It’s Alive! ~ December 29, 2019 ~ Hebrews 4:12
Well, I’m very glad to be with you here today. Pastor Adam is on vacation. He went to be with the Amish in Pennsylvania. He told me that he would be going to an all you can eat buffet. Those things are expensive, like $29! But he’ll be back next week. So, I’m going to pray, and then we’ll get into the sermon.
Father, I am so desperate for Your Word. I am so hungry to hear from You. I don’t want to go through life on my own. I don’t want to go through life in the darkness. I need You, and somehow, the mystery is You communicate to us through speaking Your Words that were written down in a book, which is quite the mystery. And my prayer today is that You would work through Your Word, which is what You have spoken directly from Your lips, and that You would use it to change each person’s heart in this place. And even if five years from now they don’t remember anything I’ve said, that they would remember, “God did something in me that day. God pricked my heart, and I’ve never been the same.”
So, we don’t know what You will do, but we are expectant, and we are thankful, and we give all the glory to Jesus. Amen.
Good morning! Thank you for listening to me. Back in 2015, I went to seminary and I met a man, his name was Ran, which is short for Randolph. And he told me this was his prayer request. He’s a minister. He said, “Kyle, my only prayer is that you would pray for real-life transformation. Real-life change in the people that I work with.” And I thought about this, and I reflected on my own life, and I thought, “I don’t know how people change. I’ve tried so hard to improve myself. I’ve tried so hard to correct my sins, but still, I find myself coming back to the same pit, the same depth, the same despair.”
So, my question is, what is the real center, what is the real power for real-life change in our lives? And this is the conclusion I’ve come to: The power to change our lives abides in the Word of God. I’ll say it again. The power to change our lives both on the earth and for all eternity is found in the Word of God. So, what we’ll be talking about today is this main point, remember this: The Word of God is alive! And it has the power to change our lives, when we hear it and when we do it.
The Scripture we’re basing this on is Hebrew 4:12, and this is what that says:
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edge sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
I’ll read verse 13 as well:
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
And for today’s message, we will be focusing on the very beginning of that, verse 12: For the word of God is alive.
Wow. This is kind of a funny illustration, bear with me. So, sometimes when we eat our Christmas foods, we get stomachaches. Or Thanksgiving. So, sometimes what I take for that is Pepto Bismol. Remember their commercials? Where they had pink men, and they would go inside you and they would paint your entire stomach to heal it? That’s what I think about the Word of God – that when we ingest it, when we let it get in our heart, it cleans us from the inside out. I should have had Pepto Bismol. I love the chewables, anyone have the chewables for Pepto Bismol? I thought it tasted like candy. That’s probably not healthy.
So, the first time, when I really tried to read the Bible, I was ten years old. I grew up in church. I went into my closet, I got down my Bible. It was a red Bible with a picture of Jesus on the front, with the children. I walked into my parents’ room, I sat down, and I started to read from Genesis. I got all the way to Genesis 10 and then I gave up. I thought, “This is impossible! The book is way too long; I’ve been reading for an hour and I made it ten chapters, there’s words I don’t understand, there’s people in a foreign land that is very strange to me.” And I stopped. I shut it. I walked back to my room, put it back on the shelf in my closet, and I didn’t touch it again for about five years. And I think that’s often what our experience with the Bible is. It can be very hard to read the Bible. It’s very hard to understand. We’ll get back to that. But just know that it is a strange book, but it is powerful.
This is an interesting question: If Jesus were physically present right here, and He were speaking to you, would you listen? Absolutely you would. And why? Because you knew that it’s the word straight from the mouth of God, and if God is speaking, I’m going to listen! But I’ve noticed something – there’s often some disconnect. If Jesus was physically here, we’d listen closely; but if the Word of God is being taught, we don’t listen to it as closely. So, there’s some disconnect. We don’t equate this with God speaking, and that’s something I want to try to address today.
So, Jesus is the Word of God in human form, and the Bible is the Word of God in written form. So, when we read this, or when we hear this, it’s just as if we were hearing God Himself. That’s how powerful God is. Listen to this verse, 1 Thessalonians 2:13. This is Paul speaking. He said:
… when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God… and this word continues to work in you who believe.
So, the main transition that we have to make is viewing this as just a book, with Words written with ink on a page, to no, this is words coming out of the very mouth of God, and I better listen to everything He has to say and do it, because He’s God and He knows better than I do.
So, what happens when God speaks? Go back to Genesis 1. How did God create the earth? He spoke. With His words He created the earth. How did God create the sun? He spoke and the sun was created. This is a God whose words are very, very powerful, and when He speaks, we need to listen. And if God can speak out the sun and He can speak out the earth, what will His words do when they are spoken to your heart? Imagine the power He has to speak directly to that illness, or speak directly to that addiction, or directly to that weakness or sin in you. It’s powerful.
And so, one thing for me is there is a verse in Amos. It is a very random verse, but it says there is a famine of what? Not of food, but of the Word of God. The people of God weren’t hearing from God. And that’s something I long for, is to hear from God every single day. But it seems like to hear directly from Him is something that happens so rarely, not very often. So, my prayer is that when we read this, that God would help each one of us to hear from Him when we read it, so that we can be close to Him.
So, why does the Word of God seem so powerless? Why does it seem just like a book? The first reason the Word of God seems powerless is because we don’t listen to it closely. Listen to what Jesus has to say in Matthew 13:13. He says this:
People hear me, but they don’t really listen or understand.
I’ll say it one more time. Jesus says in Matthew 13:13, people hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. I used to go to a church in Avon called Valley Community Baptist Church. I attended there probably six years. And I was reflecting one day, I said, “How many sermons do I actually remember? How many things do I actually remember from every single week, hearing the Word of God preached?” and I remembered one sermon. I said, “Wow, clearly I am not listening to God very well at all!” So, when I’m in the back listening to Pastor Adam, I am legitimately trying to put what he is saying into – it’s like a filing cabinet in my mind, I’m trying to file in a place where I can remember it every single week.
So, I remember a time when I was with Len Diamond. Do you know Len? I was on the front stoop, and I was putting out our welcome signs. Len came out. I was pretty new at this point, I started September 1st as the Youth Minister. And I said, “Len, where do you work?” He said, “I work at Mr. Trophy.” And I said, “I’m glad, I’m glad to hear that.” And then about two months later, we had a council meeting, and I was talking to Len again in the office, and I said, “Len, where do you work?” And he said, “Kyle, I told you this already. I work at Mr. Trophy!” I was embarrassed. Clearly, I was not listening very well at that point! And I think that’s what we do with the Word of God. that’s what I did for the longest time. I would either read it because it was my duty, I would have to read it every single day, or just read it because I was in church or at Bible study. But my eyes went over the words and I wasn’t listening to God very closely in it.
So, my question for you today is how closely do you listen to God and His Word? How closely do you pay attention to God and His Word? Do you take your time in His Word? This is the illustration that I use to explain the difference between rushing through time with God and enjoying slow, unhurried intimacy with Him. It’s the difference between driving through a town and walking through it. When you drive through a town, your focus is on the road, stay safe, what hazards are there, I’m not going to crash. You don’t notice a lot of the details along the road; but when you walk, suddenly, “That house is there? I have driven by this a thousand times, and I’ve never noticed that weird house is there!”
So, when we take our time, we notice details that otherwise we wouldn’t normally have noticed. And one of the ways that works for me is memorizing Scripture. It helps me slow down and actually meet with God. That’s one thing I’ve learned about God, is He doesn’t like us to come to Him rushed, and hurried, and anxious – like Mary and Martha, right? He doesn’t want us to be like Martha who’s busy, busy doing all these things. He wants us to sit with Him, sit at His feet and say, “Lord, teach me. Lord, I’m here as Your humble servant. Speak to me, I am waiting on You.” And that’s when He meets us.
So, I’m encouraging you: Do whatever it takes to slow down and hear God in the Bible.
Now, some of you might be saying, “Kyle, I love the Bible, I love what it says, but I just don’t understand it.” And if that’s you, that is totally fine. There are so many different ways you can work to understand the Scriptures. One thing I love about Pastor Adam is he’s always ready to answer a question, and if he doesn’t know it, he’ll look it up. So, if you don’t understand something, ask someone! Or, if you don’t want to ask, you can look it up online, or in a book, or a commentary, or listen to sermons.
The one thing I truly believe is this: that if we have a desire to hear from God, we will find a way to hear from God, no matter what it is, or how long it takes. We will hear from Him. So, my concern isn’t how long it will take to figure it out. My concern is, do you have a desire to hear from God? If you do, you will find a way to do it.
So, here’s a story of one time I stopped and took my time to listen to God and His Word, and how it ministered to my heart. I was on a plane heading back from West Palm Beach to Hartford, and I read this verse from Matthew 4, it said this. It’s a prophecy about Jesus and the ministry that He fulfills. It says this:
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”
And then something supernatural happened. I don’t know how to explain it, other than it was God working. This passage is talking about people bringing the message of God to people who have never heard it before; and as I was reading it, this image came to my mind of me walking to a place I had never been to people who had never heard of Jesus, and me telling the truth to them. This is when I was in high school, and from that point, I treasured that image, and I kept it deep in my heart, and I never forgot it. And I believe that was a word that was fulfilled when I was in North Africa with the Muslim people and speaking the gospel to people who had never heard it. And the reason why God was able to do that, is because I slowed down and I took my time and I sought Him and listened to Him in the Bible.
And this next truth is nothing less than a miracle. This is what it is: When we hear God speak, when we hear the Word of God, it produces faith in our hearts. Romans 10:17 is the verse that says this very clearly. It says this: Faith comes from what?
Faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
So, if you lack faith as all of us do very often – how many times have you just been there on your bed at night saying, “Lord, I don’t know about this. I’m nervous about this. I don’t know if You’re going to come through or not. I don’t know, Lord.” Well, if you’re in that place, if you lack faith, stop, and listen to the Word of God, and that will produce faith in your heart.
Notice what it does not say. This verse does not say, “Faith comes from trying harder.” That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say “Faith comes from striving.” No, it says Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. So, at all costs, do whatever it takes to get this into your ears and into your heart.
The Word of God may seem powerless, but it’s not. This is another verse that I memorized when I was in high school that really helped me to move forward. Psalm 119:9-11. It says:
How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you – don’t let me wander from your commandments. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
So, when we get His Word in our heart and we do it, we are really changed. So, the first reason that the word of God seems powerless is because we don’t listen to it; and when we listen to it, faith is produced in our hearts.
The second reason that the Word of God seems powerless is because we don’t do what it says. Now, this verse scares me, and I always come back to it. It’s James 1:22, it says this:
Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
The way I say this is it’s kind of going halfway. If all you do is listen to the Word of God, you’re only going halfway. You’re a halfway Christian. But the cycle of life transformation is both hear the Word of God, but the response is do the Word of God. Do what it says, obey it. And if you just hear it, you’re not going to be changed. You’re going to stay stagnant; you’re going to be the same person. But the way to truly achieve life transformation is both to hear it and complete the cycle: do it. So, remember that.
My aunt and uncle are missionaries in West Africa, and they do Bible study with the people. This is one of the insights they shared with me from their Bible studies. They said they were reading the story of Jesus being tempted, and they asked the Africans who were with them, “What do you think of this story?” And a man there made a profound observation. He said this: Jesus and the devil are the same in that they both know the Word of God. But the difference is that Jesus obeys the Word of God, but the devil doesn’t obey it. And that scares me! Because I know, I’m so deeply aware of how slow I can be; how thick-headed I can be; how slow I can be to obey the Word of God. I’ve spent years at a time running away from God’s purpose for my life because I was scared! And there are some commands in the Bible that I simply don’t want to do. And usually at any given time, you can ask me, “Kyle, what command is it now? What command are you struggling with now?” And currently if you asked me, I would say, “The command I am struggling with right now is Jesus’ command to care for the poor.” There’s a verse in James 1 that says: True and undefiled religion is this: to look after orphans and to care for widows in their distress, and to remain undefiled in the world. But that’s not something I have ever done. I grew up in the suburbs. I was raised in the suburbs, I always had enough to eat. I always had enough to wear; I always had a house over my head. I was never worried about providing for myself. And I noticed that I’ve never actually spent time with orphans or widows, and I’ve never actually cared for the poor. That’s what the Lord showed me, He said, “Kyle, you don’t actually care for them.”
Dagger. So, I say that to show you that there’s commands that I don’t do, and I wrestle with myself. I think that goes for all of us; none of us are perfect. So, what I find is that the reason that I don’t change is not because the Word of God is wrong; it’s simply that I’m not doing what it says.
When we do what it says, when we obey it, it will actually change us from the inside out. 1 Peter 1:22 says this:
You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth.
I’ll read it again.
You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth.
So, this next story is a story about how the Word of God changed my heart when I obeyed it. Matthew 6 is a message called the Sermon on the Mount, and I have to tell you that if you don’t want to obey God, then please don’t read this sermon, because it has so many commands in it that are so difficult, that are so radical, that are so crazy, that to actually think of obeying them is ludicrous almost. And so, this is the command I was struggling with then. It was Matthew 6 and Jesus says:
“Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat. Don’t worry about what you’re going to drink. Don’t worry about what you’re going to wear. The Father knows you need them, and He’ll richly give them to you. Look at the birds! They don’t work. They don’t save. But God always gives them what they need to eat. Who do you think you are, thinking that by worrying you’re going to add a single hour to your life? Don’t worry. Trust me. Seek first my kingdom, and I’ll give you everything that you need.”
And I realized at that moment, I had read this passage, I’m very familiar with this passage, but I’d never actually done that. There’s never come a time in my life when I actually said, “Lord, I’m going to trust You in this one.” I never did that. I just stayed stagnant in my anxiety! And I said, “I think this is as good as it gets! I’m just going to stay here in my anxiety for the rest of my life and hope that it works out for me.”
So, actually, I did business with God. I legitimately did. I made a transaction with Him. I said, “Lord. I confess, I that I have not trusted in you to provide my food, clothing, and shelter. The deepest fear in my life is that I’m going to get fired from this job at the church, that my savings is going to run out, that I’m going to lose all my relational connections, and there’s going to be nothing for me to do. That’s what I’m afraid of, and that shows that I haven’t trusted You.” And I said, “Lord, will You please help me to trust You. Will You please help me to do this right now?” And He did.
So, I can honestly tell you right now that I trust God. I trust Him! I know that He has my back. Even if I did get fired, I would just go about sharing the gospel on the streets and wait for Him to do something else! So, when we actually obey the Word of God, it changes our hearts.
And when we obey, it doesn’t just change our lives – it can change other people’s lives as well. This is kind of a cool story. When I was in high school, I went on my first mission trip to Ireland, and I learned to share the gospel. This was after my sophomore year, and I came back to America and I just started to share it with everyone in my high school. And one day, I was talking to my friend Joe. To make a long story short, he ended up re-committing his life to Jesus. So, I can look back on high school and say there was at least one person who came to faith by obeying the command to preach the gospel. Now consider the time from after college until now – eight years. I’ve developed this intense fear of sharing the gospel with other people. I became intensely afraid of talking to people. It was really bad. I didn’t obey the command to share the gospel. How many people came to Christ during those eight years? No one. Wow. That really hits me. It’s really sad. So, our disobedience doesn’t just hurt ourselves, but it hurts the people around us. So, if you don’t want to do it for your sake, do it for their sake.
So, again, here’s the cycle for life change: Hear the Word of God; it will produce faith in your heart. Do what it says; your life will be transformed. That’s the way to change. And now, I want to share a simple gospel presentation. It always refreshes me to hear the gospel preached, so here it is.
John 6:29 says:
Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
I’ll read that again. “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” It’s hard to get to God. He’s so far away. I can’t quite reach Him. I can’t speak to Him face to face like that. It’s really hard, in fact, it’s impossible to get to God on our own.
We’ve made wrecks of our lives. I’ve made a wreck of my life, I really have. I can laugh at it now, but not while I was in it. In my inmost being – completely arrogant. When it comes to sharing the gospel, a coward. Truly a coward. Sexually immoral. All these things. I have messed up so many places. And I’m just so keenly aware – I know in the depth of my being that I am not worthy of God. I am not worthy of a wholly perfect God, and neither are you. No one is. But Romans 6:23 says this – this is our hope:
What we deserve for what we get is death. But there is a free gift from God, and that’s eternal life in Jesus Christ, His Son.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says this:
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that in Him, we can be the righteousness of God.
One of my pastors coined this – this is the gospel of the great exchange. On the cross, we gave Jesus our sin, and in response, He gives us His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection. So, we don’t have to try to earn God’s favor. We don’t have to try to be good enough. We say, “Jesus, thank You for dying for me. Thank You for taking my sin on You. Please give me Your righteousness. Please give me Your holiness. Please give me Your perfection.” And that’s how we stand right before God, is with that great exchange.
Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal, eh? But what will it cost us? It costs us everything. To follow Him costs us everything. The deal is, Jesus gave up everything for us; so, now, we give up everything for Him. It’s life for life, that’s the gospel.
Salvation from sin is a free gift from God. He invites us to come to Him; to trust Him alone to forgive us and to make us new; and to reorient our entire beings around Him. Father, I give You all of my time. Father, I give You all of my financial resources. Father, I give You all of my love, all of my worship, all of my service, all of it is for You. And that’s a Christian life, both now, and for all of eternity. So, are you willing, today, to come back to your Creator and to know Him personally? Let’s pray.