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New Beginnings

Posted by on 6:50 pm in Faith | 0 comments

New Beginnings

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? “New Beginnings” The sermon outline is below. Click HERE for the full manuscript. The Outline Sermon Text: Ezra 3:10-13 1.    God Brings New Beginnings (v. 10-11) a.    Ezra 1:2-3 b.    Zechariah 4:10 2.    New Beginnings Bring Goodbyes (v. 11-12) 3.    New Beginnings Bring Hope (v. 13) a.    John 2:19-21 b.    John 4:21-23 c.     Revelation 21:3-5 d.    Isaiah...

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France Recap

Posted by on 4:48 pm in Faith | 1 comment

France Recap

Bonjour! 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...

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Off to France!!!

Posted by on 3:01 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Off to France!!!

Hello, friends and family! 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! Thanks so much for being a part! Justin &...

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Worship Leader Magazine!

Posted by on 6:57 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Worship Leader Magazine!

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? Me. 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! Log in to read the article...

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My Beautiful New Guitar…and Why I’m Putting it Away

Posted by on 6:16 pm in Music | 7 comments

My Beautiful New Guitar…and Why I’m Putting it Away

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 –...

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Advent Devotional 2018

Posted by on 8:37 pm in Faith | 0 comments

Advent Devotional 2018

* 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 http://justinfox.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/03-It-Came-Upon-A-Midnight-Clear.mp3   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.   “O Oriens” 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”. (audio of this poem being read HERE)   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 http://justinfox.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/06-God-Rest-Ye-Merry-Gentlemen.mp3   “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...

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3 Steps to More Fruit of the Spirit

Posted by on 1:23 pm in Faith | 0 comments

3 Steps to More Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” I was recently asked this question: “How does somebody get more of the fruit of the Spirit in their life?” After reading and reflecting on the above passage, it’s a very understandable and practical question, and this short article is an attempt to answer it. As the Christmas season draws near, it’s also a timely discussion since we’ll be hearing a lot about hope, love, joy, and peace these next few weeks. When you hear those words, do you wish you had more? Do you wish these traits were not merely seasonal sentiments but more of a reality in your life? I know I do! So, to that end, here’s 3 steps toward that goal… * REMEMBER: These characteristics are fruit of the Spirit, they are not fruit of our efforts – they don’t come from us, they come from God. Just like grapes come to life through the nourishment of the vine, a person cannot externally fabricate this fruit and paste it onto their life. It must organically grow from within, through the Spirit in us. Jesus said it best, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:3-5) Does that mean we simply sit back, do nothing, and wait for God to do His work in us (in spite of us)? What’s His part, and what’s our part? It’s true, He is the one who does the changing, but we need to position ourselves to receive His work in us. We need to posture ourselves to be open and available. With that in mind, these three steps are a way we can participate better with the Spirit’s work. They’re a way for us to position ourselves and assume a posture that connects us more deeply to the vine. STEP 1: VISION The first step is to get a vision for what this fruit looks like, in yourself and in others around you. Dallas Willard’s concept of “vision, intention, and means” (or “VIM” as he calls it in Renovation of the Heart) is a helpful model here, so I’ll use it to guide our discussion. Each of these three steps will be accompanied by a 30-minute prayer time to help you further explore this area with the Lord. Experiencing more of the fruit of the Spirit simply will not happen apart from spending concentrated, focused time alone with God. If that is something you’re not willing to do, I’d recommend closing this screen right now and doing whatever else you’d like to do… (On second thought, my goal is to make this invitation to time with God more compelling through the course of this article, so I hope you’ll stick with it to the end, and...

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Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 3)

Posted by on 4:38 pm in Faith | 0 comments

Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 3)

In this article, I’ll discuss 5 Practical Ways to Lead Worship as a Spiritual Director. In articles 1 and 2, I put forward a few thoughts regarding the connections between worship leading and spiritual direction and also explored some practical ways to prepare for worship leading through the lens of a Spiritual Director. Now, the preparation is done, the stage is set, the congregation is here, and it’s time to lead! Let’s discuss five ways to lead worship as a Spiritual Director. Again, I’ve chosen to list these methods with the verb “practice” before them for intentional reasons. These are practices that take time to develop. They are not quick fixes or “five easy steps.” They require sustained attention over time and through various seasons. Give yourself grace and permission to not get these “right” the first time you try them, and rest in the reality that they will never be perfected – by you, me, or anyone else (but Jesus). Practicing these postures will help align your heart with God’s heart. They’ll guide you in enabling more and more people to experience the love of God through you as you lead. 1. Practice Compassion. “Lord, help me give compassion in my statements, in my posture, in my face, in my presence.” Again, this encouragement and prayer are taken directly from my training materials on spiritual direction. Compassion is a critical, priority practice as a Spiritual Director, and yet it has so many applications for the Worship Leader, as well. What is it to practice compassion for our congregations from the sanctuary platform? How compassionate are you when you lead? How aware are you of your congregation’s challenges, hurts, doubts, and fears? I find that, as a Worship Leader, there are so many distractions around the technical, mechanical task of performing music well, that we often lose sight of who we are actually leading. If your congregation becomes a blurry mass of nameless faces, whose only function is to sing or clap along with the band at the appropriate times, compassion will be tough for you to display. Charlie Hall gave a lecture a while back with some powerful insights into this topic. I highly encourage you to check out the podcast here (I’ve also posted it as a dropbox link here, if that’s more convenient). In this talk, Charlie gets at the importance of knowing the people we lead in worship, and how their stories change everything about the way we approach facilitating worship. It makes the process more human and infuses it with compassion and empathy. He realizes there is a tension for us Worship Leaders between “excellence” and “affection.” We can often make our musical execution so excellent that we lose the heart, the compassion, the affection for the people God has placed right in front of us. How well do you know your congregation members? Are you aware of their struggles, health concerns, and prayer requests? If your congregation is large, it’s impossible to know everyone’s story, but can you begin one at a time and practice holding them in your heart, one by one? The next time you sing “It is well with my soul…” make a mental note of who is singing with you and what their experience might be. See their faces, their...

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Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 2)

Posted by on 6:47 pm in Faith | 4 comments

Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 2)

In this article, we’ll discuss some practical ways that the ministries of spiritual direction and worship leading interrelate. In Part 1 (catch up HERE if you missed it), we discussed some of the ways the two ministries are unique and the particular developmental benefits of spiritual direction in the life of a Worship Leader. We then turned our attention to these specific questions: How might a Worship Leader prepare, plan, and lead worship as a Spiritual Director? Is it possible to some extent? Could it be beneficial to consider? I said I believed the answer to both of these questions was a resounding “Yes”, so let’s dive in. Let me address a question you might have right off the top; “Why should I adopt or embody this style or method as a Worship Leader?” Especially if you haven’t had an experience with spiritual direction and don’t personally subscribe to it as an element of discipleship in your life, this is a fair objection. But, whether you are a “fan” of spiritual direction or not, it’s important to consider that as Worship Leaders, we are also Culture Makers. Meaning, the way you approach, prepare for, and lead worship creates values and cultural touchstones within your context. Whatever you’re doing to get people in your pews, you will have to continue to do to keep them there. If your strategy and values, for instance, are high-production, Vegas-style smoke and mirrors, having the right fitting jeans, or staying up on the latest, greatest worship songs, you will need to keep that up, or do one better each week in order to keep your congregation engaged and entertained. I’d propose another way, a deeper, more thoughtful approach. What is the culture you want to create through your leadership? What kind of worshippers do you want your people to become over time? Let these greater questions shape your worship leading. You and your congregation will be grateful and blessed by doing so. And, again, because I’ve experienced first-hand the profound journey of spiritual direction in my own life, and researched its effectiveness in the life of believers around the world, for over a thousand years, it seems worthwhile to pursue this connection between spiritual direction and worship leading. It also seems logical and helpful to discuss elements of preparing for worship before addressing the act of leading worship in this way. It’s particularly interesting to reflect on the ways a Spiritual Director is instructed to prepare before meeting with a Directee, and how those items of preparation have some corollary with the preparation to lead worship. So, before talking through practical ways to lead worship as a Spiritual Director, let’s look at ways to prepare for worship leading through this lens. These prayer points are copied from my course syllabus in Spiritual Direction and Soul Care at Talbot Seminary. I’ll list them, just as they were written (with a few edits for context), and then unpack various ways I see these instructions and values inform the preparation of worship leading. I see these prompts being helpful as Worship Leaders begin to plan a service or liturgy, or as they enter the sanctuary or worship space to prayerfully get things ready for the already-planned gathering to come. These postures take practice, repeated over time, to...

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Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 1)

Posted by on 4:10 pm in Faith | 2 comments

Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader (Pt. 1)

Leading worship for thirty years and serving as a Spiritual Director for the last five of those, has given me a unique perspective on soul care, formation, and the dynamics of worship leading. In this article, I will briefly attempt to describe the interrelatedness of these two roles, how they are alike, how they differ, and how the ancient art of spiritual direction can inform and deepen the ministry of worship leading. Many Christian leaders have found great value and support in meeting with a Spiritual Director as part of their ongoing discipleship and spiritual formation. This is a growing trend in evangelical circles, and I’m grateful for the interest in this aspect of spiritual formation. Graduating from Talbot Seminary and serving as a Spiritual Director these last several years has been a deep joy. Describing the many ways that serving in this ministry (and personally receiving spiritual direction) enriches my life and faith would constitute an entire article by itself, so I’ll simply say here that it has profoundly impacted the way I shepherd, lead, and love others. It has also shaped the way I approach worship leading and my role as Pastor of Worship at Grace Community Church. HOW THESE MINISTRIES ARE UNIQUE Before diving into the interrelatedness and connection between spiritual direction and worship leading, it might be helpful to discuss how they are not the same. Worship leading usually describes the activity of guiding a small-to-large group through an experience of corporate singing, prayer, reading, and listening to God together. It’s a role that can quickly scale from a few individuals in a quiet room to thousands in an arena. Traditional, formal spiritual direction, on the other hand, is limited in scope from a one-to-one relationship up to a small group setting, with usually never more than about ten people. It is not effective in a large group because spiritual direction relies heavily on the participant (the “Directee”) having space to talk, share, and process out loud the activity of God in his or her life. There is more content coming from the participant rather than the leader in spiritual direction. Significant time and opportunity must be created for this to occur, and a Spiritual Director goes to great lengths in providing a spiritually and emotionally open space where the Directee is free to set the pace and take the conversational and topical lead. Worship leading, especially in large groups, is the opposite; the worship leader provides most of the content, pacing, and agenda. A Worship Leader is more “directive” in this case, intentionally planning a structure and program for individuals or a congregation to follow and participate in. Spiritual Direction meetings usually occur once a month to give adequate time and space between appointments for a Directee to process God’s activity in their lives and to collect and ponder their unique experiences before they meet again with their Director. Quite different from this schedule, the people of God, in groups small and large, often gather for worship once a week on Sunday and sometimes on various days in between. The frequency of these meetings poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities for a Worship Leader that are not shared by the Spiritual Director. Formational practices that occur this frequently demand a thoughtful and...

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