Gary with his wife and three children in 2016.

A New Reason to Play

April 01, 2011

God met the need of his soul, and gave a purpose to his passion for music.

By Gary Riler

Standing in front of my high school band and choir students, I felt like a hypocrite. While I was encouraging them to make good choices, I was not doing so myself. The life that I lived at that time was not beneficial physically or spiritually. Most nights I found comfort in alcohol and had started turning to drugs on the weekends.

Needing a change

My mother had raised me to know right from wrong, and took me to a church where I learned to honor God and that Jesus was His Son. However, I was not taught that it is necessary to have a change of heart. I was led to believe that attendance at that church organization and following its tenets would prepare me for Heaven.

I was looking for something that could be a sustaining influence in my life.

When I realized that some changes needed to be made in my life, I started searching for a church. For several reasons I was not interested in attending my previous one. I was looking for something that could be a sustaining influence in my life. Over a period of time, I attended several different places, including one where those who were Christians were asked to stand. Because I believed in God and that Jesus was His Son, I stood, but I began to sweat and tremble. At that moment I realized that something was wrong; I was not right in God’s eyes.

A couple months later, I went forward in another meeting to give my life to the Lord. As I repeated the prayer that was prayed, I meant it with all my heart. However, when the man leading the prayer was done, I wasn’t. He told us that we were new creatures in Christ, which I wanted so much to believe, but in my heart I felt there was unfinished business. I left that meeting confused, but believing that I had received the Lord in my heart.

Before long, a friend invited me to a service during the annual camp meeting of the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon. I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. I had never been in a church service with so many people, nor heard testimonies of victory, the stirring hymns that were sung, or such preaching. I loved what I heard, but I wanted out of there. That unfinished business was coming back to haunt me.

Finally ready

A year-and-a-half later, through circumstances that I believe God brought my way, I found myself attending the Apostolic Faith Church again. This time, I was ready for a change. I knew that I was still in need of God’s salvation, and was prepared to get serious about it. After attending several meetings, I finally knelt by a pew and surrendered my all to God. A great load was lifted, and I felt relief that was beyond description. God made a miraculous change in my life.

At the time, I was ready to ask a girl to marry me, and I shared my experience with her, hoping that she would come and see for herself. She asked me to go to her church, so we did. During the entire service, the minister never mentioned salvation, and no one was encouraged to come forward and pray. Fresh from my born-again experience, I was very discouraged by this. I told her that I could not attend her church, and she never came to mine. We broke up two months later on New Year’s Eve. As hard as that was, I felt a peace about it. I knew that I was following God’s will in my life. This lesson would become the theme of my walk with the Lord.

Pouring my heart out to God at an altar of prayer, I recognized that my will needed to conform to His.

Seeking God’s will was a new thing for me, and a difficult task. There was still a great deal of my own will that drove me in my job and also in my passion for music. As I learned about sanctification, I realized that my relationship with the Lord needed to be closer still. Without completely understanding the experience, I knew that I needed it. Pouring my heart out to God at an altar of prayer, I recognized that my will needed to conform to His. The Scripture in Matthew 7:7 helped; I kept telling the Lord that I had sought Him, and that I was now knocking and asking. Every time that Scripture came up in prayer, I felt the Lord draw more out of me and I did not resist. Soon I walked out of the sanctuary with a life fully consecrated to the Lord, and my heart cleansed with the experience of sanctification.

Giving my talents to God

Our church orchestra rehearsed on Wednesday evenings, and often I went to observe. Just listening and watching their conductor, Don Wolfe, work with them was enjoyable. I told anyone who would listen that the music in this church was not something to take for granted. However, since I played the saxophone, which is rarely used in an orchestra, I never expected to participate.

I realized that what God was asking from me was not mine to begin with; it was something He had given me.

The camp meeting in 1991 was my first as a child of God. It was exciting to meet people from many different places. Also, there was a new purpose in my heart—to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. While there was some fear because I had never seen someone receive it, I knew I needed to press on spiritually and receive what God would want me to have. The first Friday youth service found me close to receiving it, but I pulled back out of fear, and also because God was asking me for a couple of consecrations that I was reluctant to say yes about. He wanted me to give Him my music. I was a band director and had been playing the saxophone for a long time. By that evening, however, I realized that what God was asking from me was not mine to begin with; it was something He had given me. At the moment I gave “my” music to God, He gave me the beautiful gift of His Holy Spirit. My fear had been conquered by His love.

A few days later, as I was sitting in the tabernacle watching the youth orchestra rehearse, one of the music directors came and asked me to sing in the choir. What I had given the Lord would now be used for Him. As time went by, new opportunities opened up—singing with the adult choir, sharing my testimony, and one day the invitation to play my horn in church. God began to show me how the talent He had given me could be put to His use. One weekend I was asked to go to our branch church in Yakima, Washington, with a male quartet. There God gave me a special Scripture that has been important in my life many times since, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

A marriage that depends on God

Concerts in various other branch churches followed, and while working on one for Chehalis, Washington, I became acquainted with Kristi King, who was our piano player. Soon I began to take an interest in her, but by then I had come to the realization that dating was not a casual thing. That concept took me longer to figure out than it should have, but my interest in Kristi would need to have direction and confirmation from the Lord before I would pursue her as anything more than a friend. God was faithful to give me the confirmation that I needed, and now, seventeen years later, I am still confident that God brought us together.

Seven months after we were married, Kristi’s eighteen-year-old brother was killed in a skiing accident. During the following months, there were times of frustration when I did not understand the pain she was continuing to feel.

As a couple we have been through some difficult times. Seven months after we were married, Kristi’s eighteen-year-old brother was killed in a skiing accident. During the following months, there were times of frustration when I did not understand the pain she was continuing to feel. In addition to this, we were told that we could not have children and that we were in that twenty-percent group of couples who have no explanation as to why. These two issues could have torn apart marriage partners who were not trusting in the Lord. Even with Him, we had challenging times. However, God proved to us that He can give beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning.

Four years into our marriage, a job opening came up in Chehalis. In a previous situation, our pastor had assured me that when we seek for God’s will, He will lead in a plain path, so I submitted an application and then waited on the Lord. The gentleman who asked me to apply was concerned about my demeanor during the interview; he felt that I was too calm and did not show enough excitement about the opportunity I might have in landing this job.

I assured him that I would love to have this job, but only if it was where the Lord wanted me to be. The job was given to me, and before we could move, an older couple asked if we might be interested in buying their house. Kristi also accepted a job there, and was working two weeks prior to the time that we could move into the home. God even helped me to be truly happy in a small town!

After we had been married for seven years, we felt that God was directing us toward adoption. We could not afford the thousands of dollars that most adoptions cost, so we took the more risky road of foster adoption through the State of Washington. Although this did not end up being an easy route, God has blessed us with three beautiful, intelligent, and amazing children. He had to carry us through some dark places in the process with our first placement, our daughter Amanda. At one point we had to give her back to family members. It felt to us as if she had died, but what made matters worse, we were left to wonder if she was all right. Through the prayers of the saints, God gave us strength. Eventually, by a series of miracles, Amanda ended up back in our home, and we adopted her in December of 2002.

By March of 2002, we had adopted our older son, Ethan. Through another set of circumstances, we took in a beautiful two-year-old Filipino girl, but had to give her to a family member only a month after receiving her. Then we had a cute three-month-old Hispanic girl, but after having her for three months, she was returned to her mother who was in rehab.

Just when we were ready to say “no more” because of the emotional toll on us, we received a call about a little boy who was only one month old at the time.

Just when we were ready to say “no more” because of the emotional toll on us, we received a call about a little boy who was only one month old at the time. We went for a visit and immediately fell in love with him. We adopted Jaron in December of 2007. Through all of the necessarily quick decisions, court dates, and family visits, God was our strength and defender. It is wonderful to serve such a powerful, yet loving Father.

Following the Lord's lead

Recently the Lord has been helping me see that walking with Him is not always predictable. Many times I said that I taught middle school because that is where I felt the Lord wanted me to be. In my own mind was a determination that I would teach middle school until I retired. However, the Lord sent me a reality check about a year ago when our high school director was killed in a motorcycle accident. To help keep the program going, I began rehearsing the wind ensemble and conducting them at a couple of festivals and their final concert of the year.

It was my responsibility to search for teacher replacement candidates, and I called and e-mailed several people. Then one of them asked if I would consider being the high school director myself, and then he would contemplate teaching at the middle school. The more I thought about it, the more the realization dawned that I needed to ask the Lord for direction. I had started the search for a candidate by leaning on my own understanding, but I needed to trust Him. The Lord made it very clear that it was time for me to become the high school band director. He brought in a wonderful Christian man to take the middle school job, and I could not be more excited about what He has in store for me and my family next.

When we walk with the Lord, we are not alone.
I am so thankful for the faithfulness of God, the counsel of godly men in our organization, and the prayers of the saints. When we walk with the Lord, we are not alone. That decision I made in 1990 altered the course of my personal history. Many times I wonder if my life would even have lasted this long if I had turned my back on that opportunity to serve God that He gave me. Today my prayer is that I can influence as many as possible to commit their lives to the loving Savior that I serve. It is my purpose to stay true to Him until I see Him face to face.
 

Update: A few years after this testimony was published, Gary was asked to be the Director of Music at the Portland Apostolic Faith Church. Once again, he followed the Lord's call and moved with his family to Portland.

About the author

Gary Riler is a minister of the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon, where he also directs the orchestra and choir.