Monday, July 30, 2012

Creation Corner with Lowell Washburn

             Summer Dog Days Provide Sultry Backdrop for Predator & Prey
                              By Lowell Washburn

The Dog Days of summer are upon us.  August is just around the corner and, right on schedule, this year’s crop of annual cicadas are making their above ground debut.  Within hours of their appearance, the distinctive chorus of hopeful males began to fill the humid afternoon air.  The “scissor grinder’s” trilling is impossible to miss.  Surpassing 100 decibels; the sound is the insect equivalent of a power saw and can easily be heard above your neighbor’s roaring lawn mower.

For many folks, the cicada’s song provides an audible reminder that summer heat is on borrowed time.  For others, the harsh buzzing is regarded as just one more item on the growing list of hot weather annoyances.  But for the giant cicada killer wasp, the outlook is much different.  As far as this formidable amber-winged predator is concerned, the cicada’s noisy rattling is simply the sweetest music ever heard.  For currently emerging cicadas, the huge wasps represent the very worst nightmare the world has to offer.

For anyone who has had an opportunity to admire a specimen at close range, it will come as no surprise that the giant cicada killer is Iowa’s largest species of wasp.  For weeks now, these solitary hunters have been busily preparing for the annual emergence of adult cicadas.  After selecting a well drained, usually sandy location, female wasps begin digging elaborate tunnels containing several side chambers --- kind of like the hallway of a subterranean hotel.  Although cicada killer wasps are solitary [meaning they don’t live in large, highly organized colonies] multiple females may share a single tunnel.  Although most excavations are smaller, tunnels can go as deep as two feet and extend for five or six feet.  

Once a side chamber is completed, the female who dug it immediately goes on the hunt for cicadas.  Searching the upper canopy of deciduous forests and urban shade trees, the predacious wasps appear to relentlessly scour each and every leaf in search of game.  I’ve read that cicada killers readily home in on the sound of singing [male] cicadas.  Sounds reasonable, except that the wasps I’ve spent time observing bring in at least as many female cicadas as they do males.  Even if cicada killers do use sound to locate prey, it seems to me that visual cues must be equally important.  Here in north central Iowa, the past week was easily the best for wasp watching so far this summer, with individual hunt times running as low as 12 to 15 minutes.  Cicadas being brought to the lek I have been observing ran about 2 females for each male, with peak hunting activity occurring at a time when the buzz of male cicadas provided a constant audio backdrop.   

Regardless of what hunt strategy is actually employed, there are some constants.  As soon as an adult cicada is located, the wasp delivers a powerful sting; injecting a potent shot of venom that immediately overpowers and totally immobilizes its victim.  The powerful wasp then airlifts its heavy cargo back to the tunnel.  The higher the cicada is located in a tree, the easier the flight back home.  In spite of the cicada’s weight and bulk, the incoming wasp usually dead centers the tunnel’s entrance so precisely that you barely have time to catch even a fleeting glimpse before the cicada and its captor disappear into the hole.  On windy or extremely humid days, incoming wasps seem more likely to miss the mark and may end up having to drag their cargo the last few inches to the tunnel.

Once an immobilized cicada is spirited below ground, the scenario’s creep factor escalates dramatically.  What began for the cicada as a sunny afternoon of singing in the treetops has suddenly become a living nightmare of Stephen King proportions.  But the worst is yet to come, and what lies ahead for the comatose insect isn’t likely to make the Mother Goose list of suggested bedtime readings for toddlers any time soon.  In the true life world of the outdoors, Walt Disney story lines are few and far between; and fact is often scarier than science fiction.  Let’s continue.

Upon finally reaching the inky blackness of its preprepared underground chamber, the female cicada killer drops her prey onto the floor the cramped room.  She then lays a single egg on her victim.  Mission accomplished, the wasp seals the chamber’s entrance with a sodden door and leaves.  Like a fresh side of beef hanging in the local locker, the cicada lies on its back and waits.  In two or three days the attached egg hatches, and the wasp larvae immediately begins to devour its helpless, protein packed host.  Meanwhile, the female is busy constructing new ‘guest chambers’ and continues filling the nursery -- one stunned cicada at a time.  Although their time is short -- all adult wasps will die before winter -- the predators make the most of what days they have.  During the four weeks or so that it will spend on the hunt, a female may capture 100 or more cicadas.

With its amped up demeanor, pulsing abdomen, bright colors, loud wings and huge size; Iowa’s giant cicada killer wasp projects an ominous air.  But in reality, humans have little to fear.  For the most part, cicada killers are all about the hunt.  Unlike colony nesting wasps and hornets whose lives are directed toward protecting a communal hive, cicada killers are extremely tolerant of human intrusion --- at least under most circumstances.  Even though I’ve given tunnel digging and cicada toting females plenty of just provocation to sting, the harshest rebuke I’ve received so far was a stern warning rattle of the wings -- at which point I immediately backed off and let the creatures go.  I think the females are simply conserving their venom for future cicadas, or maybe they just think I’m too big to drag down the tunnel.
Final Thought:  The wonders and complexities of creation are never fully explored, nor are they ever completely understood.  Things that appear simple at a glance, rarely are.  The inseparably intertwined lives of the annual cicada and the cicada killer wasp present a portrait of two seemingly disconnected and unrelated species each living out the adolescent stages of their lives in complete ignorance of the other, yet both headed on a direct and completely predictable collision course to an unavoidable convergence that will occur, right on schedule, late each summer.

Cicadas that survive predators will deposit their eggs in slits they slice into the bark of tender tree branches.  Cicada eggs hatch, nymphs drop and borough into the ground where they will spend the next three to five years using spear-like siphons to tap tree roots for sap.  When the timing is perfect, maturing nymphs suddenly tunnel to the surface.  Climbing a nearby tree trunk, the nymph splits its plastic-like skin down the back and the anvil headed, clear winged adult we all recognize emerges.  Within hours, the sound of singing cicadas fills the sultry summer air.  Although the adults are actually at least three or more years old, they are called annual cicadas because “a hatch” emerges above ground each summer.

Right now, the first cicada killer eggs have already hatched and larvae are voraciously consuming their paralyzed hosts -- one stunned cicada for baby males, but two or three for growing females [The mother knows in advance which gender an egg will become].  Once the meal is complete, larvae will spin a cocoon of sorts and then go dormant for the remainder of the summer, fall, and winter in the underground room its now deceased mother constructed.  The wasp larvae will pupate late next spring, and the annual crop of giant cicada killers will appear, right on schedule, in late July of 2013 --- just in time to make hurried preparations for the impending emergence of the annual cicada when, with all the precision of a finely crafted Swiss watch, the lives of two seemingly unrelated species will converge in perfect synchrony.      
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
                                                      Ecclesiastes 3:1                                                                                               

 1 -- A female cicada begins digging its tunnel
 2 -- With side chamber completed, the wasp begins the hunt
 3 -- A newly emerged annual cicada
 4 -- Incoming - An adult female brings home the bacon
 5 -- A female cicada killer [Tunnel #9] and its prey
 6 -- A female cicada killer [Tunnel #6] and its prey
 7 -- A female cicada killer drags its heavy cargo into Tunnel 6
 8 -- Another female leaves the lek to search for cicadas
 9 – Adult female









Wednesday, July 18, 2012

As Seen On Facebook:

I'm not a huge fan of "Bumper Sticker Theology" ... you know the little cutesy sayings that people love to glom onto because they make them "feel" all warm and cuddly inside.

But every once and awhile I see something pretty good, like...

I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Dinner Out!

Amy ...armed & dangerous
Yesterday, the lovely and gracious Lynn & I drove to Des Moines to see Amy and taker her out for supper. (Along w/ a number of other errands I needed to run in Central Iowa).

The mots-operandi for these trip to the Des Moines area consist of Lynn & I making the decision to go and then calling numerous people and letting them know where we are going to eat out and whoever shows up ... shows up! Normally that group will run between 4 and 15 people.

Mom & Dad (Love this pic)
Back to yesterday ... After contacting Amy and letting her know that we were coming down. I decided to run down to visit my Mom. Lynn suggested we ask her to dinner with us. Now for whatever reason, the idea of snatching up my Mom and taking her on one of these dinner outings had never crossed my mind! (BTW, Yes, I'm aware that my Mom eats, enjoys dining out and is an excellent conversationalist!) I'm just dense!

I called my mom asked her is she would like to go to Famous Dave's BBQ with us and she said "of course"! I thought rather than overwhelming her with a ton of people on her first voyage, we kept it to just the 4 of us. We had a great time! The food was great, the conversation was even better and the top of the evening was the waitress spilling a Dr. Pepper on the lovely and gracious Lynn! Hilarious!!!

I think Mom had fun and she is even willing to go again. It will be a couple  of weeks before we get back to the Des Moines area but ... it's on now! She is officially part of the group!

A couple of note for the rest of you who are thinking ... "I never got one of those calls or I would like to get one of those calls". First, just contact me via email and your in. Second, this is normally a Dutch treat event ... I'M NOT BUYING YOUR DINNER! Nice try! Third, these outing are not for the faint of heart, just ask Pastor Nick Oliver who left his lovely wife at an Olive Garden while the rest of us drove around looking for a place w/o a 2 1/2 hour wait! What an adventure!

I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Friday, July 13, 2012

Joshua, Judges & Ruth...

I'm not sure if I've blogged about this but I need to now...

Over a year and a half ago I decided I really wanted to preach through the Old Testament book of Ruth. As I began doing some background work, it became very clear to me that to really have a handle on Ruth, you must understand the time of the Judges. So... I began doing work in preparation for preaching through the book of Judges. As I did I came to the stark realization that if you are going to understand Judges and what is happening there you need to have a working knowledge of the book of Joshua!

And so it began ... I started to walk through the book of Joshua and build the platform from which we would transition in to the book of Judges and then into Ruth.

This has been an incredible time learning from God's Word!

Joshua: Beginning with the statement that Moses is dead ... Joshua is now the leader of God's people, the Nation Israel. Joshua leads them in conquering the promised land and driving out the people. This is all going along fairly well with few set backs and concludes with the division of the land according to God's direction. Finally, there are two incredible speeches by Joshua; first to the leadership of the nation and then to the general population itself.

Judges: When it comes to preaching or even doing a Bible study, I find that most people will avoid the book of Judges. In fact, one of the men of our church was talking to a friend of his, who attends another church in Clear Lake,  and mentioned that we were beginning to walk through Judges as a church family and the response was something to the effect of he did not believe that his church would "buy into" a study like Judges!

I'm not going to kid you ... the book of Judges can be very depressing! The highlight of the book comes in chapter 1 and verse 1. Literally, it is all downhill from there to the point that at the end of the book it simple says: "...all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

The problem in Judges is cyclical: The people grow lax in there obedience and fall into sin - rather than repenting of their sin they just continue in it ... because of their sin and lack of repentance God brings in/allows/uses the surrounding nations to discipline Israel ... eventually the nation cries out for help (not in repentance) and God raises up a judge to deliver them from their oppressors ... Israel "follows" after God and there is a time of peace following the deliverance of the judge, but sooner rather than later the people begin to drift back into sin and the cycle repeats!

The last three chapter contain one of the most gross and disgusting accounts in all of the scriptures. As I was studying and preparing for that particular message, I seriously wondered why I ever started this book. Judges ends and leaves the reader/student of God's Word with a very uneasy concern because of a lack of closure.

Ruth: In the midst of the cesspool of sin as seen in Judges, emerges the account of Ruth. It is like a breath of fresh air or as one of the men of our church said: It's like the Friday night BBQ following just a brutal week at work; an opportunity to stop, relax and be recharged. 

The book of Ruth is set in the time period of the book of Judges. Sometime probably around the time of Gideon.

The account is not about the man who’s name was Elimelech, or his wife was Naomi, or their two sons Mahlon and Kilion. The book is really not even about Ruth or Boaz even though these are all of the main characters.

The account of Ruth is all about God and His sovereign work that is always going on behind the scenes. Even in the midst of what is to us one of the darkest periods in the history of the Nation Israel, God is at work and in perfect control! The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, in my humble opinion, has to be one of the most comforting doctrines known to man!

Well, all of this to say that if God so wills, I will preach the final message in the series from the book of Ruth this Sunday. As I have mentioned to my folks at the church ... all I wanted to do was preach through Ruth and now we have come to the end.

What's Next?????

I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Received A Note from a Friend:

Got this in an e-mail, just too good not to share here.


I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Scientists Discover Elusive God Particle --- Decades Long Search Concludes --- Maybe‏

"Listening to the radio can be so much fun.  The latest example occurred just a few minutes ago when I heard national news commentator Harley Carnes announce that it's not newsworthy when a deadly and prolonged heat wave, like the one we just endured, finally goes away.

The reason, says Carnes, is that no one needs a headline to let them know that it's cooler outside or that we all feel better now. Can't argue with that.  Firm grasp of the obvious for sure!

Here's another.  Anyone who has listened to or watched much news lately, has probably heard about that giant swarm containing 6,000 of the world's foremost scientists who think, that at long last, they may have actually discovered the elusive "God Particle".  Remotely akin to the long sought missing link between man and ape, the God Particle is thought to hold the secret to such things as what gives objects their mass, what holds the universe together, and perhaps most importantly, contains the potential to reveal how the universe got its start.  One currently popular theory, of course, is the so called Big Bang -- the belief that our universe began with a massive explosion.

This latest search for the God Particle involved the construction of a seventeen-mile-long underground tunnel housing a $10 billion machine known as the Large Hadron Collider.  During the past 24 months, scientists have really poured the cobs to this phenomenal new machine; repeatedly setting the shots, pulling the trigger, and analyzing the gigantic mountains of data resulting from an astounding 800 trillion warp speed, proton-to-proton collisions.  Boil it all down, sweep away the chaff, and the heretofore undiscovered God Particle suddenly emerges for all to see -- Well, not for sure; it's actually more like sorta kinda maybe.

Although their collective pulse rates have certainly accelerated, scientists say that it is still too early; that no one can know for certain whether or not the God Particle has finally been isolated.  But the events of the day are nevertheless exciting, says renowned Futuristic Theoretical Physicist, Michio Kaku.  Now there's no denying that Kaku is a 50,000 fathoms deep thinker.  He's a cool guy and is always fun to listen to.  But after hearing or, worse yet, trying to read him; I always come away feeling like his giant brain must be the size of a state fair pumpkin and that mine must approximate an anemic version of the proverbial single mustard seed.  But this time I got it.  I really did understand what he was saying -- well at least on a 'sorta kinda maybe' level anyway.

Although we can't yet say for sure that this is really it [the God Particle] there are some things we can be fairly certain of, says Kaku.  The universe did begin with a big bang, a colossal explosion [of energy?] creating a very bright light.  Regardless of the final outcome of this latest experiment, scientists feel as if they've never been closer to the truth.  Kaku summed it up this way --- If this latest effort does fall short of providing positive proof as to what actually caused the bright light explosion that was the origin of the universe, then science has "at least found the fuse".
So there you have it.  It's appears as if we may be on the verge of proving, once and for all, that the universe began with an loud noise accompanied by a bright light.  Nope; Not kidding!  Once again, a firm grasp of the obvious is almost within our reach.  But arriving at the answer didn't come easy.  Let's not forget that the latest attempt in this decades long effort took two years of work, a ten billion dollar collider, a full battalion of 6,000 scientists, a seventeen-mile-long underground tunnel and the orchestration of 800 trillion proton collisions -- give or take.
Here's more news.  For only fifty or sixty bucks [or for free on the internet] the team could have obtained a copy of the Bible and, upon reading the first few words, arrived at basically the same answer.  In addition to Genesis, they also would have received 65 bonus books for no additional cost, and would have also been able to discover how the story of the universe ends.
One last question.  If it does happen to turn out that this latest search for the God Particle falls short and has merely "found the fuse" to what ignited the explosion that created the universe; then exactly who was it that lit that fuse in the first place?
Final Thought:  In Genesis 1:3, the Creator God pulls it all together by commanding, "Let there be light."  I'm guessing that He didn't whisper those words and that when the universe began, the whole amazing process was very loud indeed."

Smoked Meatloaf....

I know I'm posting twice in the same day and sometimes it seems that I hardly post twice a month. But my favorite older brother doesn't do Facebook and this is the only way I can keep him in the loop!

So I'm trying my hand at Smoked Meatloaf this afternoon. This is a recipe i got from my nephew Kevin Dennis and he just raves about how good this is. Being me, I must dink with the recipe a bit adding my own twist.

Meatloaf on the smoker ... jury is out! I will be posting results as soon as I have them. until then ... here are a couple of pictures:

I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Bits & Balderdash

Graziano"s Italian Sausage: If you know me very well at all you know that I'm just not a very complicated person. I am very easily entertained & amused.

That being true ... imagine my joy when I realized that the local Hy-Vee grocers were found to be selling Graziano's Italian Sausage!!

This is, hands down, the BEST Italian sausage in captivity! Part of my affection for this delicacy stems from my childhood growing up on the South-side of Des Moines where the Graziano family had a little Mom & Pop store where they would make and sell their sausage.

Here is a bit of their history:    

This sausage is a treat from my childhood and I'm very thankful to Hy-Vee Mason City for carrying this product.

I'm really looking forward to "killer pizza", Italian sausage sandwiches and grinders!

Grilling & Smoking Meat: I have always been a fan of grilling, BBQing and smoking meats. the issue I had was I felt I never had the right equipment.

All of that has changed ... armed with only my Weber Kettle Grill and my Char-Broil Gas Grill I have been turning out some incredible smoked meats!

I have done pork lions, beef brisket, Boston butt roasts, pork roast, bone in & boneless pork ribs, boneless beef ribs, chicken and a beef chuck roast!

I picked up a great rub off the internet and after a bit of tweaking, think I have a pretty good mix. Sweet and spicy with just a bit of an after bite!

A friend of mine from the Des Moines area told me that I was creating restaurant quality meats. I will take that as a compliment!

I Remain,
Pastor Steve

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The 4th of July in Clear Lake

Where has the summer gone?!?!?!?

Wow, we are already past the 4th of July! And a VERY hot one it was!! Both the weather and the fun were very hot!

The day started with the firing up of the smoker/grill and putting on a boneless pork loin for our lunch. This was followed by the annual 4th of July parade in Clear Lake. I for one enjoy parades and look forward to this one every year! The parade begins at 10 AM and lasts about 2 hours!

Following the parade we returned home for our smoked pork lion lunch which was fantastic!

Later that afternoon we arrived at the church for a cook-out and fellowship time. It was very hot and humid and therefore we cooked out side but decided to eat in the church fellowship hall!

Following supper and fellowship we made our way to the lake front for the "Firework over the Lake" a Clear Lake tradition. This is a no holes barred, top of the line fireworks display! Most communities will have a 15 to 30 minute fireworks program, Clear Lake averages 45-50 minutes with a grand finale that is second to none! Where we sit ... it is a front and center position for teh show and we love every minute!

My 4th of July began at around 5:30AM and ended about 11:45PM, a very long day but in my mind worth every minute!

Trust that as you enjoyed your 4th of July you took at least a moment to that God for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. No place is perfect (yet!) but, there are far worst places to have to live! May God continue to bless our great nation!

I Remain...
Pastor Steve