by Jeremy Braley
This past Sunday our senior minister, Brad Wilson, continued in our current Stop teaching series with a message about the idols we all deal with in our lives. If you missed that teaching, you can check it out here.
I know something about idolatry, and I’d like to share with you part of my personal testimony. If you’ve been coming to Christ’s Church for a while, or if you watch our weekend experience services that we stream online, you may know me as “that cruise ship performer who started singing at the church a few years ago and is married to Paige” (who is way better than me). While that’s definitely part of my story, that’s not who I am. Today I want to share a little of the journey of who you see before you leading our worship every weekend—what got me here, and how God has worked in my life.
His Goodness and Mercy
I’ll spare you all the boring details, but I think it’s important to share that I grew up in an unbelievable family, right up the road in Loveland. My parents are amazing, and I have an awesome older sister. My dad was the pastor at a small Church of Christ (that’s right, no instruments and singing a cappella from the hymnal); and that was my life for many years. Our family lived in the parsonage, and we were always in church—Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings. As a child growing up in that small church, I was the star pupil. I knew more Bible stories than anyone else and even once from memory was able to put all of the books of the Bible in order alphabetically.
But everything changed when I turned sixteen years old, and a couple of idols came into my life. I experienced my first party and on top of that I started getting attention for being a pretty good singer. My life quickly changed from being a devoted preacher’s kid to only showing up on Sunday mornings to appease my parents. I never quit believing in God and Jesus if anyone asked, but I definitely was not following them in my daily life. This continued through college and into my performing career at theme parks.
If You Knew Me Then
I can tell you that from about 2008—2014, all I cared about was where the party was, and how can I could get people to praise me. I idolized this life of fortune and fame and loved the attention. It fueled me. It was my compass. It was the basis for how I made decisions and every action I took. In that process I was doing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing and I was hurting a lot of people along the way. It felt good, and it felt fun. That became my identity. That became who I was.
My unbelievable wife Paige entered the scene in 2014 and I began to clean up my life a little. I no longer cared about the parties, but by this point all I ever could think about was getting that next hit of affirmation from being a performer. We landed our dream job of performing together out at sea on a cruise ship. Seems perfect, right? While I will never talk poorly about the amazing blessing it was for us, it didn’t help my mental state. It was a cutthroat industry in which all anyone seemed to care about was how talented you were and how good you looked—and that’s how they judged you. That’s how they decided which ship you got to sail on, and which shows you got to perform in. Paige and I were placed on a “starter” ship to see if we could even handle it. But that wasn’t good enough for us.
So, we started going through what we call the “system.” How could I look better? Oh, just go to the gym for hours upon hours and do rigorous shows and make sure you’re eating as little as possible while doing so. It actually worked. We worked our way up, but at what cost? By the time our fourth contract rolled around I had lost myself. I was more depressed and anxious than I’d ever been and never felt like I would ever measure up to take that final step in the company.
The Old Became New
At the point when I thought there was no return, guess what happened? Enter Jesus. Paige had an unexpected death in her family, and it pushed her to seek out a church while we were home for five months. We were invited to Christ’s Church by her aunt and uncle, Jan and Carl Dobkins. Paige literally had to force me to get out of bed and walk into the church building.
I sat down in the very room where I now get to lead worship, and the worship music started. “WHOA, what is this?” Something happened to me in that very instant and tears immediately broke through and were gushing down my cheeks. I now know that was the beginning of my chains breaking. I left that Sunday still not 100% convinced, but God was ready to move. Through a crazy turn of events I ended up here Sunday after Sunday and before you know it, I was singing on stage for a Christmas Eve service. I started to remember why I loved singing. I started to sing again with a purpose. Paige and I left on one last cruise ship contract and it was the best contract of my career, because Jesus was now at the center. I no longer worried about the comparison game or chasing affirmation. Instead, I was able to focus on the relationships that were built and loving people around me.
I have been blessed now to be on staff at Christ’s Church in Mason for a little over three years. In that time, I have come to realize that even though I grew up in the church, I didn’t actually know Jesus. I am still to this day getting to know him on a much deeper level—but man, how my life has changed! I no longer am defined by the choices I made, the things that I did in those times. I get to use my gifts now to HOPEFULLY spark that same feeling I had a few years ago in someone else who walks into our building. I am still broken, but I am wonderfully made. I am a child of God, I am so loved, and I am free.
Perhaps you feel like that today. You feel like you don’t have an anchor, you feel like you don’t have a compass. You may feel ashamed of what you have done and who you have been. Well, I speak from experience—that’s not how it has to be. Jesus is waiting. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar. He just wants to have a conversation with you. He wants your heart. Maybe today is the day to get to know him better.
This verse in the Bible reminds me what my journey with Christ is about these days:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
A song simply titled “Mercy” was released a few years ago that I have never felt so connected to. Give it a listen today and thank our Lord for his amazing mercy in your life:
Jeremy Braley is the music director at Christ’s Church. He is an avid Cincinnati Bengals fan and he and his wife Paige have two lovable dogs, Burrow and Chase.