The Thorny Heart Pt. 3: Darwin’s Thorn

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Thorny Heart Darwin

Sunday 08/13/23

Message: The Thorny Heart Pt. 3: Darwin’s Thorn

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The Thorny Heart Pt. 3

We are still in Jesus’ parable of the heart soils which is about the Kingdom of God and its reception in the human heart.

There are 4 hearts listed and each represents a broad stroked category into which any heart will fall in regard to receiving the word.

In the past this teaching has been set forth as talking about the reception of the word of God at large and make no mistake – that is a valid representation. However, Jesus makes it clear that THIS parable in particular is about the message of the rule and reign of God in the hearts of mankind.

THAT message, as we have spoken about many times in our church, is met with an entirely different response than messages about God’s love and salvation. 

When you tailor the MESSAGE of salvation within the kingdom to make it about ‘US’ regardless of the Kingdom, people like it. When you teach salvation as a result of submitting to the rule of Christ, it elicits an entirely different response – and THAT is a good portion of the lesson to be learned by this parable!

Now, we have been on the 3rd heart of Jesus’ parable for a couple of weeks. It is the one about the Thorny heart

The Thorny heart is the one which had competing allegiances in it BEFORE the message of the kingdom arrived there. 

So these competing desires already had a root system and were already a choking plant in full bloom when the seed of the kingdom landed there. 

Jesus used His teaching to paint a picture of heart thorns which fall into 3 categories.

  1. Anxieties of this life – what will we wear, what will we eat, where will we live, how well will we live, how long will we live…etc.
  2. Seductiveness of wealth – which seeks to speak to the first category of anxiety. Wealth seduces us into believing that it can not only satisfactorily address our anxieties of life, but it can also satisfy the heart which is a lie.
  3. And the third category which is where we are today… is a sort of a “catch all” category called “the pleasures of other things”which can be summarized by “The desires for things OTHER than the kingdom”.

These desires don’t have to be things we worry or are anxious about. 

They don’t need to be about needs

They don’t even need to be about abundance or possessions

These thorns can simply be desires, interests or distractions which pull our attention away from the Father, the Kingdom, OR callous our desire and devotion to the kingdom.

So I will begin by telling you that for the believer, whose heart has already received the message of the Kingdom and has borne fruit unto it – the greatest expression of Thorns is often distractions and validations.  

Distractions have already been adequately addressed in our last session when we looked at some of the teachings and warnings given us by James.

The reason James told us to NOT BE DECEIVED about temptations is because we kinda ARE easily DECEIVED! 

It isn’t all that hard to get us to believe the lie that distractions will keep us from boredom, from being overrun with worries and the mundane. 

But that fulfillment and soul satisfaction can be found IN OTHERS rather than in Jesus, is a pitfall nearly every heart wrestles with.

We have an innate need to be accepted and validated. In an odd way we were created this way, only in the beginning it wasn’t a need since it was constantly answered by the love and affirmation of God. 

Since the fall however, this has been one of mankind’s greatest quests. 

It is a search for validation and significance.

Now, how does this or any thorn grow?

Remember our example of the two wolves or the older story of the two dogs

The one that wins out is the one that is fed the most

That speaks to this Parable directly because the message of the kingdom of God and the message of anxieties, wealth and other desires exist in the same heart. 

All of this got me thinking about Charles Darwin

I know that might not seem a likely place to have one’s mind drawn, but if you knew something of his journey it might.

Darwin’s Thorns

Though the particulars of his story are unique, its trajectory and outcome are all too common and they provide real life, albeit tragic examples of the Thorny Heart

You have to be careful gathering information about Charles Darwin because it is very easy to find mis-quotes as well as all-out-fiction being passed off as fact. 

Charles Darwin grew up in a religious setting, part of which was Anglican and therefore somewhat adherent to salvation by faith in Christ. This was later challenged by the age of eight when he no longer worshiped in an Anglican environment, but went with his mother to a Unitarian Church. 

However, he still attended an Anglican school, so there were elements of Christian influence throughout his early life. Its impact on him was obviously deeper than surface since in his early adulthood he attended the University of Cambridge with the aim of becoming a clergyman. 

At the same time (and this is where the competing thorns come in) Darwin also loved the study of nature and followed the scientific methods of John Herschel

Following college on his famous boat ride on the Beagle he was still orthodox according to his own written testimony. He had however allowed the thoughts of secular naturalists to powerfully influence his thinking. 

From 1836-1839 he thought much about religion. Meaning he pondered it and considered it from a detached intellectual angle. Throughout that time he progressively came to view the account of history from the Old Testament as patently false. This was primarily due to those parts which evoked the supernatural… the tower of babel, the rainbow as a sign from God were provided as examples of this. 

Before courting Emma, who would be his first wife, Darwin had already begun developing his hypothesis. Much of the underpinnings of his evolutionary thinking was not original to him since those thoughts were already largely espoused and even written about by his grandfather Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus’s influence on Charles is greater than customarily acknowledged, which suggests a relationship – one in which Charles would have sought the validation and admiration of his grandfather who himself questioned Biblical chronology and encouraged religious skepticism. 

This therefore can be added as one of the more prominent “thorns” in Darwin’s heart.

His marriage to Emma, a Christian leaning woman was difficult at best. Both before and after their marriage his wife Emma‘s disagreement with his views were spoken of freely since their disagreements were on such key and vital issues.

Before he completed his theoretical hypothesis Darwin became a devout agnostic, seemingly having rejected the gospel NOT on it’s true merits or lack thereof, but due to doubting its authenticity and his distaste for its message.

I will provide from two quotes placed side-by-side one flowing thought which I do not believe in any way adds to or takes away from his own thoughts or their development. 

“I read with great care Pearson on the Creeds and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted….”

“I was very unwilling to give up my belief;—I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. 

I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.”

By all externals, Darwin would have probably been a likable fellow, albeit somewhat arrogant and relative to greater society he would likely have been a good and decent person. 

He was honest with Emma during their courtship so as to not entrap her with a bait-n-switch relationship. She knew full well going in what manner of man he was and what were his thoughts about God, Jesus and the scriptures. So that is to his credit. 

Also, he never forbade her the expression of her religion nor did he create obstacles which hindered his children. They would simply attend church and he would go on long walks.

Nevertheless, his social congeniality does not undo his fatal flaw of not applying his scientific methods to God. 

Rather than going to God and asking Him to reveal Himself, to confirm His word and so help him believe – he turned to naturalistic reasoning. I The influence of those he admired who were themselves naturalists and he attempted to apply all of this thinking and bias to spiritual matters. 

No doubt, had he even been 100% honest and unbiased in this naturalist pursuit, he would have found God, for Paul says God and His attributes are clearly seen in the things God made. 

For a naturalist, could there have been an easier or more agreeable tasks? 

But there was more to it. There was an active desire that it NOT be true. An unwillingness to do with Christ what he did with his theorizing. 

Nearly ALL of his evolutionary ideas were both untestable and unprovable throughout his lifetime – yet, he believed it. 

If he had given the same to the gospels and the Old Testament, he would not have found it so easy to dismiss. 

Yet, one of his stated problems with the Gospels was that it was quite impossible to corroborate whether the things we read were really what happened since he believed they were recorded MANY years later. Far too much later for it to be reliable. This belief was not without merit at the time, since the Textus Receptus was largely comprised of parchments dating from the 12th century.

Today of course we have tremendous proofs which would no doubt have been sufficient to give Darwin great reason to retain his faith. But that is one of the problems with weeds. 

They never present you with the full story. 

The urgency of their voice encourages rash

and hasty decisions. 

In the end though, the problem was not the lack of evidence, but his unwillingness to consider that, given time, such proofs could in fact be uncovered. He simply wrote it off as impossible and moved on. 

Behind his words and in the written accounts of his life and pursuits – notions of Christ, the scriptures and salvation by faith sat neglected in his mind while the pursuit of other things filled his time and mind. 

Finally – their choking work was complete and as he affirms, his departure from faith happened gradually, so that he felt no distress. 

We are told in the scriptures to set our minds on things of the spirit and not on things of the flesh. Romans tells us that if we set our mind on spiritual things we will have life and peace but if we set our mind on the things of the flesh the result will be distance from God and death. In brief you will walk after what you set your mind on. 

Darwin set his mind on the things of the Flash. This was true even when he was trying to think about spiritual things. The results were just as Paul predicted in Romans

Bear in mind also, that NO MAN strives purely for the integrity of their work. There is a deadly pride at work as well as the need and desire for the praise, admiration and affirmation of those we admire. For Darwin– ALL OF THOSE were naturalists with a leaning towards evolutionary mechanisms from common descent. 

This left little to no room for the seed of the Gospel to grow in his heart. 

Remember that jewel of a verse that we have discovered which pulls back the blinders regarding the heart’s ability to devote itself in trust towards God. 

Jesus asked the question,How can you believe who seek praise from man and not from God?”

The interests of Darwin’s mind coupled with the desire for the praise and affirmation of those he admired were Darwin’s costly thorns… and they did not just cost him! They cost his family, potentially they cost a church full of parishioners to whom he had been called and finally it has cost countless MILLIONS who have found in his unproven hypothesis an escape hatch from their conscience which was warning them that there is a God to Whom they are accountable. 

In short, the Scriptures were never afforded a fair shake in Darwin’s heart and mind. 

Struggling against the seed of the Gospel of the Kingdom while simultaneously consulting your mind and the mind of those who do not believe is NOT the same as pursuing God unbiasedly and honestly.

Now I took the tediousness of this example to paint a picture, from flesh and blood of the inner workings and disastrous results of a Thorny heart.

As I stated at the beginning, these thorns do not have to be… 

  • Things we worry or are anxious about. 
  • needs
  • Or even thoughts or concerns about abundance or possessions

They can simply be desires, interests or distractions which pull our attention away from the Father, the Kingdom, or callous our desire and devotion to them.

As those, in whose heart, the message of the Kingdom has already grown and produced fruit, we are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews to lay aside not only our sins, but every weight which slows down and hinders our progress.

As I said earlier, TWO of the greatest and most effective Thorns for believers are distractions and validations. 

The man living for the approval and validation of his father, his brothers, his friends and those in this life he admires- has landed more lives in spiritual shipwreck than can be numbered. 

The woman either seeking the approval of her father or running in denial from the need for it has led more women into lives they were not created or designed for with empty pursuits of beauty and desire to be cherished then could be numbered as well. 

Again Jesus is asking, How can you believe who seek praise from man and not from God?”

Truth is, God is the ONLY One our hearts were created for. So the lie is that contentment and satisfaction can be found in anything else!

All true lovers of God through the years have recognized and bemoaned this struggle. 

They longed to love God with unrivaled devotion as the 1st commandment requires, but found in themselves a tendency towards wondering and unfaithfulness. 

The answer is not found in finally conquering all other loves, but in surrendering them to Him in open honesty and prayer. 

Seeking His help against their inroads.

David, after being shaken to awareness again by the prophet following his sin with Bathsheba prayed, 

“(1) Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts!  (2)  Wash away my wrongdoing! Cleanse me of my sin!  (3)  For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin.  (4)  Against you – you above all – I have sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. So you are just when you confront me; you are right when you condemn me.  (5)  Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me.  (6)  Look, you desire integrity in the inner man; you want me to possess wisdom.  (7)  Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be pure; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  (8)  Grant me the ultimate joy of being forgiven! May the bones you crushed rejoice!  (9)  Hide your face from my sins! Wipe away all my guilt!  (10)  Create for me a pure heart, O God! Renew a resolute spirit within me!  (11)  Do not reject me! Do not take your holy Spirit away from me!  (12)  Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance! Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!  (13)  Then I will teach rebels your merciful ways, and sinners will turn to you.”

We will close with my reading a modernized version of the St. Augustine Confession which addresses this inner struggle.

“Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. Man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You. Man, who carries around with him his mortality and the inward awareness and conviction of his sin, as well as the truth that You “resist the proud, ” – yet here man is – part of Your creation and for all of this we still desire to praise You. 

You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless util they find rest in You. 

Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first…

to call on upon You, or to praise You. Also to know You, or to call upon You.

Oh! how am I to find rest in You? Who will send Yourself into my heart to intoxicate it, so that I may forget my cares and embrace You as my only good? What are You to me? Have compassion on me, that I might speak. What am I to You that You require my love, and unless I give it to You, you are angry and promise me great sorrow as a result? 

Is it, then, a light sorrow not to love You? 

Alas! alas! tell me of Your compassion, O Lord my God, what You are to me. 

“Say unto my soul, I am your salvation.” 

So speak that I may hear. 

Behold, Lord, the ears of my heart are before You; open them, and “say to my soul, I am your salvation.” 

When I hear, may I run and lay hold on You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die, lest I die, if only I may see Your face.”


Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keeps authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provide teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!