Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

I can't say I enjoyed Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Brent L. Top as much as I did his last book. I think part of my problem was with the title. This book was formerly titled Strength to Endure, which I think is a much more appropriate title for this book. The answer to the title's question can pretty much be summed up in two words: That's life. The focus of the majority of the book seemed to be focused on the original title, giving tips and encouragement to faithfully endure trials and struggles.

The author begins by talking about the reasons why bad things happen. Perhaps most of the time it is because of agency, whether ours or that of another person. Other times it is the effects of a natural fallen world. And then, occasionally, it could also be the direct intervention of God. But after discussing the various reasons why bad things happen, Top sums it up by saying it doesn't really matter what brought it about; when we chose to come to earth, we chose to experience trials and adversity to prove us and help us grow. No matter what the cause, adversity is what we signed up for. Our focus should be on how to endure it well.

I did like a few of the author's analogies. He compares trials to a school bell. A school bell alerts students that it is time for class to begin, thereby giving a signal for the learning to start. However, the bell does not do any teaching itself. Our trials are like this. Adversity cues us that it is time to learn something. But just like lazy students at school, we can choose to ignore these lessons despite the trials that come upon us. We see the same thing in the Book of Mormon. Because of the wars, some Nephites were hardened, while others were softened.

The other example I liked was when the author was talking about the importance of pursuing faithful service in the Kingdom of God. When it is cold and fierce weather, the best thing to do is keep moving. Otherwise you will end up with frostbite. When we experience fierce trials in life, we might be persuaded to think we deserve a break and rest from church service. But doing this can lead to frostbite of the soul. Our testimonies may waver until we fall into complete inactivity. When the going gets tough, the tough really need to get going!

There were a lot of good things I gleaned from this book. I would change the title for sure. One chapter in the book dedicated to that topic is sufficient. Good people cannot be immune to adversity or else they will never become the great people they are destined to be.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

As One Crying from the Dust

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed As One Crying from the Dust by Brent L. Top. I had read a book by the same author a while ago called When You Can't Do it Alone and really enjoyed that, but I strongly connected with my most recent read. It is unfortunate that it is now out of print.

This book is a collection of insights from the author of how the Book of Mormon has helped him understand and apply certain concepts. Repeatedly throughout the book, Top insists that it is impossible to "outgrow" the Book of Mormon. This really hit me hard because I have read The Book of Mormon so many times that if you name a random chapter, I can probably tell you exactly what happens in that chapter. It was neat for me to read how the author digs deeper to have a new experience every time.

To back up his insights and thoughts, the author repeatedly uses quotes from general authorities. Perhaps my favorite quote comes from Brigham Young. Top is discussing the topic of prayer, and at one point talks about praying with real intent and not hearkening to the evil spirit that teaches a man not to pray (2 Nephi 32:8). He quotes from Brigham Young who said, "If the Devil says you cannot pray, tell him it is none of his business." I really liked that!

The author also shares a beautiful story to illustrate the principle of charity. He quotes a story from the life of Bruce R. McConkie's grandmother when she was serving as a Relief Society president. She was taking care of a neighbor's family, including their young baby. She was exhausted, but repeatedly offered the assistance this family needed. One day, after arriving home, this good woman fell asleep and dreamed that she was privileged to hold the Christ child and take care of Him. As she awoke she heard the Savior's words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." That story touched my heart.

This book should never replace a personal study of the scriptures, but for me, it awoke the desire to dig deeper and gain a stronger love for them. Towards the end of the book the author recounts the story of Jacob Hamblin, who asked for a copy of the "Mormon Bible" and received the Old and New Testament. The Holy Bible is our Bible, and we love it and treasure it. The Book of Mormon is an additional volume of scripture that points the way to Christ and confirms the truths of the Bible. How grateful I am for both books!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Prophecy and Modern Times

After reading an 800+ page book by the same author, reading Prophecy and Modern Times by W. Cleon Skousen was a welcome read (it was only 150 small pages). A portion of his book The Fourth Thousand Years was dedicated to this same topic, so much of the material I had already read.

Rather than listing prophecies in his book, Skousen has attempted to write out the future of the earth as if he were writing its history. He begins by talking about prophecy and what we can learn about it from the scriptures where prophecy has been fulfilled. From these instances we can learn that rarely does the Lord state exactly when a prophecy will come to pass, but when it does, it is fulfilled in complete detail according to the Lord's word.

After this little lesson, the author begins talking about the future destiny of America and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. Typical of Skousen, he reads very closely into the scriptures to help determine the timetable of the events. He talks about the warning to the gentiles who reject the Gospel, how they will be scourged if they do not repent, and how room will be prepared for the lost ten tribes.

From there, the author goes on to talk about the other nations of the world, focusing especially on Jerusalem and the Jews in that area. After relating the events that lead up to the Second Coming, Skousen does something unique that I found quite interesting. He gives the Second Coming from the perspective of three groups: those in Zion, the Jews in Jerusalem, and the forces of the world combined against the Jews. This painted a neat picture in my mind.

The book concludes with a picture of the Millennium and then ends. I was a little disappointed that the author did not go into any detail about events following the Millennium, such as the Battle of the Great God, after which the final judgement occurs and Satan and his hosts are cast off forever. But overall the book was good. I would not suggest it as a stand-alone book in studying the signs of the times, but I do think it is a good springboard for a student of scripture.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 6

This volume in the History of the Church covers the shortest amount of time of any volume in the entire history, but it is still packed full of information. I dreaded the end of this book, for I knew it would culminate with the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. But more on that in a minute.

Among many of Joseph's teachings, he taught the elders not to "whip the sects", or in other words, persecute and prove wrong other religions. Joseph continues his counsel to invite all men to bring the good they have so that they can have more added thereto.

There is a small account I found interesting. Joseph discovered some men preaching and practicing plural marriage. Joseph put a stop to it and said he was the only one who held the keys pertaining to this practice and nobody was to do it without divine sanction.

As I have read books about the spirit world and life after death, many people have quoted Joseph Smith. I discovered his entire discourse in this volume on pages 50-52. Joseph encourages the saints to learn all they can on the subject, and then expounds the doctrine that has been revealed.

This book also tells of Joseph Smith's bid as a candidate for President of the United States. Based on some comments he made, he actually didn't want this office, but if nobody else was going to honorably serve the country without regard to any party or belief, then Joseph felt it was his duty to do so. He also gives an excellent discourse on the powers and policy of government, which I thought was right on the mark.

I also enjoyed an excellent sermon by him detailing the differences in the missions of Elias and Elijah. It was very interesting to read about how these offices have been used, and how they are being used today. This sermon is essential reading to understand this topic.

This volume also contains the famous sermon, the King Follet's discourse. I have read this before and it is cited a lot, but now I got to read it from its original source. Here, again, Joseph teaches and expounds on some wonderful doctrines. The book contains so many of Joseph Smith's sermons that I really enjoyed. Another neat doctrine he taught is that the land of Zion consists of all of North and South America.

Sadly, the book eventually ended with the martyrdom. Through this volume we read of traitors, apostates, and hypocrites who told the blackest lies and falsehoods. Joseph Smith and the saints tried to be as transparent as possible with the government of Illinois in all their proceedings. Joseph told the governor several times that if the supreme court of the state found him guilty in anything, then he was willing to abide by the law and pay any damages.

But the governor never gave the prophet the opportunity to be legally tried by the supreme court. The governor, instead, broke his promises to the prophet again and again. He accused Joseph of acting beyond his office as mayor, only to turn around and act beyond his office of governor. There seems to be a strong hint that Governor Ford wanted Joseph dead almost as much as the mob did. No wonder that Gordon B. Hinckley called Governor Ford a wicked man.

However, Joseph knew his lot. Hyrum perhaps didn't, though Joseph tried to warn him. In fact, Hyrum had been ordained by Joseph to take the lead of the Church, but Hyrum died before Joseph did. The shocking brutality of the Carthage massacre happened so quickly. My eyes were wet as I pictured being in the jail with Willard Richards and witnessing the horrific events. But in the words of W. W. Phelps, "death cannot conquer the hero again." Joseph Smith left a legacy which cannot be erased by bullets, and at the conclusion of reading about his life, I am led to exclaim that he is indeed a prophet and will be recognized as such by all men one day. I am thankful for him, his dedication and humility.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Fourth Thousand Years

After almost an entire month, I finally finished The Fourth Thousand Years by W. Cleon Skousen. This is a thick book! I would personally class this as the second best book in the series. The Third Thousand Years remains my favorite.

As with his first book, there are many suggestions Skousen makes that really make the reader ponder about the scriptures. Other suggestions he makes do not hold as much weight in my opinion. For example, in the story of David and Bathsheba, Skousen suggests David was trying to hide his sin for Bathsheba's sake. I don't buy that for a second. Any person would have a really hard time convincing me that David wasn't just trying to cover his own tail.

Other parts of this book were extremely rewarding and fascinating. Perhaps one of my favorite parts was the story of Jonah and the whale (Skousen uses good arguments to show it was a whale as Jesus said, and not just a "big fish"). Before going into Jonah's story, the author recounts a true story about a whaler who was swallowed whole by a whale and survived for two days before he was rescued.

I also highly appreciated Skousen's efforts to help the reader keep track of the chronology of the Old Testament. Not only did he help clarify what was happening in both the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel, but he also does his best to help us know when the various prophets conducted their ministries. It was neat for me to learn who was a contemporary with whom.

I have heard differing arguments about Skousen. Some people say that some of his ideas are "out there." While I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I still found this series to be a wonderful enlightening read and it certainly encourages the reader to examine the scriptures more closely. For that reason alone I would recommend reading these books by Skousen.