Swimming with Manatees

Manatee sea cow cristal river florida

There is only one place in the world where you can legally swim with manatees: Citrus County, Florida.

In the early hours of the morning, we watched an instructional video of how we were to treat the manatees and what would happen if we broke the rules, and then donned wetsuits to go out on a little boat in the middle of ice cold water.  Florida has many lovely pools of hot water.  But this isn’t where the manatees go.  They got to the ice cold water to cool off.  So if you want to see them, you have to go in the ice cold water, too.

We had to get out of the boat and travel upstream to get to the secret manatee lair (that everyone knew about).  Crossing upstream, we were told not to kick our feet much, something that seemed just about impossible to do.  Ben and I kept sliding back as the current pulled us, and we found the only way we could go was to kick our feet as we had been forbidden from doing.  It was much tougher than I’d thought to follow the regulations to get to see the manatees.

Once we got to the manatee pool–a lake of winter to greet us on the cool spring day–the manatees had more rules for us.  We couldn’t hold onto them or hug them, but gently pet them with one hand.  Any manatees marked with a special bobbing device were absolutely not supposed to be touched or interacted with.  All these rules came under penalty of major fines that I could certainly not pay.  When a manatee with a bobbing device decided to introduce himself to me, I swam away in a frenzy!

But I have to tell you, even with all the rules and specifications and requirements and details, it was worth seeing the manatees.

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In the Old Testament, God showed us what it would be like to attempt a relationship with Him on our own.  He set up rules and specifications and requirements and details that all pointed to the gap between us as sinners and Him as our holy God.  He set up pictures to show us what had to happen for us to be in communion with Him: sacrifices, priests to offer them, and a high priest to come on our behalf to God each year.

In the New Testament, God has shown us what it is like for us to have a relationship with Him through Him.  Jesus fulfills all the rules and specifications and requirements and details that we were to follow (see Galatians).  He points to a relationship with God by God’s grace through our faith (see Ephesians 2:8).  He is the real bridge between God and man, so the pictures that foreshadowed Him are no longer needed (see Hebrews).

One of the events that illustrates this change in our communion with God is when the woman at the well is asking Jesus where people are supposed to really worship.

She’s thinking of the rules, specifications, requirements, and details that her people had versus God’s people.  She’s thinking of the: arrive at 6 a.m., get in icy cold water, walk upstream without kicking, do not pet restricted manatees kind of rules[1].

But listen to how Jesus responds to her, ushering in a new way of relating to God from outward to inward.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24, NLT)

And how is it made possible to worship God in spirit and in truth?

Jesus goes on to explain.

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!” (John 4:25-26, NLT)

The rules, specifications, requirements, and details are met in the Messiah.  What we have now is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I couldn’t leap into the water and throw my arms around the manatees.  But I can come before the throne of God and talk to Him as my King and Friend.  Jesus has personally pushed away every barrier in the path to God.  There is no more need for timidity or fear of regulations, but only the relief of a wide-open relationship with Him, if we believe.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)


[1] The rules the woman was following were wrong, because they weren’t part of God’s rules in the Old Testament.  Jesus points out her error in verse 22.  The real rules weren’t wrong, but they were about to be fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  Their purpose was to point to Him (see Hebrews).

Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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