Advance the Indispensability of Jesus Together

The Surprising Dispensability of the Leader

The 2014 NCAA Football season for the Ohio State Buckeyes had as many twists and turns as your favorite roller coaster ride. On two occasions, injuries threatened to undo their successful run. As a fan of the Buckeyes, I remember watching the quarterback situation unfold, and after each injury thinking—“That guy is indispensable; the season’s over.” Each time, the next guy who stepped in proved me wrong.

In August, starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Second-string quarterback, J. T. Barrett, replaced Miller, and he continued the Buckeyes success on the field. However, in November of that same season, Barrett was injured and would miss the remaining games, including any Bowl games or Championship attempt.

The weight of the season fell upon third-string, red shirt sophomore Cardale Jones. The first start of his college career took place in the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59–0 blowout victory. Next, he started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the number one ranked, the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones led the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory, 42–35. Then, it was onto the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks. Jones’ success continued and delivered a 42–20 win against the Ducks and a 2014 National Championship to the Buckeyes.

Over the years, I’ve had similar, personal experiences when I’ve had the privilege to work with young, pastoral interns. I am convinced that most if not all of them will accomplish far more than I ever will for the kingdom if they continue to follow our Lord faithfully. They will soon catch up and surpass me in the things that once made me their superior (i.e., the one leading the internship). Be it education, tech savvy, experience, networking, or ability; I am confident (and hopeful) that they will go far beyond whatever reach I may have in my lifetime for the gospel.

Which means this: I am dispensable.

The Dispensable Steward of the Indispensable Promise

In our study of Genesis, we are finishing up the Abrahamic story. He’s a pivotal figure in the unfolding of the program of God—his calling, his faith, his experience. Yet, he dies. He dies while the promises of God are barely realized. We can’t help but feel that the Patriarch of the patriarchs drew his last breath before his time—even if he was 175 years old.

Concerning Abraham’s death, Allen Ross writes in his commentary on Genesis entitled Creation & Blessing,

The message in this part is straightforward: believers will die, and so they must ensure that the work begun in them by God will continue as God desires. It may be through their children, children in the faith, or by some other means; but no one may personalize the program so that no thought is given to the next generation . . . Even though faithful believers die, the program of God to bless the world continues . . . We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves . . . No one is indispensable in God’s program. Good people die (some when they’re young and some when they’re old), and others take up the task to continue God’s program.

So, the question begs, “If I am dispensable (and I am), then what indispensable thing can I hand off to the next generation?” What thing of lasting, eternal substance and weight can I pass on that will endure — come what may in the world?

Think back to Abraham’s journey of faith. The longer he walked in the light of God’s promise, the more singular and pure his faith and devotion became to that promise. The major turning point happens in chapter 22, when he has to offer up Isaac. The writer of Hebrews gives us divine commentary on the event:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (11:17–19).

Whether it was his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead, his actions to secure a burial site at the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan, or his efforts to select Isaac as his sole heir, all these things reveal that Abraham had finally captured what was truly indispensable — it was the promise. He realized that the promise was much bigger than him. Abraham may have been the initial partner in the bilateral agreement; he didn’t view himself as the sole owner and beneficiary of the blessings. The patriarch came to realize his role as the dispensable steward of the indispensable promise.

Now, don’t misunderstand. By saying that Abraham was dispensable, I’m not implying that he didn’t have worth as a person or that he wasn’t important to God — obviously he was and is. However, as the biblical story demonstrates, even he was replaceable. His own life and position was not superior to the program of God. Think of the links in a chain. Every link is important, and every link has to steward the weight that bears upon it for the whole chain to complete its purpose and job. Yet, we also recognize that a link in a chain can be replaced by the one who created it and gave it purpose.

Stewarding the Indispensable

As Abraham’s faith matured, he understood his stewardship better and his actions aligned accordingly. Here are three ways his mature faith strengthened his stewardship of the promise:

  1. He sacrificially stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God led him to believe in the power of God to raise the dead.
  2. He securely stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God caused him to make decisions that aligned with the details of God’s promise, regarding its location in Canaan.
  3. He selectively stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God brought a singular focus on God’s selection of Isaac.

Today, we are charged with being the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise of God in Jesus Christ. In what way has the story of Abraham challenged you to mature in your faith and stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—I believe—provides us with incredible room and liberty to steward the gospel sacrificially. Having demonstrated that he can raise the dead, what sacrifice is there that should cause us hesitation or doubt? At the end of Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The reality of the resurrection frees us to sacrificially steward the gospel for the next generation. Here’s the list of sacrifices mentioned in the New Testament, enabled by the power of the resurrection:

  • The Sacrifice of Our Bodily Activities for the Benefit of Others and the Glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
  • The Sacrifice of Selfless Love (Eph. 5:2).
  • The Sacrifice of Pouring Out Your Life for the Community (Phil. 2:17).
  • The Sacrifice of Generosity with Money (Phil. 4:18).
  • The Sacrifice of Praise, Good Deeds, and Sharing/Fellowship (Heb. 13:15–16).
  • The Sacrifice of a Spiritual Life (1 Pet. 2:5 and following).

When Abraham purchased the field and burial plot in Machpelah, he sent a clear message—“I believe the promise, and I’m not turning back.” What decisions do you need to make in order to prepare and position the next generation to receive and pass on the gospel?

I think one of the most important ways we can securely steward the gospel to the next generation is by making clear decisions that allow young people to see the unique value and power of the gospel in our lives. When they look at your bank statement, do they see a clear commitment to the gospel? Do they see the clear priority of the gospel in your family calendar? When they watch your marriage, do they see mom and dad clearly yielding to the Spirit in their dying to sin and raising to a new and better way? Do they see grandma and grandpa’s clear decision not to ever retire from ministry and service, even though they’ve retired from their vocations?

In Abraham’s day, Isaac was God’s clear choice. He was selective—he did not choose Ishmael or the sons of Keturah. The program of blessing selectively continued through Isaac. Today, God’s selection to continue his program of blessing is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Therefore, I believe that we selectively steward the gospel by making Christ visible to a watching world. “Throw some paint on the Invisible Man”; through our words and deeds, let’s give shape to Jesus and the announcement of his good news. Convict the world of sin; convince them of God’s love; and call them to the truth.

We learn from the apostles’ example in the book of Acts that the best way to help people “see Jesus” is to get out where they are with our works and message. While this may imply “leaving the building” so to speak, it may also mean employing the building and its programs or ministries to meet people where they are in life. So, if you believe that God has selected to continue his program of blessing through Jesus Christ alone, what are you doing to help paint this picture for people? How are you stewarding God’s selection of Jesus?

Blessing Beyond Our Lifetime

If we steward the gospel of Jesus sacrificially, securely, and selectively, then we will pass on that which is indispensable to the next generation. We’ll build momentum that will last beyond our lifetime. We will effectively be the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. 

In the epic story of The Lord of the Rings there is only one truth, one promise that was indispensable — the ring of power had to be destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom. Before they destroyed the ring, everyone believed the fulfillment of the promise depended upon someone bearing the ring to the fire. After the fulfillment, everyone believed it to be the key event that ushered in an era of blessing.

Along the journey the team members who joined the fellowship to destroy the ring proved dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. They sacrificed for it, secured it, and devoted to this promise with a singular aim. They advanced the cause together and experienced the blessings of the finished work together. By mature faith in the promise, they passed on blessing that would last far beyond their lifetime. Before us today is the opportunity to advance the indispensability of Jesus together. I pray that we’ll steward it well.

Abram: Believer, Worshiper, & Proclaimer

The song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” sparks a connection for most to Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song in 1996. However, the song has a long history and broad impact. It was originally written by Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, in 1959 and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962. In the U.S.A., the song was made popular first by Hank Snow (1962), then Lynn Anderson (1970), long before Johnny Cash gave it a go. In addition to North America and Australia, the song also took flight in New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Asia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a number of other places. Literally, the song has been everywhere (Yes, I did use wikipedia for this info ;-)).

In his day, Abram was a globetrotter. His family’s journey to follow the Lord (cf. Josh. 24:2; Gen. 31:53) took them on a +1,000 mile journey from the Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, and eventually into Egypt and back to Canaan. We know that there was a stop at Haran along the way (11:31–32), where Terah spent his final days. In Haran, Abram received the call from the Lord, apparently the God of his father Terah, to leave his familiar land, relatives, and reputation and trust the Lord to give him a new land, a new people, and a new reputation. (12:1–2). The Lord then commanded him to be a blessing, promising that he would bless those who blessed Abram, curse those who took Abram too lightly, and that in him, the Lord would bless all the families of the earth. Later on as Scripture unfolds (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3; Romans 4; Galatians 3–4), we learn that Jesus Christ is the divine aim of this promise, in whom God would succeed in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Returning to Genesis 12:4–9, we find an example of obedient faith in Abram, in spite of tremendous obstacles—Sarah’s barrenness (11:30), Abram’s age (12:4), the pagan religion that permeated Canaan (12:6), and later on a forbidding famine (12:9). Not only do we see obedient faith in his leaving and clinging to the new things God promised him, but also we see two expressions of faith as he travels through the land of Canaan.

First, Abram worshiped God in a hostile environment. While he was surrounded by people who worshiped other so-called gods, Abram built altars in their midst as visible markers and expressions of his faith in the Lord. He built altars in 12:7 and in 12:8. The altar he built in Shechem, near the oak of Moreh, is significant for a number of reasons. First, he built it in response to God appearing to him. It marked God’s confirmation of his verbal calling to Abram while he was in Haran. Second, his worship was significant because of what the Lord promised—offspring and land—neither of which Abram had in his possession at that time. Third, his altar was significant because of where he built it. The oak of Moreh was most likely the location of a Canaanite shrine of worship. Abram was expressing his faith in the Lord in a very bold way. Lastly, his worship is significant because this place would not be forgotten by his descendants. His worship became legendary. Joshua would choose this place to call Israel to covenant renewal with the Lord at this same location (Josh. 24). The location of Abram’s second altar—between Bethel and Ai—would also not be far from the Israelite reader’s mind, as they recalled significant events that unfolded in those cities. Bethel, “the house of God,” was where Jacob had his dream (28:10–22) and became a place of covenant renewal for him (35:1–15). Ai recalls the battle that stifled Israel’s confident conquest due to disobedience and led to another time of covenant renewal (Joshua 7–8).

Second, Abram not only worshiped the Lord, but he also proclaimed the name of the Lord. This is most likely the meaning of the phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” in 12:8. Two commentators—Cassuto and Ross—believe that Abram had a history of proselytizing even before this. They understand the phrase “the people that they had acquired” in 12:5 to refer to proselytes, not to slaves or servants, because of the use of the Hebrew word nepes for “people.”

The beginning of Abram’s story is remarkable. It’s no wonder that Israel and the Church look to him as the quintessential father of faith. He left the familiar. He believed in the face of amazing obstacles. God spoke; Abram obeyed. He worshiped openly. He proclaimed so that others knew the Lord. He did all of this in a hostile environment and as he waited for God to accomplish what was yet unseen to him. Saint Augustine is quoted as having said,

God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.

Now, we are not Abram. Abram is a unique, one-of-a-kind figure in Scripture. If you don’t think so, when was the last time God asked you to do what he asked Abram to do in Genesis 22? The answer is never! Nor would he. God was doing something special in and through Abram. Something that you and I benefit from by being found in Christ—the long-awaited “seed of Abraham” (Romans 4; Galatians 3–4). We also benefit from Abram’s example in spiritual living. It is impossible to please God—no matter who you are—without faith. Genuine faith obeys God’s word. Faith many times forces us to leave what is familiar to meet and serve God in something new. It has been said that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of nearly 35 feet in a single bound! Yet these amazing animals can be kept in an enclosure in a zoo with even a short, solid wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. There are always obstacles to trusting God—infertility, age, health, finances, hostile work or family environments, foggy futures, unexpected catastrophes. Abram shows us how to worship and proclaim the name of the Lord by faith, when the solutions and provisions are still distant and haven’t yet taken shape.