January 31, 2011

Surviving Brain Cancer: My Life's Gethsemane

Tamara Meza, my sister, has lived 9 years with grade 3 brain cancer. She has had three brain surgeries and is preparing for her forth in about a month. She and David (her husband) have one child. This was against all odds by doctors who told them both they would never have a child, especially after having brain cancer. This is her story of her first brain surgery, nine years ago, and how her relationship with Jesus Christ helped her during this difficult trial. She is full of courage and hope. Something we all can learn from.

January 26, 2011

Christlike Attributes: Reproof (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

The key to this Christlike attribute is love (like so much of the gospel).

Rebuke, by and of its self, is wrong and damaging. Rebuke, with love and compassion, is a powerful Christlike attribute used to help draw people unto the Savior.

So how exactly do we go about doing this; loving and rebuking? A few scriptures will help us:

“Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2). Notice how this verse teaches that if we rebuke and exhort, it must be accompanied by longsuffering and doctrine. The definition of 'longsuffering' in the 1828 Webster’s dictionary states: “Bearing injuries or provocation for a long time; patient; not easily provoked.” I love the last part, in that we are patient, and not easily provoked. If we are reproving someone, and are easily provoked by our own emotions than we are not reproving and rebuking as the Savior would have us do.

Often, I have found myself reproving someone because they hurt me. I tell them of my feelings so they will be hurt because of how they hurt me. I feel better when they apologize because of the hurt they feel that they caused me. However, if they do not acknowledge my hurt, or feel my hurt, it actually hurts me more (boy that is a lot of hurts). This is the wrong use of this attribute. Reproof without love is just getting mad at someone.

Also, note the importance of doctrine. We must know the truth of what we say, and we must use the scriptures as our basis for rebuke. If we reprove someone because we just think a certain way, not because the Lord teaches us that they have sinned, we cannot truly rebuke them in a Christlike way.

The next scripture: “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings.” (D&C 108:7). The key here is that we strengthen those we exhort. If we are seeking in any way to put them down, or bring them below us, we are reproving for the wrong reason. Reproof should build and edify. Reproof should lift the person to a height they could not achieve without our words.

As with all Christlike attributes, Satan seeks to imitate the Savior as close as he can, without being exactly like Him (this is his greatest form of deception). He does this because he knows of the power of doing what is right. He will never tell us just to kill someone, he will first make us feel we are justified in our actions, or teach us an almost truth so we will be convinced we are doing the right. The same is the case with this attribute. If Satan can twist reproof by taking away the critical catalyst of love, he can make us think we are doing the right thing, when in reality we are not. If he can make us reprove someone because of our own feelings, instead of our feelings towards them, he has succeeded. If he can get us to reprove someone so we can show our superiority over them, instead of trying to bring them to a higher level, we have sinned, in that we have not drawn them unto Christ.

The last scripture is perhaps the most powerful. Pay close attention to the sequence of the words. “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 121:43-44). Notice that in order to reprove, we must have two key elements: first, we must only act when we are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” This means, that we must be in a state where we can feel the spirit, and we must act in a way during our reproof to help us keep that spirit. If we begin to allow our emotions to control us, then the spirit will flee and we will be left to reprove without the guidance of the Lord.

Second, when we reprove, we MUST show an “increase of love.” If we make someone feel guilt, we must show love. The answer to this may seem obvious, but I still must ask; why is love such an important part? It is because of the power behind love. The effect of love offsets the effect of the rebuke and helps the hearer know of the reason behind the rebuke.

Not only does love offset the rebuke, it also creates a powerful draw. When someone is able to look past your weaknesses, and see your strengths (meager as they may be), you long to be around that person. If that bond is strong enough, when they rebuke you, you will long for that feeling of belonging, unity, and attachment. You will want to change to please them, and you will change so you can continue to be in their presence.

I do not know how many times the Lord has rebuked me, but it is far more than I could ever count. Yet, I cannot think of a single time when I did not feel of an increase of love afterwards. It may not be right after, but the love always, always comes. The Lord practices what He preaches.

I remember numerous occasions where I found myself on my knees after I had sinned. I pled with the Lord for forgiveness. Then, a love beyond compare began to fill my heart. At these moments I often asked how I deserved such love, only to find an even greater increase in love.

Why is it that I seek for forgiveness? Yes, I want to be clean, but I find that more often than not the answer is because I long for that love that I have felt on so many occasions; that love that is stronger than the cords of death. Love that was tried and proven on the cross of Calvary.

Though the scriptures are somewhat void of the “increase of love” after many of the Savior’s rebukes, I feel that this is not because it did not happen, but because the Lord shows His love in such a simple and powerful way that we often do not tie the two events together. Truly He follows His own admonition to do our alms in secret (see Matthew 6:4).

I can testify that the Lord does exactly as He teaches in the scriptures. When the Savior rebukes He is patient and longsuffering, He seeks to edify and build us during these times of reproof, He only acts when He knows it is right and in-line with the doctrine of His Father, and He always, always, always shows an increase in love. A love beyond all comprehension. A love that truly is “stronger than the cords of death.”

May we follow the Savior and do likewise is my prayer.

January 24, 2011

Christlike Attributes: Reproof (Part 1)

My sister asked an interesting question this week that sparked my first blog on Christlike attributes. I must say that the attribute of reproof was not on the top of the list when I was thinking of Godly characteristics. Charity, love, patience, hope, and faith were at the top, but my sister’s question made me think twice about who the Savior really is.

Her questions stemmed from the fact that she had been taken advantage of by several friends over the past decade (some even costing her hundreds of dollars). She wanted to be like Christ, so she said nothing to these friends. She just let them continue to be the way they were, and she was always their friend. She never told them of her true feelings. Her reasoning was that Jesus loved all, the harlot, the sinner, the publican, etc. She reasoned that this meant He did not judge them, and continued to be their friend, no matter what they might have done to Him. After all, she told me, "He forgave those who crucified Him; can’t I forgive someone who may take advantage of me?"

Yet, as I thought about it, I realized that though the Lord did love all, He did not stand by silently while other took advantage of Him, or chose not to follow Him. In fact, Christ did not mince His words when it came to calling people out on the things they were doing wrong. One of my favorite examples, because of its powerful imagery, is in Matthew 23:27. He said “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

Another example is when Christ drove the money changers out of the temple. Jesus did not go in and tolerate things He saw that were wrong. He did not stand back and say “I love you and will forgive you for what you are doing.” Instead after He “made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise” (John 2:15-16). He stood up for what was right. He said what needed to be said. He would not allow people to defile His Father’s Temple.

Perhaps the greatest example of reproof of the Savior is that of His relationship with Peter, the senior apostle of the Lord. Of all those around Him, Peter was the one who perhaps individually received the most rebuke among anyone else in the New Testament.

For example, when Peter attempted to come out on the water, when he saw the Lord walking on the water, he began to sink out of fear and was told “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:26-31). I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could even had made it to the first step on the water part, yet Peter was able to at least make it part way to the Lord.

After being asked who he thought the Savior was, Peter answered with great faith “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Yet this is often where we stop in the story. After Peter testified of the Lord, Jesus “charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:30-33). These are strong words for someone who was just told that he was “blessed” (Matthew 16:17).

In addition to the above examples, Peter was also rebuked by the Lord, during the Last Supper because he, Peter, would deny the Savior three times before the night was over (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter was also reproved when he attempted to protect the Lord by cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10-11). Lastly, after the resurrection of the Savior, Peter was told three times to “feed my sheep” by the Lord. Was once not enough, or was this repetition somewhat of a rebuke because of Peter’s earlier three denials of the Lord (John 21:15-17)?

In each of these incidents, Peter had good intentions. If each example is studied, you will find that Peter was trying to either protect the Lord, or stand up for the Lord (even the three denials stemmed from Peter stating that he would never be offended by the Savior) (Matthew 26:33).

So the question must be asked, why? Why did the Savior treat Peter this way? Why did He call Him "Satan"? Why did He tell him he lacked faith? Why did He not just thank Peter for wanting to never deny Him and not tell Peter that before the night was over he would deny him three times? Was it because the Savior was trying to show His superiority over Peter? Was the Lord trying to show Peter how weak he was? No, the simple answer is, the Master Teacher reproved Peter because He loved him, and because He knew of the power of reproof.

Truly as the Savior said to John the Revelator: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:19-20). If the Lord does not knock (or in essence tell us how to repent), we cannot open the door (or actually repent of those things we do wrong).

I believe that one of the reasons Peter became such an incredible and powerful disciple of Christ, is because he allowed the Savior to rebuke him, AND he followed those rebukes by repenting and changing his life. In due time, Peter became the head of the Church, and the most senior apostle, perhaps the reason is because he was so willing to accept corrections from the Savior. Many others received reproof from the Savior, yet few headed His words like that of Peter.

So the next question to ask is, how? How do we apply this attribute in our life? How do we rebuke someone for their misdeeds, without causing strife in our own hearts towards that person, or causing that person to feel hurt?

To be continued...

January 3, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Every year at the start of a new year, we begin to think about New Year's resolutions and how we hope the next year will be better than the last.  We set goals to loose weight, exercise more, eat less, and the like.  As I contemplated what I would like most from this new year, I thought to what I would like to become.  I would like to learn more about the Savior Jesus Christ and be able to be more like Him.  As I thought how I could achieve this, oddly enough my thoughts went to the Twelve Days of Christmas and Hanukkah.  You may ask how these relate, allow me to explain.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are an ancient tradition that starts Christmas day and run for the twelve days after; each day a new significant feast to help commemorate the birth of Christ.  Each Christian sect has different ways to celebrate each day, but the most important aspect of the twelve days, is to help the worshiper draw unto Christ, by helping to prolong the Christmas spirit.

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday used to commemorate the eight days of light they had from one jar of oil.  After the Jews retook the temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. after its capture by the Greeks, they found their temple desecrated and only enough oil to burn in the temple for one day.  Jewish law prescribed that the menorah be lit at all times with holy consecrated oil.  This oil took about eight days to prepare, yet they only had one day's worth.  In the end, the oil lasted all eight days, until they had enough time to prepare and consecrate new oil to light the temple.  Today the Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a candle every night to help remember this miracle that brought light back into the temple and into their lives through temple worship.

Each of these festivals is not just one day, but several, to help the follower more keenly remember the salvation that was given to their fathers, and to themselves.  As the Christmas season approaches, we often talk of how we would like to have this feeling all year round; thus the combination of Hanukkah, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and New Year's resolutions.  What would it be like if instead of celebrating once a year for twelve days, but instead every month twelve times.  What if each month we focused on a new attribute of the Savior, and looked for ways we could live that principle in our lives.  What if once a month we looked for ways that light and salvation had been brought into our lives through Christ Jesus.

My resolution this year is thus; each month to focus on a new attribute of the Savior and blog about my experience in studying and applying that principle.  If you have read some of my previous blogs, you know that one of my favorite questions is how the Savior lives the laws He gives us.  How does the Savior have patience, faith, love, charity, hope, and long suffering.  We speak of the gifts of the spirit (as described by Paul); how does the Savior exemplify these gifts and how does He bless the lives of others through His gifts.  I invite you to join me in this resolution to know the Savior, by not only commemorating His birth once a year, but to remember the way He LIVED His life twelve times a year.  Choose your own attribute that you would like to learn about and study it, and then -- here is the key -- apply it that month as much as you can.  If you have a blog or a journal, record your impressions and feelings, then share it with someone else.  Start now by choosing twelve attributes you would like to study.  These might change, but keep them as a reminder to help you progress through the year.

May the New Year bring you closer to the Savior and closer to those around you, and may this year be better than the last because you knew the Lord and were able to become more like Him.