Thursday, February 16, 2006

How Many Languages?

I'm often asked how many languages I speak. Fact is, I'm barely coherent in English. I can manage to get my face slapped in several other languages, but the ones I am studying right now are the languages of Jesus. Now HE knew some languages. Let me explain...

There is a street preacher in Glasgow, Scotland. He stands about a block from Queen Street Rail Station and wears a sandwich board. He shouts at passers-by and thrusts pamphlets at them, demanding they repent. Nobody listens to him except those who stop to laugh at him or take a picture to show the folks back home. The thing is -- he has a point: the people in Glasgow -- and every city -- need to repent and they need Jesus. He isn't connecting with any of them, however, because he isn't speaking a language they understand.

The people who followed Jesus in the early days were looking for a Kingdom. He sat down and gave the Sermon on the Mount; a sermon in the language of citizenship in the new kingdom. That is what they needed to hear and he gave it to them in the language they could grasp and accept.

When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus he spoke to her in a language of forgiveness, grace, community, and restoration. She couldn't have held up under a sermon. A lesson on citizenship wouldn't have done her much good. So he spoke to her in the language that reached her in that moment.

When Bartimaeus -- the blind beggar -- cried out "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped doing church, walked down to him, away from the crowd (these actions gave the beggar privacy and maintained his dignity as a human being) the greatest power in the universe, Jesus the Christ, asked "What is it that I can do for you?" He waited to hear the man's language. As it was, Bartimaeus wanted his eyesight so that is the way Jesus dealt with him. He listened, learned, and then spoke.

The Pharisees liked to speak of law, righteousness, and right and wrong so that is the way Jesus went at them. They would have ignored a sweet communication or anything to do with grace and peace. That wasn't their language. They didn't respect those things. What they DID respect was anyone who knew the scriptures and could argue a hard, painful point forcefully; all the while stripping his opponent of any defense. So that is the way Jesus spoke to them.

The theif on the cross needed to hear the message of forgiveness. His ears were tuned to hear anything that, in that dreadful moment of pain, fear and embarassment, would bring him peace. So Jesus spoke to him in the language of forgiveness, peace, and hope.

I'm learning. As Paul told us that he was "all things to all men" I see now that he was just taking language lessons from Jesus, and that I should do the same. Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz tells of a time when Reed College -- the most secular and libertarian of all colleges in his opinion -- held their annual week of pagan celebrations. Sex, drugs, alcohol and... well, you get the picture. No rules, no cops, nobody to stop them. The few Christians on campus usually went into hiding, but Donald and his friends built a booth in the middle of the quad and labeled it a confessional booth. They assumed they would be destroyed by the fervent anti-Christian crowd, but they had a plan for that, too. When the first fellow came in to see what in the world they were doing (and to mock them for it) he was shocked. He had come with a language that didn't think of much of Christians and their silly games... and that is the language Miller and his friends used with him. They didn't ask him to confess his sins. They confessed theirs to him. They told him that Jesus told us to feed the poor and care for the broken and that they hadn't done a good job of that. On and on it went and each mocker who came in was disarmed when he heard his language... but that language went a different direction than he/she assumed it would.

Like Philip and the Ethiopian -- he started where he was and led him to Jesus.

When someone speaks to me of their troubled marriage, how proud they are of their kids, the wonder of a new engineering process, the weather, the latest movie/TV show, their love of music, or their hopes, fears and dreams, I need to be able to listen to them long enough to hear their language and then, starting where they are, and at whatever speed they are willing to tolerate, lead them to Jesus. It might take minutes. It might take decades. It's my job to keep speaking the language they can hear until they can see Jesus.

So... as I head up to Canada in the morning to speak to teens (the high here tomorrow and Saturday is only going to be around 20... what's it going to be six hours north of here?) some might think that this will be an easy trip since the US and Canada speak the same language. Nope. I will have to hear the teens speak and then join them in their language -- a language shaped with strange TV shows, hockey, Canada's own style of multiculturalism, politics, fashion and music. With God's help, I'll be a quick enough learner to do some good. God already knows I love them. Now I just have to find the right language -- the one they know -- to show them why I love them.

I love them because He first loved me. He spoke my language until I heard Him. And then He said, "Follow me."


At 2/16/2006 12:13:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

To speak the same language, yes! yes! yes! Several years ago I was at a soul-winning workshop in Oklahoma. Some young people were doing Christian rap. A beloved person near me commented on it and was offended by it. I was surprised by the words that tumbled out of my mouth...

I told him that I know he is a soul-winner surpassed by no one I've ever known and that young people won't watch Jule Miller and if to lead someone to Christ he and I have to learn to rap, then by golly, we better get to it.

To speak the same language as the listener--yes! yes! yes!

At 2/16/2006 01:58:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

Brillant post, Patrick! That's what I'm talking about!

Have a great trip, and I have no doubt those lucky kids in Canada that get to sit at your feet will hear the message you bring, because you WILL speak their language.

Drive safely!


At 2/16/2006 10:38:00 PM , Anonymous Renee Cutts said...

Yes, I think we need a new kind of speaking in tongues today and even though it would be a learned language verses a bestowed language it would be considered just as miraculous to the hearers. It is something I wish I knew how to do better.

At 2/17/2006 01:04:00 AM , Blogger Laurie said...


I am grateful that Jesus kept sending people to speak my language. What a blessing those people have been to my life. One of the things I have noticed is that if love shows through, no matter how much one fumbles, God can use it!

Susie--I remember Jule Miller film strips. I don't remember liking them very much and this was before video....

At 2/17/2006 06:38:00 PM , Anonymous Dan Gill said...

Right on target, Patrick. This is harder than just talking at people, but it is the way Jesus got the message across. Interesting that you should mention "Blue Like Jazz". I thought that was the best part of the book, and the reason it was recommended to me. What a gutsy, spirt-inspired thing to do!

At 2/18/2006 01:11:00 AM , Blogger Niki said...

You speak my language so eloquently which is why I keep coming back here. I am thankful for all of the things you've taught me through your blog and seminars you've done that I've been a lucky participant in. You've challenged me to think deeper and harder about what role Jesus has for me to play in life. This post sums all of that up...How can we be Jesus to others if we aren't willing to listen to them and learn their language? Shame on me for all the times I demanded they learn MINE first.

At 2/20/2006 12:33:00 AM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

It's very late Sunday night and I am just now able to read your Thursday post, but it is so wonderful, Patrick. So relevant and meaningful and all that good stuff.

You are so right. I've long understood that we MUST - absolutely MUST - learn as many languages as it takes to speak to each and every one we meet and come in contact with - even live with and see and talk with daily.

YES! Absolutely.

Thanks for the reminder of what it takes and for the reminder of how Jesus approached each individual and how we must approach each and every individual we meet in this life.

Hope you had a productive time in Canada these past few days. Let us know how it went.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home