The photo shows trees growing at the top of Carson Pass, which crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains at an elevation of over 8500 feet. Each winter, storms coming in from the Pacific Ocean sweep across the Sierras, creating blizzard conditions with heavy snow and high winds. Winds can gust to over 100 mph as they funnel across the ridges, so it is no surprise that the trees look a little worse for the wear. Yet this too is part of God’s creation, and the trees grow.
Look closely at the large tree in the middle of the photo. Sustained strong winds twisted its trunk. Trees with straight trunks can be sawn into lumber, but trees with twisted trunks are not suitable because of the twisted grain of the wood. I can tell you from hands-on experience with an ax, sledgehammer, and steel wedges that twisted trunks are stronger against splitting. Wood with a straight grain is easy to split for a campfire, but wood from these twisted trunks is almost impossible to split. Years of testing by the wind twisted the tree trunk, but the tree gained additional strength as it grew and stood against the wind.
Individuals, families, and even entire congregations can be like that twisted tree. We may show the weathered signs of ongoing testing, and we may look a little worse for the wear. The world may not find us suitable for their purposes. But God uses times of testing to give us an unseen strength against splitting, centered in Christ. This brings two Bible passages to mind:
Romans 5:3-5 exhorts us: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We live in interesting, challenging times. May our Lord help us realize His strengthening, encouragement, and hope!
John 17:20-21 records Jesus praying, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” We face the risk of drifting apart, of losing the “congregate” part of congregation. May our Lord give us a strong, overcoming unity in Christ!