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."