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Language Lessons


¿Quienes hablan español? Levantan las manos, por favor.” Translation: “Who speaks Spanish? Raise your hands, please.”

I ask this question during one of my magic routines. Of course, the Hispanic kids eagerly raise their hands while the English speakers respond with “Huh?” When I translate into English, a lot of the Anglo kids shoot their hands in the air. I tell the crowd, “Wow, that really is magic! Suddenly many of you speak Spanish!”

<a class=Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012." src="" width="300" height="210" srcset=" 300w, 768w, 1024w, 958w, 1462w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />It wasn’t magic, but a miracle, that enabled the pilgrims of Pentecost to hear the praises of God in their native languages (Acts 2:5-12). The disciples weren’t “speaking in tongues,” if you understand the term as babbling. They were actually speaking earthly languages that were understood by certain ethnic groups in the crowd–but not all marveled. The Hebrew speakers heard only gibberish and mocked the disciples, concluding that they had been dipping into the Mogen David a little too early in the morning.

Peter seized the opportunity to speak. “We’re not drunk,” he said. “This is the promise made long ago about the coming of the Holy Spirit.” He then boldly preached about Jesus, how their sins had condemned Him to death but how God exalted Him as Lord and Messiah. Peter pleaded with the crowd to save themselves from the corruption of the present age. Three thousand repentant people surged forward to accept Christ—a barnburner of an altar call!

Peter and the disciples spoke new dialects and the result was souls. The church was born that day, not as a community center, charitable organization or social club—but as redeemed people who spoke the language of eternal life into a perishing world. Our mission has not changed since that time.

I’ve heard preachers say (and I’m sure I’ve been one of them), “We need to get out there and reach people for Christ.” End of sermon, sing the closing hymn and dismiss a congregation that may be wondering, “How do we do this? Where do we start?”

 Let’s take a few cues from the story in Acts today.


After the tongues experience, in which the apostles were uttering languages unknown to them but known to native speakers, Peter addresses the entire congregation in a common, comprehensible language. And what does he speak about?


Peter testifies to His remarkable life, His miracles, His atoning death, His glorious resurrection, His exaltation to the right hand of Power. This wasn’t a textbook testimony. Peter didn’t draw his facts from a commentary or secondhand account. As he wrote to the church in 2 Peter 1:16, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

Peter knew Christ. He walked with him, talked with him, served him and worshipped him. If we are going to offer Christ, it makes sense that we know him first. Of course, we cannot see him as Peter saw him in the flesh so many centuries ago, but we can still know Jesus. The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ, reminds us of His words, fill us with His grace and power.

I can learn a language through an audio CD, but it’s a dry and stilted method. Years ago, I took an immersion course in Mexico for a month and my language skills accelerated when I took afternoon tours with native guides. They spoke nothing but Spanish and expected me to do the same. I learned the language through relationship.

The language of Christ is love, and we learn to speak that language through fellowship with Him.


Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Peter spoke first in a language known only to a few. Later he spoke a language that everyone could understand, resulting in mass conversion. It has been said that the Gospel does not change, but the ways we communicate the Gospel must change in order to adapt to a changing culture.

In old Ireland, a legend has St. Patrick plucking three-leaved shamrocks to explain the Trinity to commonfolk. John Wesley, the pioneer of Methodism, got out of the church buildings and preached a plain Gospel to plain people in the fields and coal mines of England. Another Methodist preacher, William Booth, employed colorful military uniforms and street bands to enlist people into his Salvation Army. In the late 1800s, an evangelist named Dwight Moody began speaking the language of Christ to the down-and-out of Chicago.  He visited house after house with buckets of free coal, held neighborhood revivals with popular music and developed a wordless book that explained salvation to children by using colors. A sophisticated woman in his church once sniffed, “Rev. Moody, I object to your way of doing evangelism.” He replied, “Oh? Tell me, Madam, how do you do evangelism?” “I don’t do it,” she said. Moody retorted, “Well, Madam, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”


Quite often, we think that building the Kingdom rests entirely on our shoulders. We must wrap our heads around the concept that we are junior partners in this endeavor. God is the boss; the Lord is in charge. Notice that Peter delivered his message but didn’t browbeat the people, ask them to sign a membership card or issue an altar call while Just As I Am played incessantly in the background. He waited for the Holy Spirit to act…and the Spirit did.  “When the people heard (the message), they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘What shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37)

Our responsibility is to share the story of Christ and it is the Holy Spirit’s job to draw people to Jesus. We must be confident and content to say our piece and let God add to it in His own good time.

Years ago, before I became an ordained minister, I taught sixth graders at my home church. It was a volunteer job, but I felt like I needed to get hazard pay. The kids were rude; they talked during my lessons; they insulted each other. Still, I did my best to creatively teach and share my testimony. Needless to say, when my time was up, I did not re-enlist. Rather, I tucked my tail between my legs and muttered, “Never again.” A few years later, volunteering at a summer church camp, a gangly teenager approached me. “Remember me?” he said. “No, sorry, don’t think I do.” “I was in your Sunday school class  a few years ago.”

Then I remembered: one of the biggest troublemakers in that class. I resisted strangling him on the spot. Then I listened in awe when he said, “I just want to thank you for teaching us. You were a really good teacher and even though I pretended not to listen, I really was.”

Don’t ever think you strike out when you share your witness and the other person doesn’t respond the way you want them to. Plant your seed, nurture it in prayer and humility, and be content to let God add the growth.

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