Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Savior in Kirtland

I had the opportunity to meet Karl Anderson while doing the BYU semester in Nauvoo. We visited Kirtland as part of that opportunity and he spoke to our group. His book, Joseph Smith's Kirtland, was also required reading for the semester. That is why I was excited when I saw his new book, The Savior in Kirtland on the shelf.
When I write these reviews, part of me feels obligated to be a fair critic to whoever reads these posts. But at the same time, when I am biased in favor of the book, it is easy for me to overlook any supposed faults. I will just be short and say this book uses the same quotes several times, which can be repetitive. However, sometimes the significance of these quotes didn't really hit me until the second or third time reading them. Therefore, I find it easy to overlook these faults.

I am not sure how to do this book justice. There is a wonderful spirit I felt while reading it. I learned so much about "The Vision" received by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. I learned that at least 23 people saw the Savior in Kirtland, not just Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Some even saw the Father. Through this book, I was able to see the manner in which many promises from the Doctrine and Covenants were fulfilled.

I also loved the last few chapters of the book that discussed the significance of the events that happened in Kirtland. The bestowal of keys by Moses, Elias (possibly Noah), and Elijah were incredible! I understood the importance of Elijah's keys, but I gained greater understanding of the importance of the keys restored by the other two prophets.

The epilogue of the book teaches that Kirtland's miracles did not end with Joseph Smith leaving. Although a scourge truly did fall upon Kirtland, it is now being restored to its former glory. The author shares two stories of recent events where the Lord's hand can be seen. I will always love Kirtland, and this book only made my love for it grow deeper.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Look Up My Soul: The Divine Promise of Hope

Gerald N. Lund's newest doctrinal book, Look Up My Soul: The Divine Promise of Hope was really a terrific book. Sometimes it read like a research paper, which could feel repetitive sometimes when the author would emphasize something stated earlier in the book. But despite sounding a little repetitive at times, I found this a delightful and inspiring book.

The book teaches about trials, and how we need to accept we are going to be faced with them in this life. Life is about trials. It is not some to be pleasantly strolled through--it is meant to be endured. Hope helps us endure faithfully, relying on the promises of God, especially those promises of a better world. Lund does a fantastic job defending hope's place in the Christian triad of faith, hope, and charity.

I liked a quote he shared in the book, wherein he teaches that discouragement does not come automatically with a trial. We choose whether or not to be discouraged. We overcome this discouragement through hope, and we obtain hope through faith in Christ. This faith is obtained through scripture study and prayer. Life happens daily. That is why scripture study and prayer must happen daily as well.

We must never feel that God has abandoned us. Starting on page 257, the author shares an incredible story from Church History that I had never heard before. When the leaders of the Church were being arrested (at the time Joseph was put in Liberty Jail), mobbers paid apostates for the names of the Church leaders. Over fifty men were arrested, and yet somehow, two names were left off that list: Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball--THE TWO SENIOR MEMBERS OF THE QUORUM OF THE TWELVE! How on earth could they have been overlooked? Because even at this darkest time, God was still there, preserving His people and raising up leaders who would need the experience to lead His people west.

Lund concludes his book with a remarkable insight. When we are faced with difficult trials, God rarely takes them from us when we ask Him too. More often than not, He strengthens us and helps us endure them. As in everything else, Jesus Christ is our perfect example. When He was in the garden, bleeding from every pore, He prayed and asked God to remove the trial from Him if it were possible. But it was not possible. Instead, at the moment the blood began to pour, God sent an angel to strengthen Him.

Likewise, God does not always see fit to remove our trials. But He will send us help, and He will strengthen us to endure them faithfully, triumphantly, and gloriously.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Divine Signatures

I know I started reading Divine Signatures by Gerald N. Lund when it first came out, but I couldn’t remember if I finished it or not, so I decided to read it again since it was the next book on the shelf. I really enjoyed reading it a second time, and I’m glad I had a pencil nearby this time to take notes and highlight favorite passages.

Lund’s book talks about the Lord’s tender mercies that come in such a way and at such a time that it is almost as if we can see God’s signature telling us this experience came from Him. The author uses many true stories to illustrate how these experiences come, and what purpose they serve. Rarely, indeed extremely rarely does a tender mercy take away a trial or tribulation. Most often, these experiences help us endure these tribulations and keep our faith in the Lord. They let us know the Lord is aware of us, and that He has not abandoned us to anything we cannot endure.

I also particularly enjoyed a quote that Lund shared by George Q. Cannon: “If [God] requires [His children] to endure present privation and trial, it is that they may escape greater tribulations which would otherwise inevitably overtake them. If He deprives them of any present blessing, it is that He may bestow upon them greater and more glorious ones by-and-by.”

This book teaches in a wonderful way that God really does want to bless us with the maximum blessings He is capable of, while giving us the smallest possible punishment He can. My favorite part about this book is how it helped me think of my own experiences with “divine signatures.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Surround Yourself with Greatness

A few years ago I received a copy of Surround Yourself with Greatness by Chad Lewis as a gift, and it was even signed by him. I didn’t really know who Chad Lewis was, not being a huge football fan. As a result, I wasn’t in much of a hurry to read the book. Now, after having finished it, I deeply regret my procrastination. This book was very inspirational!

Lewis describes a time on his mission when he decided he wanted to only surround himself with greatness throughout his life. He no longer wanted to watch bad movies or listen to crude music. He only wanted to be surrounded by things that would uplift him and inspire him to be a better person. This desire to be surrounded by greatness branched out to include people he considered great.

Although his book could be considered a memoir, I found it to be an engaging read of what it means to be great. I am not deeply passionate about football, and yet I was entranced by Lewis’s stories playing for BYU and in the NFL, not because he won or lost certain games or championships, but because I was learning how to recognize greatness in the people I know in my own life.

Whether you love football or hate it, you will likely find this a wonderful book. I believe most people feel the inner desire to be better, to reach upward, and to cling to role models we wish to emulate. This book helps you learn how to do that. Chad Lewis tells a good story (ok, several good stories), and is very real and honest with the reader. Pictures throughout the book help to bring his stories to life. I can’t imagine somebody reading this book and being disappointed. Give it a try.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The False Prince

I had never heard of The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen until Amy brought it home for me one day from a book fair at her school. Since I have been itching to get lost in a good fictional book for a while, I was eager to dig in. This book did NOT disappoint!

Sadly, I can't say too much about the book without spoiling the genius of it. The basic idea is that four orphans are rounded up by a nobleman named Conner, one of the kingdom's twenty regents. They are informed that the royal family has died and the kingdom will most likely erupt in civil war, which will create an opportune time for the surrounding enemy kingdoms to strike. Conner's plan is to train the four orphans to impersonate a long-lost prince of the kingdom whose ship had been attacked by pirates four years previous.

The book is about Sage, who really hates the idea. He considers it treason, and he hates the idea of living a lie for the rest of his life. He is constantly defiant to Conner, who can barely contain his patience with the boy. But Sage's rebellious attitude begins to unravel even more deceit. In the end, only one of the boys will be chosen. The others? Well, they know too much. Can Sage get to the heart of the matter, save himself, and perhaps the other boys with him? You'll have to read the book to find out!

I strongly recommend this book for a quick, fun read. It really engaged me as a reader, and I loved each twist in the story. This one will not disappoint.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The God Who Weeps

I must admit, I was very skeptical about the book The God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens. I wasn't too impressed with how the book was presented to me, but when I noticed what a bestseller it has been, I decided to try it out. I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy this book. The authors prove certain doctrines through scripture, words of many great people throughout history, and good old common sense.

The book gets its title from the account in the book of Moses when Enoch sees God weep for the wicked of the earth who will suffer. Because God weeps, we can reach multiple conclusions about Him--such as the fact the God, the Grand Creator, chooses to make himself vulnerable to sorrow, disappointment, and heartache because He chooses to love us. He is not the angry god concocted by Jonathon Edwards, ready to cast sinners into hellfire at any whim. He is a loving God who is invested in us, and weeps when we sin simply because He knows we need to suffer for our choices. If God were not invested in us, then quite frankly, He wouldn't really care whether we sinned or not. But He does care, He has given commandments, and He does weep when we choose not to obey them.

The authors go on to discuss elements of the Plan of Salvation, from pre-mortality, the Fall of the Adam, to life beyond death. There are just a few things I highlighted that I want to share here:

Proof that we existed before this life comes from the sense of guilt. If God created us out of nothing, and created us the way we are, then it is His fault we don't have better natures, so it is His fault if we sin and don't keep the commandments. This might be rationalized thus, if it were not for the emotion of guilt. Guilt lets us know we did something wrong when we had the capability of doing better. It gives us a sense that we are responsible for the choices we make. I also liked how the authors claim guilt is not necessarily a punishment. If we sprain an ankle and we try to put weight on it, we feel pain. The pain is not to punish us, it's to stop us from doing further damage to our spirits.

One of the most intriguing arguments that the Fall was actually a beneficial step forward comes from Charles Darwin, of all places. The honeybee has a huge defect. Its only defense system also results in its death. Darwin said the reason why this insect did not evolve to a more perfect state is because it outlasted all competition, so it no longer had a reason to evolve to become more perfect. Likewise, in the pre-mortal existence, we didn't have anything to challenge us so that we could become more perfect. Our progress was halted. The Fall provided the challenges necessary for us to "spiritually evolve" and become more like our Heavenly Father.

The last part I wanted to mention from the book is a quote that I found powerfully insightful, and yet humorous as well. Here is the quote: "No English word has been more debased than love, which we simultaneously employ to describe God's sacrifice of His Son and our feelings about a hot-dog smothered in  relish." Something to think about...

Again, this books sounds very intellectual, but it is definitely worth reading. My only complaint is the footnote system used in this book, but that is a minor detail compared to wealth of insight available.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

By the Hand of Mormon

By far, the most sophisticated book I've read so far this year is By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens. In this work, Givens discusses the influence The Book of Mormon has had, not just in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also on the world.

He begins his book talking about the coming forth of The Book of Mormon and the history of Moroni's visit, those who helped and opposed the work, and how the manner in which The Book of Mormon came forth is more important in understanding it than its contents.

Givens then goes on to quote both believers and skeptics to show reaction to this work of scripture. He discusses various ideas, suggestions, and theories created by skeptics to try to account for it. Givens is very fair in making sure each side/theory gets equal representation, but then also discusses the flaws in each theory. In examining these flaws, one can only come to the conclusion that Joseph's account of how The Book of Mormon came to be is true. No other suggestion can hold much weight when all factors are considered.

The author also discusses the work of FARMS and other groups/individuals to find scholarly evidence of The Book of Mormon, from archeological research to textual clues within The Book of Mormon itself to show proof of Hebrew and Egyptian roots. He also provides evidence found through their research that supports information in the text.

By the Hand of Mormon does not necessarily set out to prove the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon, but rather gives a reflection on all studies done on the subject, while pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in various arguments. I found it an informative read, but it definitely took extra time to digest its contents.