Imagine for a moment that I’m San Diego’s head lifeguard and know firsthand the dangers of the riptide. One day, while watching “K-9 Cops” on Animal Planet, it hit me: Why can’t lifeguards use animals, too? And, so, with the help of marine biologists and millions of tax-payer dollars, we painstakingly trained Caspar, the Great White Shark, to revolutionize water rescue.
We anticipated, of course, that swimmers unaccustomed to rescue sharks might have some preliminary concerns. To alleviate all such fears, we adopted the Circle and Smile technique. In it, Caspar gently circles his 13-foot body ever closer to the swimmer in an enveloping hug. Only then does Caspar introduce himself to the swimmer with a broad, 300-tooth smile certain to reassure. From there, the swimmer need only grab hold of Caspar’s 3-foot long dorsal fin and enjoy the gentle ride back to safety.
Imagine my excitement at pioneering the science of rescue sharks. And imagine my disappointment when every swimmer unreasonably chooses fear and panic over Caspar’s generous offer of salvation.
I offer this fiction to illustrate the Christian’s need to see the New Testament gospel through the eyes of the unsaved. What born-again Christians come to love as salvation and rescue, unregenerate people see quite differently. The apostle Paul put it this way, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16, NIV).
And, yet, despite the scent of death, Paul constantly presented the gospel in terms designed to attract the sinner. To Jews, Paul appealed to the Law and Prophets (Acts 28:23). In speaking to Athenian scholars, he quoted Greek poets (Acts 17:28). When set before Roman officials tasked with maintaining the Empire’s peace, he reasoned thoughtfully on matters of “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). In each of these cases, Paul meticulously examined the gospel through the eyes and ears of his listeners. Paul was a master at tailoring his message to the sensitivities of his audience.
LDS Case Study
In ministering to LDS people over the years, I’ve encountered a wide range of fears, insecurities, and pain points. For the sake of brevity, let’s address one.
The most common gospel hurdle for Latter-day Day Saints is the fear of family. True, they can worry over alienating moms and dads. But, far more profoundly, they fear divorce from their spouse and separation from their children. These are real fears, and the thoughtful Christian dare not trivialize them.
How might the apostle Paul have us respond? I think Paul would encourage us not to fight against these fears like a boxer fruitlessly batting the air (1 Corinthians 9:26). No, Paul would have us draw those fears into the light so that the wisdom of God might begin to reign (Ephesians 5:13-17). We do this, of course, by listening in love rather than sounding off in some gong-like fashion (1 Corinthians 13:1-5).
But that’s general advice for a specific case. So, to be specific, John Flavel, in his little book Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, gives us tremendous direction. Flavel says the only way to drive out sinful fear is to replace it with a greater fear, which is, of course, the fear of God. One example from the book will suffice: “In order to subdue your slavish fear, you must exalt the fear of God in your hearts and let it gain the ascendency over all other fears.”
When LDS people express the fear of disappointing their family, we should remember to hear the gospel message through their ears. Doing so will help us to ask questions, listen, and sympathize. By slowing down, we’ll remember that the cure for their fears isn’t a tit-for-tat reply, but an abiding appreciation for the grandeur of God. From there, the mission becomes straightforward (though not easy) – How can I get this person more of God?