Aug 20 2010

Ancient Life

Ancient bristleconeOne of my favorite places is the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in California in the White Mountains. These are relatively dry mountains inbetween the Sierra Nevada and Death Valley. At altitude (meaning above 10,00 feet) are the ancient bristlecones.

These trees can be thousands of years old. The oldest are estimated to be around 4,000 years old. That just blows me away. When I am in the presence of one of these trees, I understand that it was alive, and probably old, before Christ was born. I understand that, but it is really hard to fully grasp down deep. From our limited human perspective, Christ was born a long time ago. So many things have happened in human and church history since then. Yet no matter what happened, this bristlecone pine went about its business simply living in a very challenging environment.

When most people hear of bristlecone pine, they think of these ancient trees. Yet, in many locations up in the mountains, bristlecone pine grow like most any other pine in forests that look like many other pine forests. There are unique conditions in the ancient bristlecone area. The soil has a lot of a stone called dolomite — this makes the soil filled with some minerals that discourage growth of many plants and slow the growth of the bristlecone. In addition, the soil dries quickly. Even more, these trees are growing at altitudes of 11,000 feet and more, so winter conditions are severe. That keeps other plants out, which would cut wind, and further adds stress to the bristlecones. So they grow slowly, but can be damaged on one side or the other so that side dies, yet the plant keeps growing. Conditions are too difficult for most diseases or rot-causing fungi.

That kind of gives a perspective about God. We always want things to happen quickly (that certainly is true of me!), yet here is one of God’s creations that simply lives seemingly forever. A year or two is nothing to an ancient bristlecone pine. A 50-year-old bristlecone in this area is but a baby.

In Bishop Tutu’s wonderful book, Made for Goodness, he talks about how we often feel we fail or succeed on very limited timeframes. He feels that God may have success for us in mind, but it is on His timeframe, not ours, because He knows more about the world and what happens in it than we will ever know. In that vein, one might look at a broken, half-dead bristlecone and think it has failed to survive in a tough environment. Yet, God created this tree to live in this environment, to be in this environment, so loss of part of the tree does not matter because the tree is also alive and has been for centuries. Perhaps there is a lesson in the bristlecone that time is relative and that our demands for “success” or “failure avoidance” may be way too limited in their timescale.


Jul 25 2010

Nature’s Sermons

BIP 669I continue to be amazed at how the various figures of the Bible use nature to illustrate spiritual truths.  I’m reading the Book of Jeremiah now and a few days ago I came across a passage where the prophet encouraged his listeners to trust in God.  He indicates that there are benefits of trusting God but he doesn’t say exactly what these benefits are.  Instead he compares them to a tree planted by water.

The passage I’m referring to is Jeremiah 17:7-8.  It reads, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A similar comparison is made in Psalm 1.  There the Psalmist declares as “happy” those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (v. 3)

Since I live in an area which has lots of creeks and rivers I see every day “trees planted by water.”  And sure enough, even in the tremendous heat we are experiencing this summer, they continue to thrive.  They have what they need most—water.

In God we find what we need most.  And Jeremiah is certainly right.  There are many benefits of putting our trust in God.  Like the tree planted by water we can endure difficult times when we remain close to God.  We can live without fear and anxiety knowing that the One who created us and everything else has promised to provide for our needs.  We can live productive lives as long as we stay close to our Maker.  This is something Jesus himself stressed in his analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As a pastor I have the privilege of delivering sermons each Sunday.  Here lately the Bible has been reminding me that nature delivers sermons each and every day.  Are we listening?  We should be!


(The “tree planted by water” shown above was photographed at Breaks Interstate Park in southeast Kentucky.)

May 2 2010

The Giving Tree

backyard 177b

“They are strong, like a tree planted by water…” (Psalm 1:3)

This past week numerous trees were planted around the world. This occurs each year as part of Arbor Day. Many of those who participated probably didn’t realize that by  planting trees we join with God in the work of Creation.

Trees play an important role in the Scriptures. In the opening chapters of the Bible God creates trees. Adam and Eve are charged to tend to or care for these trees. At the end of the Scriptures we find a description of the Celestial City. John tells us there will be trees there that bear fruit perpetually. Between Genesis and Revelation there are numerous other references to trees.

For me trees reflect something of the character of God. It would seem that trees, by their very nature, are givers. They give shade. They give fruit. They give oxygen. They give pleasure. When they shed their leaves they give back to the earth. Like God, they are always giving.

Seeing trees can serve as a reminder that we, too, are supposed to be givers. Far too many people live their lives as takers. I’m convinced life has far more meaning and joy when we give.

To be givers we must have resources to give. Here, too, we can learn from the trees. They all have roots which take from the soil so that they can be able to give. We, too, must have something to draw from. Actually in our case it is Someone. As we allow our roots to grow deep into God and His Word we are enabled to be the givers we were created to be. Just like the trees…


(The image above was taken behind my house a couple of weeks ago.)

Jan 3 2010

Smiling at the Trees

CUGA-Pinnacle-winter-hI recently came across a moving story in Rick Bass’ book, The Wild Marsh.  In the following passage Rick tells of the day his young daughter, Lowry, asked the question, “Where is God?”

 “The question catches me for half a step, maybe longer.  Everywhere, I answer.  Lowry considers this, looks around, then points to a huge cedar.  Is that tree him?  Yes.  Where’s his ear?  Well—he really doesn’t have ears.  I can see her considering an earless visage, and so I change tack and fall back on the familiar: Everywhere.  She peruses the woods more closely.  A tree has fallen across the trail and been sawed into pieces by the trail crew and shoved to one side.  Is that cut-down tree him?  Yes.  On the drive home, once we get to the gravel drive, I let Low sit in my lap and steer.  As she does so this time, I notice that she keeps looking out her window and flashing her pretty smile, and holding it for several seconds.  When I ask her what she’s doing, she says, Smiling at the trees.

I think Rick’s daughter is on to something here.  If God is everywhere—if He is made manifest in all that He has made—shouldn’t there be more smiles on our faces?  Isn’t that one way we might recognize and honor God’s presence? 

Because of my environmental views I have been called a “tree hugger.”  I don’t mind the label at all.  I do love nature and want us to do whatever we can to preserve and protect God’s Creation.  Still, I think I’d prefer to be known as a “tree smiler,” as someone who recognizes God’s presence in Creation and gratefully responds to His gift.  Furthermore, I want to be someone who helps others see God in His Creation so that they can smile at trees too.  In the year to come, I hope you find much to smile about.


(The image above was taken from the Pinnacle at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.)

Jun 6 2009

As White as Snow

magnolia-4481A large magnolia tree grows in my backyard.  It is a southern magnolia, a widely recognized symbol of the South.  Despite the fact that the trees’ leaves have to be constantly raked and have a knack for finding their way into our swimming pool, I’m glad the tree is there.  The tree is a beauty to behold and each spring and summer its flowers remind me of an important spiritual lesson.

Even though I have been a Christian for 43 years and a minister for 33, I am still a sinner.   Maybe it’s because I am a minister who feels like he should know better, but when I do sin I feel really guilty.   If I’m not careful I can get quite discouraged and let my guilt drag me down.  Thankfully I find some reminders in nature that help me to recall a greater reality—my forgiveness. 

In Isaiah 1:18 God says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”   It is indeed my conviction that because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).  The beautiful white magnolia blossom (like the one pictured here and photographed yesterday) is for me a symbol not just of the South but of God’s amazing grace.  It, like snow, is there to remind me of my true status before God—I am a sinner saved by grace!  To quote the late Jerry Clower, “Ain’t God good?!”

–Chuck Summers