Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Listen to my story: USU Religious Studies Club with Q&A
My Experience in Revivalism
Read the Cache Valley Evangelical Statement of Faith
My name is Eli Brayley and I was born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1985. I was born into a Christian family, having parents who are both sincere believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. My earliest memories of life are filled with lots of church meetings and events, happy times of singing with various friends in our home, enjoying but feeling a bit out of place at school, and lots of G.I. Joe wars and Hot Wheels races.
I attended public school and graduated from Fredericton High School in 2003. During those years I developed a love for music, reading and writing. I loved to play soccer. Another thing I loved to do was debate. In retrospect I realize that I have always been passionate about discovering truth and exploring issues people disagree over, believing there are answers to many of the biggest questions of life. Believing in God from a young age shaped the way I thought and lived.
My family attended a large church in the downtown Fredericton area. When I was fourteen years old, our pastor, whom we all dearly loved, suddenly announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and this came as a great shock to me. He had served as the senior pastor for seven years and the church had been greatly blessed. To my young mind, it seemed ridiculous that God would want him to die. I had always believed that God could heal the sick, just as the Bible reveals how God performed many miracles throughout history. I truly believed that God would indeed heal our pastor. It made perfect sense to my young mind: God would heal our pastor and glorify His name throughout the whole city! I was simply waiting for it to happen.
Then one day my dad came home with some bad news. Our pastor had passed away. At first this news did not phase me one bit, for I thought: "No problem! God is going to raise Him from the dead!" This is how strongly I believed that God was going to heal him. But it wasn't long until the reality of the situation hit me, and it hit me very hard, and this was the first time in my life I ever wept over anything of any significance. I felt disheartened and disillusioned. Where was God? Hadn't He promised that whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith? Why then didn't He answer my prayer of faith? Was God lying? Was God even real?
I did not completely lose faith in God, but what little faith I had was brittle and well on its way to being snuffed out. Even though I continued going to church with my family, my heart was not in it, and the next two years of my life, my 10th and 11th grade of high school, were taken up with rock bands, video games, and teenage foolishness. I started pursuing a life for myself without God. I became a regular class-clown who cared little about anything. But then in my sixteenth year God miraculously intervened in my life.
The Atlantic Christian Ashram is an annual 5-day retreat that convenes every summer in the beautiful woods of Berwick, Nova Scotia. Churches from all over the Maritimes gather together for a week of worship, Bible study, fellowship and renewal. Every year a different church is asked to provide child care for the many families with children who will be attending so parents can be relieved to participate and enjoy the retreat. This particular year, 2002, our church was asked to provide that service. Thus my youth pastor organized a group of high school students, and I volunteered to go, not because I was interested in taking care of kids, but because I was interested in spending time with my friends.
One evening, about the middle of the retreat, a friend of mine suggested that we visit a house that was wholly dedicated to 24/7 prayer. I thought it might be a good opportunity to meet girls, so I went. As we approached the house I felt nothing, but the moment we walked through the door and into the large room full of people praying on their knees and crying out to God I was immediately convicted of my sinful state. I knew that my heart was not right with God and that I could not be in such a place without either falling on my face or running out of there as fast I could. I found a little space where I got on my knees and confessed my sins and hardness of heart to Him. I realized that I was the one who was to blame for my callous attitude and not God, and that the Lord was sovereign in all things, even in the death of my former pastor. He has the right to heal or not to heal. I asked the Lord to forgive me and to be a part of my life again. Though I did not hear anything from God, I stood up confident that He had heard my prayer.
When we left the house something amazing happened. Since there are no lights at the campground, it gets extremely dark in the woods, and we had to feel our way back to our cabin through several winding paths (we had no flashlight). As we were going, we passed by two young adults who were behaving strangely. I thought they were laughing in such an unusual and boisterous manner that I quipped something to my friend about them... but he saw differently as he was closer to them when we passed by. "No, I think they are crying," he said. "Should we see if we can help?" Not knowing exactly what to do, we slowly approached them. We did not know at the time, but they were brother and sister, and the sister was trying to calm down her brother who was visibly disturbed and ready to explode. Both were sobbing uncontrollably. After my friend said a prayer for them, without knowing what I was doing I put my hand on the brother's back and commanded the evil spirit to release him in Jesus' name. To all of our surprise the young man immediately slumped to the ground and began to shake until coming to a still. A supernatural peace flooded us. Tears began flowing once again but this time they were tears of joy! We hugged each other, exchanged names, and stood in wonder at what God had just done!
I was completely stunned, and after we went our separate ways I felt like I needed to be alone and pray. So for the second time that night I got on my knees, just off the path, and sat in silence before my God. Though not audibly, I heard God no less speaking to my spirit. He said, "Eli, do you not see that I do miracles? Do you not see that I am in control?" I was overwhelmed by the mercy of God for me. I knew that God was answering one of my deepest questions. Ever since my pastor died I wrestled with the question: does God still heal the sick? Is God even real? It was a tremendous obstacle to my faith. I did not know what this was going to mean, but I pondered it in my heart as my friend and I stumbled over ourselves running through the woods back to our cabin.
My youth pastor's mouth hung wide open as we simultaneously recounted what had just occurred. Not knowing exactly what to do, he said, "There is a healing service at the end of the week... Do you think you should be a part of that?" I didn't want to get involved in anything unless I knew God wanted me to do it. So I prayed about it all the next day. That evening I told my youth pastor that I believed God wanted me to be involved. I asked if my friend who was with me the night before could join me as well.
On the last night of every Ashram there is a healing service when anyone who needs healing is invited to come forward and receive prayer. Eight prayer teams consisting of two people were organized, and my friend and I made the eighth team. They advised that we bring blankets and water as we'd be spending most of the night praying for people. After we sang together and a message was given, people began to line up for prayer. Due to the large amount of people requiring prayer, they placed a person at the head of the line who pointed the next individual to a free team. I remember feeling scared, intimidated and inadequate as the teams were filling up with people. My friend and I were praying desperately for help. I felt like people would not want to be pointed to our team because we were so young (every other prayer team consisted of men and women well over 40, and I was a pathetic-looking teenager with dirty, unkempt long hair down to my shoulders!). I had no idea how to pray and minister to people.
The most extraordinary thing happened when the first person stepped in front of us. Suddenly I believe I was empowered with the Holy Spirit and the only possible way I can describe it is that it was as if a PhD of medicine was suddenly downloaded into me, like in the movie the Matrix. I suddenly felt like I had been doing this my whole life, diagnosing and praying for people. I somehow knew what the person needed even if they told me something else altogether. As we prayed for people that night, my friend exclaimed in astonishment: "Eli! My hands and arms are getting electrocuted!" He felt electric shocks shooting through his hands, but I didn't feel anything. I am certain that many people were healed that night, but one incident stands out to me the most.
A little boy and his sister came forward for prayer. We knew them both from the kids program that week. The boy had brought up his sister for prayer, but his own eyes were severely crossed and he wore big thick glasses. After asking for prayer for his sister, he tagged on at the end, "Oh, and can you pray for my eyes, too?" I remember putting one hand over his eyes and one hand on his heart and saying a simple prayer in the name of Jesus. When I took my hand away I leaned forward and looked into his eyes. He had perfect eyes and I told him so. He walked away with his sister and the next person came forward. I don't think my friend or I even realized what had just happened.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to the kids during our final program. When I saw the young boy I noticed he wasn't wearing his glasses, so I went over to him and asked him, "Where are your glasses?" He said, "I don't need them anymore!" And then it hit me that God had performed an amazing miracle! God had miraculously uncrossed his eyes! I was completely and permanently blown away, and once again fell on my knees in worship to God. He had answered my question forever.
This event when I was sixteen years old totally changed my life forever. There were at least three evident changes that immediately occurred. First, I now had an insatiable desire to read the Bible. I wanted to know this amazing God who worked so wondrously in my life and in others. I didn't like the thought that there were parts of God's Word that I hadn't read (like Ezekiel!). It is God's Word! I started reading the Bible all the time, in the morning, at school, when I was eating, before bed... Nor did I just want to read it, but I wanted to understand it and live it as well. Second, I became more sensitive of my sin. One of the first sins God exposed in my heart was the way I treated my parents. I began to seek how I could actively bless my parents instead of acting the way my society says is normal. I have learned that one of the secrets of a good life is to honor your parents. Third, I suddenly had a desire to share God's Word with others, especially my schoolmates. After the summer, when I returned to school, I was keenly aware that I only had one year left before I would never see many of my friends and classmates again.
I want to say emphatically that it is entirely the undeserved mercy of God that He got a hold of my life and spared me from disbelieving in Him. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that if He had not intervened in my life I would have ceased to believe in God. I would have pursued a life of sinful, self-centered vanity, and I would have gone to hell. The evidence for the existence and power of God in nature is so overwhelming that I truly did not need a miracle in order to believe in God, but in my hardness of heart I was suppressing the truth in my unrighteousness. Had I been allowed to persist in my unbelief, I would have gone to hell without an excuse. But God chose to mercifully arrest my attention. It is all because of the mercy of God and not because of what I have done that today I am what I am. He did not owe me anything but judgment, yet He showed me mercy.
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
However, I want to make it clear that at this point in my life, as profound as that experience was for me, I had yet to be born again. It is one thing to believe that God exists and to experience the miraculous. It is quite another thing to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be saved from your sins. God was truly at work in my life, but it would be nearly five years later until I finally found rest for my soul in the forgiveness of my sins through Jesus Christ.
From that experience at the Ashram forward my heart's sincere desire was to serve the Lord with my life, though I did not have any idea in what way that would be. In 2004 I enrolled at the University of New Brunswick in the Arts program, hoping to graduate with a B.A. as a history major. Though the longer I was in school, the more restless I felt. During that time I read a biography of the famous founder of Methodism, John Wesley. It was in that book that I was first introduced to the idea of open air preaching. George Whitefield, John Wesley and other evangelists spread the gospel all across Great Britain and the American colonies by preaching outdoor sermons to anyone who would gather and listen to them. Something about this struck a deep chord with me, for I knew that the early Christians open air preached (as seen in the Book of Acts) and it seemed to me that this was an evangelistic method worthy of the urgent message that Christians believe. If people are really going to hell without Christ, how could we not leave the four walls of our churches and take the news of Jesus to those who would otherwise not hear? And shouldn't our evangelism be marked by loving boldness, considering the nature of our message? These thoughts made a deep impression on me, but I still did not imagine that I would one day be open air preaching.
It was only after I was made aware that Christians, indeed many Christians, still open air preached today that I realized there was nothing to keep me back from preaching myself. The first time I ever open air preached I was terrified and almost did not do it. I went to the local Farmer's Market, with a milk crate to stand on, and spent well over an hour pacing back and forth, building up my courage to speak, and then backing off in fear. Finally I left the market in defeat. As I was sadly walking away I saw a large body of people lined up along the sidewalk waiting to buy tickets for an upcoming concert. It suddenly amazed me that I was walking toward the line... and what amazed me even more was that I was putting my crate down right next to line... and what further amazed me was that I was standing up on the crate preaching to the people! After this experience I was so excited to preach in the open air and began doing so regularly in the downtown Fredericton area for the next couple years. It was during this time that I started blogging on Timothy Ministry.
On the eve of my twentieth birthday I had this strange feeling that the next year of my life was about to be entirely new and different. Believing it to be from the Lord, yet not knowing what that would exactly looked like, I went into the new year with expectancy. My studies at the university resumed in the winter of the 2006, and yet two weeks into the semester I felt restless, desiring rather to leave school and enter into full time ministry. However I wasn't at all sure what that would be. My parents were concerned about me stopping my schooling, but they were supportive of the idea if indeed the Lord was in it. Thus I canceled my classes not knowing what to do next.
I had the immense privilege of spending a brief amount of time with Stephen Lungu, the president of African Enterprise, when he visited Fredericton at the beginning of the summer. He inspired me to continue open air preaching and prayed for wisdom and direction for my life. After he left I felt sure that at the end of the summer I should leave home. I felt so strongly about it that I actually told my parents, "Mom and Dad, I believe God wants me to leave home at the end of the summer. I don't know where yet, but even if I don't know by the end of the summer I'm going to buy a car, pack my things in it, drive down the driveway and ask the Lord, 'left or right?'" Thankfully that did not happen! Not long afterward I began corresponding with a friend who was organizing two small ministry teams to travel across the United States and preach on university campuses for the entire duration of the following school year. Right away I believed this was God's will for me. After contacting him he said that he too believed God wanted me to be on this trip. So in September of 2006 I flew to Syracuse, New York, to join one of those teams, which consisted of myself and two other young men, and the three of us spent the next seven months driving across the United States together in a large 15 passenger extended van and preaching on university campuses. That school year we preached on over 60 campuses in over 25 States. We became dear friends during that time.
If you were to have seen me during these years, you would have probably concluded that I was a real Christian, even an exceptional one. I was sincere and zealous, earnestly using my time and energy in what seemed like the cause of Christ. I read my Bible much, prayed much, and preached much. I believed in every orthodox doctrine of Christianity - there is one God, manifested in three Persons; Christ is both fully God and fully man, the promised Messiah, Who was born of the virgin Mary, Who died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day; there is heaven and hell, and forgiveness of sins is found in Him alone, etc. - I believed all these things, but I did not believe in God's grace. I did not believe in it, because I did not understand it, and because I did not understand it, I seldom used the word "grace" at all. My Bible reading was focused mainly on what I thought I had to do as a Christian, and my preaching consisted in calling people to repent of their sins and to get right with God through their own efforts. I was self-righteous, judgmental, and was hoping that I was worthy enough for Jesus to save me and give me eternal life. I didn't know God. Every now and again someone would tell me that I didn't understand the gospel, but I just thought that they were the ones who were in error. I was zealous for God, but not according to knowledge.
PEACE WITH GOD
Halfway through my preaching journey I had a crisis of faith which finally led to me becoming a real Christian. As I said, my preaching consisted of telling others to stop their sins in order to be right with God. But the reality was, I was a hypocrite. I was preaching to others to do something that I myself had not done. I would fiercely denounce sins in others, while all along I was harboring the same sins in my own heart, though I hid it from others. I would preach that only those who obeyed God would enter into the Kingdom of God, but according to my own preaching I myself would not have entered in. I was so lost and I didn't even know it. Just as Jesus said of the Pharisees, I looked good on the outside, but inwardly I was full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
At last, during Christmas of 2006, God annihilated my self-righteousness. One night I became so convicted of my sin that I was absolutely certain that I was heading straight for hell. Terror gripped me as I thought about how hypocritical I was to preach to others. The verse in James 3:1 haunted me: "Be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." The reality of my guilt siezed me, so that I truly felt that God would do good by sending me to hell. I was a perfect example of someone who deserved hell. If anyone deserved hell, it was me: I knew so much of the Bible, and so much about Jesus, and I had experienced the miraculous, I knew full well that sin was evil, and I was even preaching to others to be obedient; but I, of all people... I was not only disobedient... I was a hypocrite!
Since my hope of salvation had been that if I were good enough, then Christ would save me, once those illusory thoughts of my own goodness vanished, my hope, like a mirage, simultaneously vanished before my eyes. I was left with despair. I lost my appetite, and my body became physically weak from the stress. I did my best to hide all of this from my family. I lost all confidence of being saved because of my own goodness. I thought to myself: "If I am going to be saved, it will have to be because God has undeserved mercy on me!" This is what I wished, but I had no reason to believe God would do it. I began spending the days crying and praying to God to have this mercy on me. "Oh God, please forgive me!" "Oh God, please have mercy on me!" "God, I don't deserve it, but please save me!" "Please, God, be kind and do something for me that I don't deserve!" But God remained silent. This went on for about three weeks, and I was quickly concluding that God's silence meant that He would not do it. He had no reason to. He would do good by sending me to hell, making me an example of His righteous justice.
Then one night, as I was laying in bed, feeling the full weight of my guilt upon me, the first line of the song "In Christ Alone" passed through my mind. "In Christ alone, my hope is found." It very gently but suddenly dawned on me that in all reality my soul's hope had never really been in Christ, but in myself, and that I had always hoped that I was worthy enough to receive eternal life. Another revelation suddenly swept over me: Christ had died for me while I was a sinner... He loved me even though He knew exactly what kind of person I was, and how unworthy I was. I had always professed that I was a sinner, but when I finally realized how bad a sinner I was I despaired that God loved me. That night I realized that God loved me, a bad sinner, and the cross was proof of that. I had never seen this before, even though I had believed in the fact that Christ had died on the cross for my sins; but I had never truly understood the real meaning of that fact, and what it revealed about God's attitude toward me. That night it was as if the Father gently spoke to me, saying: "Eli, you've been begging me to have mercy on you for weeks, and you've been doing this because you don't even know who I am. For if you really knew me, you wouldn't need to beg."
Suddenly I realized what Christianity is all about. Christianity is not about trying to make God merciful. It is not about convincing God that He should forgive and you and give you eternal life. It is not about trying to be worthy of the blood of Christ. Christianity is about believing that God is merciful, made known to us through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. This is the good news that we are called to believe, and by believing in Him we find rest.
Without any effort, this wonderful news displaced my shame and guilt, and the great burden that was putting pressure on my chest immediately lifted. As the truth of God's grace came in, the fear of hell went out, and I knew I was forgiven. God's forgiving heart toward me was revealed to me from the fact that Christ died for me. I trusted in it and found peace. God counted me as righteous that very night, not because I was a good person, but because Christ had died for my sins, and I trusted in His grace revealed to me through His only begotten Son. This is the good news! "Therefore being justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1)
It is interesting that before I left home to begin traveling and preaching I had a strange feeling that I would ultimately end up living somewhere in the west, even though there was no reason for this to happen.
During our travels two families from Utah began following our updates and took a keen interest in the campus ministry we were doing. In April they drove to meet us when we were passing through Montana (I had already become a Christian by this time) and invited us to come to Utah and preach the gospel in their city. We agreed to come, though it wasn't until the Fall semester of 2007 that I finally made it, for I spent the summer in Victoria, British Columbia, involved in street evangelism. When I came to Utah I had no intention of staying, and every intention of simply passing through. It was here that I met my colleage Brad Scheelke, a dear friend and brother who serves as manager of a Christian literature mission in the city of Logan, and has done so for over 25 years. After the first week of preaching at the university to the 90% Mormon community, we had such a reaction that the front page of the city paper read, "Preacher says: 'Mormonism is not true'"! With so much interest, I felt it would be premature to leave so soon, and we planned an extended tour of multiple campuses in the surrounding area. My initial trip, which was suppose to be only two weeks, ended up being closer to two months, and at the end of those two months Brad asked me to join him on staff at Oasis Books and move to Logan to help with the work of reaching out to the community. Somehow I knew all along that this was home, and that Utah was where God had planned and prepared for me to be.
When I was younger I used to pray to God that I would have nothing to do with Mormons! For some strange reason this was the only group I ever prayed to avoid. I had heard of all the unusual doctrines of Mormonism and based upon that I wanted nothing to do with them. But little did I realize at that time just how similiar I really was to the Mormons. They are seeking to be right with God through their own efforts, and so was I. They do not know God's grace, and are trusting in their own pretended obedience, and so was I. I learned through bitter experience just how like the Mormons I truly was. I believe God was preparing me for ministry in Utah, and was giving me a heart for Mormons that can feel empathy and compassion.
Since moving to Utah in January 2008 and joining Brad at Oasis Books, the ministry has been engaged in rigorous evangelism in the community. Open air preaching, distributing hundreds of books, sharing the gospel one-on-one to hundreds of students on Utah universities and neighboring campuses, handing out tracts, conducting outreaches at local fairs and festivals, teaching and equipping Christians on how to share their faith, and church planting, are just some of the things that are going on by the grace of God. God opened the door for us to film a full season (16 episodes) of a Christian Bible study show for a local television station. Many people who have come to the bookstore have been counseled. Oasis has organized weekly door-to-door evangelism events which reaches different kinds of people from non-Mormons, to bishops and leaders in the Mormon church. We print, publish and give away many tracts, booklets and pamphlets. Bible studies for both youth and adults are held throughout the week. We promote solid Christian books and encourage people to read. Oasis Books provides a safe place for anyone to come and talk, laugh, cry, fellowship, vent, ask questions, receive prayer, and connect with the Christian community in the valley. Most recently we have begun a Sunday morning fellowship where we focus on loving one another in meaningful relationships, expositional preaching, and promoting unity among all the saints in the valley (www.allsaintslogan.com).
At the time of this writing (2010) I am now 24 years old. God alone deserved all the glory for His merciful workmanship in my life; for keeping me back from atheism, and for saving me from the penalty of my sins. He gave me the free gift of eternal life through His Son's death and resurrection, and He will give the same to you. The apostle Paul wrote that "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) Simply believe the good news of who God is. Trust in His love today, no matter how sinful you are. I am thankful to all the people God has used in my life to shape and mold me thus far, and I am thankful to God for His steadfast and constant faithfulness toward me and teaching me more and more the glorious truths of His love and grace. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6) The most exciting thing in the whole world is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Truly Jesus said, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) Thank you, Lord!
If you would like to know more about the ministry in Cache Valley, or if you'd like to ask me any questions, you can contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to help support me, either by giving a one time gift or giving regularly, feel free to contact me. Any help in this area would be a true blessing and greatly appreciated.
Thank you for reading this page. Feel free to write to me anytime, and consider visiting us in Utah sometime. We would love to see you!
Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,