One Without the Other

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You can’t have one without the other. This thought began today when my camera strap went around my neck. The air temperature was 68 F. That is important when your subject is invertebrates. Rain had fallen earlier, so insects were moving slowly.

After a few moments of observation, my subjects became the soldier beetle and showy goldenrod.

After taking their photos, my goal was to share them with you. Reading about them soon led me to the idea that, you can’t have one without the other. Without the pollinating work of the soldier beetles, there would be no showy goldenrod. Yet, without the showy goldenrod, there would be no soldier beetles.

Soldier beetles, like most insects, overwinter in the larval stage. Overwinter in some latitudes within beetle range means surviving average daytime temperatures of teens above zero and nighttime temperatures of 5 to -10 degrees F. (a range of -3 C to -22 C) Adult soldier beetles emerge from the pupa stage in later July to begin their life with pollen. Pollen of the goldenrod and other flowers blooming at this stage of summer is their food. If a flower blooms from mid-July till freeze up, it is likely a soldier beetle will visit it for a pollen dinner. Native plants have a symbiotic relationship with this common beetle. Both plant and insect benefit.

Showy goldenrod is beautiful. My favorite yellow is goldenrod yellow. This yellow is appealing to more than only my eyes. Many call this goldenrod the most attractive. This essential native plant grows throughout all of eastern and mid-western United States and in Manitoba and Ontario. It is a beneficial food source for butterflies. But, there is another one without the other showy goldenrod relationship. This is the most important one. It’s about when showy goldenrod blooms.

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It is not chance that brings showy goldenrod into bloom when the soldier beetles hatch from the pupa they were in during early summer. These two natural events occur almost simultaneously with symbiosis the goal.

Yes, there are many more “one without the other” relationships.  A few that may come to mind are:

  1. Loyalty and trust
  2. Experience and wisdom
  3. Success and sacrifice
  4. Happiness and peace of mind
  5. A beginning an end
  6. A healthy environment without predators
  7. Healthy forests or prairies and fire
  8. Flowers and pollinators
  9. Rivers, lakes or oceans and water
  10. Life and death
  11. Forgiveness of sin and Jesus

One without the other relationships are part of all human existence. But, number 11 is the only eternal one without the other relationship. We may ignore our conscious. When we do, we can ignore the fact that we sin. Yet, we fall short of God’s standards for humans every time. Sometimes ignoring our sin is less painful. But ignoring our sin is just a Band aid. Ignoring may cover-it up, but our sin is still there. Jesus came to earth to take away our sin. We cannot have our sin forever removed without Jesus. This is the one without the other relationship that matters for eternity. Everything else is trivia in comparison. One that has power to make the showy goldenrod and soldier beetle emerge at the same time of year has power to forgive your sins. We can’t have one without the other. The most important “one without the other?” It is forgiveness of sins and Jesus.

 “Brothers (and sisters), listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Acts 13:38  

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More Than All

Can you make Stiff Goldenrod Yellow or Blazing Star purple? Maybe. Then, make them bloom, pollinate, seed and produce the next generation. Can you make them drought and fire resistant? Maybe beautiful? Neither can I. There is One who can do “more than all” of these.
 
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be gloryEphesians 3:20-21DSC_0096_491sig

More Than All

Socrates is considered a wise man. Perhaps he is best known for his gifted ability to question everything and everyone. Today we know it as the Socratic method.  The Socratic method of teaching is to ask question after question until students or readers arrive at their own understanding.

The method of Socrates can lead us to truth. Here are the questions:

  1. How much is abundantly more than all?
  2. If all is done what more can be done?
  3. Is there a limit to more than all?
  4. Do you know any human who can actually do abundantly more than all?
  5. Is “more than all” even possible?

Nature provides us with a specific example which can enable us to understand the truth, the answers to these questions. The natural world exists to point us to truth.DSC_0007_462_483sig(Beaded water on Indian-Grass)

Our example is the grasshopper. Specifically, Melanoplus bivittatus, or the Two Striped Grasshopper. The two-striped grasshopper is one species of more than 20,000 species world-wide. The two striped is the grasshopper with, as expected, two yellow stripes which run from their head to mid-wing forming a triangle. The ultimate habitat for the two-striped grasshopper is prairie. The two-striped is a herbivore, a plant eater. It eats flowers and grass. Flowers like Stiff Goldenrod and Monarda, and grasses like Indian grass and Big Bluestem find their way into the stomach of the two-striped. This grasshopper lives in a beautiful world. DSC_0020_464sig(Stiff Goldenrod)

DSC_0023_465sig(Soldier Beetle on  Gray headed coneflower)

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In a prairie, there is always a harmonious balance. The eaters seldom overcome the plants. Plants dominate. But grasshoppers and their kind can and have overpowered everything. The over-abundance of grasshoppers and locusts is common in world history. Consider two. The first occurred in the United States. It is recorded in history as the grasshopper plague of 1874. In July of that year millions of Rocky Mountain locusts flew into the prairies of the Dakotas and all the way to Texas. By 1874 much of what had been prairie had been repurposed to become farmland growing wheat. This plague of locusts destroyed everything-even wooden tool handles!

The second plague occurred much earlier in human history. The setting was ancient Egypt. It is recorded in the Bible in the book of Exodus chapter 10. In this chapter, it is recorded that the locusts covered the entire country of Egypt and “darkened” the land, and after they were done eating, “not a single leaf was left on the trees and plants.”

Now, return with me to the first question: How much is abundantly more than all?

Few of us have ever seen a plague of locusts like that described in these two accounts. We realize that it must have been a natural disaster of the greatest magnitude, yet since we have never seen such a swarm of locusts, we cannot fully understand. But these plagues bring within sight of the truth. While these plagues contained millions of grasshoppers-neither were more than all. We can see the truth standing on the history of these locust accounts. No human could create the vast swarms contained in these plagues. No human could even make 1 grasshopper.DSC_0044_471sig(The Two-striped Grasshopper

God is our More Than All. He is able to do abundantly more than all. There is no limit to God. It is God who does “abundantly more than all.” This brings us to one of the greatest truths the human mind can consider. Since God is able to do abundantly more than all, like creating swarms of locusts and grasshoppers. Can God be abundantly more than all for you? What are your needs? What benefit would there be for you and I to trust ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all?  Does it help to know that this ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all so loves the world? The not so lowly grasshopper is just one evidence of the infinite powers of More Than All.

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

 

The Magician

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It is a magician but with flowers, stems and roots. It can pollinate itself. But we seldom are excited with pollination, it is out of sight, but it’s still magical. It reaches above earth from ½ to over a meter in height. Not a giant, but perfectly tall enough in a prairie. Its delicate leaves are light and touch sensitive. They enfold at a touch or change in light-yes-magical. Its white flowers are spherical. They resemble something other worldly. In a sense, they are.

Our plant magician is the Illinois BundleFlower (Desmanthus illinoensis). It is also called False sensitive plant. The BundleFlower is significantly better than a magician. Magicians use sleight of hand and illusion to conduct their “magic”.  The Illinois BundleFlower is the real thing.

It is a highly nutritious plant. It is palatable to all classes of livestock, deer and pronghorn antelope. The Eastern Cottontail that lives in our prairie garden likes it also, but not with the cayenne pepper I sprinkle on the leaves. The seeds of BundleFlower are eagerly eaten by birds and rodents. The protein content of BundleFlower seed is 38%, this nearly equals the 40% protein found in soybeans.  In documents published by the USDA, this native plant is considered one of the most important native prairie legumes.

 BundleFlower grows in much of the central to eastern United States. It ranges southward from South Dakota and Minnesota through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and eastward to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas and into Florida.

My guess is-you’ve never seen it before. In more than 6 decades of walking pastures and prairies, my eyes had never seen even one Illinois BundleFlower. In the fall of 2015 my hands touched its seed pods. We gathered them, saved them and propagated them in a greenhouse. The photos you see are of BundleFlower growing in our prairie garden from that seed. Call me a geek, or a bore if you wish. Having Illinois BundleFlower growing in my backyard is a special thrill. We do not see these plants because most of the North American prairie is now at work doing another task: producing food for America.DSC_0010_417sig

It is also most likely that as you have now read this far the skeptic in you has been saying, magician? This is no biggie, it’s just a plant! Been waiting for you to say that. It’s time for just little science. We know that oxygen comes from the air we breathe. Many of us know that the earth’s atmosphere contains more than oxygen. Gasses in the blend we breathe are:

Nitrogen – 78 percent.

Oxygen – 21 percent.

Argon – 0.93 percent.

Carbon dioxide – 0.038 percent.

Remember a few sentences ago we said BundleFlower is one of the most important native prairie legumes? Being a legume means the BundleFlower during the process of photosynthesis can transfer nitrogen from the air into plant ready fertilizer-in the soil. Explained another way: BundleFlower can transfer the nitrogen in the air into the soil. It becomes fertilizer plants can use-and it is all natural.

My current guess is you are thinking, “is that all you’ve got?” Stop, consider what was said. BundleFlower can change a gas in the air to a solid fertilizer in the soil that all plants benefit from. It’s actually a miracle, not magic.

We live in an amazing world. There are always new things to discover. There are always surprises to delight us. The Illinois BundleFlower is a special delight. What discoveries could you make by stepping out your door? What things in nature could fill you with delight? They are out there, go outside.

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Never Withers, Never Fades, Stands Forever

DSC_0137_345sigGrass, we mow it. We fertilize it. We spread insecticide on it to prevent “bugs” from eating it and turning it from emerald-green to dead brown. Homeowners take pride in a lawn that is the same green as the area’s golf course. Thousands, no millions of dollars are spent on the things that make our lawns the perfect green. Americans spend 70 hours or more mowing the lawn each year. Another way to look at it, in 2014 Americans spent over 39 million hours on lawn work! In contrast, the average American spent a little more than 7 minutes on homework and research and equally dismal just 7 minutes daily in volunteer work.

My behavior, like my neighbor’s, contributes to these statistics. Mowing takes me nearly 2.5 hours each week, and as this piece is being written the sprinkler is watering the grass-so it grows more-to mow more.

It seems that we’ve lost our minds. Repeated trips back and forth on the grass around our house just to keep it all the same height, maybe even add alternating decorative stripes. What else could we do with our time, or money?

Two thoughts come to the front. The first is a temporary fix, mow less lawn, and plant native grasses and flowers on the rest of what used to be lawn. Really. Resist, stop all the mowing. There are an estimated 40 million acres of cultivated lawns in the United States. This number is four times the number of acres in the agricultural production of corn. Consider one strong reason to mow less. We have become alarmed at the rapid decline of the monarch butterfly due to habitat loss. Consider what may happen if 1/3 of our lawns became Monarch habitat.

The second thought is a permanent-forever solution. Even if you decide to continue the practice of maintaining a green lawn all around the house, this solution is one to consider. This afternoon on a walk with my wife my, thoughts about grass turned to a passage of scripture from the Bible. It refers to grass. Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8 We know what happens to grass that is not watered or given fertilizer. The withering and slow color change to brown is made even more rapid but a hot dry wind. Grass fanatics, like me, fret at best and worry shamelessly if rain does not fall or the sprinkler system fails.

What does Isaiah tell us stands forever? Grass? The object so many of us sweat and agonize to maintain a uniform beautiful green color all summer? Not grass but the Word of God. We slave to keep a lawn green for a summer. But, God’s Word is forever. It is ceaselessly eternal. A why question fits here. Why is God’s Word forever? Because God is without beginning or end. He has always been, is now and will be forever in the future. We do not have to strive or sweat and it is free to be read by everyone.

We have fixed our eyes on an earthly object, grass. Today, green grass and all the related lawn care that goes with it reminded me there is something far more significant than a growing season of green grass. It is the Word of God. Turn off the mower, pick up a copy of the Bible. If you have not read it before, begin with the Gospel of John. Read the words of the true living eternal God. He has a message of love and forgiveness for you.

These thoughts bring me to ask two final questions:

  1. What if instead of focusing our attention on grass that withers and fades we spent more time on something that stands forever?
  2. How would our lives be different if reading the Bible became a part of our everyday routine?

 

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Native grasses are among my favorite plants. Where I live the native grasses are currently in flower. While they are always beautiful, this time of first bloom is especially glorious.

The featured image of this blog is Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) while the other two photos are of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).

Vastness Explained

Vastness…it is immense, even cosmic. And we humans cannot fully comprehend what true vastness is.

We should try. What is vast to you? Your example should be immense and measureless. Your example should cause you to feel small. Feel small, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your example should cause you to feel powerless. Not helpless-but almost.

 

In abstract situations such as this, we benefit from concrete examples that enable us to visualize the abstract.

 

When thinking about vastness, one of my favorite models to exemplify what vastness is comes from a finite example. The example is a prairie. The French word for a place of grass and flowers is prairie. Prairies occur worldwide in North America, Asia, Europe, South American and Africa. They are characterized as places of moderate temperatures, moderate rainfall and vast stretches of mostly flat, treeless land. The word vast can be used to describe prairies before agriculture cultivation of the land began.

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Even today, there are places in the world where thousands of acres of continuous prairie exist. But size in acres is only one part of the vastness of a prairie. The life forms found on a prairie are another vast seemingly limitless realm. 40 to 60 different species of grass alone canhttps://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/a-complex-prairie-ecosystem.htm be found in a prairie. Before agricultural development this grass fed between 30 and 60 million bison on the North American continent. Mixed with the grasses an amazing 300 species of flowers with unique characteristics that give each plant climate matching traits that allow the plant to grow on a prairie. Plants native to prairies can withstand drought, fire, intense sun and intense cold.

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In a prairie in summer a nearly incalculable number of insects can be found living in prairies. A better word may be invertebrates. Biologists believe there are approximately 11,000 species of grasshoppers living in the earth’s grasslands. This is simply because they have been studied them more than other invertebrate species. Consider the vast and to humans’ uncountable numbers of insects, spiders and other invertebrates that live in the earth’s grasslands. As we do so we are only starting to comprehend vastness.

 

What is the source of vastness? Ask GOOGLE for the answer. You will discover there is no answer. The answers GOOGLE gives relate to the universe. That vastness exists is undeniable. But, the true source of vastness is God.

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A vast God can create a vast prairie and all the life in it. The Bible records God as a vast Creator and gives the oceans of the world as a second example. Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both large and small. Psalm 104:25

 

Consider vastness for another reason. We are all sinful. Like it or not, and whether you are willing to admit it or not-you are sinful. Like me. We lie, steal, cheat, commit murder in our hearts and we want what others have-we covet. We all need a vast forgiveness. We are a mess and in need of a vast unfailing love that forgives us of all our sin. In your heart, you know it’s true.

 

There is eternal and infinitely good news. God’s love is as vast as His creation! Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Psalm 36:5

 

Still thinking about vastness? A prairie or an ocean can remind you of the vastness of God’s great love for you, for me. He is as near to you with HIS vast love as a prayer. He is at hand. Tell Him what you need. His vast love will never run out.

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An Unscented Fragrance

DSC_0022_317sigDSC_0045_321sigIn the world of insects, specifically those whose diet contains the pollen or nectar of flowers, a big event has begun. Gray headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and Common Bergamot or (Monarda fistulosa) are in bloom.

A skeptic may say, “big deal” two flowers I ‘ve never heard of, and why are you talking about “here today and gone tomorrow” flowers? Like I said, big deal!”

Pollen is a big deal, so is flower nectar. Pollen is a vital source of protein for bees. It is the male part of the plant, it’s required for the fertilization of the plant. Plant nectar brings pollinators to the stationary plant. Bees and many other insects are attracted to the plant for its sweet nectar. Besides a sweetness that often exceeds that of a soft drink, nectar has health giving amino acids and vitamins and oils essential to insect health. Like a multivitamin, nectar is naturally beneficial to insects. Gray headed coneflower and monarda have joined the summer flower team, the bees know it.

Pollen, and flower nectar are not on the mind of most humans. But they are immense arrangements for life on earth.DSC_0033_318sigDSC_0069_322sig

When the natural world is in balance, humans can even ignore the pollination process it works with perfect efficiency. With the loss of habitats like prairie we are beginning to realize how significant pollen, nectar and pollinators are to all life on earth. True, it isn’t a “big deal”, it’s nothing short of incalculable in significance.

There is another aspect to these two in bloom now beauties. It’s not a big deal either, it is an infinite miracle. This miracle in a word is fragrance. If it were possible to digitize the fragrances of these two plants and share with you…well, that would be amazing. The fragrance of Gray headed coneflower has been described as a fresh lemony scent. Monarda, bee balm as it is commonly called, is a part of the mint family. It historically has been used for tea, it has and is being used as a digestive aid and even for aromatherapy.

Fragrance, it is in the seed of the coneflower, and in the leaves and flowers of monarda. Each summer season and into the fall my heart and mind are thrilled with the distinct scent of these two flowers. Once you know them it is possible to identify them by fragrance alone. How can a combination of sunlight, water, and soil nutrients produce fragrances like these two native plants have?

The Bible reminds us that those who believe in Jesus have His fragrance. While a Jesus follower still has the sinful human nature, the presence of Jesus in a human life changes every person. It is tangible. The fragrance of Christ is evidenced by the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 There are many people who cannot tolerate the fragrance of perfume or cologne. The fragrance of Christ is, appealing, wholesome. The world needs this fragrance.

The distinct and pleasing fragrance of Gray headed coneflower and that of monarda fistulosa can fill a room. Their scent lingers on your hands after touching them.

The fragrance of Christ Jesus is the true “big deal”. Humans cannot generate it. The fragrances of monarda and gray-headed coneflower come from the same ONE. God is the everlasting Fragrance Maker.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.