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Lesson From My Mum: there is hope for western civilization

I learned an important lesson from a cheap house plant last week – that plant was a chrysanthemum (mum), and it comes with a background story that needs to be understood to get the lesson.


Last fall, when I was working with ARPA Canada, I did about fifteen presentations alongside my colleagues as part of our fall tour. The theme for this tour was on being “rooted in Christ.” At each of these presentations I quoted from Jeremiah 17:7-8:

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
  whose confidence is in Him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
  that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
  its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
  and never fails to bear fruit.

I also made reference to a recent book by Al Mohler called The Gathering Storm, in which he calls out what he refers to as “cut flower civilizations.” At this point in the presentation, I’d proceed to hold up a house plant and then use a pair of scissors to hack off the flowers. Each night I would hold up the cut flowers and say “when we are cut off from our Christian roots, a civilization is destined to die.”

Sometimes I would add a few lines: “we all know what will happen to these flowers now that they are cut. We can give them sunlight and water, but they won’t survive without roots.”

In the presentation, we gave examples of how Canada was cutting itself off from the roots that give life, but we also spoke to how that didn’t mean there was no hope. I explained that “if our roots go down into Jesus Christ then we can have complete confidence that He will sustain His children. Although our civilization may not last, His people and His Church will.”


Fast forward to this spring and the ARPA team came to my hometown to do the same presentation. But this time I was in the audience, alongside a few of my children. One of my former colleagues gave the same demonstration, using a mum that he picked up at the local grocery store. He asked my son Nathan to hold it while he cut the flowers, and then gave the flowers to Nathan to take home.

Nathan took those cut flowers home and my wife Jaclyn put them in a vase with water. I expected that they would wilt quickly and be thrown out in a few days. I then promptly forgot about them.

A month later I was surprised to see that the flowers were still alive in that vase. And when we pulled them out of the water we were astonished to see that they had started growing some very impressive roots!

Jesus once said that if his disciples had to keep quiet, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). In this case, the flowers were crying out. Their message was hard to miss. It is God who gives life, also to civilizations. Just as God birthed and blessed Western Civilization, so He is able to cause it to grow new roots if that is His will.

Indeed, we serve a God of abounding grace. When we, as individuals, try to go our own way, if God is pleased to save us, He will achieve His purpose. He brings us back. God can also give a new lease on life to a civilization.


20th Century historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote a 12-volume book set about the rise and fall of 26 civilizations throughout history. He concluded that “great civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.” I once wrote:

“What happens to a society which discourages new life, kills vulnerable life, surgically alters healthy bodies to conform to unhealthy minds, puts the greatest taxes on those who are the most economically productive, and treats a basic building block of life (carbon) as if it were a pollutant? That society is committing suicide.”

In other words, even though I care deeply for our civilization, I had little hope for it.

But through this mum, I was reminded that civilizations don’t rise and fall based simply on the behavior and choices of their leaders and citizens. Jesus Christ is guiding all of history and gets to determine what happens to the West. And He may well show His grace, just as He has done to so many of us individually.

My wife Jaclyn has since cut the flowers off the stems and planted the roots (with the stems) in new soil. She explained to me that the plant’s energy needs to now go into taking root, not keeping the flowers alive. The flowers can come later.

Indeed, may God be gracious to the West and allow us to yet grow our roots into Him. There may yet be new flowers blooming in His time.

Let’s pray that God will work revival, while shining His grace and truth wherever He plants us.

Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of Reformed Perspective.

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The conceited apple-branch: a Romans 12:3-8 fable?

Was Hans Christian Andersen thinking of Romans 12:3-8 when he wrote this? Perhaps not…. but he could have been. ***** It was the month of May. The wind still blew cold, but from bush and tree, field and flower, came the whisper “Spring has come.” Wildflowers covered the hedges, and under one little apple-tree, Spring seemed especially busy, telling his tale to one of the branches which hung fresh and blooming, and covered with delicate pink blossoms that were just ready to open. Now the branch knew well how beautiful it was – this knowledge exists as much in the leaf as in our blood. I was not surprised when a nobleman’s carriage, in which sat a young countess, stopped in the road right by. She said that an apple-branch was a most lovely object, and an example of spring at its most charming its most charming. Then the branch was broken off for her, and she held it in her delicate hand, and sheltered it with her silk parasol. Then they drove to the castle, in which were lofty halls and splendid rooms. Pure white curtains fluttered in every open window, and beautiful flowers stood in shining, transparent vases. In one of them, which looked as if it had been cut out of newly fallen snow, the apple-branch was placed, among some fresh, light twigs of beech. It was a charming sight. Then the branch became proud, which was very much like human nature. People of every description entered the room, and expressed their admiration. Some said nothing, others expressed too much, and the apple-branch very soon came to understand that there was as much difference in the characters of human beings as in those of plants and flowers. Some are all for pomp and parade, others are busy trying to maintain their own importance, while the rest might not be noticed at all. So, thought the apple-branch, as he stood before the open window, from which he could see out over gardens and fields where there were flowers and plants enough for him to think and reflect upon, it is the way of things that some are rich and beautiful, some poor and humble. “Poor, despised herbs,” said the apple-branch, “there is really a difference between them and one such as I. How unhappy they must be, if that sort can even feel as those in my position do! There is a difference indeed, and so there ought to be, or we should all be equals.” And the apple-branch looked with a sort of pity upon them, especially on a certain little flower that is found in fields and in ditches. No one gathered these flowers together in a bouquet; they were too common. They were even known to grow between the paving stones, shooting up everywhere, like bad weeds, and they bore the very ugly name of “dog-flowers” or “dandelions.” “Poor, despised plants,” said the apple-bough again, “it is not your fault that you are so ugly, and that you have such an ugly name. But it is with plants as with men, – there must be a difference.” “A difference?” cried the sunbeam, as he kissed the blooming apple-branch, and then kissed the yellow dandelion out in the fields. All were brothers, and the sunbeam kissed them all – the poor flowers as well as the rich. The apple-bough had never considered the extent of God’s love, which reaches out over all of creation, over every creature and plant and thing which lives, and moves, and has its being in Him. The apple-bough had never thought of the good and beautiful which are so often hidden, but can never remain forgotten by Him – not only among the lower creation, but also among men. However, the sunbeam, the ray of light, knew better. “You do not see very far, nor very clearly,” he said to the apple-branch. “Which is the despised plant you so specially pity?” “The dandelion,” he replied. “No one ever gathers it into bouquets; it is often trodden under foot, there are so many of them; and when they run to seed, they have flowers like wool, which fly away in little pieces over the roads, and cling to the dresses of the people. They are only weeds. But of course there must be weeds. Oh, I am really very thankful that I was not made like one of these flowers.” Soon after a group of children came to the fields, the youngest of whom was so small that he had to be carried by the others. And when he was seated on the grass, among the yellow flowers, he laughed aloud with joy, kicking out his little legs, rolling about, plucking the yellow flowers, and kissing them in childlike innocence. The older children broke off the flowers with long stems, bent the stalks one round the other, to form links, and made first a chain for the neck, then one to go across the shoulders and hang down to the waist, and at last a wreath to wear round the head. They all looked quite splendid in their garlands of green stems and golden flowers. It was then that the oldest among them carefully gathered the faded flowers – those that were going to seed in the form of a white feathery crown. These loose, airy wool-flowers are very beautiful, and look like fine snowy feathers or down. The children held them to their mouths, and tried to blow away the whole crown with one puff of their breath. “Do you see?” said the sunbeam, “Do you see the beauty of these flowers? Do you see their powers of giving pleasure?” “Yes, to children,” scoffed the apple-bough. By-and-by an old woman came into the field, and, with a blunt knife, began to dig round the roots of some of the dandelion-plants, and pull them up. With some of these she intended to make tea for herself, but the rest she was going to sell to the chemist, and obtain some money. “But beauty is of higher value than all this,” said the apple-tree branch; “only the chosen ones can be admitted into the realms of the beautiful. There is a difference between plants, just as there is a difference between men.” Then the sunbeam spoke of the abundant love of God, as seen in creation, and seen over all that lives, and of the distribution of His gifts to all. “That is your opinion,” said the apple-bough. Then some people came into the room, and, among them, the young countess – the lady who had placed the apple-bough in the transparent vase, so pleasantly beneath the rays of the sunlight. She carried in her hand something that seemed like a flower. The object was hidden by two or three great leaves, which covered it like a shield, so that no draft or gust of wind could injure it. And it was carried more carefully than the apple-branch had ever been. Very cautiously the large leaves were removed, and there appeared the feathery seed-crown of the despised dandelion. This was what the lady had so carefully plucked, and carried home so safely covered, so that not one of the delicate feathery arrows of which its mist-like shape was so lightly formed, should flutter away. She now drew it forth quite uninjured, and wondered at its beautiful form, and airy lightness, and singular construction, so soon to be blown away by the wind. “See,” she exclaimed, “how wonderfully God has made this little flower. I will paint it with the apple-branch together. Every one admires the beauty of the apple-bough; but this humble flower has been endowed by Heaven with another kind of loveliness; and although they differ in appearance, both are the children of the realms of beauty.” Then the sunbeam kissed the lowly flower, and he kissed the blooming apple-branch, upon whose leaves appeared a rosy blush. This is a lightly modified/modernized version of Andersen's “The Conceited Apple-Branch.” ...