Why have so many American Christians gotten stuck on a spiritual island? And how do we get off of the island?
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Thanks to Jesse and Alta for filling in for our Worship Pastor Zach Foty today, who is leading a conference for a few thousand students in Green Bay this weekend.
Well, you know what would feel really nice right about now?
Or the Bahamas
It’s about this time of year where we have our annual “Why do we live here?” discussions with each other.
And we all dream of laying on a beach somewhere in the warm sun.
Not having to wear 4 layers of clothing to survive.
Or not having to wear ice skates just to get across parking lots and driveways.
And so, we long for the island life.
And in a lot of ways, we do a similar thing spiritually.
When life gets hectic…or hard…or cold…
We romanticize isolation.
Or…we just plain isolate.
We put ourselves on a spiritual island…out by ourselves.
But does it work?
I want to cover that today as we begin our brand-new series: ATV – All Terrain Venture
As much as we’d like it to be, walking through life isn’t just a stroll on level ground
And even if you’re following Jesus…you don’t just get to sit on the mountaintop all the time.
In reality, effectively walking with Christ, is going to require us to know how to navigate through all sorts of different terrains (4 of which, we’ll cover in this series).
Sometimes, God takes us to the mountaintop.
Other times, our own mistakes (or sometimes even God himself) leads us into the valley
Still other times, we get stuck on spiritual plateaus.
WHY DO WE GET STUCK ON THE ISLAND?
And today, for our first terrain, we’re going to talk about spiritual islands.
(Switch to ISLAND title Screen)
A spiritual island is where you feel like your faith has mostly been reduced down to just you and God.
Maybe you still come to church…
But you don’t really have any other Christian people that are really a significant part of your life.
You don’t have other Christians who know your deepest struggles.
You don’t have other Christians who YOU are influencing and challenging to grow in Christ.
If that’s you, you are not alone in your aloneness.
Sadly, the majority of Christians in America have caught island fever at this point.
It is perhaps one of the most significant obstacles we face to our maturity in Christ as believers in America
And…don’t excuse yourself too early here.
Being in a House Group is a HUGE first step. Massive!
But you can be in a group of 25 people every week and still not know anyone.
There’s a big difference between being friendly with people and having friends.
So, let’s start with this:
WHY IS IT… that so many of us (whether you’re in a House Group or not) struggle with opening up to other people and letting other people into our spiritual lives?
Why have so many of us been stuck on this terrain of a spiritual island for so long?
And why won’t we leave?
The island, unlike say, the valley, is tricky terrain in that once we’ve been there for a while, most of us think that we oughta just stay a while longer
Let me give you a number of reasons why a lot of us get stuck “island of isolation” for way too long:
For some of us…life (as is true w/ a number of the terrains) just brought us here.
You just moved here, and you don’t know anymore.
Your best friend moved away.
You’re recently divorced, or widowed
And in these cases, coming back to the mainland, finding new people is exceptionally difficult.
For others of us, we choose to keep our faith on a private island because we worry about what other Christians will think if they see our faults.
You ever look around at some of these people at Renovation Church and think, “They must be perfect! Just look at them! He’s perfect. She’s perfect. Even their kids look like models. And there they are holding hands walking into church…all while you just tripped on the cord hider in the aisle right there and spilled your coffee all over yourself”
And we think, “I couldn’t be friends and talk about my life w/ someone like that”
A lot of women struggle with this.
It’s hard to feel like you can be vulnerable with another person when you’re home checking your Instagram, looking at someone else’s filtered version of their perfect family…meanwhile, your kids just dumped their milk all over the pizza man who just delivered because you haven’t felt like making a meal since at least 2016.
Men struggle with this too.
To see to another guy…who apparently looks like his career and life are going swimmingly… “Hey, I think I’m depressed.” Or, “My marriage is floundering,” Or, “I don’t even remember the last time I read the Bible”…
That feels impossible.
So we choose to just stay on our spiritual islands instead.
But since my job is to keep people’s secrets, let me spill all of them right now.
You are ALL a mess.
All of you need Jesus.
Probably none more than me.
We can’t let our false and filtered perceptions of other people scare us away from the mainland…where God wants us.
These people…are just like you
For many others, we stay on spiritual islands…not ever talking about our spiritual lives with any other Christians…because (whether consciously or subconsciously), we don’t want to be challenged.
We prefer to just be spiritual on our own.
This is a really common idea outside of Christianity
A big portion of Americans nowadays will describe their spiritual beliefs as “spiritual, but not religious”
Which means, I believe in God…maybe pray…but don’t hold to any specific teachings or the accountability or any Book or any group of people.
The “spiritual, but not religious” crowd often describe themselves as “Deeper than the atheist but smarter than a believer”
It seems like the best of both worlds!
And perhaps that’s why it’s attracting so many people.
IN fact, Pew Research says that more Americans now identify as “Spiritual, but not religious” than those who identify as Atheist, or Jewish, or Muslim, or even Episcopalians.
And in a lot of ways, this type of thinking is seeping into the church.
It’s a big part of the why many of us have settled for a deserted island style of Christianity.
When we’re “Spiritual, but not religious” Christians, we can be spiritual (attend a church service, pray, maybe even read the Bible), but…if we need to…still play by our own rules…BECAUSE WE’RE ON AN ISLAND!
But it’s a dangerous game (being on an island)…slipping into church each week…with no one knowing your name.
It’s easier to succumb to temptation that way (who will know?)
It’s easier to walk away from church…even faith (who will care?)
And instead of being on the mainland with other Christians, you can hop from church to church until you find something that soothes your ears just right…until it doesn’t…and you move on…and no one knows.
This has sadly become a large portion of American Christianity.
I had a conversation with a megachurch pastor recently who said, “Sometimes I feel like there are more people in my town who used to attend our church than presently attend our church”
I think, deep down, many of us are afraid of bringing our faith to the next level
Of having real people challenge us on where we fall short.
Of talking about where we really need to change
Because those sorts of things mean…actually doing the hard work of changing!
We’d rather just keep coming to church once a month (like say when we’re on the volunteer schedule…)
Or catching a message online in our pajamas every once in a while…
Maybe we can pick up something little where we wouldn’t really have to change!
You can keep walking with Jesus that way…but you’ll never really grow.
That’s not why he came and died for you…so you could pick out a few changes that don’t cost you much.
He wants your life.
It’s okay to be alone…to recharge (Jesus Himself did this)
The Bible talks about that often
But it’s not okay to be alone for 6 months. Or two years.
And for a lot of us, I think it’s just plain hard to believe that taking the time to join a house group, or start an accountability relationship with a friend, or meet for a Bible study with 2 or 3 other people…is really worth it!
When you’re worn out and tired, it’s always…ALWAYS…going to be easier to keep to yourself.
When you get a few moments, it’s always going to be easier to veg out in front of the TV or mindlessly surf the internet…than it is to make the effort to engage with others.
But is it worth it?
THE DOWNSIDE OF ISLAND LIFE
Or maybe the easier question to ask is: “Is isolation worth it?”
In 2005, I went to Hawaii.
Not on great circumstances actually.
My wife’s grandfather, who lived there, was dying.
We went to say goodbye.
But while I was there, I heard mention of, for the first time in my life, that some people don’t like living in Hawaii.
I thought, “What??!”
“Have they been to MN?!?”
But I learned about the downside of island life.
Like, you can never go more than 20 miles or so from home
Like, gas is a million dollars a gallon
To buy a 1,500 square foot home might cost you a cool million dollars
And in some similar ways, there are some major downsides to living on a spiritual island.
You cannot thrive spiritually on an island.
It’s not how God created you.
The island life is certainly alluring, but ultimately, it’s not satisfying.
God wants to use you on the mainland.
There are a number of downsides to a spiritual island life if you get stuck on that terrain
Let me share a few of them with you.
For starters, being alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
God didn’t create you to be alone
When God makes Adam in the garden he says,
(Genesis 2:18) – NIV
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
God created humans to be social creatures.
There’s a lot of scientific evidence that backs this up…not just the Word of God (which should be enough, right?)
Let me give you a few notes from some recent research:
A 2006 study of 3,000 women with breast cancer found that those with a large network of friends were four times more likely to survive than women with sparser social connections.
A French study that monitored nearly 17,000 utility workers revealed the degree of their social interactions was a good way of predicting who would still be alive by the end of the decade.
A study involving almost 3,000 Americans found that people with close friendships are far less likely to die young.
And another study found that fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than men with no friends
God simply didn’t create humans to live on deserted islands…literally or spiritually.
And I think a lot of us know that.
We feel that pain of loneliness.
There’s been a lot written about this lately.
Many are calling us the loneliest culture to ever walk the face of the earth…
And your stage of life is irrelevant
And you can be single and lonely
Married with little kids…and never able to get out anymore…and lonely
Or your kids just left for college or made you empty nesters…lonely.
And so, a lot of us as Americans, feel the pain of loneliness, and instead of solving it, we try and drown it out.
You just finished season 4 of your favorite show on Netflix…why not start Season 5…right now…and finish it tonight! :)
We complain that we’re too busy to reach out to others, yet Nielsen now reports that the Average American now has over 10 hours of screen time a day…
Including 4.5 hours a day of watching shows and movies on their TV, tablet, or other devices…a day!
But is it working? Are the distractions making the loneliness go away?
No, God built you for other people.
When my wife was pregnant with the twins, she was put on strict bedrest when she was 27 weeks pregnant.
She basically could get up in the morning, walk down the stairs, get up to go to the bathroom, and go upstairs at night.
It was during that time, that I mastered the art of making the perfect grilled cheese…as I became our chef J
And she stayed on bedrest for 10 weeks.
70 days of barely moving.
And do you know what people kept saying to her??
That sounds awesome!
And she would say, “It was! For a day!”
The island has this allure though…that being alone is going to be all you need…it’s going to be amazing!
But the island won’t satisfy you.
Yes, you need to recharge with God.
Yes, you need time alone…
But unless you’re living life with other people (praying with others, helping each other through your struggles, learning from others)…you won’t ever feel right.
Trying to treat loneliness with DISTRACTIONS instead of PEOPLE…is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
You can’t be a Christian island because being a Christian island is a fundamentally unbiblical concept.
Christian islands…where people just connect with God and don’t live out their faith with other Christians…is just an American twist on Biblical Christianity.
Let’s get theological for a moment, and dive into what the Bible really says on this issue.
The Bible says, when God saves you, he saves you into the body.
The body of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-14) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.
You are saved into the body of Christ…we’re all connected by the Spirit.
And God gifts each and every one of us uniquely.
That chapter says: some are a hand, some are a foot, some are an eye…but all part of the body.
And the Bible in 4 or 5 places, describes Jesus as the head of that body
(Colossians 1:18) – NIV
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
A massive part of God’s design for your spiritual growth is for you to Grow in Christ…as a part of the body
YOU GROW…when you get off the island.
You can’t be just a hand and a head. (just you and Jesus)
The hand will wither and die!
The hand grows as it’s connected to the arm, and the shoulder, and the neck, which are connected as well to the head (Jesus).
We learn about Christ (the head) through other people
God speaks to us in 3 major ways.
Through our thoughts.
Through His Word, the Bible.
And Through His people.
But if you’ve been stuck on the terrain of a spiritual island, you’re effectively cutting out 33% of the way God wants to speak to you!
I tried to think hard this week about why do so many people in America feel totally okay with “Island Christianity.”
I think one of the false ideas we have in American Christianity that I don’t think is all that helpful is the phrase, “God is all I need”
I think the original sentiment of this phrase is true.
All we need to be content is God.
You don’t need money, possessions, or success…just God.
And while that phrase is certainly true on a contentment level
I think as Americans, many of us have taken it, run with it, and twisted the phrase to mean: “God is all we need and thus there’s no need for anyone else in my spiritual life…just me and Jesus”
And yet, as you’ve seen, that is not a Biblical thought
The very nature of the church in the New Testament assumes that people are meeting together all the time.
One of the most basic assumptions of the Bible is that you NEED other people (in the body) if you really want to grow.
This is all over the New and Old Testament
( Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) – NIV
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
And if it’s true that a large part of God’s design for your spiritual growth is for you to grow by experiencing Him through others…
Than guess what?
That means that He needs you (as a part of the body) to be a conduit of His Spirit to others too!
That’s a big part of why God says…don’t get stuck on this island terrain!
He doesn’t just want you to wither personally, but He knows that without you…others will wither in their faith too!
Paul even says:
(Romans 12:5) – NIV
so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We belong to God…and to each other!
And not just for the benefit of each other…but for the benefit of the rest of the world!
It’s pretty hard for Christians to make an impact if we’re all just islands.
A bunch of stray hands or stray toes by themselves aren’t going to change the world.
God wants to use a body!
Right now, in Blaine, there are 50,000 people who aren’t in church today.
Most of them don’t know Christ…they won’t spend eternity with Christ.
If everyone of us just worries about ourselves, then that number is just going to continue to grow.
Last week, when Stanton Petersen was here speaking, I got an opportunity to see what was happening in Renovation Kids.
And it was so encouraging for me to see our volunteers, teaching kids the Word of God.
Those volunteers could have been at home…sleeping in…but they were here, on the “mainland,” changing the world.
And God was using them. Mightily!
How are you going to let God use you?
He wants to!
When we’re all islands, believe or not, we stunt the maturity of this church.
When you’re an island unto yourself, people aren’t in your life to help you grow…or see your blind spots.
And you won’t be present in their life to see their blind spots.
And thus a church made up of a bunch of islands, will always be an immature church.
And when we’re not changed, we most likely aren’t in a position to change the world either.
God wants to use you, my friend.
You’re not on earth to rest.
That’s what heaven is for.
Let Him use you!
HOW TO GET OFF THE ISLAND
I’m telling you, God wants to move in your life.
Will you trust Him?
Can you trust Him that island life…isn’t going to give you what you want?
Do you trust God?
You can’t wait for someone else to make this decision for you.
That’s an excuse we use far too often in this area.
We say, “Well, no one’s ever asked me to join. No one ever calls me.”
You can be obedient.
Do you trust God?
Be honest, sell yourself out, and kick your own self off the island!
Let me just ask you right now: Where is it, in your life, that you need to get off a spiritual island?
What parts of your life are you isolating or hiding from other people…that you just need to bring others into?
God might be putting all sorts of things on your heart, but I want to quickly give you at least 3 ways to get off the island…each kind of increasing in difficulty.
#1: For a lot of you in this room…I think you need to take the initial step and sign-up for a House Group.
That is, one of our weekly groups of 20-30 people that hang out together, and grow in their faith together.
It’s a chance to be known…to grow rapidly in your faith.
2nd Semester starts this week.
It’s the PERFECT time to sign up.
You can do this. Be brave. Trust God.
Look under your chair right now, and you’ll see the sign-up there which you can drop in the offering during announcements.
#2: For those of you already in a House Group, but feel like you’re still kind of living an island life…you haven’t really engaged with a lot of the people there yet…
If that’s you, I want you, sometime in the next week or so…to initiate some type of get together with someone or some people in your group.
Have some people over for pizza.
Go grab coffee someday next week
Go to culver’s after church next Sunday
Invite 10 people over to your house this afternoon and celebrate as the Packer’s lose at the last second in their playoff game.
If we want people to support us and challenge us…we have to put the time and effort in to actually working on our friendships
Or #3: If you’re ready, ask someone to meet with you regularly.
Maybe once a week, maybe twice a month…
And meet for something like:
Accountability on certain issues.
A time to share deeper.
A time to maybe pray together with another person
A time to study the Bible with another person
Whatever you need to make it
But most of us are not here.
And yet, the Bible kind of expects that we’re here.
When it asks us to encourage, call out, challenge, support…one another…it assumes we really KNOW each other…like this.
Is there someone that God’s putting on your heart?
That you just need to call up this week…or pull aside at house groups and say, “Hey, the island is calling, and it’s not treasure island…help me avoid its temptation…let’s start seeking God together as friends in the body of Christ!”
Is God putting someone on your heart?
God wants to, and is going to, move in your life…if you let Him.
But remember…no one else can move you off the island.
This is your choice. You’ve got to decide.
If you think God is trustworthy…
If you believe that He designed you to flourish and live out his purposes…in community…and not on the island…
Then pick up an oar
Get on the boat with a whole lot of amazing people
And let’s get off the island…go out…and change the world…together.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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