WATER | 40 Days of Focus, Day 2

 

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
(Genesis 1:6-8)

Liquid water is such an interesting substance. Without the presence of Dihydrogen Monoxide in liquid state, there can be no life as we know it. But too much at any given moment can be fatal.

Humanity has a strange relationship to water. We need it to live, but we can’t control it. We can’t make it rain or stop raining. We can barely do anything to hold back raging rivers or flood waters. Drowning is still among the leading causes of accidental deaths. Tsunamis, hurricanes, and flash floods continue to wreak havoc across the globe, wiping out entire villages and devastating national economies.

Is it any wonder why the ancients equated water with chaos?

If you back up to Genesis 1:2 we see this in action:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

That’s the language of chaos. Many creation myths from the ancient world featured chaos in some form. They often claim the world as we know it is simply a byproduct of the chaos with no real meaning or purpose. Come to think of it, those ancient creation myths are not too far off from modern physicists.

But in our Bibles God controls the waters and brings order out of chaos. Think about all the times water plays a role in the stories of Scripture. The flood. Baby Moses on the Nile River. The parting of the Red Sea. Water flowing from the rock in the wilderness. The parting of the Jordan River. The storm on the Mediterranean Sea in the story of Jonah. The 3-year drought in the time of Elijah. The times when Jesus calmed the storm and walked across the water.

To many ancient peoples, the waters were associated with chaos and the abyss, or the realm of demonic spirits. But every step of the way throughout the Bible we see that God is in control of the uncontrollable. I love what God says in the book of Job:

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?”
(Job 38:8-11)

He goes on to speak about snow and hail and rain, reminding us humans that we are completely helpless in the face of weather phenomena.

Water is a source of both life and death.

I can’t help but connect this to another event involving water: baptism. Baptism as a holy sacrament has been practiced for centuries. It predates Christianity. Baptism was actually practiced by the Jews in the Second Temple period. If you go to Jerusalem today you can still see the remains of ancient baptistries around the Temple complex. They would go down into the water, immerse themselves, and come out of the water ceremonially cleansed.

Jesus and his followers brought a different understanding of baptism. In Christian baptism we do not immerse ourselves. We allow another to lower us down into the water. We submit our lives into their hands. It takes a certain degree of trust. This immersion represents a death and burial beneath the flood waters. We are then raised up out of the water into a new life, a new creation, a new humanity, a new kingdom.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
(Romans 6:3-4)

Water is the source of both life and death. Water is both good and necessary and dangerous and beyond our control – just like God. Submitting ourselves to the waters of baptism connects us with this ancient story of destruction and creation, of fear and wonder, of death and new life.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
(John 4:13-14)

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Have you ever stopped in awe and wonder at the sight of the ocean, a river, or a waterfall? What is so awesome and inspiring about those locations?

In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis says about Aslan (representing God) that he is “not safe, but he’s good.” How does this challenge the way we understand God?

Have you been baptized? What led you to that decision? Do you remember going under the water? What was that like? How did you feel when you were lifted back up?

Jonah: Head Above Water

When we left off, our rebellious prophet was recruiting the pagan Gentile sailors to assist him in committing suicide.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

But the sailors didn’t buy into this crazy scheme and tried for Plan A.2 – row to shore. But they couldn’t. God/the storm wouldn’t let them. Jonah tried to force God’s hand in overthrowing the Assyrians by running from the mission. Now God is forcing the sailors’ hands to throw Jonah overboard – Jonah’s idea, not God’s, just so we’re clear. God never asked this of Jonah.

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm…Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:15, 17)

FINALLY! Here’s the fish! Now we get to pull out the flannel graph board and sick a kneeling/fetal-position Jonah onto a cutaway felt image of a whale fish. We get to sing the songs and put in the Veggie Tales movie!

This is where so many of us stop with the story of Jonah. It’s always David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale Fish. But the story of Jonah is not about a big fish. The story of Jonah is about a God who is big with a big plan. The fish is mentioned in a whopping 3 verses – 1:17; 2:1; and 2:10. That’s it. And the whole fish scene isn’t even the most impressive miracle of the story. But we’ll get to that later.

JONAH’S PRAYER

Can you imagine drowning in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? Drowning is one of the top fears among humans. A lot of people are hesitant to swim or get in a large body of water for fear of drowning. What a terrible way to die! I get panicky just thinking about it.

Jonah wanted to die. It wasn’t a heroic self-sacrifice to save the lives of the sailors. It was a selfish get-out-of-mission-work-free card. It was a last ditch effort to run from God. It wasn’t martyrdom, it was suicide.

So God gave him a taste of what Jonah said he wanted. Sometimes the worst thing God can do is to give us what we want. Look at this prayer of Jonah’s that we have recorded in chapter 2.

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.”
(Jonah 2:2-6a)

Maybe we have a hard time feeling sorry for Jonah, but I think we’ve all been there. Maybe you haven’t had the physical experience of drowning, but most of us have felt like we’re drowning figuratively – from stress, depression, broken relationships, pressure from school or work, the demands of everyday life that keep adding up. Maybe you’ve felt like you were drowning under the weight of some sin that has pulled you down – addictions, anger, lies, etc.

Every sin has a consequence. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, and we have to face the natural consequences of our own dumb choices. Other times we have to pay for our actions through punishment or retribution. Or maybe we’re suffering under the consequences of generational/societal sin that we really didn’t have anything to do with, but we’re still negatively affected by it.

Every sin has a consequence.

I’ll say this. I don’t think God causes bad things to happen. But I believe God allows bad things to happen as a wakeup call. God didn’t cause Jonah to be thrown overboard. But God used this experience of drowning as a wakeup call to this rebellious prophet. God definitely got Jonah’s attention. It only took a trip to literal rock bottom. But for some people, like Jonah and like the younger brother in the Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), that’s what it takes for them to come to their senses.

UNEXPECTED SALVATION

FINALLY the prophet of God actually prays to God – the first time in the whole book so far. Even when the sailors were crying out to their own gods and urged Jonah to do the same, Jonah kept silent. Jonah refused to even utter a word in prayer to God until his life was on the line. And when he finally decides to pray, what does he talk about?

He thanks God for saving him. He recounts his terrifying experience of drowning, sinking down to the “roots of the mountains.” The imagery Jonah uses to describe his underwater experience is quite similar to how other writers and poets describe Sheol, aka the grave or realm of the dead. Jonah is coming to terms with the reality of his watery grave.

But not so fast. What’s that? A giant mouth opening in my direction and sucking me in like a spaghetti noodle!

“But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
(Jonah 2:6b-9)

The punishment was the near death experience as he was sinking into the salt water. The salvation came in the form of fish guts. The “great fish” was God’s chosen means of salvation for his runaway prophet.

What a weird story.

And what a testament to the fact that God’s modus operandi for saving people is constantly changing. I’m glad this story never caught on in religious rituals. “In order to experience God’s salvation you must be swallowed and vomited up by a fish.”

PRAYING FROM ROCK BOTTOM

Anyway, God saves Jonah. Jonah at least has the decency to acknowledge his need for God and his utter helplessness apart from God.

When you feel like you’re drowning – by sin, by stress, by life – this is a great prayer to go to. Read it. Reflect on it. Make it your own. We all have been at rock bottom before. We all know what it’s like to desperately cry out to God. This prayer in Jonah 2 is a great way to find the words if you don’t have them.

In fact, a song came out recently by Avril Lavigne. I hadn’t heard anything from her in years. Turns out she was battling Lyme Disease, an absolutely debilitating illness. In an interview she recalled a time in the hospital when the disease affected her lungs in such a way that it literally felt like she was drowning in that hospital bed. She fought through the disease, and is in a much better place now. But her first single released is called “Head Above Water.” The first time I heard it, I thought this is straight from Jonah’s prayer. If you haven’t heard it, check it out. It’s amazing.

More posts in the Jonah series:

Easy Green Tip of the Week

Bottled Water? Really?

In my opinion, there is no greater testament to the convenience-oriented, consumeristic society in which we live than bottled water. It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s disposable, and it’s much better for you than sodas, right?

It’s water, folks!

I will admit, before I give the wrong impression, that if I am out and I get thirsty, I will buy the occasional bottle. But you won’t see my wife and me at the grocery store lugging 24 packs into our cart. Most of the time, the water from your tap is just as clean and filtered, if not more so, than your average bottle of water. In fact, many times it is bottled straight from municipal water sources! These companies are charging literally thousands of times the cost of tap water, for the same product.

Don’t even get me started on the damage done to the water table and the amount of plastic that winds up in the ocean because of the bottled water craze….

In the documentary Tapped, a spokesman for Dasani is interviewed. Coke pumps its water for Dasani straight out of the Atlanta municipal water supply, by the way. This guy is trying to make Coke’s product look better than tap by calling it a “healthy alternative.” I think the average person would interpret that to mean tap water is unhealthy, wouldn’t you?

Long story short: Buy a bottle. Fill up at home. You’ll save $$$$, and you will make less of an impact on the environment.

But what if your tap water does taste weird? Ours does here in Searcy. So we simply bought a Pur water filter that fits right on the faucet. One filter lasts close to three months and costs under about $7. In that same three months, we could have bought a 24 pack of bottled water every week and wasted roughly $50.

It’s a no brainer in my opinion.

Easy Green Tip of the Week

Water-Saving Shower Heads

I love a nice, steamy shower almost any time of the day. However, apartment living has basically forces us to endure small, inefficient water heaters. So a couple weeks ago, we decided to upgrade to this:

It’s the EcoFlow by WaterPik. It has several different settings, including a “Water Saving Trickle,” which actually has more pressure behind it than our old shower head. On the “trickle” setting, it sprays 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm). That’s down from 2.5 gpm with our last one.

It may not seem like that great of a difference, but over a 10 minute shower, you end up saving 5 gallons of water. Since both my wife and I take showers almost every day, that turns into a 10 gallon savings each day. This quickly adds up to 3,650 gallons of water per year! This $20 shower head should pay for itself in no time.

But if you want to save even more on your water and electric bill, there are shower heads that shoot as little as .5 gpm! I haven’t seen a detachable head with that low of a flow, but there are plenty of options out there.

In fact there are so many options available, I don’t know why you wouldn’t choose a low flow shower head! I love it when you can save some green by going green.

Salt, part 1

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing as I have been focusing on being a dad. It’s been about 5 months, and now I feel like putting my thoughts out there in the blogoshpere once again. So here we go…
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Elijah’s story runs throughout the 2nd half of 1 Kings. He is one of the first major prophets since the time of Samuel. He is even thought of as the prophet in the line of Moses that was promised back in Deuteronomy. But I don’t want to talk about Elijah right now. I want to talk about Elijah’s protege, apprentice, and successor – Elisha.

Elisha’s name literally means “God saves”. And just as Elijah was a type of Moses, so Elisha is a type of Joshua (whose name means “YHWH saves”). Elijah’s time on the earth has come to an end by 2 Kings 2, and he takes Elisha on a journey outside the land of Israel across the Jordan which is parted before them so they may walk across on dry ground. Elijah is then taken up into heaven in a fire tornado, leaving Elisha all alone to carry out the work of God.

Elisha, just like Joshua before him, crosses the Jordan on dry ground as he enters the land. The first city he comes to is Jericho, which was conquered and cursed by Joshua. If anyone were to rebuild the walls of Jericho, he would bring a curse upon himself and the land. But as we all know, it was impossible for the Israelites to leave well enough alone, so they rebuilt the city and its walls several centuries later. And, surprise!, the ground and the water were cursed because of their disobedience.

So along comes Elisha, God’s newly established frontman. The people know that God is with him, so they come out to him begging for his help. They say the water is cursed, and it’s causing death and miscarriages and crop failure. In today’s world, we would be digging up pipes, running all kinds of tests, shipping in bottled water, and doing everything within our power to fix whatever was making our water bad. But Elisha didn’t do that.

And it wasn’t lead, or pesticide, or any other toxic waste. It was the curse they brought on themselves by disobeying God’s commands. Elisha could have simply rubbed it in their faces that they deserved what they got. They were under God’s curse. He could have left it at that and moved on. But Elisha didn’t do that either.

He got a bowl, placed some salt in that bowl, and threw the salt into the water. To this day, the text tells us, the water was cleansed, and it no longer caused death or miscarriage or famine.

Elisha reversed the curse. Not bad for an inaugural act as head prophet.