I have no problem, whatsoever, taking Jesus’ decree in Mark 7:19 to heart. When he said ‘all foods’, I am down with that. Now, I know that opened us up to a world of bacon, sausages and all sorts of other delicious things. But I take the comment to mean that we can enjoy all foods too.
Nevertheless, I make no bones about the fact that I would gladly live on a diet consisting exclusively of fried chicken, ice cream, chocolate and sweets. I know folk baulk at that and think, to quote Alan Partridge, ‘I’d eat that every day if I could… but I’d be dead.’ But the fact is, I like that stuff. Offer me that or a bowl of salad and there isn’t much competition.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a varied diet. But I like a varied diet of stuff that is generally bad for me. I love fried chicken, but I also like burgers, kebabs, curry, Chinese food, fish & chips, pies. I would happily eat sweets, chocolate and ice cream every day. I know it’s not good for me, but I also know I like it more than green beans and cauliflower.
But, as I’ve said to my children many times, we can’t just eat one pudding after another forever after. Life is more than one long procession of sweets and ice cream. To live our lives to the full, sometimes we have to constrain ourselves. If we eat nothing but Happy Meals and battered mars bars (I’m not Scottish, but everyone should try one!) we’re going to end up with big problems, no matter how nice they are in the moment. Living life to the full sometimes means limiting the full expression of our liberty. I may be free to eat what I want but, if I do, it may impede me from doing other things that I want to do too as I suffer raging stomach pains.
The same is true when it comes to our Christian lives. We may enjoy short devotional quiet times with a little thought, but if that’s all we ever have for din, we are basically going to give ourselves the doctrinal equivalent of stomach ache. Blog posts are nice and easy to read and can help clarify our thinking on stuff – I believe in the medium and think blogging is valuable – but if that’s the only place we get our theology, it’s like we’re eating nothing but the spiritual equivalent of sweets all day long. We may enjoy short video sermonettes online, but if that’s all we’re feeding on we will soon be malnourished.
Whilst you are free to dine out exclusively on those things if you want, if you are going to live your Christian life to the full, it may mean limiting your freedom to have those things in favour of some meat and potatoes. That means plugging into your church, feeding on the Word as it is preached week-by-week and sitting in Bible studies delivered by those who may not be as engaging as the guys online but who know the sort of applications you need to hear.
It will also mean getting in on some greens. You might not ordinarily choose to plough through the genealogies in Numbers. Despite it not being your first thought for a morning devotional, it is in your Bible for your good. You might not feel able to wrap your head around some of the nutso stuff at the end of Judges, but the guy preaching is trying to serve it up to you because the Lord has kept it in scripture specifically to build you up. These things might be the your equivalent of vegetables which you know you ought to eat but, given a choice between that and a burger, you know what you’d choose. But that broccoli will do you some good and nourish you in a way that your diet of nothing but ice cream never will.
So, much as I’d gladly eat fried chicken every day, my wife knows that would be no good for me and ensures I get other stuff. As much as you may be delighted to read short devotionals and get all your teaching from blogs and online preachers, the Lord knows that wouldn’t be to your good and has placed you in a local church to ensure you get other stuff too. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy those lighter, sweeter things, it just means you shouldn’t build your entire diet around them – that way doctrinal stomach problems lie.