It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity is About So Much More than Going to Heaven When You Die
It's Not What You Think is the upcoming second book from Jeff Bethke. After being a part of the launch teams for his first book and his wife Alyssa's book, I knew I wanted to be a part of this one and continue to help spread the message Jeff has to share. His first book, Jesus > Religion, is one of my favorite books of all-time and helped heal so many wounds from my past, so I feel this sense of utter gratitude for Jeff, his words, and his passion for helping others. As it turns out, though, I'm the lucky one because it feels like such a honor to be able to read this book.
While Jesus > Religion, I thought, seemed mostly geared toward non-believers, this book's message focuses on taking different concepts and ideas and showing believers what they really mean, what God intends them to be. Jeff shows such wisdom in his words, but never once does he sound like a professor lecturing you or take a holier-than-thou attitude pointing out everything you have gotten wrong. His tone is that of a friend, someone who understands where you are but doesn't want to leave you there; he shows love and grace through every word and clearly wants to help his readers understand God's heart more clearly. I would guess that this gentleness in his writing stems from the fact that he didn't go through school to study and teach this; Jeff understands the "normal, average person" because he is just a normal, average guy...who just so happens to have gotten famous from a YouTube video.
In Chapter 6, titled "Worship's Not What You Think: You Become What You Behold," Jeff details the story of breaking his collarbone during a baseball game, and how having his playing career ripped away from him rocked his world. How not being able to play helped him to realize how baseball had become his god, because he saw how his identity was wrapped up in that game and his performance. As soon as he began telling this story, I knew exactly where he was going, and I immediately thought of the fall of 2009, when having those six brain surgeries ripped away my chance to start college. Looking back, I can tell that that hurt so badly wasn't just because of the medical stress, or how desperate I was to start the next chapter of my life; it was because my education was my god. Because of my physical disabilities and health issues, school had always been the one thing I was really good at. I didn't just take pride in my grades; I beat myself up if I didn't do as well as I thought I should have. I would get serious anxiety while waiting on grades over major assignments, papers, or projects. One of my constant goals was to make my mom proud by how well I did in school. So when I didn't get to go to college that August, and when so many near-death experiences made it questionable whether I would ever get to go to college, my identity was torn to shreds. The thing I had spent my whole life worshiping was on the verge of being totally taken away from me. It's only been recently that I recognized this, but now, I can see that God used that time to lead me to the point when I would learn where my identity truly belongs.
Identity is a lesson permeating all the chapters of this book. In Chapter 4, Jeff uses the analogy of a king's guards and his children to help the reader examine who they truly see themselves as. Which picture more describes your relationship with God? Are you terrified you are going to mess up all the time, or are you playfully running around God's throne knowing your dad is the King of the universe? I'm definitely the first one. I've always been the first one, long before I gave myself and my life to God. And I'm still trying to figure out how to change that. But this chapter, and this analogy in particular, really helped me examine my heart in detail and think about why it is I see myself this way, even when I know how God sees me. Jeff references Abraham Heschel on a later page, who said, "The greatest sin of man is to forget that he is a prince." Boom. I've been dishonoring God by treating myself as a broken failure constantly trying to be good enough instead of the creation He made, His image-bearer, a child of the King. I am a princess. There's no arguing with that.
On one page, Jeff explicitly says, "Saying yes to Jesus is just the beginning." I remember the night I became a Christian and got baptized; I'd heard for so long of all the great things that would come once I "got saved" that I thought suddenly everything would get easier and better afterwards...Then I ended up in the hospital two days later. So much for that idea, right? Almost immediately into my life as a Christian, I had to realize that life was still going to be just as hard as before, if not harder; the only difference was that now, I had a new perspective on everything and a new hope to get through it. Three and a half years later, and I still have to remind myself of that lesson and the hope that comes in Jesus in the middle of the darkness.
That brings me to another point that really jumped out at me. In Chapter 4, "You're Not Who You Think," Jeff dives into the meaning of "the wilderness," and the good that can come from that which we see as simply ugly, painful, and broken. (emphasis mine) "The wilderness represented death, ache, pain, no food, and thirst. Yet God said He was going to lure them into the wilderness. There's this romance in that word lure; it's as if God is wooing them into the wilderness. He wanted to speak tenderly to them. God sees the wilderness as a special place between us and him. What if we stopped rejecting it?" That passage right there, that takes every time I've ever pleaded with God to give me a break and make the pain and sickness go away, and makes it seem silly. My friend Taylor once told me that people like him who have lived virtually pain-free lives will be envious of the intimacy with Jesus that I have experienced through hurting. Yet I have spent so much time begging for a way out. Thank you, Jeff, for helping me see that the wilderness can help me see God clearer than ever before.
Then there is Chapter 8: "Brokenness Is Not What You Think: You Must Embrace Your Scars." Oh man. I think I was about three pages into this chapter when I started crying. Scars from my past have always been something I've struggled greatly with. And I'm not talking about my many surgical scars; those have been easy to come to terms with compared to the emotional scars that still sometimes feel so raw and fresh years after the fact. Most of the time, they're healed, they're just scars. You can ask me about them and my past, and I will find great joy in telling you my story because it means I get to tell you about the God who saved me time and time again, how God brought beauty from the ashes of a very broken little girl who thought she had nothing else. But sometimes, talk of the scars seems to rip them fresh open, and guilt, regret, and pain hit me like a tidal wave all over again. Like Jeff, I begin to question why I feel that way when I thought I was healed. There's a delicate balance, because I can't always tell in advance how I will feel if someone asks me a question.
But then I remember the day I met The Vespers, and how it felt to tell my story for the first time. I laid out every detail of my past to a stranger in the middle of the dining hall. How it felt to be wrecked by fear that Bruno would think I was a freak and recoil in horror, but instead to have him look at me with grace in his eyes and empathy and encouragement in his words. That day was when I began to understand that my story wasn't as dark and ugly as I thought it was; from the outside, people could see redemption and strength and miracles. Slowly, I began to understand that, and after I became a Christian, it became even more clear to me. That's why I tell people now that sharing my story is actually really fun for me, not because it gives me an excuse to talk to people, but because I get to tell people about all the amazing things God has done. I get to show people the kind of miracles God can pull off when the world says there's no hope. I get to show people my scars and say, "Look how far God has brought me."
I think the difference between me before talking to Bruno and me after is that I understand now that scars aren't something to hide away. I don't have to pretend they don't exist. Jeff says it so beautifully (emphasis mine). "They tell a story. What's more, after the resurrection Jesus is in a perfect glorified body. (His body is what ours will look like at the end of time when everything is fully restored.) Yet he still has scars. While many of us see scars as a weakness, if Jesus has scars after the resurrection, then maybe they're not. Maybe scars make us truly human. They show we've lived." Thank you, Jeff, for the reminder that the scars of life are a chance to boast in our weakness so that we can also boast of God's power.
Christians, let me say this very simply: You NEED to read this book. It's not that I'm telling you that you should because I like Jeff and I like supporting him. I'm telling you that you need to read this book because there is healing to be found in these pages. We all have scars. We all have identity crises. (At least, anyone I've ever met does.) Jeff's words will help you move past those and dance freely in the person you were created to be: clean, righteous, enough. For me, with this book, Jeff has brought me and my soul back to the heart of who God sees me as and the potential I have as an image-bearer and child of the King of the universe. This book will remind you to slow down in the busyness of life, reconnect with the people you love, and go back and sit at the feet of the One who loves you more than you could ever imagine. It is filled with lessons and a new perspective on what it means to be Christians and Jesus-followers in this world, and how maybe we should be helping bring God here now instead of running from it. I can almost guarantee you that there you have a perspective on and understand of something in this book that will be flipped on its head and be made bright and clear. Things that you may have become complacent in your understanding of, Jeff helps make it clear that It's Not What You Think. It's so much better.
It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity is About So Much More than Going to Heaven When You Die by Jefferson "Jeff" Bethke releases on October 13, 2015. You can pre-order it on Amazon here or at Barnes & Noble here.