Brian Houston is the founder and senior pastor of Hillsong Church, a multisite church with over 90,000 people in attendance each week.
Houston's book, "LIVE LOVE LEAD", has encouraged me in a way that no other book has. Through examples in his own life, Houston opens up in a way that relates to his audience. What God has done in his life is extraordinary, but Houston himself is ordinary, just like you and me. What has made him so successful is his extraordinary faith in a limitless God. From the first page to the last page, it hurt me to put the book down because I was excited to read what he wrote next. This book is very complete, and I hope that you will pick up a copy for yourself. My highest rating to this day goes to "LIVE LOVE LEAD" with a 92/100!
Around this time, people usually make remarks about "the true meaning of Christmas." Most people would say that Jesus is the true meaning of Christmas, but I'd like to go a little deeper because we most often miss what that actually means.
This world was created perfect. Then, sin was brought into the world. This was a HUGE problem. We were now disconnected from God. However, the prophecies said that the Messiah would come and save us from our suffering and turmoil. The people hung onto a promise from Malachi 1:1: "Surely the day is coming." The people struggled in their sin and anxiousness for 400 years, waiting for that day, doubting it would ever come, clinging to their glimmer of hope. But surely enough, God eventually delivered.
The people at that time thought that the Messiah would come as a great political ruler who would crush their enemy (Rome), but really He came as a baby in a manger. This represents the vulnerability of God. THE CREATOR OF YOU AND I AND THE WHOLE WORLD WAS BORN IN A SMELLY MANGER WITH ANIMALS! God went to the extreme point of vulnerability to show us His love for us. In this same way, we are sometimes like the people who think God will come to us a certain way, and we miss the reality of God in our lives if we limit Him to only being in our lives the way we expect Him to. Christmas is about not limiting God to one avenue into your life, but about understanding that He is with you in everything.
Matthew 1:23 says, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). We struggle with our sins, our doubts, our shame, our burdens (especially in this season), but what Christmas is about is not just what Jesus freed you from; it's about this reality: God, who is self-sufficient and doesn't need you, wants you. He came down from perfect Heaven to a sinful earth and chose to die an anguishing death that He didn't have to die, because He cares about you. Although you have pain in your life, your struggles seem too much, temptation seems to be around every corner, you are not alone. GOD is with us. That is Christmas. Let's rejoice.
In his book, "Crazy Love", author Francis Chan explains what it means to not only call yourself a Christian but to actually put your faith into action. Chan explains how God's crazy love calls for a response of obedience and giving from us. I recommend you give this book a read. It offers challenging encouragement that every person can benefit from. 74/100.
This picture is of Levi Lusko and his daughter, Lenya. Levi Lusko's daughter passed away a few years ago due to a very severe asthma attack. She was only 5 years old. You can probably imagine the grief this put Levi, his wife, and Lenya's three sisters through. Levi Lusko is the pastor of Fresh Life Church in Montana. Throughout his book, Lusko communicates a new perspective on death. He teaches the reader to look at death as an arrival rather than a departure. Levi Lusko had special inspiration when writing this book, and you can easily tell as he portrays the vivid emotions of his own experience with death by describing the death of his daughter. If you fear death, are grieving a lost loved one, or are looking for emotional, inspiring, factual insight on the meaning of death, pick up this book: NOW! I thoroughly enjoyed reading each page of this book; it was hard for me to put down. Here's the link to the book I give a well deserved 90/100: http://www.amazon.com/Through-Eyes-Lion-Impossible-Incredible/dp/0718032144
For Christians, going to church is NOT an option; however, that does not make it an obligation but an opportunity. A "Christian" who says they don't need the community of church is like a human claiming that they are still able to live without oxygen: it just doesn't work that way.
EVERY SINGLE professed Christ follower in the early church gathered with a body of other believers on a regular basis. In the New Testament, we don't see Christians saying, "I am a Christian. Okay, I'm going back to my farm now so don't bother me." No, every single person who experiences true grace cannot resist sharing it and talking about it with others, worshiping with others.
The #1 reason people leave a church or neglect going is because someone in the church offended them. That can be supported by multiple sets of research. "I felt judged at the church." "They were telling me everything that's wrong with me." Those are things we often hear people say when they talk about why they don't attend church. Sorry I'm not sorry that this might hurt your feelings: If people in the church seem OFFENSIVE, then you are most likely being DEFENSIVE. If you are approved outside the church and seem judged inside the church, maybe it's time to take a hard look at your life and reverse your behavior. Maybe it's time to shut your mouth and open your ears. Maybe that's what Solomon, the wisest man to ever walk the earth (besides Jesus), meant when he wrote, "Whoever hates correction is stupid." (Proverbs 12:1)
Outside the church there are less consequences. If those in the church really love you, they will correct you. They might not be telling you what you want to hear, but I guess this is why Solomon also said, "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you." (Luke 6:26) Many people who abandon church like to say, "The people in the church don't act nice anyway. They are mean to me and constantly look to judge others." Or something along those lines. Let me explain to you, the (C)hurch is referred to as a body multiple times in the Bible. If I judged every person in this world by looking at their big toe, I wouldn't like a lot of people. In the same way, when you judge the body of Christ off of one person or one set of people, you are judging the church off it's toe--not a very accurate picture of what it actually is. If you don't go to church, then you are judging the body of Christ. And if you judge the body of Christ, then Christ has no place in his heart for you. To get an accurate perception of the (C)hurch, you must look at the whole picture of the (C)hurch : the body of Jesus Christ, which hung on a cross for YOUR sins. So every Sunday morning when you neglect to go to church because of the ugly toes that go there, you are neglecting Jesus' love for you, his body that hung on a cross for your past, present, and future decisions to neglect him.
I recently read both of Jefferson Bethke's books, "Jesus>Religion" and "It's Not What You Think." Jefferson Bethke is a tech-savvy Bible scholar. He speaks at many events worldwide and is very active on social media--especially on YouTube. You can check out some of his work and more about him on jeffbethke.com.
His first book is based off his famous YouTube video, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." "Jesus>Religion" is a book I highly recommend. Although many of Bethke's strongly reformed ideas are highly debatable, this book opens up an entirely new perspective for how to view the Christian faith. I give this book a 82/100 and highly recommend it to all who look for rest in their lives. In his book, Bethke shows you how the grace of God through Jesus provides that rest.
Regarding Bethke's second and most recent book, "It's Not What You Think": I found it very interesting. Interesting is the only way I can describe it. For Biblical scholars like myself, this book opens up discussion over many theories and professed truths in the Bible. However, for those who are just looking for an enlightening spiritual growth book, this book could be a little frustrating. Bethke debates many professed Biblical truths in this book and offers a lot of his own opinion. Although Bethke opened up my eyes to question a deeper meaning to some events in the Bible, sometimes while reading this book I felt as if he was just proving his point rather than encouraging my faith. In some chapters, I felt as if Bethke was saying, "It's not what you think; it's what I think." I give this book a 65/100, but I do recommend it if you are looking for something to debate.
Jefferson Bethke is a great author and has very unique ideas and a special way of sharing those ideas. I look forward to what he does next!
Hunter Kallay, author of "Plug in Your Life." He is a Christian leader and speaker.