"Growing in Grace!"

It has been entirely too long since my last blog post, so I wanted to get back into the swing of things today! To do that, I want to share some "snippets" of my recently completed Sermon Series, "Growing in Grace!" My reasoning for doing this is because it is so vitally important to our spiritual growth, that it bears repeating! I won't do the entire Series, but just highlights that I believe are key to the "growing" process. So, let me get started with the first of probably four blogs over the course of the next four weeks!

I want us to reflect on what happened to Adam and Eve (and to us!), in those stages that we experience in growing up, and how at each stage, we experience the grace of God in unique ways. In order to do that, I’d like for you to consider the biblical account of Gen. 2.4-23; the first stage that Adam and Eve experienced was what I think of as being the Age of Innocence. I think of The Age of Innocence as being a time in life when we experience God’s grace, but we’re not necessarily aware of it. In this particular passage of Scripture, you’ll find that when God had completed creating the heavens and the earth, before it had ever rained, before there were any people to cultivate the soil, springs of water came up from the ground, and watered the earth. It goes on to say that God then created man, and breathed into him the breath of life, so that he became a living person. God then created a very special place, a garden in Eden, to the east, and there, God placed the man he had made.

In that garden, God made all sorts of trees to grow up from the ground, beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit, and in the middle of the garden, God placed the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden, and the Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; so God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky, and then God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while the man slept, God took out one of the man’s ribs and formed a woman, and brought her to the man,--and the man said, “Hubba! Hubba!” (This is my paraphrase of that passage of Scripture!) Actually, the man said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…” Then, v. 25 says, “Both the man and his wife were both naked, yet felt no shame.” The Garden of Eden! Paradise! A man and a woman, naked; no shame! Innocent!

In 1965, CBS executive producers tried to kill Charles Shultz’s “A Charlie Brown Christ-mas”; they said it was too slow, and Schultz was told, “You can’t read from the Bible on net-work television.” However, that first year, 50% of the nation’s viewers watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas”; it went on to win an Emmy, and a Peabody Award, and it was, and continues to be a huge corporate moneymaker. During its 52nd annual broadcast in Dec. of 2017, it was the second most popular Christmas show on TV, with more than 10.8 million viewers, that included every demographic age. Charles Schultz’s widow said, on Preaching, “Charles said there would always be a market for innocence.”

Many of us grew up with a Charlie Brown-like innocence; I didn’t grow up in the Garden of Eden, but I grew up in a home where I knew that I was loved, and that I would always be cared for, and could feel safe. I never worried about having enough to eat, or having a bed to sleep in, or having something to wear. My life, like many of my generation, was a kid’s life; as a child, I woke up in the morning, my Mom put a bowl of cereal on the table, and when I was finished eating, I would go out the front door and play until noon, when I came back in for lunch. Then, I would go back outside to play until supper. (We lived on a farm, so we had supper rather than dinner!) Then, when it got late at night, I would go to bed, and get up the next morning to do it all over again!

Now, that’s not to say there were no rules or restrictions at my house, but most of them were about staying out of trouble, and not getting into a situation where I could get hurt. I pretty much had the run of the farm; fields, and hills, and pastures, and places to explore. I had trees to climb; a stack of hay bales to play on; plenty of dirt and sand to dig in; a scale-house where I could shell corn off of the cob during harvest; dogs to pet; horses to ride; it was paradise!—at least it seemed to me!

But there were two really huge restrictions and the first one was that I could not play near the road, because it was located at the top of a hill where trucks and cars were not able to be seen before reaching the top of the hill! My second restriction was I could not go down to that area of the pasture where the prairie dog town was, by myself. For me, particularly in my adolescent childhood years, that prairie dog town was the most wonderful place on the farm. We would go there to shoot jackrabbits, and in the fall of the year, when the heat of the sun warmed up the afternoon, my Dad and I would go out for an hour to hunt and kill rattlesnakes!—and that was the reason that, as a younger child, I was not allowed to go to the prairie dog town by myself! The fact that I was not supposed to go there alone, made it all the more enticing! My parents were not unlike any parent who wants to protect their kids; don’t play in the road; don’t jump out of trees; don’t run with scissors in your hand; don’t talk to, or get in a car with a stranger! Just say, “No!”

In a first-human beings, child-like way, Adam and Eve, under the loving care of God, were turned loose to fully live and enjoy life; God didn’t tell them to behave themselves, or to not pick any flowers, or stay off the grass! God didn’t tell them, “Don’t run too fast, or you’ll fall!” Or, “Be sure to put on sunscreen before you go outside!” God didn’t even tell them to be careful around the lions! In that life in the Garden of Eden, everything was so perfect; there was not a lot to be leery of! But God did have one restriction: “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden—but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17

So it was that Satan, the snake, slithered into this perfect Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived in innocence and, I would add, naiveté; and, just as was my second restriction, they were to “steer clear” of that area of the “garden” where the snakes were! We’ve all lived there; areas that are restricted so that we don’t get hurt, and yet, it is those areas that are the most enticing! It’s those “most enticing areas” that require God’s grace, if we are to continue living, and growing, and becoming all that God created us to be, and to do!

See you next week with Part 2!!

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