he who began a good work in you…

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I am excited to share with you something awesome that happened to me recently!

After taking ministry prep classes for over 8 years, this past Friday I was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene!  Aside from my wedding day and the birth of my two daughters, it was absolutely the most joyous night of my life!

I told my husband I felt like I was getting married all over again- married to the church!  There was a special Ordination Service held this past Friday evening, and there were 8 other ministers from Virginia that also got ordained.

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My husband and daughters were there, and several other family members, and lots of people from my church made the trip to come to the service.  Then during our fellowship time at church yesterday, they had a lovely reception to celebrate.

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As I listened to the sermon during the Ordination Service, the Lord confirmed in my spirit once again that His timing is perfect and I am exactly where He wants me to be. The pastor made many references to the word “green” and “green grass” in his message that night.  I know it sounds a little strange- but the Lord used the word “green” to spark something in me about 10 years ago…

 I hid it well from people, but inside I was miserable- desperate for something to change.  I made every excuse I could why I wasn’t happy… but what really needed to change was ME!

I wasn’t very involved in church back then- I didn’t even sing during the services. But there was this one song that one of the college students would occasionally lead us to sing during worship that I liked.  It had a melancholy tune, vaguely reminiscent of a Simon and Garfunkel song.

As the months passed, I had forgotten about that song.  But the Lord brought it to my mind one Sunday afternoon.  I couldn’t remember the tune or any of the words to save my life!  It was driving me nuts!

And then out of the blue- I remembered one word-

green

I called my husband, who happened to be working that afternoon- and I asked him if he could remember “the song”… you know it, babe- it’s the one that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel song?  It’s got the word green in it somewhere!  It’s THAT song! 

Yes, he remembered it, but like me- he could not remember the tune or any lyrics.  But sure enough, that evening,  he remembered some of the lyrics- enough to google them,  and find out what the song was.  He emailed me the words and immediately the tune came to mind.

I can’t explain it any other way- I was COMPELLED to sit at my piano and play that song.  Over and over.  Every time I walked past the piano, I’d sit and play and sing it.  In fact, that “green” song was the first worship song I ever played without having any sheet music to go by.

And then one morning, I sat on my old piano bench, and  I remember my youngest daughter was crawling around on the floor in the next room.  I began to play this song that I had been compelled to play for weeks on end… and for the first time, I tried to sing and nothing came out.  Tears flowed down my face as I realized all this time I had spent searching for the words of this song- I had been searching for Him.  And these words I was compelled to sing- He was doing that for me all along, and had already done this for me… He was simply waiting for me to see it.  You know that saying “fake it ’till you make it”?  After all that time of singing praises- finally in that instant, empty words were brought to life in my heart, and His presence was so real.

He was already with me…I had been blind, but praise God- that was the day that for the first time- I could see!

And my response? Total consecration of my life!  On that day, I promised Him I would do anything He asked of me.

My call to ministry began with the Lord giving me the word “green”…. and every time I heard the preacher during the Ordination Service Friday evening mention the word “green” over and over,  He reaffirmed in my heart once again that I am exactly where He wants me.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.  Psalm 30 

And in case you are curious, here’s a link to the “green” song-“You Have Redeemed My Soul” by Waterdeep-

 https://soundcloud.com/julrayhar/you-have-redeemd-my-soul

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ-

  Philippians 1:6

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He met the need… and He met me, too

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Pray without ceasing

 1 Thessalonians 5:17

For several months I was aware that the soundboard at our church was on it’s “last legs”.  We had a new church facility built a few years back and kept the old soundboard since it was still in good working condition. After a couple of years in our new building, we began to notice snaps, crackles, and pops coming through the sound system every time it was in use. I knew we didn’t have the money to purchase a new one, but we really needed it.

I prayed for God to somehow provide this need for our church, and after several months I got the ok to mention the need of a new soundboard to the congregation during a Sunday morning service.

The evening before I was going to talk about this to the congregation, I was home alone, praying.  My husband was working late, and both of my girls were at a friend’s home- a rare thing for a Saturday evening!  I remember sitting at my piano and praying out loud.  Now, that’s not something I do all the time- just when I really feel led to do it.  I began praying and talking to God and the strangest thing happened- I began to pray for one person… for one person to step out in faith and meet this need.  For just one person to give and to be obedient.  It sounded like the craziest thing, but that is the exact thing He led me to pray for that night.  In fact, I remember telling someone later that same evening that I prayed those words, and I was almost embarrassed about it.  What would I say if that “one person” didn’t come forward- or what if we didn’t have anyone willing to help?

I just kept pushing those doubtful thoughts out of my head, and I held on to faith. I got up early like always on that Sunday and prayed again.  During the service, I mentioned that we desperately needed a new soundboard for the church, and that it was going to cost a good deal of money.  I asked them to pray about this for us, and if anyone would like to donate towards this to see me after church.

I sat at the piano to play the closing song, and as I played the final note- I remember seeing one person- yes ONE PERSON standing at the base of the stage, motioning for me to come to them.  I bent down, and with tears in their eyes, this person told me to get what I needed- it would be paid in full.

I cried. I was in complete awe…

Not just because God met the need- but because He answered that prayer He had led me to pray the night before in the exact way I had prayed One person

That was a special day for me. God provided- but He also met me in a personal way- strengthening my walk with Him, and strengthening my faith in a mighty way!  And I believe He strengthened the faith of others as I told that “one person” prayer story to the congregation the following Sunday.  Praise the Lord for answered prayers- the big and the small ones, the simple ones and the absolutely impossible ones!  God gets all the glory for He is so good and so faithful!!

O God, we give glory to you all day long
    and constantly praise your name.  Psalm 44

Perfect Church

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I longed to find the perfect church,

but flaws were all I found

looking for the perfect fit

I searched for Holy ground

nothing more than walls and doors

each church was much the same

until the day I heard His voice-

 I heard Him call my name

and praise the Lord, I knew right then

I’d never be the same

The heart is where the home is

And Jesus lives in mine

I know his light is with me

And I’m gonna let it shine

His Holy Spirit, His perfect love,  

 lives and dwells in me

And in Jesus Christ, we all become

one big “church” family!

 After years of driving by this lovely little church, I got my youngest daughter to take a drive-by photo of it.  Every time I pass by it, I am reminded of the little school house “church” in Little House on the Prairie. As a child, I longed for a little school house church to go to every Sunday.  From a very early age, this is exactly what I thought a perfect church should look like.  I longed to find a church family, but after years of searching, I had given up.

“Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,

we will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!”

This is one of the many hymns I remember being sung on Little House, in that little church.  A place where people gathered and praised God for their harvests, for their simple lives. People came together time and again to help each other and to meet each other’s needs.  After all the churches I had visited over the years, I doubted I’d ever find my church “home”.  Then one day I realized –

I wasn’t searching for a place– I was searching for Him.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13

I was never going to find Him in a place…He was right there with me- in my heart all along.  

And once I found Him, that picture of a perfect church vanished.  No longer was it a place to meet my needs- it was a place to give, to love, and to serve.  There is no perfect church- but there is a perfect God who perfectly places us where He wants us to bloom.  I am forever grateful for all He has done for me- and I am humbled and honored that I “get to” serve Him and lead our church in worship each week.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony-  Colossians 3:14

We Are the Church

Here’s the church…

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Here’s the steeple….

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Open the door….

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And here’s all the people!

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Remember doing this as a child?  I do…and I remember smiling at my little wiggly fingers as I turned my hands inside out.  

I also remember wanting to desperately be part of a church- part of a church where our lives intertwined… and we called each other “family”.  I didn’t have a “church home” growing up.  What I didn’t know back then was that church is not technically a building- we are His church.  We are His hands and feet… being Christ-like wherever we go… not just within the four walls of a church.

But what if instead of “going” to church we lived with the idea that we are “bringing church” with us- everywhere we go? We are His church.  

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.  Luke 11:33

I made a new friend the other day. I happen to have my girls with me, and they were seated at a table in a coffee shop. As I waited to order coffee, ahead of me in line stood a woman and her friend.  I love people watching and thinking about their lives… where they have been…where are they going….are they happy?  My thoughts wandered and then it was time for me to order.  I ordered my unusual usual drink, and stepped aside to wait for it.  The barista rattled off my unusual usual drink and to my surprise, the lady ahead of me in line reached for the same drink. 

“You ordered this, too?” I asked her.  

“Yes!”  She said with a look of surprise.  

“Why, I guess that makes us coffee soul mates!”  I cheerfully said to her.  

And then the funniest thing happened…we began finishing each other’s sentences.  

“I always order soymilk….”

“…and it’s already so sweet…”

 “it doesn’t even need sugar!” we say at the same time…

and then it dawned on me that I knew her.  

“I know you!  You work at (one of my favorite stores)! 

And then we chatted like old friends. We formally introduced ourselves to each other and that was that.  

“Come see me soon!” She said as we finished our chat. 

“I’ll do that!”

I noticed my girls giving me funny looks from across the way as they watched us chatting.  When I walked over to them, one of them said, “Mom, why do you always have to talk to people?”  

“Because I like making new friends, honey. People need friends.” 

And I certainly don’t think it was a coincidence that I knew her, that we were in the same line together, and that we ordered the exact same drink. That sounds like a God-incident to me.   We are all connected in some way. He just used a good ole’ cup of joe to show me on this particular afternoon.  

People need friends.

And people need Jesus.  

I believe He’s always at work- placing people in our paths and on our hearts to reach out to.  Making small connections with people, building relationships for His purposes. And just maybe they might get to know a little about Jesus by getting to know you- through some small act of kindness, a smile, an encouraging word. Not that we shouldn’t invite people to come to church, but we need to be the church- to everyone we see… everywhere we go.  

 I want my girls to know that being part of His church is so much more than going to a place on a Sunday morning.  It’s so much more than just knowing and loving Jesus. It’s putting this love into action- He wants us to love people and to be His hands and feet… and it begins the moment we step outside those church doors. IMG_0345

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words- Francis of Assisi  

Full circle

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 Monday was the 1 year anniversary of starting this blog, and also my birthday. This past weekend was probably one of the most wonderful I’ve ever experienced, and so I’m left standing on a mountain top. For the first time in my life, things have come full circle.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be-Psalm 139:16 

After the first half of my awesome weekend , I had another wonderful experience. I was visiting my hometown, and felt led to go with a friend to her church.  You see, I don’t get the opportunity to visit other churches because of doing ministry in my own church.  So, it was a joy to be there- and it was as if God used everything in that service to minister to my spirit in a deep way. I cried when I saw my friend- just the excitement of seeing her for the first time in many years, and having the opportunity to worship with her was so wonderful!  As we sang, I realized that I actually knew the worship leader.  She was one of my very first piano and voice students! She even babysat my oldest daughter when she was an infant!  I cannot tell you what a joy it was to see how God was using her as she led worship.  She had the voice of an angel.  Simply wonderful to witness!  I hadn’t seen her in 10 years and my heart was overflowed with joy!

When my girls were babies, I felt like I was a failure for not following my dream and becoming a high school choir director. I had the degree to do it, but I knew that I wanted to be home with the girls… so I taught piano and voice lessons from my home.  I loved it, but I always knew I’d only do it for a season. I can’t tell you how many times I questioned whether I really made a difference in my student’s lives when I taught lessons. So, seeing this former student was truly a God incident- not a coincidence!  I truly felt that He was reaffirming that He was, in fact, the one in charge of my life- every little step of it!  Even down to the young girl that would babysit my daughter 10 years ago!

And that my “dream” of being a high school choral director was my dream- not necessarily His plan for me!   

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s another God-incident that morning- one of the people I hoped to see there was one of my former college professors. My friend informed me that she probably wouldn’t be there that day because the choir she directs was taking a break for the summer.  But sure enough, in the middle of the worship- led by my former student, my former teacher gets up from the far corner of the church to share a Word from God.  I would never have known she was there if God had not led her to share that morning!  I literally jumped over people to find her during the friendship time!

 I hadn’t seen her in probably 10 years!  When I went up to her, I asked her if she remembered me, and she said “Julie! You’re my daughter!” and she wrapped her arms around me. When I told her that I was a worship pastor now, we both shed joyful tears- and she prayed the most lovely prayer over me.  I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.  Every song that was sung, the message, the Spirit…was as if God had made a special appointment just for me right in that place.

God was bringing my life full circle.  He was in every little detail. No, I’m not a high school choir director, but I have the wonderful privilege of serving Him in my church and ministering through music, and through many other ways.  His plan for me has been more wonderful than my plan ever could be. It is awe inspiring to look back on all the little details of your life and see how He has been in it all.  Being in that church service- one that I almost didn’t go to- reaffirmed that I am exactly where He wants me.

When we say “yes” to God, we open the door for Him to do amazing things!

 I’m still standing on a mountain top- and the view is magnificent!

Running the Race

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

 2 Timothy 1:7

“Running the Race”

Today’s the day I stop doubting everything I do

Second guessing each and every step I’m going through

Putting pressure on myself to be the best I can

So I rest in You because I’m following Your plan.

You’ve called me and I answered

You’ve given me all that I need

I pray for Your boldness, Your strength,and Your grace

I’ve got nothing to prove anymore-

I’m running the race.

I’m moving forward without any fear

because Emmanuel, I know that you’re here

You’ll show me every step and I’ll do my best

and I’ll give it all I got and let You do the rest

The spirit of fear doesn’t come from You

because I know this I can make it through

with the power You’ve given me I’ll be strong

I’ll lift up my voice and proclaim Your song

I wrote this song recently after praying for a Bible Verse to focus on for the year.  I have chosen 2 Timothy 1:7 for many reasons.  At times I have doubted myself and the abilities He has given me, and have focused to much on what other people think.  Then His quiet voice whispers this verse to me-Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Galatians 1:10

He has equipped me with all that I need.  I am running the race, trusting that He will set the pace, clear the path, and help me jump each hurdle that comes my way.  I am serving the Lord with everything I have and using all He has given me- knowing that I must fully rely on His strength and power.   I’m moving forward, without fear- because He has called me, and He is with me!

  Lord, I pray for boldness as I serve You and for Your Spirit to guide me every step of the way.  By Your grace, may You help me to bring others along on this amazing journey of following You!  

Willing to be Made Willing

Carter's Mountain- Charlottesville, VA

If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;  Isaiah 1:19

There are times in our lives when we know that He is asking us to do something that is out of the ordinary.  One of these “out of the ordinary” times for my husband and I was when we had to make the decision to leave our hometown and move here  to Charlottesville 9 years ago.    I was not even going to entertain the idea, because I did not ever want to move.  We had everything we needed right there… but there was that little voice telling us to “go”!   You know that saying “never say never”?  Well, I never thought I would have to make that decision.  I was scared.  I was terrified to leave my family and everything I had ever known.  My family….my husband’s family… all of our friends…

It really did not make sense to us at the time, but we heard that voice inside telling us to “go”, and so we did.  I told my husband that if we needed to move somewhere, I guess I could see myself living in Charlottesville.

As a child, we took many trips here to pick apples on Carter’s Mountain and to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is absolutely breathtaking around here in the fall! I can still remember the excitement of driving down interstate 64 and seeing the blazing fall colors of the mountains over the horizon,  and in the car we would “ooh” and “aah”  in a sing-song voice at the spectacular sight!

And that was that… my husband found a wonderful job here, we sold our house in 2 days, and found our new house the first trip up to Charlottesville.  It was really that fast.  And simple.  And not a coincidence- but a “God Incident” that we are here.

I think of that moment I said I was willing to move… I was only partially willing- I wanted to move back after a couple of years.   After living in Charlottesville for a short while, I began to harbor resentment for leaving my home. I bargained with God for ways we could move back.  I searched for houses back home on the internet, jobs for us, anything I could think of to make it happen.  And I made everyone around me miserable.  I was pretty miserable, too.  After moving here and fighting what God was wanting me to do, I reached a point of being willing- willing to be made willing.  Even though I did not want to be here, I prayed for God to change my heart, and help me to be content and to be willing to do whatever it was that He was calling me here for.

After months of prayer, I finally surrendered and told Him I was willing…. willing to do everything He wanted me to do- no matter the cost- no matter if we moved “home” or stayed here. Our “home” here is temporal-  home is where He is- and He is with me always!   And ultimately I was willing- willing to stay or go, and willing to be all His and to serve Him and go into ministry.

for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11

Whatever He is asking you to do- you just have to be willing.  He is with you every step of the way.  Moving here was a good thing.  It was definitely a “God” thing.  Seeing how God has worked in our lives since that moment 9 years ago is amazing.  He is simply amazing!

Here is a song that my husband and I wrote about being willing… being willing for God to change us and mold us into what He wants.  Being willing  to yield to His voice and to be obedient to all He asks- no matter the cost, because our life is not our own.. it is for His gain and His glory!

Lord, I am willing…