The Problem with Unconditional Forgiveness

I have been teaching on Wednesday evenings this month on biblical forgiveness. You'd think this would be a basic study, but I'm discovering how many Christians and those, like me, who have been raised in churched families have missed some fundamental truths regarding forgiveness. The fact is that all of us come to this concept of forgiveness with preconceived ideas of what is right and fair. When someone questions that which we have held to be true for decades, there may be pushback.

And there has been.

This is not uncommon, but has opened up opportunities for discussion.

I threw out a teaser prior to beginning the study that caused some questions and ultimately led people to want to attend.

I made a statement related to the living church members of the Charleston, South Carolina church who stated that they forgave the murderer, Dylann Roof for killing their family and fellow church members. I stated that while the offer of forgiveness was right and honorable, to unconditionally forgive Roof is actually unbiblical.

That statement caused some to question.

Perhaps they thought I was calling into question the motives of those who offered forgiveness. I was not. In fact, change the story to any other incident where an unrepentant individual was offered blanket forgiveness by the offended or others. I would say the same - that form of forgiveness is not biblical.

As I have studied the Scripture and read works by authors such as Chris Brauns and sermons by men like Milton Vincent, I am convinced that while we are commanded as Christians to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, to equate that forgiveness to be unconditional actually waters down the gospel and opens the door for universalism.

Forgiveness event

Does God forgive everyone?

Simple question, but according to Scripture the answer is NO. God does not forgive everyone. Some live their entire lives never surrendering to Christ and seeking forgiveness of sins. God is prepared to forgive. It is an offer, but it is an "if...then" offer.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

If we confess, or repent of our sins, he forgives. The central character of any forgiveness story is not self, but God. He created forgiveness.

Love is offered unconditionally. Forgiveness is conditional.

Otherwise, everyone's sins are forgiven and ultimately...everyone gets to heaven. That's not Christianity. That's universalism. It feels good, but it eliminates the consequences of sin and the value of God's holiness and love.

Why is this such a hard concept for even Christians to grasp? It is due to a centeredness on self and a idea of "fairness" that does not find biblical anchors. Even I have told people in the past that their forgiveness of others was really more about self-healing than releasing others of guilt. Sounds good, but that statement leans more toward therapeutic help than biblical truth. For that I repent. 

I have posted the first two sessions on forgiveness on our website here and will post the third later this week. As stated earlier, no original material from me. Mostly gleaned from Brauns and Vincent. 

So, from Chris Brauns' book Unpacking Forgiveness (highly recommended) here is the "TRUE OR FALSE" test I offered to our group two weeks ago. See how you do.

FORGIVENESS QUIZ

  1. TRUE OR FALSE – Where deep wounds between people are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment.
  2. TRUE OR FALSE – Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness.
  3. TRUE OR FALSE – Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place.
  4. TRUE OR FALSE – Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met.
  5. TRUE OR FALSE – Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict.
  6. TRUE OR FALSE – A willingness to forgive is a test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies.
  7. TRUE OR FALSE – Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements.
  8. TRUE OR FALSE – There are times when it is wrong to forgive.

ANSWERS:

  1. FALSE
  2. TRUE
  3. FALSE
  4. TRUE
  5. FALSE
  6. TRUE
  7. FALSE
  8. TRUE

Here's more from Brauns on each point...

DEALING WITH THESE BIBLICALLY

  1. Where deep wounds are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment. FALSE

Unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family. While you may move on a particular day, unpacking takes a lot longer.

  1. Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. TRUE

There are some excited about learning more of biblical forgiveness, but others who dread this. There is fear that you will find out what you ought to do and it won’t match what you want to do.

  1. Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place. FALSE

There are profound disagreements about forgiveness among pastors and counselors. Forgiveness is biblical. It is right. No question there. Remember that the choices you and I make regarding forgives shapes much of our lives. That’s why we must consciously work out what you believe about forgiveness and then intentionally put those beliefs into action. It is a process.

How can you know what is right when there are so many opinions being voiced? Examine the Scripture.

Now these Jews (Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. - Acts 17:11 (ESV)

More noble because they examined the Scriptures for truth.

  1. Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met. TRUE

Most people answer “false” to this.

Does God forgive all? No. That’s an unconditional statement. Unconditional love is offered, but not unconditional forgiveness.

We have mixed our definitions and created a false theology with this.

The Bible is full of true stories of people who were not forgiven by God.

Goliath – not forgiven.

And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 1 Samuel 17:57 (ESV)

Revelation speaks of what happens to the unforgiven.

God's forgiveness is conditional. Therefore, our forgiveness is conditional as well.

  1. Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict. FALSE

Matthew 18 – about discipline and conflict resolution.

  1. A willingness to forgive is the test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies. TRUE

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. - Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV)

  1. Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements. FALSE

There are times when good people just can’t resolve differences. What do you do?

  1. There are times when it is wrong to forgive. TRUE

Some say that is a wrong statement. We’ll see why it is not.

Dennis Prager, “The Sin of Forgiveness” – WSJ 1997

The bodies of the three teenage girls murdered by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., were not yet cold before the students of the Christian prayer group that was shot at announced, "We forgive you, Mike," referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the murderer.

This immediate and automatic forgiveness of a murderer is not surprising. Over the past generation, the idea that a central message of Christianity is to forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how great and cruel and whether or not the evildoer repents, has been adopted by much of Christendom.

The number of examples is almost as large as the number of heinous crimes. But one other recent example stands out. In August, the pastor at a Martha's Vineyard church service attended by the vacationing President Clinton announced that it was the duty of all Christians to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the murderer of 168 Americans. "I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and then forgive him," the Rev. John Miller said in his sermon. "I have, and I ask you to do so."

The pastor acknowledged: "Considering what he did, that may be a formidable task. But it is the one that we as Christians are asked to do."

Though I am a Jew, I believe that a vibrant Christianity is essential if America's moral decline is to be reversed, and that despite theological differences, there is indeed a Judeo-Christian value system that has served as the bedrock of American civilization. For these reasons I am appalled and frightened by this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.

CHRISTIANS MUST ALWAYS HAVE A WILLINGNESS TO FORGIVE OR AN ATTITUDE OF FORGIVENESS, BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT FORGIVENESS ALWAYS TAKES PLACE.


The Problem With Gender Neutral Bibles & Gender Neutrality in the Church

Years ago I led our church through a doctrinal study over the distinctives that define us as Baptists. In an age where denominational labels tend to offend or in some cases are avoided at all cost, there is value in knowing and understanding the doctrinal pinnings of one's church. This study led us through our doctrinal statement, known as The Baptist Faith & Message (2000.)

Article I of our statement of faith reveals our understanding of the inspiration and value of the Bible. The article expresses this as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

 As we dug into this teaching on the value of Scripture, it becomes confusing to some, especially in the English-speaking world, as to which version of the Bible should be used. There are some who believe the only valid version to be read, studied and preached is the Authorized King James Version. While I am not one to discount the value of the tried and true KJV, primarily because I grew up, like many of you, reading and memorizing passages from this version. It's a beautiful version and yet, it is often hard to follow due to the changing vocabulary and different meanings of English words from the 1600s to now. As an American with friends from Great Britain, I find that phrases we use have vastly different meanings to them, and vice versa. 

Some have asked why there are so many modern English translations. The simple answer relates to money. Each publishing house tends to own the rights to its own modern translation. Therefore, since Biblica owns the rights to the very popular New International Version, it stands to reason that Broadman & Holman would rather own it's own version for publication, as would Crossway and other publishing houses.

Yet, it is more than a business decision. Sometimes, there are decisions made by translators that seem less connected to history or the oldest documentation and more to swaying with the cultural shifts of the day. 

A movement has continued to grow that seeks to delete all masculine references to God throughout Scripture. On the surface, this may seem to be insignificant.

"It's more inclusive," some would say.

"It's less offensive to those who have difficult relationships with men, especially their earthly fathers," is declared by others.

So, in this age where gender and sexuality are the unavoidable subjects through the media and the amoral revolution continues to occur, I find myself going back to a previous teaching on the value of Scripture and the use of non-gender neutral versions. (The original post from January 2011 may be read here.)

A number of churches are also intentionally moving away from using gender-specific terms. This was printed in a church's bulletin recently and ended up on Twitter. I wish I could say I am surprised, but this is little more than the next step down a slippery slope.

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Why Does Gender in the Bible Matter?

It is my assertion and belief that gender matters in life and therefore within the Bible. Regarding Bible translations, it matters at a deeper level than most realize. 

In an article posted a number of years ago by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (full posting here,) the writer touches on some of the most common translation questions and issues:

In Greek the word aner usually has the sense of husband or man (male human being).3 Until recently, English translations included the male semantic component in translation. But the new gender-inclusive translations show some changes.

In Acts 1:21 Peter discusses the replacement of Judas: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men (aner) who have been with us…" (New International Version [NIV] 1984). But in the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI 1996) and in the New Living Translation (NLT 1996) "men" becomes "one of those" (NIVI) or "someone else" (NLT). The change is theologically significant because it no longer conveys in English the Greek evidence that Peter did not think that a woman could be an apostle. In Acts 20:30 Paul warns the elders at Ephesus about false teachers: "Even from your own number men (aner) will arise and distort the truth…" (NIV). Indirectly Paul indicates that the elders were all men. This theologically significant detail drops out in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993), NIVI, and NLT.

The common thread in the verses above is that they all involved situations where males were examples of larger principles. This is not to denigrate females, for both male and female are made in God's image, unique and special. It was, however, descriptive of the role of the men within the early church.

Another translation issue revolves around the Hebrew word 'ish.

Consider the translation of 'ish. It almost always means "man." It can be used in idiomatic constructions with the sense "each one" (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:3, Job 42:11). The main problem is that gender-inclusive translations eliminate male marking in other passages where they have no lexicographical warrant.

Consider Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers" (NIV). NRSV, NIVI, and NLT change it to read, "Blessed are those who…," or a similar phrasing. The change from singular to plural produces a description that is "less specific…, less easy to visualize." Moreover, with the singular, the reader tends to picture a single man standing against a multitude of wicked people, sinners, and mockers.

After reading Psalm 1, sensitive readers know that it offers the "man" as a representative, an ideal, for men and women. The principle applies to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The semantic component as well as grammatical gender is present for the original readers.

The gender-inclusive translations simply eliminate this semantic component. They contain a formulation that expresses the general principle of equity, and that is part of the point. But they drop one aspect of the meaning, by not expressing the subtle interplay between a male representative on the one hand, and a general principle applying to both men and women on the other.

The writer speaks of the more traditional usage of the word man to describe the entirety of the human race. This, now is not considered politically correct or tolerant.

The biggest issue in removing gender from Scripture is the elimination of the word he.

How do we treat generic "he" in English? Matthew 16:24-26 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (NIV)

The verses contain several occurrences of generic "he," referring back to "anyone." Some people find this usage distasteful, so the NIVI eliminates it: "Those who would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will find them. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" Singulars are converted to plurals, third person "he" becomes second person "you."

Meaning Is Warped

The arguments for eliminating gender is both explicit and implicit. There's no neutral ground in this movement for neutrality. The most dangerous issue is when the meaning of Scripture is warped from poor translators. Though some declare that "all translation is interpretation" the end result is the justification of already held beliefs when seeking affirmation. In other words, it fuels the fire of those who are set on their beliefs, and then seeking to find a verse or passage that affirms their already held beliefs. If the verse is taken out of context, so be it.We've seen this done numerous times. If the verse is mistranslated, all the better. Why? Because the truth in these cases is not that Truth is sought, but justification. This is a dangerous slide.

John 14:23 in the NIV reads, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The NRSV reads, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

The NRSV substitutes plurals for the generic singulars found in Greek and in the NIV. But this results in an unintended ambiguity in the product. The last clause, "make our home with them," has a plurality of people, "them," combined with a single dwelling place, "our home." Conceivably, it might mean that the Father and the Son make a home with each person. But it might also mean that the Father and the Son make a single home with the plurality of people together. That is, they come and dwell with the church corporately. This latter interpretation is closer to the surface or more "obvious" than the first, since it responds to the difference between the singular "our home" and the plural "them." Such a thought of corporate dwelling is genuinely biblical (see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Eph. 2:22). But it is not the thought found in the Greek text of John 14:23. Both the Greek and the NIV picture the Father and the Son making a dwelling with each person, not with the church corporately.

Gender neutral Bibles weaken the Word. They represent poor scholarship at a minimum and the conformation to cultural sensitivities. Do the masculine pronouns really matter? I believe they do, but not because men are better than women or that we are insensitive to the plight of those who have had terrible experiences with men in their lives. They matter because they signify the deconstruction of God's Word which will inevitably end for some with a Bible that looks like Swiss cheese, with holes throughout and passages that only align with our previously understood realities.

The introduction of mainstream gender-neutral Bibles was little more than a foreshadowing of removing gender tags within the church (for some.) The cultural influence within the church is immense and while "neutral" may be the stated goal, "neutered" is the end result of a church that abandons the truth of God's Word.

RELATED: Interview with Dr. Mohler Regarding the Need for Christian Counter-Culture

 

Listing of Gender-Neutral English Bible Translations (Not a complete listing)

  • New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
  • New American Bible (1986)
  • New Century Version (1987)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1990)
  • Good News Bible, 2nd Edition (1992)
  • Contemporary English Version (1995)
  • New Living Translation (1996)
  • Today's New International Version - TNIV (2002)

 


THE SIN OF OUTSOURCING: How "Good" Ministries Are Robbing the Church

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.

As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.

Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.

A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.

GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST

Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.

In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."

OUTSOURCED DISCIPLING

We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.

The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.

While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.

We must live out the truths of Scripture. 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)

This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.

Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.

While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again. 

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CELEBRATING MILESTONES

Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.

If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.

A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.

The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.

Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.

Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:

  • Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
  • Salvation & Baptism
  • Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
  • Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
  • Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
  • High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
  • Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)

At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well. 

WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?

This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles. 

It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.

That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually. 

WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?

More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?" 

In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?

The Gospel is never-changing. 

The Truth is never-changing.

The strategies are always changing.

Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.


Who's Your Jesus?

A few weeks back a friend of mine shared a book on Nook (nice app - you can share books for up to 14 days.) The book is titled Imaginary Jesus and is written by Matt Mikalatos. It's hard to classify the book. It's not really non-fiction. It's not a novel. One reviewer said it was C.S. Lewis meets Monty Python. Perhaps.

The book description on Amazon states this:

Imaginary Jesus is an hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years. Be warned: Imaginary Jesus may bring you face-to-face with an imposter in your own life.

 

Since I haven't had the time to sit and read this book for hours on end, I'll probably end up purchasing it because the free 14-day borrow will end soon. I am about halfway through and I must say the concept of the imaginary Jesus is intriguing. It echoes things I have thought and said for years. I even find myself guilty of creating my own imaginary Jesuses at times.

As a believer, I stand firmly on the Word of God believing that it is inerrant and that the Jesus described within those pages is the authentic man (Son of God & God the Son.) Yet, culture has a way of leading us to re-create Jesus in our own image.

This has been the case for years. That's why the short Jewish man from Nazareth is depicted as a tall, very white, European man, sometimes with blue eyes, in many classic works of art. While it's easy for us to identify these depictions of Jesus to be wrong, it become more difficult to clearly see how the Jesuses we create are just as wrong.

Mikalatos introduces and describes many imaginary Jesuses in his book. You may recognize some of them. 

  • KJJ "King James Jesus" - This Jesus speaks only in King James English. There are many "thees" and "thous" coming from the mouth of this one. 
  • Harley Jesus - This one wears a leather vest and has a tattoo or two. He's not just a biker, he's a "holy roller."
  • Liberal Social Services Jesus - This one has arms and legs and works hard to clean up areas and serve the community, but has no mouth. That's because he never says anything about why he does this. He just lives in the social gospel. There's also a Jesus on the other end that has no arms, but has a really big mouth. All he does is talk down to people, but never serves them.
  • 8 Ball Jesus - This one is like the Magic 8 Ball toy that has been around for years. Ask this Jesus anything and he'll answer like the 8 Ball. It's all chance with fortune like answers.
  • Patriotic Jesus - This Jesus is "red, white and blue" and loves America (more than any other nation) and basically wraps the flag around everything.
  • Political Jesus - Yes, he's exactly what he sounds like. This Jesus is intent on changing the world by electing the "right" people into office. 
  • Testosterone Jesus - This is my favorite. This is the "men's retreat Jesus" who talks grunts like Tim Allen on Home Improvement and spouts lines from Braveheart whenever he gets the chance. "Free-e-e-e-e-e-e-dom!!!!" He also cries alot and tells men to be better husbands and fathers all the time (when he's not quoting Braveheart.)
  • The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses - These guys are basically like the Jesus Seminar, only imaginary.
Buddy christThere are others scattered throughout the book like CEO Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Legalist Jesus, Health Nut Jesus, iPod Jesus, and others. This reminds me of the Buddy Christ from the film Dogma (no I didn't see the film, but I have seen the "Buddy Christ" figure - pictured to the right.) It's funny how Christians were so upset about the "Buddy Christ" imagery and the film (and rightfully so) but many continue to create their own personal caricatures of Jesus.

 

As I read (the portion I had the chance to) this book, I couldn't help but  do a little self-evaluation. What Jesus have I created in my own image? Am I guilty of this? 

Unfortunately, I believe I have been at times, and to be honest, so is just about every believer I have ever met. I guess since we are image-bearers of the Creator, we tend to create. It's just in this case, we create what we feel is right, but it's, oh, so wrong.

The authentic, biblical Jesus does not need to be recreated into our image or for our cultural acceptance. While we lament that many unbelievers truly do not know who Jesus is, the reality is that many church-attenders and "Christians" tend to see a Jesus who is not truly the real deal. Even true believers can slide into this.

While this is not really a review of Imaginary Jesus (I can't review a book I haven't finished,) the subject matter did cause me to question. Questioning is not a bad thing. Isn't it the Truth that sets us free?

So. . .who's your Jesus?

Is he one listed above? Is he the Patriotic Jesus, the Political one, or maybe the Liberal Social Services one? Maybe he's a mixture of some or a creation yet to be listed.

Is He the One revealed to us through Scripture or some other version?

Stick with the real one. You can read Mikalatos' book. It's fun, but I recommend you spend more time in The Book. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.) The truth is there. It's evident who He is, what He came to do and what He is doing now. Don't settle for a cheap imitation.

John 14:6(ESV) 

 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." 


Why The Church Doesn't Need Small Group Leaders

I'm a Sunday School guy. I say that proudly. I grew up in church hearing the message "You grow a church through it's Sunday School." I even focused on Religious Education in seminary because I believed so much in the small group (i.e. Sunday School) model for reaching a community for Christ.

I still believe the small group is essential, but . . .

Things are changing.

I know many cringe when you hear that word in church. It's almost a dirty word for some. . ."change."

For the city_final The truth of the matter is, things are changing and yet, in a world of changes, we hold on to the truth that the Gospel never changes. That being said, we must continually discover the best ways to get this unchanging Gospel message to those who need it most.

By the way, those who need it most are the ones who aren't here every Sunday.

While I still believe the small group is a key to reaching our community, the old model and even old terms may not be best. Let me share something I just read from Pastor Matt Carter of the Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas as they began to discover God's plan for being missional in their city.

We began investigating a new structure for relating to each other and to our neighborhoods, something we called missional communities. We began moving away from a traditional small group model that emphasized church community and evangelism by invitation. While this model continues to be popular at many churches, we saw several barriers in this model that kept us from truly engaging the people of the city who were not from a church background. The very people who needed to hear the gospel weren't able to establish relationships with those who were sharing the gospel.

Existing small group models typically aim for community first, but they often miss the mark and are ineffective at fostering either mission or community. Yet when they aim for mission first, they are effective at fostering mission and developing organic forms of community. When community was the focus, mission and community both suffered. But when mission takes priority, community naturally follows.

Interesting.

We decided that since disciple-making is best done by missionaries who are living out the Great Commission to specific people, we needed to redefine the identity of our community leaders, seeing them as missionaries rather than small group leaders.

(For the City by Patrick & Carter, p. 120)

When I read this, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. Community missionaries rather than small group leaders. Wow! I know it's just a term, but it redefines what we do completely. In fact, it's biblical. This doesn't mean that we disassemble the Sunday morning small group ministry, but it does mean that our leaders need to begin thinking of themselves as community missionaries. Look at it this way - if you are a leader in a married adult class for 30-40 year olds (I know the ages don't mean much around here, but you get the picture) then in a real sense, you have been called out to be a missionary for every married adult in our community in that age range. In the past, leaders just saw their "flock" as the group that showed up on Sunday. The emphasis was getting through the lesson on Sunday and maybe organizing the obligatory "fellowship" complete with BBQ and games for the kids every month or so. That's all good. . . .it's just doesn't have much to do with Kingdom growth.

This concept is still ruminating in my mind, but I'm excited about this. This moves our structure into a missional mode. However, names don't mean much unless the vision is understood.

Our ministry is like bifocal lenses - able to see far away and close up at the same time. The larger portion of the lens is the "far away" portion. In other words, the priority of our small groups must be outward mission first, then inward care. Too often we swap these.

Many churches will never get this. The jury is still out as to whether we will. The times, they are a changin'. I fear that what Ed Stetzer said is true, "If the 1950s ever come back, the SBC church is ready."

We must be a church in our time, for our time, for the glory of God.

Interesting. . .and exciting.


We Were All POWs

I am currently in Americus, Georgia. I am leading a group of our senior adults on a trip to some sites up here nearby. Yesterday, we left early from Orange Park and arrived a little after lunchtime at Andersonville. While some in our group have been here before, the vast majority have not.

Andersonville, Georgia is the home of the National POW Museum and a National Cemetery. If you travel on I-75 in Georgia, you may have seen the brown sign showing an exit leading toward Andersonville. If you're like most, you just drive by. Click here for the National Park Service info regarding this site.

Andersonville is not close to the interstate. It's a bit of a drive.

So, why did the federal government put the National POW Museum so far off the beaten path? 

DSCN0070 Andersonville is the home of formerly named Camp Sumter - the largest Civil War era POW facility in the nation. In this Confederate camp, that existed for only 14 months, over 43,000 Union soldiers were confined. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. The camp was not a prison as many would imagine, but an open air 26 1/2 acre stockade with a 16 foot log wall surrounding. While the walls no longer exist, a portion of the stockade has been recreated to help visitors imagine the setting. Today, it's a grassy hill with a few large trees growing in one corner, complete with monuments from northern states commemorating their war dead. At the time the prison was active, there was no grass, just red clay and sandy ground with a trickling stream running through the middle (which was the only source of water, and also served as the public toilets.) 

In 1970 the legislature established Andersonville as a National Historic Site. The goal was to create at the park a museum that would "interpret the role of prisoners-of-war camps in history" and "to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps." This museum is wonderfully designed and takes the visitor through the plight of POWs in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm (expansion to cover stories from current wars is in the works.) The features of this museum are interactive and very emotional. 

DSCN0045 As we walked through the museum, toured the prison grounds and the National Cemetery, the sobering reality of the depravity of man is very clear. I heard some of our seniors saying things like "It's hard to believe that man can do this to other men." 

We discussed how this relates to the larger story. In a sense, every person on the planet is a POW, being held by the Enemy in a prison of sin as the great spiritual battle continues. The sad thing is that most do not even realize they're being held prisoner. Once a person surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepts Him and his substitutionary atonement, he/she is rescued from prison and set free (see Galatians 1.) This is true liberty.

In the museum, there are a couple of short films shown. One titled "Echoes of Captivity" we have shown at our church in the past. Yet, every time I view it, I tear up. The personal stories of men (and one woman) who have served in the American military and have been held captive (some for almost a decade) as prisoners-of-war are incredibly moving. Perhaps the most moving portion of the film is when the former POWs describe the day they were liberated. Some are sharing of an event that took place decades earliers, but the tears start flowing. 

These reunion stories of former prisoners and family are incredible. The joy that is described is overwhelming. The images of these men (and woman) stepping out of planes to be greeted by spouses and children will bring a tear to one's eye. 

DSCN0088 We are reminded as believers that heaven rejoices when one soul is saved. I think perhaps this rejoicing resembles these images somewhat (but on a much larger scale.) The rejoicing that takes place when a child who has been held, unknowingly, as a POW in the real battle is liberated and set free. Now, that will bring a tear of joy to your eye. . .or at least it should.

So, this started as a trip to a historic site and has become a great illustration of God's great love for us. I guess it's true. . . everything's spiritual.

He who has ears to hear. . . listen.


When a Royal Marries a Commoner

William-and-kate-kiss This morning all around the world, millions of people gathered in front of their television sets, computer screens or smartphones to view the wedding of a Royal to a Commoner. The vast majority of people watching this event and taken by the splendor of the wedding have absolutely no connection whatsoever to those being married. In fact, most are not even residents of the realm of this royal family.

Yet, people watched.

News reports were aired live globally.

Merchants were and are making quite a bit of money off this wedding.

Of course, I'm talking about Prince William and Kate (oops - she's now only known as Catherine) Middleton.

This brought to mind another wedding. One that seems supernatural and almost like something from a fairy tale. It's hard to get our heads around it because, according to the story - we (Christians) are in this wedding.

In John's vision as recorded in Revelation 19, he saw and heard multitudes praising God because the wedding feast of the Lamb - literally "the marriage supper" - was about to begin. Of course, wedding customs in the days of John and other first century Middle Easterners is much different than our Western customs. 

According to the description on www.gotquestions.org, there were three major parts to the wedding customs of the day. First, a marriage contract was consummated between the parents of the bride and groom. The parents of the bride would pay a dowry to the groom or his parents. This was the betrothal period. In some countries, this is still the practice today. This was actually the period that Mary and Joseph were in when she was found to be pregnant with the Son of God.

The second step normally took about a year later (so much for quick engagements.) The groom, accompanied with his friends, would go to the bride's house at midnight by torchlight and parade through the streets. The bride would know this was going to happen and would be ready with her maidens. They would then join the parade and end up at the groom's home. Jesus spoke of this in his parable of the virgins in Matthew 25. It's also a picture of the "thief in the night" coming to receive his bride.

The third step was the wedding supper. This event could go on for days. You can get a picture of this in the story of the wedding in Cana as shared in John 2.

So, back to John's vision.

In this vision, he sees a wedding feast. This was a common scene during John's day, but in this vision, the bride and groom were unique. The groom was a Royal - a King. The groom was Jesus. The bride was a commoner - His church. I have to be honest, this illustration always confused me, because I never saw myself as a bride (still have a hard time with this.) However, as I have discovered the "rescue" motif of the Gospel, and realized that we (humanity) are the ones being rescued - with our hero, Christ Himself, coming to receive us . . . just like a thief in the night . . . the story begins to resonate.

The wedding feast of the Lamb is this third phase as described above. This means that the first two phases have already happened.

Phase One was consummated on earth when we, as invidual members of the Church, the body of Christ, placed our faith and trust individually in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. There was a dowry paid. This dowry, paid to the groom's father (God), would be the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross on behalf of the Bride (that's us - remember, it's a debt we cannot pay.) Now, the Church would belong to Christ in the sense of betrothal and, lie the wise virgins in the parable, all would be watching and anticipating the return of the groom.  This is the Second Coming.

Phase Two is the rapture of the Church that will happen when He returns. The Bride (us) will be taken to the Father's house. 

Phase Three, and this is the good part, is the marriage supper.  

Wow!

This marraige supper includs not only the Church as the Bride of Christ, but others as well. The "others" include Old Testament saints who are going to be raisd at the Second Coming. Also, the martyred dead of the Tribulation who form the "multitude" will be there. 

The angel told John to write this. . .

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:9 ESV)

You may not have received your invitation to the wedding in London, but guess what? You've been invited to this one. . .and it's really a bigger deal.


What Are You Crying About?

Funerals are scenes that most people like to avoid. I've talked to junior high students in my Friday morning group who have never even attended a funeral. In the past, when families were more closely knit and communities were tighter, funerals were events that would shut down the entire community and all family members would attend.

I've attended my fair share of funerals, even before becoming a pastor. It's been said that a church's theology is best stated at funeral services. This is true. What we believe about heaven, hell and life and death is best explained at these services.

This being the day before Easter, there is the natural remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. The story of the tomb and the burial, the Roman guard being posted, Judas committing suicide and the delayed preparation of Jesus' body due to the Sabbath restrictions are all part of this study.

At most funerals, even when the eternity of the deceased is secured in heaven, the depth of grief results in mourning and tears. 

I recently read where in many countries, professional mourners fill the gap on these days. In Guy Kawasaki's book on leadership and vision titled Enchantment, he uses the example of professional mourners in a section titled "Provide Social Proof." He states. . .

Families pay women to mourn at funerals in cultures all over the world. I posted a message on my blog asking for verification of this, and my readers told me this happens in Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India, Spain, Lebanon, China, Romania, Malaysia, Serbia, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, there are even two tiers of pricing: With and without tears! (Enchantment, 73)

What a strange concept. Kawasaki goes on to say that these women provide proof that the deceased was loved and will be missed.

This is a foreign concept to many of us in the West. Here, funerals tend to be attended by family and friends, maybe some co-workers and sometimes neighbors and community members. All attend to show support for others (perhaps the family members) or to honor the memory of the deceased.

I found this clip from 1963 of professional mourners in Sardinia. It just seems so strange to me. . .

This practice is also mentioned in Scripture at times. 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skillful women to come;" (Jeremiah 9:17 ESV)

Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation," (Amos 5:16 ESV)

We also see the professional mourners alluded to in the account of Christ's raising the little girl from death in Mark 5.

What does it mean to mourn?

Christ death The dictionary states that it is to feel or express sorrow or grief for the dead and to show the signs of grieving.

I'm sure, as accounted for in Scripture, the professional mourners and those truly saddened by the death of Christ were lamenting and wailing the death of Jesus. Some did this in hiding, for fear of being crucified themselves. The time following the death of Christ must have been the lowest for those disciples who had followed Him for up to three years. The questions about life, the Kingdom of God, the full grace of God offered and all that Christ taught must have been innumerable. There was a great emptiness in the world and in the hearts of these followers.

The three days since the crucifixion must have seemed like an eternity. 

I'm sure tears were flowing, wails were loud, clothing was torn and tempers were probably flaring. 

Then. . .the day of resurrection came. 

We often talk of the day of the crucifixion (celebrated on Good Friday, but as noted in a previous post, could have been on Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.) We focus, rightly so, on the morning of resurrection. But, what about the days in between?

As a believer have you ever felt confused? Scared? Unsure? 

That's what these bold men and women of God were experiencing. Why? They didn't see the full picture yet. They didn't understand the fullness of God's grace. 

Then, Sunday came.

Perhaps this is what you need. Maybe you're a believer, but you feel disconnected. I meet many that feel this way. They've forgotten the bigger story. They've found themselves mourning. . .but not knowing why. This weekend is a great time to re-boot. To re-focus on what the story is truly all about. To realize that the story isn't over. Christ rose again, defeated death and is alive today. . .to glorify the Father and allow us the great opportunity to live.

The mourners tears were transformed into joy the moment they saw Jesus. Maybe you just need to see Jesus clearly today?

Are you mourning? Remember what Christ said here. . .

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4 ESV)

How can you be blessed for mourning and find comfort? Those who mourn and recognize the depth of their depravity and needs will be comforted by the grace-giver. The life Christ offers and the message of the gospel is the comfort needed. The disciples mourned and were comforted by God Himself. That, too is our story. In Him, you find peace.


For Whom Did Christ Really Die?

The answer to the question in the title seems obvious doesn't it?

I have heard growing up, over and over again, that Jesus died for me. That's what's taught and preached in churches throughout the world. I've even shared this when talking to people about surrenduring their lives to Christ.

The discussion came up among our pastors yesterday during our weekly staff meeting.

Jesus_on_cross_crucifixion-full So, here's the question - "Did Jesus really die for us?" Sounds almost heretical, doesn't it? For those of you, like me, who have grown up in church and have heard sermon afer sermon and maybe even special guest evangelists who have shared the wonderful redemption available in Christ, the message is clear - "Yes, Jesus died for us!" Really? Is that the reason He died? Primarily?

The answer to this question is vital for the Christian. We have to understand this. I've heard the answer to this question goes back to an obstacle that we all face. It's about mindset. The mindset is either defined by nature or the Bible. Some, like John Piper, call it the battle between the secular mindset and the biblical mindset.

The problem is that often people don't realize they have a certain mindset until they are confronted with the other. Even church attenders and Christians often drift naturally to the secular, and that's the problem. Your mindset determines how you see the world, how you interact with others, and as Christians, how you share the truth of the Gospel.

The secular mindset is man-centered. Mankind is placed at the center of reality. Everything revolves around man. This is akin to the ancient scientific belief that the universe revolved around the earth. Galileo found out how centric this though was to the church when he proposed that the earth as not the center of the universe. It's natural, our inclination is the center everything around ourselves.

In this mindset everything starts with man. The world and the culture affirms this. Marketing agencies feed on this. The mindset drifts into our faith as well.

This leads to an evangelism strategy that states "Jesus died on the cross for you."

Scripture seems to affirm this. . .

For God so loved the world [mankind], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

These verses are absolutely, unequivocally true and inerrant.

I'm sure I've ruffled some feathers here.

Make sure you don't hear what's not being said. Jesus' death and sacrifice on the cross was essential for the salvation of mankind. He did die as a blood sacrifice, as payment for our sins. The shedding of His blood was essential so that we could receive forgiveness of our sin through the grace of God. So, in this sense Jesus did die for us.

The issue is the primacy of the sacrifice.

Some Christians who live with a secular (i.e. natural) mindset accept Christ's death and pray to receive Christ, but because they are still self-centric in their mindset, they do not see the purpose, or the next steps of fulfilling God's plan for their lives. They have punched their "Get out of hell" cards and are stagnant in their faith. This may be the church's fault due to lack of discipleship. It may be a poor understanding of the sanctification process.  Nevertheless, churches are full of people who feel this way. A spiritual rut is the result. Churches may be  just "doing ministry" and going through the motions and members who are nominal Christians, at best (even if there is such a thing as nominal Christians) find they do not understand what God desires. God is therefore relegated to just another "thing" in life and the secular mindset continues.

Do we perpetuate this in the church? Absolutely. When we design ministries and programs for us, we fuel this. When we are more focused on our own comfort or desires, we grow this. When church becomes a club, the pews are filled with secular members.

The answer to the question regarding the cross reveals what mindset we have. 

So, what's the answer to the question about Jesus' death?

If Jesus didn't die for us, primarily, for whom did He die?

Check out this passage in Romans. Remember, it does not in any way contradict the previous passages posted or any other Scripture. It just clarifies this topic for us.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he as passed over former sins.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 (ESV)

This passage shows that the death of Jesus on the cross was needed for the reconciliation with the Father. Yet, you can see a different focus here. The primacy of the cross is evident. Christ died, just as with everything else he did in his life here on earth, to primarily bring glory to the Father.

God is the center of the story, not man. This great rescue that we're celebrating this week as we study the crucifixion and the resurrection were necessary to bring us to the Father, but what ultimately occurs in this is that God is glorified. 

The biblical mindset recognizes God as the center of reality. All things flow from Him. He is the center. He is the key, not us.

Christ died to bring God glory. God is glorified through the death of Jesus on the cross. Christ is glorified when we are brought into relationship with Him as children of grace.

Do words matter? Yes, they do. I know this because I often use the wrong ones. 

Can people understand this? Does this change how we share Christ? Not necessarily, but it should affect our starting point. 

Here's the reality - everyone comes to Christ for selfish reasons. We all come to him for what he offers - rescue from hell. The problem is when we never move beyond the selfishness.

We (pastors, teachers, parents, friends, etc.) have to consistently state that God is the center. He deserves our worship. All that we do is to bring him glory. Otherwise, we're teaching one gospel to children and new believers and another for adults and those who have been in church for a while. 

Jesus Christ died for the glory of God.


Does It Matter Which Bible Translation You Use?

We are working through a study of doctrine on Wednesday evenings titled "Foundations of Our Faith."  One of the foundational issues that we cover is the inspiration, inerrancy and worth of Scripture.  Our doctrinal statement on the Scriptures states this. . .

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation. (Baptist Faith & Message, 2000)

Every so often I will have church members and attenders ask what English translation of the Bible is best.  This is sometimes asked with a sincere desire to know which Bible to purchase and study.  Sometimes, it's a test to see if I will say the version that the questioner likes.

Regarding English translations, it seems that a new one is available just about every couple of years.  If you go to the local Christian bookstore, you will find a wall of different translations in a variety of styles and with different features.  The marketing of the Bible has become big business.

While it is still the best selling book in the United States, it may also rank as one of the least read.  However, when studying the Bible, it is wise to have a good translation in hand.

There are primarily two types of translations of the Bible available.  One is a "word for word" translation that seeks to be as literal as possible with regards to the original languages of Greek and Hebrew.  On the other end of the spectrum is the "thought for thought" versions which seek to maintain the ideas of the original texts, knowing that sometimes the original Hebrew and Greek words do not translate easily into English.

Some Bibles available aren't actually translations at all.  They are paraphrases in modern language, which are fine for personal reading to better gain a grasp of what is being said, but should never be used as one's primary Bible for study, teaching and research.

Translation-continuum

Yet, this still may not answer the question "Which translation is the best?"

Let me highlight some of the features of translations most often used by those in our faith family.

KJV - The King James Version:  Well, this is the gold standard for English translations it seems.  It's also the translation that most adult believers grew up reading.  This is a big year for the King James Version. This is the 400th anniversary of this 1611 edition.  You'll notice that on the continuum, it would be classified as mostly a "word for word" translation.  It presents beautiful language, with all the "thees" and "thous" and Old English terminology.  There is great beauty in how this version is presented and while I do not preach from this version, I believe it is a good translation.  I, however, am not one who would be a "KJV only" Christian as some are.  The old joke was "If the KJV was good enough for Paul, then it's good enough for me."  There has been and will continue to be debate among Christians about the King James Version.  The reality is the antiquated language is often difficult for new believers to understand.  Some words are no longer in use in the English language.  Then, there's the constant debate on better understanding of the original Greek texts.  Nevertheless, this posting is not to be a debate on the King James Version.  I personally do not believe it is the best or only valid translation available, but I certainly would say that if the KJV is the Bible you grew up with and you love it, then read it.  The KJV certainly has served a great role in the church for the past 400 years and we are to be thankful to God for it's availability.  (It's also a public domain translation, not owned by any one publisher, so it remains the most widely distributed version.  Just ask the Gideons.) The King James Version is presented at a 12th grade reading level.

NASB - New American Standard Bible:  Other than the Interlinear Greek/Hebrew Bible, the New American Standard is the most literal English translation on our continuum.  My first study Bible was the NASB and I love it.  While preserving the literal accuracy of the 1901 American Standard Version, the NASB has sought to render grammar and terminology in contemporary English. Special attention has been given to the rendering of verb tenses to give the English reader a rendering as close as possible to the sense of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. In 1995, the text of the NASB was updated for greater understanding and smoother reading.  It is not the easiest to read, however, and is presented at an 11th grade reading level.

ESV - English Standard Version:  This is the version I have recently begun using in my preaching and studying.  The English Standard Version stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The goal of the translators has been to carry forward this legacy for a new century.  To this end each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text. The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. Archaic language has been brought to current usage and significant corrections have been made in the translation of key texts. But throughout, the goal of translators has been to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of the church over the last four centuries.

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. It seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

NIV - New International Version:  This is the most popular English Bible version other than the King James Version.  A self-governing body of fifteen biblical scholars, the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) was formed and charged with responsibility for the version, and in 1968 the New York Bible Society (which subsequently became the International Bible Society and then Biblica) generously undertook the financial sponsorship of the project. The translation of each book was assigned to translation teams, each made up of two lead translators, two translation consultants, and a stylistic consultant where necessary. The initial translations produced by these teams were carefully scrutinized and revised by intermediate editorial committees of five biblical scholars to check them against the source texts and assess them for comprehensibility. Each edited text was then submitted to a general committee of eight to twelve members before being distributed to selected outside critics and to all members of the CBT in preparation for a final review. Samples of the translation were tested for clarity and ease of reading with pastors, students, scholars, and lay people across the full breadth of the intended audience. Perhaps no other translation has undergone a more thorough process of review and revision. From the very start, the NIV sought to bring modern Bible readers as close as possible to the experience of the very first Bible readers: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. With this clarity of focus, however, came the realization that the work of translating the NIV would never be truly complete. As new discoveries were made about the biblical world and its languages, and as the norms of English usage developed and changed over time, the NIV would also need to change to hold true to its original vision.  The NIV is presented at a 7th grade reading level.

HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible:  This is our Southern Baptist translation and is Very good. (the updated version of this translation is the CSB.) After several years of preliminary development, Holman Bible Publishers, the oldest Bible publisher in America, assembled an international, interdenominational team of 90 scholars, all of whom were committed to biblical inerrancy. Smaller teams of editors, stylists, and proofreaders then corrected and polished the translation. Outside consultants contributed valuable suggestions from their areas of expertise. An executive team then reviewed the final manuscripts.

The HCSB uses optimal equivalence in translating. This approach seeks to combine the best features of both formal (word for word) and dynamic (thought for thought) equivalence. In the many places throughout Scripture where a word for word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. In places where a literal rendering might be unclear, then a more dynamic translation is given. The HCSB has chosen to use the balance and beauty of optimal equivalence for a fresh translation of God's word that is both faithful to the words God inspired and "user friendly" to modern readers. This translation is presented at 7th grade reading level.

OK, these are descriptive terms about some translations.  Others are good as well such as the New King James Version and even the Revised Standard Version, but what about all the others.

GENDER NEUTRALITY IS AN ISSUE

Many newer translations have bought into the politically correct rhetoric and therefore have determined that it is better for the Bible, in an attempt to be inclusive (which it is anyway), must remove masculine references. This is a problem.

In an attempt to be all-inclusive, neutering the Bible of gender renders it watered-down and in some cases totally wrong.

While there are times when it would be appropriate to change the word "man" to "people" in a verse (only when the original text shows that to be a more reasonable translation) many of these translations have gone overboard and have sought to remove all gender.  This results in verses not saying now what the original intended, removing characteristics from God and Jesus that are essential to understanding the Word, and not being all-inclusive, but rather removing the individual need for a response to the Gospel.  

The first gender -neutral English translation to hit the mainstream was the 1979 New Revised Standard Version (NSRV).  Others have followed suit, such as the New Century Version (ncv), Contemporary English Version (CEV), New Living Translation (NLT), Today's New International Version (TNIV), the International Children's Bible (ICB), and the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI)- sold primarily in Great Britain.

So, this being said - a gender-neutral, thought for thought translation is not one that I would recommend.  Below is a chart that will show you some comparison data regarding translations.

Bible Translation Chart (1)-1
Click the chart above to open a larger version.

Does it matter which translation you use?  Yes.  I study the ESV and use that translation in my sermon preparation.  However, I like the NASB and HCSB as well.