Tuesday, July 31, 2018

PREACHING IN SPANISH

To learn a second language well was for me a much more difficult task than I had first thought it would be. When my family and I packed up our bags and headed for language school in Costa Rica many years ago, I thought that after eight months of having no other responsibilities other than learning a language, I would leave the school speaking Spanish better than I did English. My wife Vivian I think was a bit more realistic.

Several years after we finished the school, Vivian and I were still working to better our communication skills in Spanish. By any and all means necessary, I had made it my goal to learn the language well. For a long time, I tried to do almost all my reading in Spanish, and to read in English only when necessary. In the car, I had some cassette tapes (the technology of the day) of speakers in Spanish, and I listened to them over and over. I tried to watch the news on TV every day in Spanish and usually only bought Spanish language newspapers.

Still, even after a couple of years of completing the training in the Spanish language school, I missed much of what was being said (depending on how clearly the speaker pronounced his words and how much slang he used), and I continued to make many errors in grammar and syntax. Nevertheless, it was nice to be finally at the point where I could actually visit with our neighbors and to be able to follow a conversation between two Spanish speakers. I began to have quite a few opportunities to preach. My Spanish got better with time, but it still required quite an effort for me to prepare a sermon and to preach it.

When I had been not long out of language school, one of the pastors from town where we lived came to our home and told me about a series of special services that the church was going to be having. They were going to have a service on both Friday and Saturday nights and two services on Sunday. I was quite amazed when he asked me if I would preach a series of sermons for the weekend—four sermons in three days.

I am always glad to help when I can, but in this case, I felt I was far from adequate for the task, and I told him so. I told him that I had two language storage tanks inside of me: one for English and one for Spanish. My English storage tank was almost always full, because I did not use it so much, and it was easy for me to refill it.

My Spanish storage tank, however, was usually running toward “empty,” because I was using it all the time, and it was more difficult for me to refill that one. I thought I might have had enough Spanish for one or maybe two sermons, but after that, my Spanish tank would be empty and I would have only English words left. He just laughed, and it did not seem to scare him off a bit.

 

Like Moses at the Burning Bush

I must say, when the pastor first asked me, the Lord put into my mind some words that Moses had once said. God had spoken to Moses out of a burning bush in the wilderness to send him back to Pharaoh and to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.

The response of Moses to this task was, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in times past [being schooled in Egyptian schools, was Hebrew a second language for Moses?]…for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10 NAS).

That is how I felt, since to me, there was no denying that when it came to Spanish, I was slow of speech. However, I wished the Lord would not have brought that passage to my mind, because I also remembered the he said to Moses:

“Who has made man’s mouth? Now then go, and I, even I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (vs. 11-12).

Well, that pretty much ruled out my slow of tongue excuse.

Never had I worked so hard on a series of sermons. I am under no illusions about my Spanish. The Lord did not give me eloquence for three days. I really did not expect him to (even though I must admit that in some of my prayers, I asked him to do so). And speaking of adequacy for the job, I have seldom thought that I was adequate for any job I was doing for the Lord.

Rather, I have seen God work time and time again despite my inadequacies. In fact, I have noticed that it is those times when I did think that I was up to the task, and in the times when I had some kind of unfounded confidence in myself and my own abilities, it was in those times that I was finally left wondering if anything lasting really came out of it at all.

The truth of the matter is, we are never adequate. Moses was correct in thinking that he was not up to the task, and I was also correct in my assessment of my preaching abilities in Spanish. However, I flatter myself if I think that my preaching abilities are much better in English, or for that matter, if anything at all that I do is a satisfactory representation of God’s message.

 

The Adequate Moses

If we take ourselves a little further back in the story of Moses—some forty years before he complained to God at the burning bush and recommended that God find someone else to do the task—we do see a younger Moses who perhaps thought that he was adequate for the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Forty years before the time of the burning bush, when Moses saw one of his Hebrew brothers being beaten by an Egyptian, Moses struck the Egyptian and killed him. Moses had taken the matter of defending the Hebrews into his own hands.

Of course, Moses was also a Hebrew, but he had been raised in the Pharaoh’s household. This upbringing gave Moses the best education available in the world and also the knowledge and ability to deal with the Egyptian society. These qualities perhaps made him feel that he should be the logical choice to assume a position of leadership among the Hebrews. As he defended the Hebrew slave, Moses may well have thought that his Hebrew brothers would see him somewhat of a savior—the one who would lead them out of their slavery.

This did not happen. Moses hid the body of the Egyptian to keep the matter from being known. But of course, the Hebrew slave whom he delivered from the beating saw what had happened. The next day, when Moses again went out to his brothers, he tried to reconcile a dispute between two Hebrews. Naturally, this is what a leader would do, and Moses saw himself as an emerging leader of his people. However, he was stunned by the response of the man who was the aggressor in the incident.

“Who made you a prince or a judge over us?” the Hebrew asked Moses. “Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14 NAS).

These words of the Hebrew slave frightened Moses, because he then realized that by hiding the body of the Egyptian, he had not prevented the matter of the murder from becoming known. Indeed, the news of the homicide did actually reach the ears of the pharaoh. Moses was forced to flee from Egypt in order to save his life.

However, another matter made evident in the words of the Hebrew slave was something that was even more disheartening to Moses. From the response of that man, it became apparent to Moses that the Hebrews did not recognize him as their natural leader and savior. Despite the preparation of Moses and his natural position in society, he began to see that he was not adequate for the job. His résumé, as impressive as it may have been by society’s standards, did not give competence in completing a task for God.

 

The Inadequate Moses

Forty years later, Moses’ response to the task of leading the Hebrew nation out of bondage was, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt? …What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?” (Exodus 3:11, 4:1 NAS).

Actually, these are fair questions. Moses’ concerns were real. Moses now felt very inadequate for the job.

Notice, however, that God’s responses to these concerns had nothing to do with building up Moses’ self-confidence. God did not remind Moses of his education and experience. God did not tell Moses that since the day that Moses had left Egypt, he had been living in the very area of the Sinai through which he would lead the children of Israel. In this experience, Moses was gaining knowledge of the land and how to live in that desolate place.

God did not tell Moses to have a “positive attitude,” and attempt to convince him that he was now well prepared to carry out the task. God did not try to build up Moses’ self-esteem.

What was God’s response to Moses’ concerns? God’s solution to these difficulties really had nothing at all to do with Moses or with his abilities. God’s solution was that Moses was to be the recipient of what God would do. He said to Moses,

 

Certainly, I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you…Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”…Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say. (Exodus 3:12, 14; 4:12 NAS)

 

That was the point of it all, was it not? It would be God who would accomplish the task. He simply assured Moses that he would be with him. Notice, in the above words that God spoke to Moses, how many times God made reference to himself…I will be with you…it is I who have sent you…I, even I will be with your mouth, I AM has sent you.”

Looking at the situation from the human perspective, one might naturally look at Moses’ résumé and say that he had been adequately prepared. First of all, he had the natural position and the training of one who could assume a position of leadership among his people. He also had the training of living forty years in the Sinai, where he had learned the ways of the wilderness and the skills needed to survive in that land.

However, it was none of these that made Moses the one who would be the spokesman for God or the leader of his people. That which made Moses a leader whom the people would follow was that God was with him and that God had given him the task—only that.

 

The Rest was not for Nothing

Saying all of these things however, I think that I would also say that God had given Moses his forty years of experience in the pharaoh’s household and then forty additional years of experience in the wilderness for a reason. These were indeed times of training for the eventual task of Moses for the delivery of the children of Israel out of Egypt and leading them through the wilderness. The education and life experiences had indeed been valuable for him.

However, what God wanted to teach Moses was that although these experiences were valuable, it was the presence of God that was invaluable. Or, one could say, these experiences with God were supremely valuable. God indeed gives us the training that we need to accomplish the tasks that we need to do, but it is not the training that makes us adequate or competent. Competence can only come from the words that God spoke to Moses, “Certainly, I will be with you. I AM WHO I AM…I AM sent you” (Exodus 3:14, NAS). 

God Remains the One Who Supplies
So it was that I worked on my series of sermons for that weekend. I prepared in the best manner that I was able to, but I also had an appreciation for the words of Moses when he told God that he was not eloquent.

Despite my ineloquence, however, I truly believed the Lord spoke to many hearts. Many people shared with me different lessons that they had learned through the series of sermons, and several made decisions to give their lives over to God and be born into the kingdom of heaven.

God had told Moses, “I, even I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say.” But this is not simply only a promise to Moses or a promise of the Old Testament. It is a promise given also to the disciples of Christ for the very last days. Jesus tells the Christian that for those days, when he is called to defend himself, he need not worry about how is it to make his defense.

Jesus said about those last days, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12, NAS).

In addition to this, the promise was not just for Moses, and it is not just for the Christians of the very last days. Peter experienced this when he stood before the authorities of his day. When Peter spoke to them, we are told he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8).

Followers of Christ in any and every stage of history must rely upon this filling of the Holy Spirit in speaking God’s word. Preparation and study is important, but the Holy Spirit is essential.

I had told the people in the church at those meetings that since I could not explain things as clearly as I would like, they would be required to listen even more intently to what the Holy Spirit was saying. This is the promise of Jesus to his disciples. The promise is the same as it is for those believers of the last days. “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:20, NAS).

In our service to the church and to Christ, we of course work to prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities. But prepare and study how we may, it is not from those things from where our adequacy comes. The Apostle Paul said it the best: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6a NAS).

Indeed. It is a lesson that Moses learned under the Old Covenant and one that every Christian worker must learn to be a true servant of the New Covenant.

To learn this lesson requires each of us to spend time with the Lord. Even if it takes us forty years, we each must learn that all adequacy comes from God.

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