for emerging leaders in France (where only 1% of the population identifies as evangelical Christians). There is more to do! May God lead and direct us!
We’re excited to share about our mission this summer: Our third-born child, Kennedy, has been taking French lessons, will be graduating from high school and majoring in International Studies this fall, and has an opportunity to practice both of these passions while serving at a Christian conference center (which doubles as a 100-year old castle)! “The Chateau” is a ministry outpost for outreach and soul-care in the French town of St. Albain. Our church has worked with this ministry for many years, and it’s with great anticipation that we step out to partner with the Chateau for a week of outreach this June! WE LEAVE THIS SUNDAY!!!
I’ll be joining Kennedy as “designated Trip Leader”, travel manager, and sidekick as we encourage and help the Chateau team through musical outreaches, relationship building, construction projects, hosting ministry guests, and maybe even digging a ditch or two. Our time there will coincide around a local music festival called “fete de la musique”, where we hope to reach out through local church partnerships in creative ways.
Here’s a word from Kennedy: “Expanding on what my Dad said, I am taking French lessons and will major in International Studies in college because I have a passion for language and culture. Having already known American Sign Language, I thought it would be a great challenge to learn another language since it fascinates me so much. When my Dad told me about this trip, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to delve into different cultures and learn from their lives and experiences. It was crazy how God presented this opportunity for us with such perfect timing! I think this mission will be an amazing chance to see where this love for language and helping others takes me in my life for the future.”
We’ll keep you updated on this page as our trip unfolds… Pray for us; that God will grow us and use us to share His love to many!
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!