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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Alpha and Omega

Alpha is the Greek word for beginning. Omega is its Greek opposite, or the end. Yesterday my eyes were privileged to witness the Alpha of Omega or the beginning of the end. In my lifetime of more than 6 decades, my eyes had never witnessed this Alpha of Omega. It almost never happened. My first response at seeing a blob on the top wire of the tomato cage was, “wipe that blob off.” A moment later came the comprehension that something very unique was happening and I was going to experience it in real-time.

This is an account of a real alpha and omega. It was amazing. In front of my eyes, in our own garden, a cicada came out of its nymph stage and became an adult. You may disagree if you knew me but, I am not a bore. It was amazing. Watching a nature masterpiece occur is a gift every human should have opportunity to witness.DSC_0003_449sig

This is what happened. Instead of a brown blob on the top wire of a tomato cage my eyes picked up the exuviae of a Dog Day Cicada that had moments before split the skin of the exoskeleton and was just emerging in its first moments as an adult Dog Day Cicada or in Latin, Neotibicen canicularis. It was my delight to witness its “alpha” adult moments. Though my observation did not include specific timing of this event, within 2 hours an adult Dog Day cicada perched itself on a tomato cage stake.DSC_0007_450sig

Cicadas are marvelous insects. It is believed there are 170-190 species of cicadas in the United States and over 3,000 world-wide. Some of these species do not emerge from the earth where they have been living as nymphs for 13 or 17 years. After years of life underground these cicadas, both 13 and 17 year and annual cicadas, emerge as adults and live between 5 and 6 weeks, just long enough to mate and produce the next generation. The “omega” part of the cicada’s adult life comes quickly.DSC_0047_453sig

Female cicadas lay up to 24 eggs. Females have an ovipositor which can cut slits in the small branches of trees. Imagine, and insect part that is strong and sturdy enough to cut into a tree. She lays her eggs in these slits which then shelter and provide food in the form of tree sap to the cicada larva when they hatch. Between 2 and 7 months later, shorter in northern climates and longer in southern, the eggs hatch as ant-like nymphs.

Next begins the longest part of the life of any cicada. Cicada nymphs burrow beneath the surface to begin a feast on the sap they find in tree roots. This “feast” may last from 1 to 17 years depending on the type of cicada!DSC_0080_457sig

Just before the “omega” portion of the cicada’s life cicada music begins. Male cicadas have tymbals to create the “hear it everywhere” sound distinctive to cicadas. Male cicadas can flex their tymbals, the drum-like organs found in their abdomens. Think of a tymbal as a combination tympani and cymbal, both of which are percussion instruments. Cicadas can certainly attract a mate with their calls. The loudest North American cicada call can achieve an ear drum piercing 108.9 decibels. That is equal to a car horn.

Yes, cicadas have an amazing “alpha and omega” from the start of their life to their brief but boisterous adult lives, cicadas are worth searching for. They point us to the ultimate Alpha and Omega.

God, Creator of cicadas, is the true “beginning and end.” Isaiah, one of the Old Testament prophets, reminds us who God is in this way, “This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God.” (Isaiah 44:6) Pastor John Piper reminds us of the timeless nature of the cicada Creator he says, “God has the first word and the last word in history.” The writer of Psalm 90:2  expresses the eternal nature of God this way, “Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.”

Only an everlasting, almighty God could imagine and create a cicada. May you think of the eternal Alpha and Omega the next time you hear a cicada calling.

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Dill, Not Only for Pickles

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:23

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There are three things to set before our thoughts today. They are:

  1. There is a largely unseen world on earth today. It is worth seeing.
  2. All of the plants on earth have a purpose. Dill is one astonishing plant.
  3. The unseen world of the dill flower is a reminder. We are called to justice, mercy and faithfulness.

First, the largely unseen world. It is best seen through a camera lens. The photos provide strong evidence. When these pictures were taken, the dill plant was shaded. At first glance, each dill flower appeared to be alone. The reason my eyes were attracted to the dill at all was the presence of a Black Tiger swallowtail butterfly. My goal to photograph it revealed a significant number of other insects on the dill, the herb that makes dill pickles delicious. The first attempt produced fuzzy caterpillar pictures. The second trip, just 3 hours later found the caterpillar out of sight. It was then my eyes noticed the other insects. Syrphid Flies, a lady bug, common house flies and an insect which appears to be a wasp but is likely a fly because of the large eyes all were taking nectar from the miniature dill flowers. The whole of this experience left me amazed anew. While neighbors mowed their lawns and people sped past in cars to unknown destinations, the dill plants in our garden were hosting an amazing invertebrate spectacle.DSC_0046_425sig

Next, set your thoughts on dill. Yes, the dill of dill pickles. Dill is thought to have been used by ancient people as early as 5,000 years ago. Early people did not limit dill to the one function of seasoning dill pickles. The health benefits of this long-used plant truly surprise me: (To be realistic-dill is good for your health, but it is not the “fountain of youth.”)

Greeks used it as a symbol of wealth . This fact may have been the reason Jesus spoke of dill when He criticized the scribes and Pharisees. Dill reminds us today that each of us are called to justice, mercy and faithfulness.

He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 The wealthy used dill as an offering when Jesus walked the earth. They were free and easy with their wealth. They had riches in abundance. Jesus sharply criticized them for missing the more important truth in life. Wealthy or not, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus called this the second great commandment. Justice, mercy and faithfulness: we are to give them to others. Jesus wants this before He wants our wealth.

Dill is amazing…part of a beautiful, unseen world; filled with health benefits; and a living example of what Jesus has called us to be as we live our lives. Oh, when we fail at justice, mercy, and faithfulness; He gives His forgiveness and then strength to fulfill His call to love others. How faithful He is.

I planted more dill in our garden this morning.DSC_0066_433sig

 

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).

Soul Restored

At 5:37 my feet were on the floor, my head out of bed. Fishing was first on my morning agenda. My 80 years young fishing accomplice would arrive before 7. There were things to do, a Bible to read, a breakfast to eat and then a boat to hook up for a tow to the lake. My optimism for a good catch was high. A dense fog had developed overnight, there would be low light conditions. This usually means better fishing.

We arrived at the lake minutes later. We were soon on the water headed for our first fishing spot. The reality of how thick the fog was, came moments later when my never fail navigation by sight system failed. In the fog, that was me-physically and mentally. We were already past the channel to the second lake, location of our first fishing spot!

We got our bearings and had a time of quiet but serious fishing on the water. We caught some fish. Something else happened: our souls were refreshed. Hold it! Don’t people go fishing to catch fish? It’s about catching fish, isn’t it?

For me it is. The catch is always a thrill and made better because it’s unexpected.  The meal after is mouth-watering, even healthy! But can fishing be soul refreshing?

Yes. Today it was especially refreshing to my soul. I’ll admit this-without fear of harming my masculinity.DSC_0011_326sig

First, the deep quiet caused by the fog impressed me with my smallness. As the fog “burned” away and sunlight began to overcome the gloom of fog, my eyes could see the details of our surroundings. The blue patches of sky, a herd of cows silhouetted on a hill, the dancing ripples on the water. The effect of the multiple morning bird calls accumulated in my heart. As we fished a sense of wellness came upon me. My friend and I spoke little. There was no need. Occasional glimpses into the clear water reminded me we floated on another world, a watery one. A single loon flew overhead on a mission, a fish meal mission. As we floated near shore, the forest at the edge of the lake contained dark shadows and thousands of shades of mid-summer green. We knew we were experiencing a blessing. And we thought we were on a fish meal mission like the loon.

Briefly this morning my mind went to the phrase in Psalm 23, He leads me beside quiet waters. That happened, this morning. The quiet waters caught the attention of my soul. It was God quieting the waters, He made the fog. He provided a friend to experience this morning with. Then my mind began to reflect on the rest of the first verses of Psalm 23. “I shall not want.” There are many days when wanting things burdens my heart. The quiet waters, the fog, the birds, the companionship of a friend took wanting away. God patiently restored my soul, this morning. I thought it was about fishing. God’s plans are always best and better. The Lord is my Shepherd. This sheep is grateful.

Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

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