It’s nearing the end of January, so I suppose you are wondering why you’re seeing a bunch of dead leaves in this usually seasonally topical blog. The simple reason is that I use this photo as my Windows wallpaper on my computer and it keeps reminding me of its presence and (to me at least) attractiveness, every day.
You can learn a lot by looking at dead leaves. For instance, you can tell what kind of forest community (what kind of trees are growing together) the leaves are a part of. In this case, it’s primarily a community of oaks, beeches and birches. From that information, you should be able to tell something about the forest’s climate and geology, as well as the chemistry of its soil. A veteran Bergen County hiker might be able even to identify the woods where the photo was snapped.
Beyond the ecology, it’s the structure of the leaves themselves that draws me in. Dead as they are, they maintain their intricately engineered structure after the abscission process has nudged them from their parent trees. Fortified with cellulose and lignin, the outer form, especially of the oaks, may endure for months or even years before offering up its structure to dehydration, oxidation and fungal decay, the biosphere’s slow but efficient recycling machine.
A few months earlier, our fallen leaves had been vibrant solar-powered food factories, sucking up Carbon Dioxide and puffing out Oxygen in the process of producing carbo-hydrates, proteins, fats and an amazing cornucopia of other complex organic compounds ranging from pigments to toxic alkaloids. The cell layers of each leaf are engineered for controlled light absorption and gas exchange, while the organelles within each cell are working their magic in biochemical pathways that boggle the minds of biology students and should, when considered without naturalistic bias, cause nightmares for evolutionists. One glance at even a simplified depiction of the Calvin Cycle (oh, that’s what that funny diagram is) should tip any objective mind toward Intelligent Design and away from mindless evolution. (By the way, that biochemical pathway is named after Melvin, not John, as much of a fan of the latter I may be.)
Another glance at our forest floor detritus has me contemplating subjects more profound, such as the condition of the organized church and our individual Christian lives, about externals versus internals and such. I know that’s a stretch, but that’s how the SAITUAHFTC Principle* works (or should work) in this blog.
There is no doubt that the old denominational churches, as well as so-called non-denominational churches, are in big trouble. They have strayed from biblical orthodoxy in countless ways, ordaining women and homosexuals, centering on entertainment, showmanship and seeker-friendly worship—and often straying from the very foundations of the Gospel. Even the conservative churches, while maintaining strict adherence to reformation doctrine, seem sometimes to be spiritually dead, their outward structure hiding inward dryness and decay. The charismatic groups, while claiming to be “filled with the Spirit,” often exhibit bizarre emotionalism, mostly devoid of doctrinal content, stretching the limits of biblical “decent and orderly” behavior in their worship.
So what’s new? The problem with the churches is that they are filled with a bunch of weird, miscreant oddballs called—sinners, saved by grace. And such has it been from the start. The first century churches were a handful for their leaders, always straying into either legalism or permissiveness of gross immorality, protognosticism and other false philosophies. Most of the New Testament epistles were written, at least in part, as correctives of such misbehavior and errant thought. And only two of the letters sent by Apostle John to local congregations included no condemnation from Jesus. The church at Sardis, in particular, was a really “dead leaf” bunch. And the Lord threatened to push the Laodicean leaf off the tree (spew them out of His mouth).
Then there is the rest of church history—one heresy after another having to be fought over and corrected; the construction of a monstrous, legalistic hierarchical organizational structure, gross immorality in leadership, even selling tickets out of Purgatory—so bad that God had to bring the Reformation to bring His Church back to its roots.
One of the tenets of the Reformation is “semper reformanda”—always reforming. That doesn’t mean always changing, as seems to be the habit of the modern church, but rather, constantly re-examining, detecting and correcting our constant tendency to drift from the truth.
But thank God that the dead leaf analogy that started this harangue is only partially and temporarily consistent with truth! Yes, dead leaf churches and congregations have always had to be pushed off the tree—for the survival of the tree. Dead leaves are not only useless, they can—through the accumulation of snow in winter—cause damage to the branches and the entire tree. It is the massive tree—roots, trunk and branches—His Church—that He promised would survive through thick and thin, until He returns.
In another sense, we, as individual believers, are His leaves. Are we clinging to our Branch? No! The Branch is clinging to us—with His almighty strength! He will never let us go! But we too must constantly be practicing semper reformanda, detecting signs of dryness, returning to His Word for nourishment and strength, as we endure the vagaries of life in the forest of His fallen creation. The mere thought of becoming mere skeletons of cellulose and lignin should literally put the fear of God in us.
Yes, dead leaves can get us thinking!
*SAITUAHFTC: Start anywhere in the universe and head for the Cross.
Soli Deo Gloria