Points to Ponder: Chewing Gum in Church?
Points to Ponder
Chewing Gum in Church?
I was thinking about chewing gum recently. Why do many of us chew the stuff? For taste, out of habit, or to curb a bad habit (smoking or overeating)? We could make a list of the purposes of chewing gum--the mindless act of chewing something that has no nutritional value nor is meant to be swallowed.
I chew gum while I work out, to keep from getting a dry mouth (even though I drink water the whole time). However, when I take a long bike trip in the summer heat--riding for hours in the hot sun--I never chew gum. I want the dry mouth to not be hindered. Let it come. Why?
The gum causes the mouth to salivate. In the short term that's a nice comfort for brief times outside. But, over the long haul it covers up one's perception of thirst. If one is not paying attention to the passage of time, the rate of perspiration, and the heat, one can become dehydrated; that's a condition beyond being merely thirsty. As we age, our bodies tend to not warn us soon enough that we need a drink of water. You may notice that one of the big problems among the elderly is that they don't drink enough and are susceptible to dehydration.
All of this must be going somewhere--right? Yes. I believe that ritual is sort of like chewing gum to some folks. Just as chewing gum can mask the signal for physical thirst, worship or even devotional rituals can become for us a comforting thing that masks the spiritual thirst some people are experiencing.
Dehydration leaves one's blood thick, the body weak, and the thought process sluggish. We can do our thing, our worship or our devotion practices, and come away feeling like we're ok, when in fact we are drying out. Something is just "not right," but what could it be? I'm "doing" the right things.
Rituals are useful and good. Certainly Jesus, as a good Jew whose practice was to attend synagogue and the festivals, engaged in ritual. They bond a group of individuals into a single mindset and purpose. They can help us draw closer to the Lord. But, if we let them do the work of paying attention to our spiritual condition, we may not realize how thirsty we are becoming.
Isn't it interesting that Jesus describes having eternal life as having a spring of living water flowing out of our hearts? What a picture. Ritual waters us from the outside. But a closer walk with Christ waters from the inside.
"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14 NKJV)
Jesus warned the religious leaders about their obsession with manmade traditions and doctrines. These things empowered their religion, but had separated them from God. They weren't sensing their dryness--their thirst.
"Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9 NKJV)
Jesus attended the last day of the great Feast of Tabernacles. He referred to the ritual of pouring out water, a drink offering, on that last day. He used it to point to Himself. Spit out the gum people! Come and get a drink and never thirst again!
"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37b-38 NKJV)
Dehydration is far worse than merely being thirsty. It takes a while to recover and replenish one's body when the fluid loss is that great. That's why athletes know to drink often and before they feel thirsty. When you push your body to higher levels of performance, you need to anticipate its needs and be ready.
Spiritually we are in a time of warfare (Ephesians 6:12). Wearing the armor, running the race, disciplining ourselves are all biblical images of how a disciple of Christ is to live. And so we must drink in the word of God, bathe our lives in prayer, and pay attention to our condition.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether Slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13 NKJV)
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