Thorns

Week 5

Keith Trollinger
September 2, 2018



What is worship? It’s something that is laying claim to the rulership of your heart. Our heart is always living for something.
— Keith Trollinger

We're sharing a shirt, it's called Bear Fruit. I don't know if you've had a chance, but if you want to preorder or get those shirts, they are available. That’s a cool bear, right there. I would encourage you guys to do that. That's a cool little deal that we've got going on. I think they are fifteen bucks, man, but I want to encourage you guys to buy one of those shirts. 

I'm going to talk about two specific things this morning and then Shannon next week is really going to get into more of a detailed piece. You'll see in this image kind of what that looks like, but Shannon is going to get into some pretty cool stuff about how the Spirit and how God works in our hearts to change us. So before we jump into this, I'm going to pray and we'll get started. 

God, thank you so much for this morning. Thank you that you love us. Thank you that we're here together as a family, as a church family. Lord, I pray that you would speak to us through the Word this morning and that God, you would allow us to know. I know, God, there's some people in this room that know what we're doing and what we're teaching in this series, God, because they've walked through this and they are walking through it. But Lord, I pray that as refreshing as it may be to hear it again, Lord, I pray that there are people in our room this morning, God, that would begin this journey of transforming the heart and not behavior. Lord, we love you. We thank you, and we pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

So what if I’m driving down I-20, and I’m in my Toyota Tacoma and we're hitting into Atlanta. We're about to hit the connector there. I-75, I-85, the bridge, you know, and we jump on and we're going around and we start to slow and I look down at my odometer. I notice that the temperature gauge goes to the “H,” right as I’m starting to slow down. Typically when that happens for a lot of us, you’re in traffic. Anybody ever had that happen? Yeah, exactly. So the temperature gauge goes to the “H,” and you start to panic a little bit because you're thinking to yourself, I don't have any water. This is not good. The wrecker bill, everything. Who can I call right now? I'm late. You're always going to be late. It's always the most inconvenient time. That's just how life happens. 

So what if you're riding with me and I said to you, “Oh, I got this,” like this is easy, this is a walk in the park. I bust through the odometer, take the needle, move it to the “C” and I say, “Alright, we're good. Let's roll.” You're going to think I'm an idiot. Right? You're crazy to think that fixes the problem. Right? You're going to look at me and think this guy has absolutely lost his mind. With our life that’s how a lot of times we respond to life’s circumstances. We think that we can just sort of fix our behavior. We try to fix the behavior versus fixing what's really going on underneath the hood. For a lot of us this morning, based on what's really going on inside of our heart, that's our approach to life. We just try to fix the behavior.

In Luke 6 real quick and we're going to come back to this text but I want to read this to you. This is what Jesus says in Luke 6:43. “A good tree can't produce bad fruit. And a bad tree can't produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn bushes and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” 

From what is inside, what's under the hood. It's not a simple “crack the plastic on the odometer, move the needle to the “C” and keep driving,” right? That doesn't fix the problem. The way that we fix the problem is that we look introspectively into the heart. We look at the matter of the heart and that's how we deal with the problem. But a lot of times we go at it by busting the odometer and avoiding what's really going on. It's called behavior modification. Behavior Management. I can just get through this season on my own. The Bible is very clear about a fallen world. It's super clear about a fallen world and how we as sinners respond to it. 

The Bible also pretty clearly provides an incredible mirror for us to be able to look into and see how we really, really are, as opposed to looking at carnival mirrors. I know that makes me sick when I look into a carnival mirror. Anybody? I remember we went to the Ripley's Believe It or Not in Pigeon Forge and they had the whole Carnival Mirror Maze, man, that messed with my system. I don't know, it's like riding the Tea Cups at Disney World. So we look at life as if we're looking at carnival mirrors and we get these different perceptions, these different views of how we need to respond to things. We collect different views in our life about how we would respond. 

The first one is a cultural value. How would the culture respond to something like this? Ours is a culture that is all about individualism. It's all about you. It's about what can I get out of this? What's in it for me? It's about power. Culturalism is about indulgence. Let me just indulge in food more. Let me indulge in buying stuff, let me go on a shopping spree. I'm going to head to the Ponce market in downtown Atlanta, man, and just go overboard in buying stuff, right? So we have cultural values. 

A lot of it is our own opinion, sort of what we've gained over time. It's been shaped by our experiences and how we've responded to those experiences and what worked and what didn't work. So we go back to those responses. Sometimes it's friends’ opinions, Friends tell us, “Get revenge,” or friends will tell us, “Do what feels right.” Right? “Follow your heart.” The worst advice you could ever give somebody is to follow your heart. 

You have family values. Now, my mom and my dad never said this growing up as a kid, but some of you, man, this is like your slogan when your kids get bad at school or if they create a mess at school or they run their mouth. “You're a Trollinger and Trollingers don't act like this.” Nobody in this room has ever said that, right? My parents never said that. I don't ever remember my mom and my dad saying that, but a lot of times that's what we do. My Mom taught me how to roll houses. So when I had a bad day, I would go and roll somebody’s house. That was a family value in my family. We rolled houses. 

What is it for you? So collectively, you look at life and you respond to life through carnival mirrors. You have all of these different ways that you respond or reflect when a circumstance or life happens, but the Bible is super clear about how we should respond. So a question to ask is, “How do I naturally respond to circumstances in life?” The reality is that most of us, if not all of us, somewhere along the way, we focus on behavior. We focus on behavior. 

We face the reality that, although we are fruit trees by the grace of God, we still have thorn bush responses to life. We twist the truth. We harbor anger. We manipulate. An image is going to come up of a thorn tree and a fruit tree. This is an image that if you've gone through How People Change, you’ve seen this image and become very familiar with this image. This morning, what we're focused on is the image on the right side, the thorns, the bad fruit in our life. This is typically how we respond to circumstances, how we respond to our kids, how we respond to our employers or employees, our bosses, how we respond wherever it may be, These are thorn bush responses. What's real, what the Bible teaches us, and what reality is, is that these thorn bush responses come from the heart. They would be labeled as the bad root. It's the heart. 

Instead of trying to fix behavior modification or behavior, what we're learning in this series is that God, our creator, wants us to go to the root, because behavior is a symptom of what’s really going on inside of you or your child's actions. So this morning, three prayers, and you can write this down. This is good. The goal is obviously to get to the fruit tree. We're not going to get there this morning, but I just want you to have that mental picture over the next three weeks as Shannon and I sort of work through this diagram, but three prayers this morning. 

First, that God would expose our thorns. That God would expose our thorns. That's a prayer that God, instead of looking at my behavior, Lord, expose my thorns. That's a dangerous prayer. Anybody want to go home and say, “God, expose the sin in my life.”It goes back to the psalmist when he says, “Search me and know me, O God. Know my heart and see what's offensive." What is in me that offends God and leads me to everlasting? That's a dangerous prayer. Nobody wants to go home and say, “God, tell me where I am royally messing it up. Where am I messing it up, God? Where am I messing it up, Lord? What's going on in the root?” That's a dangerous prayer, and I would probably be safe to say that a lot of us don't pray that prayer. We're not asking, “God expose the deep seated evil rootedness, bitterness, whatever it may be, expose it in my heart and draw it out of me. Bring it to my attention,” We don’t want to pray this because of the second thing. 

The second piece of the prayer is, “God help me to own it. Help me to own what you've exposed to me.” We are super, super good at blaming other people. We blame our spouse, we blame our children, we blame the teacher at school. Can I get an amen from our educators?  But that's it. We blame other people and we don't want to own it. This is the hardest thing that I have with high schoolers, getting them to take responsibility and not play the victim role. “Well, Keith, but you don’t know… My life has just been my mom and my dad…” and then I'm like, “Dude, you can't play the victim. You're an adult. You're a young adult.” It’s something to accept responsibility. So this is equally hard when God exposes the sin. We have to own it. I mean this problem has been going on since Genesis 2. What does Eve do? She blames a serpent. Then what does Adam do? He blames Eve. None of them want to take responsibility. 

And then the third thing is that we pray, “God, give me understanding of my thorns. Show me a path. What's behind the fact that I get so caught up this way, God, and why? What do I want?” So these are three things that as a church family, if we want movement to happen in our lives, and we want to get to the root, that bottom part of that thorny tree, then these are three great prayers to pray. 

So let's go back to Luke real quick. So Jesus says, we'll skip around a little bit and start at verse forty-five. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what's in your heart.” You know what's interesting about this word “produce” is that when you produce something, often times in a production factory, it takes time to produce something, right? So that production has been settling in someone’s mind. There was thought in the production, there was a vision in the production, there was maybe a blueprint of the production, there was a model of the production. The production just didn't happen like that. And evil just doesn't happen overnight. It takes root. An evil person produces evil things. A good person produces good. 

So what is it the Lord is saying here? He's saying that there's an incredible connection between our heart, our thoughts and desires in a way that we respond to life. An incredible connection between the heart and how we respond to life, and lasting change only occurs through the pathway of the heart. Not behavior modification, not dealing with each individual thorn. It only comes through the pathway of the heart, which is going to the root, because if the heart does not change, then there's no lasting change at all. The next season will roll around and we’ll respond to whatever adversity, or pain, or suffering. Maybe we'll modify it and we'll do it differently or we'll go back to the same pattern. So the only lasting change occurs through the heart. 

Our fruit alerts us that there are issues of the heart, so if your fruit is bad fruit, then that is a immediate alert, a red flag that there's something going on inside the heart. Then we begin through the work of the cross to change the issues of the heart, which ultimately leads to a life of sweet better fruit, which is what we all want. That is what Shannon is going to talk about this next week, We want to produce good fruit and nobody this morning is going to walk out of here and just start producing good fruit, especially with things that we've been responding to for a long time. Right?  It’s a process. It's going to take some work. 

So we learn in Luke 6 that the heart is the issue. It's the issue, it’s not behavior. It's the heart. To me, this is a crucifying, unrepentant walk. That's the process. The production that we need to be walking through is a crucifixion, crucifying our old self, which we're going to get into in a second, so that the Lord can do some transformation on a heart. It’s a crucifying repentance. “God, I'm sorry, that I responded to my son that way?” “I'm sorry that I blame the teacher. Now I need to pick up the phone and call the teacher and tell her that’s no excuse. I just had a bad day. It was a bad week. I had no excuse.” It's “I'm owning it and I'm telling you that my response to you was wrong and I'm sorry."  So it's a crucifying and repentance walk. 

In Ephesians 4:17, Paul who writes the book, gives a really exhaustive list that we're not going to get into for the sake of time, but he says, “With the Lord's authority, I say this, live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused, their minds are full of darkness. They wander from the life God gives them because they have closed their minds, and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and they eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” So Paul is honestly talking about a lot of us. Do we live as Gentiles do? Why? Because our heart is hardened and why has our heart become hardened?  

Often it's because of the experiences that you've walked through. Let’s just think about it. Think about your childhood, your relationship with your mom and your dad, or lack thereof. Think about unfortunate events that have happened in your life. Think about people that have walked in and out of your life. Think about high school. Think about middle school. Middle school was a miserable experience for me and a lot of things were shaped in my mind because of the experiences that happened when I was in middle school. Think about college. Think about your first job. Maybe it was the loss of a kid, loss of your dad, your mom. Maybe it's now the frustration with your child. All of these things shape us and a lot of times these things keep us acting like a child responding from behavior. 

So Paul shifts gears here. Listen, this is hope. He says, “But that's not what you learned about Christ, since you've heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from life. It's not who you are anymore.” So he says, “Throw off your sinful nature and your former way of life which is corrupted by lust and deception, and instead let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes, and put on your new nature created to be like God, truly righteous and holy.” There's a dramatic shift in this text when Paul is saying, “Look, I get that all of your experiences that you've had in your life often times shape how you respond to circumstances. Good and bad.” Paul is saying, “I get it.” But do we respond with bad behavior? But you're saying you are in Christ. You are a new creation, renewed with the Spirit of the living God inside of you. Let the Spirit do what the Spirit was created to do and let it renew and transform the way that you think. It gives us strength, because you can't do it in your own. You and I are no match for sin. We're not. The Spirit gives us strength and courage to walk through that process of transformation, and putting on our new self the old way. It's all about what I want and this is what sin does, it causes us to shrink our lives down to the size of our lives. 

What does that mean? Sin makes us think that our lives are all about us. Our kingdom, our glory. This is what we've been fighting against all along versus having a heart motivated by God's grace, His story, His kingdom, His business. It's what he wants with our marriage, our parenting, and our workplace. He wants His grace. God wants us to respond out of a heart that is receiving His forgiveness and His grace, and not out of a heart that still has tension from the past in bitterness, and hurt. God wants us to walk in freedom. So what are your thorn responses? After verse twenty-four, he kicks off an extensive exhaustive list of behaviors, twenty-seven to be exact. You can read these on your own time, but as Paul is articulating specific sin here and in the rest of this chapter, he's being very specific about how we need to be in confessing our sin. He gives an exhaustive list because Paul wants us and God wants us to be very adamant about confessing our sin and calling it what it is. That is why we pray specifically, “Lord reveal it to me, call it out and give me the courage and the gumption to own it and show me the path to do something about it.” 

For many of us, we need to tear down the delusions of our righteousness. This is a trap. I was telling a bunch of high school students this past Wednesday night at 912, don’t be deceived into thinking, not to scare us, but don't be deceived into thinking that I can continue the pattern of my life and that I'm in good standing with the Lord. I think that's a trap that Satan puts us in. He wants us to be deceived into thinking that we're good and nothing needs to change. Then we can just continue to modify behavior but God is saying, “You’re missing it! You're missing my goodness and grace. You're missing joy. You're missing peace. You're missing hope. You're missing the ability to love, man. You're missing, when you just continue to try to modify. So maybe we first confess that we're Pharisees. We think we're better than others. You know, it's another conversation that I had with a student in this room at dinner Thursday night. Sometimes we think, man, I'm looking at my life and I don't struggle with anything. I'm great. I'm better than a lot of people that attend. I mean, I get so sick of hearing when teenagers are like, “I don't go to your church because I see who goes there.” What does that even mean? You see who goes here. I mean, wasn't it Jesus… I'm about to get off on a rant, so let me just keep going here. 

I mean, but seriously, Jesus said that the church is a place for the sick, so if you walk in and you're like, well, everybody in here is a hypocrite. Well guess what? You're a hypocrite, too. Quit calling it out. Remove the plank out of your own eye and take a seat. I'm just kidding. No, just kidding. I'm not condemning either man.  I just get tired of hearing high schoolers going, “I don't go there because that person goes there.” I'm like, “Well, forget you.” All right, here we go. I don't mean forget you either. I'm just going to shut up and move on. 

So we tend to be blind to our own blindness. Guess what, we need community. We need each other. We need each other. When I was sitting with Tim Albert, Friday at lunch, I don't think Tim's here and Jim, whom I've been missing Jim for a few weeks. I think I saw him walk in this morning and he's in this room, but I'll look forward to my Fridays with those guys because I need those guys in my life. I need to be able to confess to them, I sit every Monday morning with Dwayne Hicks, I need Dwayne in my life. I need him to speak and he speaks truth and it sometimes hurts and I don't like to hear what he says, but I need that in my life. Self examination is a community deal. Get into a life group, man. Accurate diagnosis always precedes the cure. We need people to call us out. So let's go to our thorns and quit looking through carnival mirrors. Question for you this morning. Real quick is how do I typically respond to circumstances and relationships that God has placed in my life right now? And what is the result of my response? 

So we just ask, why do we behave this way? You know, I was telling a bunch of teenagers that. I spoke to the football team, the junior high and then ninth grade football team the other day. I was talking about how when you respond versus react. If you react, you yell, you scream, you lose influence immediately, especially from the people who are watching you. But when you respond, man, that's a chance for you to grow and mature. Literally, I leave, I get in my truck and I go to my life group, guys, and I yelled at one. I mean, I didn't yell. Well I got pretty mad and I'm told myself, “Dude, you just did what you told people not to do. Why? Why Keith?” So, I go sit across from this kid. He's a sophomore in high school, an incredible kid. I was like, “I need you to know…” and I probably apologized eight hundred times. I said, "I'm sorry and I need you to forgive me. Will you please forgive me?” 

Why do I respond that way? Here's why I respond that way. This is why we respond the way we do. Because in that small group time, it's all about my kingdom. That's what it's about. It’s because I worship that. So why do we respond? Why do we behave this way? Because ungodly behavior grows out of a heart that has been captured by something other than Jesus. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Scripture tells us that whenever we see ungodly behavior manifesting in us, it's because we're worshiping and adoring something other than the one true God. We don't like that statement. We don't. We don't like hearing that because we want to believe so badly that “No, I worship God.” When I go and sit across the table and I'll look at you and you look at me and we say, “Do you love God?” “Yes, I love God with all my heart.” And many times for me, that's not the truth because I love worshiping other stuff and for me it's a continual crucifying and repenting, and crucifying and repenting. 

Listen to James 4:1, and this so true. This is a great verse to memorize. He says, “What's causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires that war within you,” and he goes on and on. I don't think I have the text up there, but he says, “You want what you don't have, and so you scheme and you kill to get it. You're jealous of what others have, but you can't get it. And so you fight and wage war behavior.”

What causes quarrels and fights among you? It comes deep from within. Often times when we're angry, we describe our anger by looking outwardly instead of looking inwardly.  I had a football player tell me and it was so great, man. It was just a really cool moment of grace. He plays football at one of our high schools and he's been coming to church here a lot recently. He'll be here second service today, which is really incredible, man, because this kid wouldn't even come close to a church for the last three years that I've known him. He walked up to me a couple of weeks ago, and he goes, “I just need you to know that I'm dealing with anger.” I loved it because he didn't blame anybody about his anger, but he said, “It’s on me, Keith.” He's looking inwardly. 

When you're angry, you want to describe anger by looking outward, and James is like, “Nope. You have to look inwardly.” Circumstances in life reveal what's in the heart. It comes from inside. You know when you say, “I didn't mean that.” Instead what you're really saying is, “I'm sorry, I said what I meant.” Right? We want to experience lasting change fruit. Then we have to ask the question, why? Why do I behave this way and if we don't, we focus on willpower and behavior modification, but the heart has not really changed, if we do that. 

God wants to do more. The Bible divides this into two pieces, the inner man and the outer man. We are divided into the inner man and the outer man. The inner man is a spiritual soul, the spirit. Over nine hundred times in the Bible does scripture talk about the inner man, the heart specifically. The heart is used over nine hundred times describing the inner man. Those passages teach that the heart is the control center of you and me. I don't have time to get into it, but Ezekiel 32, they pray that God would give him a new heart, that God is removing their heart of stone and replacing it with a new heart. Why? Because the heart is the control center of the life and by nature all of us in this room, we are worshipers. It's who we are. We don't divide humans into non-worshipers and worshipers. We all worship something, so the issue is not whether you do or don't worship, but rather it's what or who do you worship? This is the issue. This is the heart issue. 

What is worship? It’s something that is laying claim to the rulership of your heart. Our heart is always living for something. We learned this at a young age. When I was a little kid, and I'll never forget this, I remember this as vividly as it happened yesterday, I'm with my mom and my dad. Christmas is coming around the corner, man, and we walk into Toys R Us. I know they don't have that anymore today. I know it's Amazon now. If you're a child, tragedy, but we walk in a Toys R Us, and it's at the bottom shelf. I know they put it at the bottom because that's where kids are going to look. They're not putting it at the top, dude. They're putting it where I'm looking. No, I’ll never forget this as long as I live, man. I'm at Toys R Us and I'm sitting there. I so remember this like it happened yesterday, dude. We walk in with my mom and my dad and  there it is in all of its splendor and beauty. Every young boy's dream almost comes into reality is I see this absolutely gorgeous thing right here. 

This firetruck! Now, I had a fire truck previous to this one, but it didn't have any lights, or didn't make any noises, or it didn't come with a remote control. This was before things worked remotely. It would do this thing. This thing would go up. It would go down, it would extend. It would retract. It would go left. It would go right. There was a siren. I mean, this thing was amazing and as a young kid, probably at the age of eight or nine, I had to have this. It was in a plastic display case. And for this little eight year old boy, walking into Toys R Us, this was the most beautiful thing I'd ever laid my eyes on, you guys. No, I'm talking about the Tonka dump trucks and all, dude, but this was a fire truck! Ooh, I mean, this was amazing. At a young age, we learn what we want and we'll do anything to get it. 

You know how Christmas works and I'm not going to spoil it for anybody, but Christmas comes around and there she is! Bertha! Under the tree. I kid you not, you can ask my mom and my dad, I would polish this thing, wipe the dust off, get in between. I would use toothpicks and ear things and it was set up. Often I would look just at this thing more than I would play with it. This truck had my heart's affection and if anybody came over to play with my firetruck, did they ever go down. Nobody could touch this! Nobody could! And this is what happens with our heart. Oh, there are things that grab our affection and when anything starts to get in the way of that affection, dude, our disposition, our posture, everything changes.

When at that Life Group, when that kid disrupted, when I wasn't getting my way because I wanted that environment to be the way I wanted it to be, I was worshiping that moment. I got mad at him because he disrupted the environment that I was trying to create that I thought would be perfect. 

When your kid comes in, or what is it for you coaches that you work with? You coaches or athletes, fill in the blank. What is it for you? So this is why we respond the way that we respond, because other things have our heart. That's the struggle. Other things get our love, and our acceptance, what I call the laws of the heart, love, acceptance, worth and significance. For an eight year old boy, this had my love, my acceptance, my worth and my significance. As I got older, those things definitely changed, right? They changed. 

So for that we need a Redeemer, church. We need Jesus. John Calvin said, “The heart is an idol factory. It's anything. It's appearance, it's success, it's comfort, it's a lifestyle. It's control, it's love of, it's a dream. It's sex, it's food, it's power. Anything that drives us to where we get our love, acceptance, worth, and significance. And for an eight year old boy growing up in Conyers, Georgia, at 26 Fair Oaks Drive, it was a red fire truck. The problem isn't that I behave in the wrong ways. The problem is I behave in wrong ways, because God has been replaced as the principal ruler of my heart, as the giver of life, as the source of love, acceptance, worth, and significance. 

Shannon wants you to know this morning that whatever rules the heart will exercise inescapable influence over your behavior. So not only do we have to own our fruit, but we have to trace it to the roots, to the root of our heart, because if the root doesn't change, the fruit won't change. Don't change a tree by nailing peaches to it. You don't exchange behavior for another one and expect life change. So here's some questions that I want you to ask as we leave this morning. It's this. I’ve got five. What do you love? What do you want? What do you seek? Who do you trust? What would bring you the greatest pleasure in life? 

Next week? We're going to learn how to fix it. Okay? If you need to pray, I'll be standing right over here. Some soul care people will be over here. Whatever you do, do not touch my fire truck! Let's pray. 

Lord Jesus, we thank you. Love us. You are just like the song, I can lay my head and shield, but you are still coming after me. Oh Lord Jesus, this morning I pray that you would come after us, arms wide open with the greatest smile on your face, full of joy. No condemnation, no shame. Truth, yes, but truth in love. Give us a new heart so that we can start bearing fruit that is eternal, righteous, and holy. We love you. We thank you. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.