Monday, May 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Camellias

Here are contrasting pictures of two camellias.  The one on the left is the one we planted.  It was purchased at a reputable garden center.  It was carefully planted, mulched and watered.  But no matter what we did, it struggled and did poorly.  And now it is pretty much dying.  The sickly yellow leaves are falling off; half the buds simply turned brown and died before they even opened; and the one bud that did open (pictured) is deformed and puny-looking.  All we have to show for all our effort is a diseased and dying plant with ugly blooms.  Camellia one is soon to be uprooted and replaced with a lovely little Japanese maple.

Only three feet away from plant number one is camellia two, shown on the right.  This plant is a stray seedling that came up by chance.  Noone planted it, it just came up.  Noone mulched it.  It happened to come up right at the spot where rainwater drips from the roof during showers, so it got amply watered without any of our efforts.  We did absolutely nothing for this plant, did not even notice it or realize it was actually a camellia for years.  But it always grew vigorously and had the most beautiful, spotless, healthy dark green leaves.  Then this spring I happened to glance under some of its branches and discovered not one but 4 or 5 beautiful double blooms on this "wild" plant!

It dawned on me that these two bushes really illustrate the difference between struggling to live under law and enjoying life under grace.

Camellia one is like living by the law.  It's life by trying, struggling and striving to keep all the right principles in order to produce righteousness.  It's all about self-effort and behavior.  It's feeling as if you will be rewarded if you succeed and punished if you fail.  It's life where everything is up to you.  It's stressful and draining and doesn't produce righteousness or life at all!  Living this way made me tired, frustrated, and depleted.  No matter what I did or how much I tried to improve this life, things only got worse!  Trying so hard only produced 'dead works,' lacking in the life of God.  We just can't produce the Life of God, and we were never meant to; we were meant to contain it!  The result of my own self-effort in trying to produce Life was, for me, just a sickly and weak "plant" that had lost its bloom..

Camellia two is like living by grace.  It's a life where all is given for free as a gift.  It's life where you don't have to do anything to earn the reward.  A life where you are not punished or rejected even when you fail.  A life where righteousness and life are handed to you on a silver platter.  Freely given with no effort required on our part.  We receive the Life of Christ by faith and He brings to life a new creation, whole and holy, thriving and strong, fully alive.  We actually contain the very Life of God!  His life pulses within us and blossoms out of us.  And that is true because of the free gift of the Life of Christ in us, by grace and not by our effort or trying!  We are basking in the Son, enjoying the Life of God inside our very being - we live in perfect and intimate union with Him always.  That is the kind of "plant" He has made us as new creations in Him!

So to think of myself as weak, sickly, inadequate and "blossom-less" is a lie.  I need never try to produce on my own what I ALREADY AM because of Christ!  I'm a new creation "plant" in Christ.  I'm thriving, fragrant, nourished, beautiful, abounding and strong, filled and blossoming with the Life of Jesus Himself!  All as a gift of grace!  Just call me "Camellia Two."

And that's true for every believer - we are Grace Camellias, lovely and vibrant and alive forevermore in Him, by grace!

For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers, and as a garden cascades with blossoms, so the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom and puts praise on display before the nations.  Is. 61:10b

                          With love,

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May the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 2 Co. 13:14