The Watching World

The World Is Watching

People are watching folks who follow Jesus.  They see what we are doing.  They’re watching how we live.  They notice us.

Why does this simple fact — that the world is watching — matter?

Well, it matters because our words communicate some but our lives speak much more.  Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, has studied this matter a lot and has determined that 93% of communication is nonverbal (body language, nonverbal vocal cues, etc.).  That’s crazy!

Think about that for a minute.  What we do and how we do it communicates a ton, way more than our actual words do!

So what does this mean?  Well, this is not a call to legalism.  You may be thinking, “But if what we do matters to people, then shouldn’t we always behave uber-properly, so that they get a good view of Jesus?

Here’s my short answer: “No” and “Yes.”

Here’s the longer answer: “No” because if we get focused on the details of doing what we think is right (or what we’re told is right) people see that too.  They’ll pick up really quickly that we care more about doing what’s proper than we do about people.  And “Yes” because behaving ethically and in ways that promote justice are centrally important.  Ethics and the pursuit of justice are different than following rules out of obligation.  Why?  Because ethics and seeking justice have to do with making sure that other people in the world are taken care of (Phil 2.3-4), whereas legalistic behavior is inherently self-centered.

People will see the difference.  They’ll notice if we’re following rules because doing so is right or if we’re seeking the best for others despite whatever personal cost there may be.

An Example of Living While the World Is Watching

Who can serve as a good example of living an others-centered life well while the world is watching?  None other than Jesus!

Check this out: “During the Passover feast in Jerusalem, the crowds were watching Jesus closely; and many began to believe in Him because of the signs He was doing” (John 2.23 in The Voice**).

Did you see that?  People were watching Jesus too.  They saw his life.  They observed the signs he performed.  They saw his love for his close friends.  They witnessed his miracles and concern for the marginalized.  And, of course, they heard his teaching.

And what did people see Jesus do in John 2?  They saw him turn water into wine, thus preventing a wedding party from being lame and bringing shame on the groom and his family, and they saw him exercise his passion for proper worship and justice when he cleared out the temple.

They saw Jesus’ actions, actions which were for the benefit of others.  John also says that people saw other signs he was doing, and if these unspecified signs were anything like all of Jesus’ other signs, then they too were done for the benefit of others.

Here’s the crux: People saw what Jesus was doing, and when the watching world looked at him they saw him living for the benefit of others.

What Does the Watching World See in Us?

The answer to this question has been studied quite a bit.  Here’s what researchers have found: When people are asked to describe Christians they saw we are judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

The fairness of the criticisms may be unfair.  But what is not up for debate is that these descriptors are what people see in us.  This is how the watching world describes us.

This situation is sad, of course.  But all hope is not lost.

One relationship at a time with people who are watching us, we can change people’s opinions.  We can be accepting the way that Jesus was.  We can be less judgmental and more loving.  We can learn to be shockproof when we encounter messed up stuff in the world.  We can be more open and honest about our own sinfulness.  We can stop pretending we have it all together and that we have all the answers.

In short, we can live others-focused lives the way Jesus did.  To paraphrase a theme from one of my favorite books, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, by one of my favorite authors, Hugh Halter: A follower of Jesus is a person who lives Jesus’ human life in his or her human life.

How do we live Jesus’ human life?  Well, we need to find out how Jesus lived by reading about his life in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Then we need to gather some friends around us who also want to live Jesus’ life in their lives and start doing the things we see Jesus doing.  We need to pray for each other, celebrate together, hold each other accountable, and encourage one another.

I can’t emphasize this enough: DON’T TRY THIS ALONE.  Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, didn’t even try this alone!  What makes you or me think that we can do it?  Here’s a good place for you and your friends to start together: The Tangible Kingdom Primer, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

So, the watching world is watching us closely.  What are they seeing?  And what can we do about it?


** The Voice is a newer translation of the Bible that I highly recommend.  It was put together by a team of biblical scholars and artists, so it is faithful to the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) but it is written in very easy-to-read English.  This is a perfect Bible to give as a gift to someone who is part of the watching world who gets interested in Jesus!


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Passion: Missional Fuel

Is it just me or does it seem like followers of Jesus are subtly expected to be devoid of passion?  There are times when those of us who are bent toward passion are told things like this: “tone it down,” “cool off,” and “just get over it already.”

But is this fair?  Is this good?  Is this healthy?

Isn’t their a place for passion in the life of a follower of Jesus?  Isn’t passion the exact thing we need to fuel our missional efforts?

In order to answer some of these questions let’s look at the life of Jesus in John 2.13-25.

Passion in Jesus’ Life

I’m writing this blog from a Starbucks.  I know, I know…how cliche!  But that’s just the truth.  And while sitting here quietly drinking my venti black coffee, I heard a man talking about Jesus.  He referred to Jesus like this: “A short, long-haired, big-nosed, bearded, contemplative hippy.”

Does this description sound familiar to you at all?  It certainly does to me.  I grew up in a church culture which was influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.  And the picture of Jesus advanced by the Jesus Movement was that of a hippy religious leader who said some esoteric truths from time to time.

But where’s the passion?  When I think of a hippy, passion is one of the last words that comes to mind (unless, of course, by passion “free love” is meant!).  But the kind of burning in the gut that causes one to take strong and even unpopular stands usually doesn’t mesh well with the Jesus-is-a-hippy idea.

However, even a surface reading of Jesus’ life will show something different than the Jesus Movement’s caricature.  In the Gospels we meet a Jesus bubbling over with passion.

Passion in John 2

John 2.13-25 is one of the best places to see Jesus’ passion.  In this section of John’s Gospel we see Jesus going to Jerusalem for Passover.  When he gets to the temple, the house of God, he finds the courts full of people selling animals to be sacrificed and money-changers who are exchanging Rome’s coins for money acceptable at the temple.

This sight makes Jesus angry.  John doesn’t use the word “angry” in this passage, but it seems pretty clear.  Why else would Jesus make a whip (John 2.15)?  This wasn’t just some passing frustration.  He saw something that angered him and he spent the time to make a whip.  That’s passion that was oozing out of Jesus’ pores!

So Jesus goes back and drives the animals out of the temple courts and overturns the money-changers’ tables.  He then says to them, “Get all your stuff, and haul it out of here! Stop making My Father’s house a place for your own profit!” (The Voice translation).

Then some people who were observing Jesus’ behavior became confused and probably frustrated.  They have a verbal exchange in which Jesus foreshadows his death and resurrection.

But what made Jesus angry?  What ignited his passion?

The Cause of Jesus’ Passion

Jesus is obviously angry that people are turning the temple, a place in which people are supposed to be directed toward God, into a marketplace.

There’s has been much written about this passage in John 2, and many scholars, pastors, and authors point to the fact that the animal sellers and money-changers were likely engaged in price-gouging.

Think about it.  It’s Passover time and people from all over the region are coming to Jerusalem to worship.  A central part of that worship is animal sacrifice (sorry PETA!).  So the demand for animals is really high and the supply is controlled by the sellers.  What does that equal?  Extraordinarily high prices.

The same factors likely influenced the money-changers.  They knew they could adjust the rates of exchange in their own favor and no one could do anything about it.  The temple only accepted a certain kind of money, so, again, the demand is high and the supply is controlled.  Their rates likely skyrocketed!

And while some of the people who came to the temple could probably afford the ridiculous prices since they were wealthy, most people couldn’t.  Most people had to save all year in order to attend a festival in Jerusalem like Passover.  So, much like modern-day payday loan businesses, it was the poor who were taken advantage of the most by these folks in John 2.

Here’s my contention: Jesus passion in this passage was fueled by his anger that a place intended to point people to God was overrun by people trying to make a profit on backs of the poor.

Passion Is Okay

After Jesus goes on his rampage in the temple, his disciples remember Psalm 69.9 “Zeal for you [God’s] house will consume me.”  His disciples understand what Jesus is up to, at least in part.  I’m sure they were confused by his comments about “destroying this temple” but they understood his passion for the sanctity of the temple.  In fact, that was likely a common conception of how the messiah, the promised Jewish savior, would behave.

So Jesus’ passion lined up with his disciples’ understanding of Scripture.  And it made sense in it’s context, specifically regarding the taking advantage of the poor through price-gouging.  In other words, Jesus’ passion was okay.  It was acceptable.  It was viewed by some (but not all) as righteous and justified.

Therefore, our passions can be okay too.

What makes us angry?  If it’s something that is selfish at its core, then you should try to fight against it.  But if it’s something that is more akin to Jesus’ passion, then let it lead you.

And what was Jesus’ passion like?  It was concerned about God getting his due glory and about the poor being taken advantage of.

Are our passions ignited by these same sorts of things today?

This is just me — but I doubt that our anger over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays!” fits this definition very well.  Neither does our anger at the fact that “that kind of person” is moving into our neighborhood or coming to our worship services.  And our passion about the style of worship we prefer certainly doesn’t fit that well either.

There are plenty of things in our world that do match up well with the passion of Jesus.  Here are a few: Concern that our churches point people to God and not to a generic American ideal; Passion for the proper and right treatment of the underprivileged and marginalized in our society; and Anger toward those who take advantage of the poor, especially if done under God’s banner.

But Passion Can Be Costly

Check this out: the Latin root for the word “passion” — passio — means “suffering.”

Friends, there’s a link between our passion and suffering.  Jesus highlighted it in this passage.  He predicted his death and ultimate resurrection.  This is why a story about the crucifixion of Jesus is typically entitled or labeled as a “Passion of Christ,” like the Mel Gibson movie.

So it should come as no surprise that when we let godly passion exude from us that suffering may be in our future.  People won’t always understand, just like some of the Jewish leaders in John 2 didn’t.

But passion that is from the Lord will lead true followers of Jesus to greater understanding, just as it did in John 2.  It will be focused on God and his glory and on preventing people from taking advantage of others.

And it will often lead to suffering.

Jesus never promised to lead us into the easy life.  That’s the American Dream!  Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28.20) as we follow him, where ever that might lead.


What are you passionate about?  Does it line up with Jesus’ passion that we see in John 2?  Will you fan the flame of your passion even if it leads to suffering?  Will you let righteous passion fuel your missional efforts?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

The Importance of Observation

What role does observation play in following Jesus? What about in leadership? Friendship? Parenthood?

I want to look at what the disciples did in John 2.1-12 in order to find some answers.

How to Be Better at Observation

Stay close to the leader

In John 2 we see the disciples are following Jesus.  They are going to a wedding with Jesus and his mom.  They are there — right with Jesus.  Where are we?  Are we right with Jesus?  Or are we off in our own world, doing our own thing?  Are we following the selfless One?  Or are we letting selfishness win?

Watch carefully

How can we be better at observation without watching carefully?  We know that the disciples were pretty good at observation because what Jesus did in their midst caught their attention.  They noticed what he did.  It didn’t get past them.  That makes me wonder about us.  As we follow Jesus, are we all that good at observation?  Or is our attention split as we pursue our own ends and desires, the American Dream, our comfort, our political agendas, etc.?

Be a lifelong learner

The observation by the the disciples led to learning.  They were with Jesus, they saw what he did, and then they believed in him.  That word “believed” is better translated as “trusted.”  Because of what they saw they trusted Jesus and wanted to learn from him more.  As we do this observation thing today, are we willing to continue to learn and to grow?  Or are we cool with being stagnant?  Are we more inclined to maintain the status quo?  Or are we willing to trust Jesus and learn from him no matter what he is teaching?

Continue to follow

In John 2.12 it says that the disciples followed Jesus to his next tour stop.  Their opportunities for observation would continue.  As tempting as it might have been, they didn’t stay at the place where Jesus did his first sign.  They kept following him.  Where ever Jesus went, they followed.  Are we willing to do that too?  Or are we satisfied with staying where we first met Jesus, where we first saw him doing something great?  Jesus doesn’t call us to stay where he once was; he says follow me.  Are we willing to?


Friends, observation is key to following Jesus.  We need to be near Jesus so we can see what he is doing.  Then we need to pay attention to what it is that he is doing.  We also need to grow and learn as a result of our observation.  And lastly, no matter what, we need to keep following Jesus.


But these same principles apply to other relationships too.  We need to be close to people, pay attention to them, grow because of them, and continue to stay close to them.  If we do these these things, then we’ll be better friends, family members, spouses, parents, etc.


Do you have any thoughts about the power of observation as a follower of Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Obedient: John 2.1-12

There’s a popular fashion trend that’s been a thing since 2001.  It’s called OBEY Clothing.  Surely you’ve seen their shirts and hats out and about.  Here’s an example:


OBEY Clothing Hat

The great thing about the OBEY brand is it’s origins.  It began with the street art of Shepard Fairey and is heavily steeped in the cultures of punk rock and skateboarding.  Thus, it’s both funny and odd that the word “obey” is so closely associated with this company since Fairey, punk, and skateboarding are all known for individuality, independence, and spontaneity.

Here’s the way OBEY’s website describes the use of the word “obey”: “With biting sarcasm verging on reverse psychology, he [Fairy] goads viewers, using the imperative ‘obey,’ to take heed of the propagandists out to bend the world to their agendas.”

Thus, even though OBEY uses the word “obey,” they are clearly hoping that the people they influence will not be obedient to the culture of advertising in America…unless, of course, they happen to be obedient to the advertising of OBEY itself and buy some of their products!

Needless to say, it has always been an interesting tug-of-war in Western culture between being obedient to cultural norms and being independent and entrepreneurial.  Whatever the case, we, as Western people, are rather obsessed with the idea of being obedient.

Thus, it is only wise for those of us who follow Jesus to see what the Bible has to say about being obedient.  One place to look is Jesus’ first miraculous sign in the Gospel of John.


Obedient Servants

In a previous post, I wrote about the story of Jesus turning to water to wine from Mary’s perspective.  Now I’d like to look at the story from the perspective of the servants.

So there were some servants minding their own business at a wedding in Cana.  It had likely been a long day, or even couple of long days.  They had worked hard and were probably enjoying a moment of calm.

Then the wine ran out.

While the shame of this fact fell on the family throwing the party and not them, they knew that it likely meant lots of work for them.  They’d probably have to go out and find some more wine, buy it with the master’s credit, and haul it back to the party.  And they’d have to do all of that super fast!

But then Mary says to them, “Do whatever my son tells you” (John 2.5).

Apparently Mary had the authority to command them to do things, which likely meant that Mary was either serving as a wedding coordinator of sorts or that she was simply protecting the honor of the family responsible for the wine.  Either way, these servants were prepared to follow Mary’s orders.

They waited.

After a second Jesus told them to do the following: “Fill each water pot with water until it’s ready to spill over the top; then fill a cup, and deliver it to the headwaiter” (John 2.7-8).

I love the way John explains the next part: “They did exactly as they were instructed” (John 2.8).

They were obedient.  Exactly obedient.  They filled the part pots all the way up to their brims.  Then they scooped some out and served it to the headwaiter.

If you stop and think about that for a second, it’s pretty crazy!  They knew what they were doing.  They were putting water in pots and then serving water to the headwaiter.  And this headwaiter likely had the authority to get them in all kinds of trouble for serving him water when wine was in order.

But they were exactly obedient anyway.

For whatever reason they trusted Mary and by proxy they trusted Jesus too.  They obeyed.

And somewhere in the midst of their obedience Jesus did a miracle which led to a deepening of the faith of Jesus’ disciples.


Obedient Followers of Jesus Today

One of the most common questions pastor-types get goes something like this: “I was listening to an international missionary talk about the cool things that God does over there, like miracles and stuff.  Why don’t those things happen here in the West?”

I don’t really think there’s an easy answer to that question.  But as of late I’ve been getting a feeling that the Bible may be pointing to something helpful.

And here it is in plain language: In the Gospels Jesus often does miraculous things within the context of obedience.

It’s not that obedience “causes” the miracle, but it appears that Jesus responds to obedient people by doing cool things on their behalf, or at least in their midst.

Friends, if that is true (which I think it is!), then perhaps we don’t see as many miraculous signs here in the West because we’re not all that obedient to Jesus.

We are obedient though!

  • We’re obedient to the value of individualism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of commercialism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of materialism.
  • We’re obedient to our selfish desires.

And the list could go on.

So here’s the question: To what or to whom are we obedient?


In the comments below let me know what you think about being obedient to Jesus.