We live in a culture which challenges your personal status every day. At the touch of our fingertips we read one status update after another on our favorite social media sites. In fact, usually multiple sites. Yet notice the words we use to describe a person’s update.Â If you look at the tab selected when you post something on Facebook it says “update status.” That’s what we attempt to do. Update our status… and do it in 140 characters or less. Because every time we read one of those posts from someone else, on how great their life is currently going and how life seems to be working better for them, it updates our status as well. Usually negatively. That’s why it’s become common to hear people talk about taking a break from social media for awhile.
This matters immensely. The myth is that this is just a personal concern for us to manage well. But it’s way beyond personal. Our perceived status is the multiplier for how we treat those around us.
In the Bible, there’s a story of a questionÂ to Jesus from one of His disciples. “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us’â€ (Mark 9:38). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a legitimate statement for John to make. Casting out demons isn’t exactly Christianity 101, so you’d assume a mature believer should be attempting it. I’m an ordained Christian Pastor and I’ve never done it myself. And John isn’t some hack of Christ follower. He’s one of three disciples (with Peter and James) who often get a closer look at what Jesus does. John’s a guy on the front lines of ministry in the kingdom Jesus establishes.
So I’m sure John expects, as I might expect, for Jesus to agree with him and reprimand the actions of this rogue exorcist. Maybe even remotely block His power from being used by anyone unaffiliated with the disciples. That’s why Jesus’ actual answer to John is so shocking.
But Jesus said, â€œDo not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Mark 9:39-41)
Do not stop him? But he’s not one of us! What kind of religious anarchy is Jesus creating?
While at first glance John’s statement sounds credible, as is often the case there’s more to this story. Notice carefully about the complaint John has about this unnamed exorcist. It isn’t the fact that he’s attempting exorcisms and failing miserably. He’s successfully driving out demons in Jesus’ name! The issue is that he’s “not following us.” This outsider is stealing the disciples’ spotlight. There’s another huge detail that provides context to his statement if we read earlier in chapter nine. In verses 14-29, we read about an exorcism gone wrong. Except this time it’s the disciples doing it and failing in the process. Fresh off that failure, you can imagine how John watching an outsider successfully cast out a demon is not viewed from a kingdom point of view, but from a threat to the status of John and the other disciples. What makes them special if other people can cast out demons better than they can?
And if you look at the verse right before John’s question you see the same theme of Jesus teaching the disciples to welcome the unlikely people, in this case children.Â â€œWhoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent meâ€ (Mark 9:37). That’s why we’ll never treat others around us the way we should until we wrestle with our own status first. Until we learn to trust in Jesus and not on our own accomplishments or failures, until we learn to allow Him to be the focus, we will never be able to welcome others as we should. And notice who we are welcoming… others who believe in Jesus too! Welcoming enemies is also hard, but Jesus addressed that elsewhere. An unhealthy personal status causes us to view even other believers as the opposition.
Because our own status shapes the way we treat others, we can work backward to find out how we actually view ourselves. Just think of how you treat those around you who claim to be Christian but do it differently than you. That may be a different version of Christianity, or with a tribe that doesn’t acknowledge you or your tribe. For you it may be a gay Christian, or a Republican Christian, a progressive Christian, or a Calvinist, or one of those crazy Open Theists. A Christian who gets too involved in politics, or one who doesn’t get involved enough. A Christian who disagrees with you on the age of the earth, or how Jesus will come back, or whether God literally picked each of the words of the Bible. Years ago I wrote a blog critiquing street preaching and it turned into a hot mess in no time. The point is that it’s hard.
But we’re not alone in this. Generations of people attempting to follow God have experienced this same struggle. While only the Gospels of Mark and Luke include this story about the exorcist, we see an eerily similar story in the book of Numbers.
Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, â€œEldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.â€ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, â€œMy lord Moses, stop them!â€ But Moses said to him, â€œAre you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lordâ€™s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!â€ (Numbers 11:26-29)
Whether it’s Joshua, John, or us, the story continues. It doesn’t mean we throw discernment out of the mix or that suddenly anyone and anything can be attached to Christ. But it means that when we see God moving in foreign ways (to us), we welcome it instead of being threatened by it. We don’t allow our limitations or our need for recognition taint our ability to see God moving. The only prayer we have of an effective, unified Church is that we find our status solely in Christ. We learn how to welcome others in Christ’s name even when they do it outside of what makes us comfortable. The kingdom of God cannot be contained or controlled or corralled or any other word that begins with the letter “C.” It’s time for us to relax and stop trying. As Jonathan Martin once said,Â â€œI donâ€™t want to be the guy accusing the people that Jesus is defending.â€ Instead, let us become so secure in our own status that we learn to recognize the work of Jesus all around us.
“When we see God move in unfamiliar ways, we welcome it instead of being threatened by it.”Click to tweet