Perhaps the most often asked question of us as we live nomadically is “What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen on your travels?” There’s a lot of competition for that designation, as you can imagine. The truest answer is “The people we meet”, but when we are pressed to give an answer with regard to nature, enormous trees will always have first place in my heart for all they represent to me --- especially during times of day when komorebi is at its peak, that is, when golden sunlight is filtering through the leaves.
Our visit to the Folsom church of Christ happened to fall after we’d explored Sequoia National Park and right between our visit to the Redwoods in Santa Cruz and the Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California.
It was not our first visit to the congregation, in fact, we have many happy memories of visits throughout the ’90s and early 2000s when we were raising our family, and from time to time would pass through Folsom, California on our way to visit family or to vacation further south. In addition to knowing we’d hear an inspiring sermon from David Posey, during those years we’d also be invited to join them for either their annual picnic at the historic Sutter’s Mill or to someone’s home. Several times, David came to our congregation as well to hold meetings for us, and one year Mark and our oldest daughter, Ashley, drove down together so he could preach a series for the congregation called “Standing In The Gap” and our then teenage daughter, Ashley, could spend time with the young people she’d met and bonded with at the Greater Northwest Florida College summer camp. When our good friends Alison and Jack Horak moved to Folsom, we had yet another reason to visit.
David has quite thoughtfully introduced the Folsom church of Christ to those who visit their website and does so in such a thorough and concise way, I thought it useful to my readers to include it here. I especially appreciated this introduction for its conversational style and how much foundational teaching it shares:
“Welcome to the Folsom church of Christ. We would like to tell you what we believe so that you'll know a little bit about what drives us. Here at Folsom, we just want to be Christians.
We believe that a local church can function in exactly the same way as churches in the first century. Our goal is to return to the original plan for the church, as Christ intended when He built it. Why do we try? Because a restoration of true New Testament Christianity is the only way to avoid the confusion and division we witness in the religious world today. Long ago, Jeremiah said, "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.'" (Jeremiah 6:16).
We want to be Christians, nothing more, nothing less; Christians only, meeting with other Christians, doing what Christians are expected to do. This is important because Christ, the Author of Christianity, expects it: Mt 16:16; 28:18-20. He has the authority. He built the church and only He can change His plan for the church. He gave the apostles authority (Eph. 2:20). Man is not capable of building a "church of Christ." Only Christ can do that and only Christ has done it. We want to be Christians. We have a blueprint for bringing the reality of New Testament Christianity to the 21st century: The New Testament. Sensible and objective interpretation of Scripture. Absolute application, without regard to culture or feelings.
We can speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent; we can do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names. Some say it's impossible. They say it can't be done. What did the authors of the Bible think? What does God think? The Bible tells us we can and must "speak as the very utterances of God." They tell us we can all be of one mind and one spirit, as long as we focus on the gospel of Christ (see I Pet. 4:11a; Phil 1:27; I Cor. 1:10). But aren't there insurmountable obstacles? Yes, as long as people are loyal to something or someone other than Christ. Religious unity is impossible with those who insist on a relative, rather than absolute, view of truth. It takes faith and "faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Religious unity is a wonderful thing and it is: attainable. But our goals must be clear: (1) to be Christians only and (2) to work at making the church just like those of the first century. Only then can we realize the unity of all of those who are of like mind. Our plea to everyone we know and love is to go back to the Bible, and the Bible only, for the answers.” David Posey
Before worship we sat down in a full classroom for a fascinating deep dig study of the book of Joel, then after a lovely worship time and hugging the necks of old friends, we had a good long talk over lunch with our cherished buddy Jack Horak and his sons. On Sunday evenings the members have some options. Some members gather again back at the church building while others opt to meet in various homes. Jack invited us to join him at the Bible class he attends in one of the homes of the members. Although it was just a handful of us, I can honestly say that our study of Acts 26 was one of the deepest and most practical Bible studies I’d had all year. Truth be told, I found myself thinking, “If I ever settled here, I could learn so much from these people.” It got to wondering, how many people have come to this family of God looking for strength, truth, comfort, and spiritual nourishment over the past decades and found exactly that in this thriving community?
This congregation has a reputation for being as love-filled as they are uncompromising when it comes to speaking the whole counsel of God, and the faithfulness with which they worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), despite the fact that outside their walls both cultural and literal wildfires burn from time to time around them. Still, there they are, holding on tight to one another, facing the world head-on with confidence in their God and optimism on their faces. Together they preach the word of God as far as Eastern Europe, reaching out to the children in their community by way of Vacation Bible Schools, holding Young People’s Bible Study Weekends, and so much more. California is one of the most beautiful states in the union, still, like most of the congregations on the West Coast recently, there’s no immunity to the ripple effects of Covid, the increased cost of living, and the increase of legislation in support of moral darkness, and yet there remains a strength that to me is not unlike the Redwoods to the north and south of this congregation that has also been tested by fire.
God often uses nature to demonstrate for us such invaluable spiritual truths. As Robert Frost has observed, “Nature is always hinting at us. It hints over and over again. And suddenly we take the hint.” I’d like to spend the remainder of this entry highlighting some of those hints that I hope those in congregations who have been similarly tested will find encouraging.
Just as the Kingdom of heaven starts out small (Matthew 13:31-32) and goes on spread throughout to every nation, so the seed of a mighty California redwood begins the size of an oatmeal flake. How wondrous that from such small seeds, come the tallest trees in the world --- between 250 and 300 feet tall. And like the Kingdom of Heaven that is said to be a place where the birds of the air can nest in its branches, so also the Redwoods. “Because they are so large and live so long, a single redwood tree can support a vast array of other organisms. Think of them as giant apartment complexes. Over many years, leaf litter and dust from the highest redwood branches floats down and lands on lower branches, creating mats of nutrient-rich soil far above the actual forest floor. These ecosystems, called epiphyte communities, have been observed to host up to 282 species of plants, fungi, and animals – including new redwood trees – all within a single tree.” * We’d do well to think of our congregations as havens where weary souls can rest and be refreshed.
One of the many qualities that makes God’s kingdom stand out from the kingdoms of men is that it is “everlasting” (Psalm 145:13). With a lifespan of up to 2,000 years, the coastal redwoods are one of the earth’s longest-living lifeforms, in fact, their Latin name, sequoia sempervirens, means “everlasting”. So why do redwoods live so long? Well, like God’s plan for His people, “Redwoods can often be seen growing in circles, known as… “family circles” [Matthew 12:48-50] because they sprouted from the roots of a parent tree. The parent tree helps to nourish the sprouts with water and sugars through its well-established root system while they grow [1 Corinthians 3:6-8]. When the parent trees die, the young redwoods continue to grow in the circle shielding, stabilizing, and nourishing each other through their roots [1 Thessalonians 5:11]. Redwoods will help each other even if they aren’t “family” [1 Timothy 1:2]. Trees in the ring aren’t always genetically identical or clones of the parent tree. Some of the redwoods in a ring can also grow from seedlings. Redwoods take care of one another supporting each other [Philippians 2:4] with nutrients through their interconnected roots [Colossians 2:2] including their young, sick, and old… A lone fir is vulnerable to wind storms, but Redwoods create the strength to withstand powerful winds and floods by living in groves so their roots can spread out and interlock with the root systems of the other trees.” *
God says that those who delight in His Law and think about it day and night not only survive, they can stay lush and fruitful even during times of spiritual drought (Psalm 1:1-4; Jeremiah 17). God’s children drink freely of the living water that Christ gives us so that our souls never thirst again, and this water is so abundant that it becomes in us “...a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Likewise, “Redwoods need massive amounts of water to survive – according to one report, as much as 600 quarts of water each day. To make it through the summer dry season, redwoods make their own rain – getting 15 to 45% of their water directly from coastal fog which they are able to capture from the air thanks to specially shaped branches and leaves. Think of redwoods like giant fog receptors. As the fog rolls in, the moisture condenses on the leaves and drips down to nourish the tree’s roots and the plant communities below. On especially foggy days, it can almost look like it’s raining underneath a redwood canopy. And fog has the added bonus of reducing evaporation, making it easier for the trees to hold onto their water in the heat of the summer” [John 7:38].
Like the good influence that God’s children become when they speak His truths in the presence of the souls around them (Matthew 5:14-16), likewise, the California Redwoods continually make the world a better place by "breathing in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen and water vapor through tiny holes in their leaves called stomata. “On 1 square millimeter of a leaf, there are 100 to 1,000 of these little mouths, all breathing. One mature tree breathes in 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year and the exhalations of two mature trees provide enough oxygen for you to breathe for more than a year.” *
God gives His children fruits of the Spirit for us to live out (Galatians 5:19-25) as our natural defense against diseases of the heart and mind, freeing us from what would otherwise poison our souls: wrath, lust, anger, worry, bitterness, and so on (Romans 1:22ff). Redwoods also have a remarkable resistance to fungal disease and insect infestation because of the high levels of tannin and other chemicals the Creator has used to form the redwood’s bark, leaves, and branches.
Throughout life, Christians will face threats to the well-being of their souls. Many of these trials are as dangerous to our souls as a fire (1 Peter 4:12). God, in His great mercy, has supplied us with all we need to weather such fires victoriously (2 Peter 1:3-9). So also, the California Redwoods have thick bark, that retains large quantities of water like a sponge protecting them from the fires. A hot fire can burn the interior of the tree and scar it to the point that interior sections are completely hollowed out. When you walk through these lush forests and see what some of these trees have been through, you can’t help but relate, and the most inspiring part that blows me away? Often these trees that have been through such fiery ordeals are still so alive that whatever is left of them continues to put out fresh, new growth (Luke 22:31-32). In fact, it is the fire itself that makes a giant sequoia’s cones able to open and release their seeds! How remarkable that as ugly as fires are, and as scarring as they can be, they are in fact a necessary cleansing (1 Peter 1:6-8) stimulating new growth and new life so that we can become more fruitful and increase in strength (Romans 5:3-5).
In the course of our travels, we’ve also witnessed the breathtaking result of God gifting His creation the ability to heal and rejuvenate itself. After the devastating wildfires in Oregon in 2017, there were large areas of only ugly stumps and burned trees, but the areas of former devastation are now filled with wildflowers thriving in their newfound sunshine as if it’s their moment of glory.
Under the right conditions, God indeed has given this earth the power to heal itself. He makes all things new. Even us! Like nothing else, the gospel is the ultimate rejuvenation and renewal for the soul of man (Romans 1:16). The Christians in Corinth certainly found this to be true when they made a clean break with the most addictive of sins (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-3). How inspiring! Far more significant than the power of nature to heal itself, is the power of the gospel to replace the old you, with the new you (Ephesians 4:24ff) who, as God’s new beloved child, is in full pursuit of imitating the glorious virtues of God (Ephesians 5:1). In the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:3 when God sends His anointed to heal the brokenhearted, He promises them “a flower wreath instead of ashes. (OJB)” Where the former territory has been burned to the ground by Satan, let’s allow the Lord to grow lush wildflowers in our lives to His glory.
“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.”
Both big trees and the smaller ones we climbed as children for adventure, comfort, or solitude are still out there. The field and forests are still places of adventure and discovery and can even be a perfect hiding place for a time when you feel drawn by our Lord’s invitation to “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Matthew 6:31). Going into the forests is for many of us like going home. Sometimes I wonder what the world would look like if we replaced whatever we are looking for in manmade entertainment and instead soothed ourselves with the wonder of gazing at something not made with hands --- a wondrous, quiet, and untouched forest fresh from the hand of the Creator. What delights await us when we take a long walk in the woods at a pace that gives us time to notice the small things. Let’s fill our lungs with the breath of God’s trees. Let’s stare at the sunlight falling through the lacework of leaves. Let’s marvel at the smell of earth after a good, hard rain. Let’s be still for a few moments and close our eyes and listen.
“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” John Muir
Folsom church of Christ
900 East Natoma Street
Folsom, CA 95630
http://www.folsomchurch.com/Church of Christ