Genesis 12 tells the story of when Abram met God. God had a great plan for Abram–a plan to bless him beyond his wildest dreams, to give him a vast and fruitful land, to make him the father of a great nation. This what God said to him:

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

So Abram left. Wouldn’t you? What an incredible promise from God! Abram took his wife and everyone in his household and set out for Canaan. He entered the land God promised him and immediately made an altar to the Lord. Then he wandered around the land, scoping out his new home, and built a couple more altars to God.

But then he left. He walked away from the land God had promised him and went down to Egypt. Why? Because “there was a famine in the land.” Not just any famine, mind you, but a “severe” one. So Abram made a practical decision to move to Egypt for a while, at least until the famine relented. I contend that it was the wrong decision.

Abram made a practical decision borne out of the physical reality of the famine. He did not make a decision based on faith borne out of God’s promise to 1) give him this land, 2) make him a great nation, and 3) bless him. Abram abandoned the promise of God for the security of Egypt. He forsook God’s blessing that he might enjoy the blessings of Pharaoh. Abram let a famine, not the God who had spoken to him a blessing and a promise, determine his reality.

It would be decades before Abram would learn that barrenness of land and womb are a small thing to God. Don’t let a famine dictate your reality. God can bring water from a rock and food from the sky. Don’t leave the land you’ve been promised to pursue safety in Egypt. Egypt is the land of slavery, not security. Don’t let pragmatism replace faith. Don’t let the famine steal your blessing or promise. God is bigger than your famine. His promise will outlast it. His blessing is greater than this trial. Persevere through faith and lay claim to God’s promise and his blessing.

Last Tuesday we started the context track of e4 at church. e4 is a program we’ve developed and designed to lay deep foundations of Christian faith and practice. It’s intense and challenging, a bit like drinking from a fire hose, but we’ve seen great results and this year’s group is really excited about the program.

The context track deals with theology, church history, and culture. The first session is on the Trinity, and even though it was the same night the Buckeyes’ played in the Sugar Bowl, we had a full house and some great conversation. The Trinity is a difficult subject to tackle because it defies explanation; it presses the boundaries of human intellect and language. We don’t have any good metaphors to help us understand. The doctrine of the Trinity strips your intellect naked, revealing in what you finally trust–human reason or the character of God. Personally, I couldn’t believe in a God I can fully explain and understand. The doctrine of the Trinity helps me to have faith and is, in a strange sense, a satisfactory proof (for me) of God’s existence: If God exists, he must in some way be beyond our comprehension. The doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension. Therefore, the God known as the Trinity must exist.

But that’s not the real payoff of learning the doctrine of the Trinity. Tom, one of our most faithful e4 participants (I call them e4eigners), asked about the internal dynamics: “Is there a hierarchy within the Trinity?” What a great question! I thought it about for a bit, running through the Scriptures in my mind, and answered that there was not. The Son submits to the Father; the Father glorifies the Son; the Father and Son honor the Spirit; the Spirit speaks only what he hears from the Father and Son.

What we find at the heart of the Trinity is not hierarchy, but humility. Each member defers to the others. Each member glorifies the others. The very nature of God–that he is three-in-one–is held together by total humility manifesting itself in agape love. This is why John can say, plainly, “God is love”. There is no striving for position or selfish ambition within the Trinity; there is only complete and total humility and selflessness. The payoff of the doctrine of the Trinity is the invitation to possess in part what he possesses in full: humility. The nature of the Trinity teaches us to be humble enough to be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ in this life. Pride and arrogance make unity impossible, but humility makes it inevitable.

Be humble, then, as God is humble. Defer to your brothers and sisters. Praise them publicly. Speak exceedingly well of them behind their backs. Listen well. Take correction without becoming defensive. The doctrine of the Trinity compels us to pursue utmost humility and manifest it in agape love.

What do you think about guilt? How about shame? Generally things to be avoided, right? Sometimes guilt and shame are irrational emotional responses to situations, and we would do well to move on. Many folks live with an oppressive sense of guilt and shame because of horrible sins committed against them. But what about when those sins are our own? Are guilt and shame bad in that instance?

Jeremiah wrote this in response to the sin of Israel:

Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.

Jeremiah is calling his fellow Hebrews to press into their guilt, not to run away from it. “Let your disgrace cover you like a blanket,” he cries out in the streets, “and lay down in your bed of shame.”

What about us? Do we need to press into our guilt? “But we have Jesus! And the cross!” True, but forgiveness is not a replacement for guilt; rather, forgiveness is found on the other side of it. We must press through our guilt–lie down and let our shame cover us like a blanket–in order to find the deep, healing forgiveness of the cross.

So often I just want to ignore my sin and step casually into forgiveness. This is like asking for the cross without the pain. A cross with no suffering is just two pieces of wood.

Forgiveness only comes to those who truly repent, and true repentance only comes by pressing into our guilt–by owning our sin. You can’t give away something that you don’t own. Only when you own your sin can you give it away to Jesus. Sure, pressing into your guilt may make you sad, but it is godly sorrow, after all, that leads to repentance.

Guilt and shame are not things to be avoided when they are a result of our sin. Instead, they are to be embraced, to be pressed into, in order to for healing to take place. There is no forgiveness without repentance, and there is no healing without forgiveness. When you’re looking for light in the dark night, you can chase the sun by going west, and live forever in a half-light. Or you can go east, pressing through the darkness, and meet the sun as it rises.

When God called Jeremiah to the prophetic ministry, the poor priest from Anathoth wasn’t sure God had the right man. “Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” I’m just a boy, he said, and I’m terrified of speaking in public. According to his own assessment, Jeremiah was not the prophetic type. That was a job for brave men who had the rhetorical prowess to shout down the naysayers and counter the critics. When Jeremiah looked in the mirror, he saw a little boy with a slow tongue. He didn’t have what it takes to be a prophet.

God, however, saw things quite differently. “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” God looked into the heart of Jeremiah, where lay his deepest void and most humiliating lack, and said to him, “You are not a boy. You are a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall; and you will stand against this entire nation!” Jeremiah looked at himself and saw youthful weakness, but God looked at him and said, “Strength and power!”, and, behold, it was!

God called Jeremiah to a task that required a new name, a new identity–strength where there was weakness, fullness where there was void. God then equipped Jeremiah for the task by speaking into his void and weakness. God saw that which was not and called it into being. “Today I have made you a fortified city…”

You need a new name from God. Your void is crippling you, and you cannot fulfill his calling on your life until you hear that new name. The old names, the names you have given yourself or others have given you out of evil intent, are holding you back from God’s plan for your life. The old names have to die, and the new name must come to life. God wants to speak his fulness into your void, his strength into your weakness, his abundance into your lack. God sees you as you are not, calls out “Strength and power! Discipline and character! Love and forgiveness!” and, behold, it is!

Your new name–your new identity–are manifested through the presence of God in your life. This presence is available only because Jesus has made it so through the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot receive this new name if your are proud, selfish, or resistant. It will not come until you bend your heart to God. Only be near him, and he will equip you for the difficult task to which he has called you.

This is the time of year when we celebrate how God sent his Son into the world, to become just like us in order to save us. This, of course, implies that God is a parent of some kind–and we see, from Scripture, that, while he is supersexual (that is, beyond sexuality), he reveals himself as Father and Husband–consistently male. (There are also instances where God reveals himself as motherly, but the male descriptors are far more common.)

Does this mean that being male is inherently better? Of course not, for God created both men and women in his image. Neither is qualitatively better than the other. Because God is supersexual, all gender is found in him, and yet he cannot be sexualized. Had God revealed himself as female, as a Goddess, there is little doubt that he would have become sexualized and objectified like the goddesses of other ancient cultures.

But I also believe that God revealed himself primarily as Father because there is one very important thing that only a father can do, and that is to call the child into true personhood. It is from the father’s voice that we hear our name, our identity. There are myriad things that only the mother can do, but as a child moves into adolescence and young adulthood, they are waiting to hear the masculine voice saying, “You are a man”, or, “You are a woman”.

I’m convinced that the greatest threat to our culture is missing fathers, and fatherlessness has reached epidemic proportions. We have tried to make do without dads, but we simply cannot. Humans aren’t built that way. The government has been subsidizing fatherlessness among the poor classes for decades, but crime and destitution have only increased. Money is no substitute for the masculine voice.

But God wants to do something about this. He wants to father this generation of fatherless souls. As always, he wants to enact his plan through people. God wants to father this lost generation, and he wants to do it by raising up men to be the husbands and fathers he has called them to be. We have a generation of children–many of them fully grown and into their 30s and 40s–who have been unable to move beyond adolescence because they had no father to tell them who they are. God wants to tell these people who they are; he wants to initiate them into full personhood, and he wants to do it in partnership with the men of the church.

Don’t be upset that I’m not issuing a call to women, here. It’s not the women who have fallen asleep; it’s not the women who have disappeared. The women have not been negligent, but the men have. Men, this world needs you, desperately. You need to wake up. You need to engage. Don’t be distracted anymore; don’t let the world lull you to sleep. God has a task for you, and it’s going to take everything you’ve got and then some. The world is falling apart, and God is asking you to help him put it back together. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Heroism is calling. Will you accept the charges?”