Wednesday, March 13, 2013



Every generation of young people seem to go through the stage of pulling away from their faith and religious affiliation. This stirs up a continual fear among parents and religious leaders everywhere. It's natural and has always been a rite of passage for young people, but this time around there seems to be a difference. This time the youth aren't returning back to their religious upbringing and this time many of these youth are expressing an unusual hunger for spirituality, while rejecting the homegrown answers of their childhood.
A few years ago a successful children's filmmaker approached me. He was interested in making a children's video on the Bible and he was told that I would make it all about Jesus. It was a fascinating encounter, forcing me to find out what is happening in religious instruction for children. From my somewhat limited vantage point, all I could see was that we have spent so much time rehearsing the biographical stories out of the Bible, but only inserted Jesus at the "You-all-want-to-go-to-heaven-don't-you time!" So I moved into research mode.

My first sampling was to ask two of my most "churched" grandchildren what their favorite stories of Jesus were. They were 7 and 9 at the time. Much to my surprise, they were stumped for an answer. Then Luke said, "Jesus was born!" "Yes!" I said. Then Luke added, "And we get presents!" Well, he had the right answer, but maybe his application was a little weak. After that outburst, there was nothing more to be added by my two samples.

I moved into gear and told them about Jesus losing his best friend, Lazarus, and then after Lazarus was really dead, Jesus brought him back to life. "And Jesus had his best friend again!" they said. I then made my way into the wedding feast where Jesus turned the water into juice. "Apple juice?" "No, it was actually grape juice." I showed them how much water was used by outlining a room in their house and they were amazed.

After taking this sampling of what is taught to our children, I met with the Children's Pastors of three local mega-Churches. When I asked how much they actually teach the children about Jesus, they all answered, "Every week!" Then as I pressed in on the studies, they all realized as I had that they do not teach much about Jesus at all. It was a shocking moment for us all!

It's no wonder our youth are leaving the Church and not coming back. What are they going to come back for? The re-telling of the old stories? The old stories just aren't enough to hold a person's commitment and devotion. There must be something more.

You see, I think what we've been doing for so long is to teach children about our religious systems, doctrines and traditions, but have left Jesus out of the equation. Oh, we all know Jesus is around. He actually hasn't left the building yet, but there is little to introduce a kid to this amazing and irresistible Jesus. And if a child doesn't get to know Jesus, other than praying the sinner's prayer, that child will not learn to follow Jesus with his life. Why introduce kids to Church or your religious persuasion without Jesus? There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

As I have been writing this book, JESUS PLUS NOTHING, two observations quickly come to mind. First, our children need to get to know Jesus. They are the most receptive to this most authentic person. Jesus even repeatedly teaches that unless one becomes like a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The answer is not to teach our children better or more, so they can defend and propagate their faith. The answer for our children is to be introduced to Jesus.

Second, our children are most indelibly marked by their parents and other significant adults in their lives-not by going to a religious instruction class. Parents can be so critical of the religious institution, yet it is in the home where the most significant lessons of life and of Jesus are taught or not taught. Kids desperately need to see and hear Jesus from their parents and significant adults in their lives. More than anything else, kids need to get the sense that their models are sincerely following Jesus with their lives. It's more than teaching. Jesus is both taught and caught!

If your children aren't sufficiently turned off in the elementary years, there is a significant opportunity for them to be rescued from their wandering from God and satisfying their deepest spiritual longings through an active youth group. It's within this context that there is a greater opportunity to be influenced by others who have come to know Jesus in a personal way and are not boxed into a system of do's and don'ts and religious verbiage that serve to turn the youth away.

If you as a parent, a youth worker, a teacher, a coach, a mentor or a neighbor, join the Jesus movement and embrace "Jesus plus nothing" for yourself, you will be the best answer for the young seekers around you. In fact, when you touch a child with the powerful message of Jesus, you are planting a seed that has the potential to transform a generation. Note that I'm not speaking religiously, but personally. "Jesus plus nothing" is a personal matter. The person is Jesus!



After growing up in a Western Christian culture with lots of love and good Church and family experiences, I met Jesus. He was different than I expected. He was different from the faculty that educated me, different from the religious crowds that flocked around me at speaking events and conferences, different from the many spiritual friends that deserted me during my down times.
Jesus was the one who stayed. He was the one who didn't shake his head in disappointment, didn't turn away in disgust. He is the one who knelt down, picked me up, dusted me off. He is the one who embraced me. It was then I realized that the Jesus I had first embraced was different from the one who was embracing me now.

And I realized something else. That Jesus I could follow. That Jesus I wanted to follow, needed to follow, couldn't help but to follow.

Not the Jesus who is wrapped up in a religious system of do's and don'ts. Not the Jesus who is used to raise money to build more and more buildings or fill the religious treasuries. Not the Jesus who was highjacked for the violent Crusades-persecuting, killing, and even mass murdering Jews, Muslims, all non-Christians, and even other Christians who disagreed with them. Not the Jesus who is embraced by a political candidate or party to impress the people. Not the Jesus who wants you to join his club. Not the Jesus who puts a heavy guilt trip on you for not performing. Not the hell-fire-and-damnation Jesus. Nor the meek-and-mild Jesus.

This Jesus is the one I never really knew. The one without Christian verbiage. The one without religious baggage. The one without self-righteous garbage. This is Jesus plus nothing.

This Jesus is the Jesus that the early followers, called disciples, got to know. For three-and-a-half years they were in an apprentice relationship with Jesus. In their system of education they never made the grade of being chosen by a rabbi to follow in his steps, so they had returned home to work the family business. But this rabbi, this Jesus, this new guy in town, he chooses them to follow him. He picked uneducated, untrained, ordinary men to come along with him and learn from him. In a sense, Jesus chose those who hadn't made the cut, walk-ons, as the team he wanted on the field in the most important game in the history of the world.

From those early beginnings, the Jesus movement continues to be the largest in the world today. This all-encompassing movement consists of people from every culture and religion on the earth-Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Pantheists, Agnostics. When Jesus is not boxed into any religious system or wrapped up in a package marked "exclusive," he has proven to be universally attractive throughout the world. People from every culture embrace Jesus, simply Jesus, whether religious or not.

Take Gandhi, for example. He was so captivated with the life and teachings of Jesus that he became one of the greatest followers of Jesus ever. One of the most common descriptions of Gandhi was that he was so "Christ-like." Gandhi discovered that his cultural background as a Hindu was enhanced by Jesus. "I shall say to Hindus," he once said, "that your life will be incomplete unless you reverentially study the teachings of Jesus. Make this world the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything will be added unto you." Gandhi, whose goal in life was to live the Sermon on the Mount, said, "It was that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me." And, about Jesus' death on the cross, he said: "A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act." And finally the quote that was probably his most famous: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The current Dalai Lama is another example. He has expressed his love and respect for Jesus in many ways and on many occasions. Many of his teachings reflect those of Jesus. As the example and leader of the Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama is called His Holiness, yet he says he is not worthy to even untie the shoes of Jesus. In an OP-ED article for The New York Times, the Dalai Lama wrote: "In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus' acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering."

Both Gandhi and the Dalai Lama revere Jesus as the greatest teacher and example who ever lived.

Looking at the long history of Jewish thought, some of the most prominent rabbis have come to revere Jesus as possibly the most influential Jew who ever lived. Dr. David Flusser, in his book, The Sage From Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus' Genius, broke down many barriers that have kept Jews from studying Jesus. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists in the world said this about Jesus: "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word."

Agnostics are another group of people who have many in their ranks who follow Jesus. In my experience they are perhaps the most open to Jesus when presented without all the religious baggage. Agnostics have a vacuum in their hearts. In my experience, this seems to be a God-shaped vacuum. I continually enjoy conversing with agnostics, once I am able to convince them that I don't want to discuss religion. It seems that this group is better able to view Jesus separated from the religious wrappings. They've already rejected the religious trappings and were left empty. But, when introduced to Jesus without religious baggage, so often they respond by saying: "I can follow this Jesus!"

The "self-help movement" is another group of people who revere Jesus, some going as far as to follow him. Even in our highly educated, secularized society, the principles of Jesus are the basis for most of the self-help and motivational principles. Though they may not use his name, they do use his teaching and his example.

In many ways this is nothing new. Jesus has always worked with people from every culture and found them to be attracted to him. The problem in the First Century was the religious jealousy of the "gate-keepers" of Judaism. When Jesus presented his message of love and compassion to the non-religious and to all other non-Jewish nations of the world, he was resisted, ridiculed, and ultimately rejected.

Yes, Jesus plus nothing-Jesus without religious baggage or boxes-is attractive and can be satisfying for everyone everywhere.