In the last days three things will happen in the great Pentecostal movement:
There will be an over-emphasis on power rather than on righteousness.
There will be an over-emphasis on praise to a God they no longer pray to.
There will be an over-emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than on the Lordship of Christ.
Remembering Job 38 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…” I have never been happy with the idea of my putting words into God’s mouth.
But I have often sensed God speaking through his creation: Romans 1: 20 ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’.
Martin Luther wrote: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
With that in mind and with the possibility of my having ‘heard’ through something ‘seen’ I will relate the following for you, Dear Reader, to weigh:
Reading its label MAGNOLIA Soulangeana Alba looked ideal. Large, fragrant, tulip-like, white flowers, faintly flushed with pink at the bases from early to mid spring before mid-to dark green leaves emerge, and not very big – an erect neatly rounded tree to 4m.
We loved our magnolia and it liked our little garden. The soil where we had planted it and its position were to its liking. Each spring it treated us to masses of flowers and that wonderful fragrance that filled the air. And it grew, how it grew. Stretching up and up, year by year, its shadow fell upon and covered our greenhouse for most of the day. Eventually even our little vegetable patch on the other side was denied the sun. Pruning gave temporary respite but magnolia responded with increased vigour and even denser growth. The birds loved it though. Our local, noisy, gregarious, gang of house sparrows often dived in to enjoy the protection it gave. And during the winter groups of long tailed tits, and other birds, found rich pickings as they explored its branches. But the summer shadow was the problem.
Last autumn the decision had to be made. There was no option – our magnolia had to go. A tree surgeon was summoned and one Saturday afternoon, very efficiently, he cut it down and took it away. The garden looked very bare and as dusk fell we asked “What will the birds do now?”
Early next morning I was tasked with taking the vegetable waste from preparation for Sunday lunch to our compost bin. As I reached it I was aware of movement by my head and turned to look. Sitting on a bird feeder hanging from our remaining tree (a variegated Maple which, creating no shadow problem, had simply been pruned and kept), no more that 50cm from my head, was a Coal Tit (Periparus Ater). We looked at each other eye to eye for a full 30 seconds before if flew off. Beautiful, amazing – and the first Coal Tit I’ve seen in our garden in all of the 25 years we’ve lived here! If the magnolia had been there for it to hide in would I have seen it?
This reminded me of a broadcast I heard some years ago – featuring Dr. Sheila Cassidy (a British Christian doctor who in 1975 was arrested and tortured by agents of Pinochet’s Chilean Government). In 1982 she became Medical Director of the new St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth and it was from there that the broadcast came. Walking with Dr. Cassidy in the hospice gardens the interviewer asked why the dead trees had not been cut down. She answered “It’s in the dead trees, where there are no leaves, that we can see the birds. I notice something similar with people who end their days with us. As life ebbs away the clutter often falls away too and their spirits, often beautiful, are revealed.”
This has made me think:
Never trust the label. Our magnolia was beautiful (and I’ve heard this before) but the height given was not the ‘eventual’ height.
Is there something in my/our life which we treasure without seeing its true cost? Something beautiful casting a shadow that prevents growth elsewhere?
Is there something in my/our life which dazzles us so that we don’t see past it?