Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prepare Now For the Temple

I gave Amy a copy of Prepare Now for the Temple by Brittany Mangus shortly before we were married. This book is only 69 pages long, so I thought I would read it to squeeze in one more book this year.

I would highly recommend this book for any young woman preparing to enter the temple. Why just young women? Because that is who this book is written for. Mangus goes through the basics of what to expect, of what to do to prepare, and also clears up some misconceptions and myths regarding the temple ceremonies.

What I really like is that she also gives advice to women going through for the first time about how to focus on the importance of the covenants they make, and how they should let this be the main reason of their temple experience. Nothing else should be done that minimizes the sacredness of this event. As I read this book, I thought that it would be a good reminder to everybody who has been through the temple.

The book is short and can easily be read in an hour or two. This is such a short amount of time required for a book that will help so much as you prepare for such an important part of your life.

Building Faith in Christ with the Book of Mormon

Years ago I had the opportunity to meet Reid E. Bankhead at a rest home. He presented me with a signed copy of Building Faith in Christ with the Book of Mormon, which he co-wrote with Glenn L. Pearson. This book is divided into multiple topics with a brief explanation of the topic, followed by a list of passages from the scriptures that teach about the topic, and then concluded with study questions for the reader.

The authors clearly wanted this book to get into as many hands as possible. They even requested the retail value to be no more than $5.00. Probably because of this, their book was not edited  very carefully. Not all the scripture passages matched the topic they were assigned to. In fact, one entire topic had no supporting scriptures, they were all references for a different topic. At other times, there would be a scripture reference that did not exist. But despite these occasional mistakes, the book is still worth using.

In order to ensure that I was getting the best use out of this book, I read every single scripture reference associated with each topic. Sometimes this got very repetitive (for example, I think I read all of Alma 30 at least five times!) However, I was very impressed with the work the authors must have done to compile a study guide such as this. In the future, when I need to find some good scriptures about a certain topic, I will certainly turn to this book for help.

One of the neatest features about this book is that, despite its title, it does not stay solely in the Book of Mormon. It gives supporting scriptures from all of the standard works, showing how the Lord's principles are eternal and found in all His words. Using this resource helps the reader become more familiar with Gospel topics, while at the same time helping the Stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph become one in his hand.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In Old Nauvoo

I read selections from In Old Nauvoo by George W. Givens when I took a Pioneer Life class during my experience living in Nauvoo during the winter semester of 2003. As part of my goal to read every book on my shelf, I decided to read this book again from cover to cover. Now, before I begin to say too much, let me just say that if history dulls you, you will probably hate this book. Its purpose is to recreate what everyday life was like for the saints living in Nauvoo from 1839-1846. That being said, I thoroughly enjoy history, I love Nauvoo, and I love the 19th century. In other words, I loved this book!

Having lived in Nauvoo for about four months, it was fun to read about places I have actually been to. One of these is Scovil’s Bakery and Confectionary Shop. The book talks about them advertising $25 wedding cakes. Back in that time period, an average day’s wages was only $1.00. Nobody could afford a $25 cake! But advertising that they could make it certainly made people talk. I remember hearing the same story while I was in Nauvoo.

One segment of this book talked about 19thcentury customs dealing with women and church. In comparison with other churches of the day, the LDS church was actually very liberal in what it allowed women to do. Although it was unheard of in other churches, they were actually allowed to speak in church meetings (provided their talks were not too long). This made me laugh. It might sound restrictive to us, but in those days, there was no set time for meetings. Speakers gave a discourse for as long as they wanted to. I’m sure most people have attended a testimony meeting where one person (usually a woman) takes up nearly the entire meeting. That is why I found it amusing that a time limit was given to women speakers.

The book used a lot of quotations from non-Mormon visitors to Nauvoo. Their insights were especially helpful in putting together the history of the city. I was also surprised to learn that John Greenleaf Whittier visited the city once and had some high praise for the beauty of the temple being built.

I could go on and on about the customs as far as occupations, construction, courting and marriage, and more, but I will leave that for the book to explain. I will end this short review with a humorous incident told in the book about Joseph Smith. Let me preface this by saying that I quite enjoy the prophet’s humor. When the saints arrived in Nauvoo, they were destitute and in extreme poverty. They especially did not have a lot to eat. It is recorded that Joseph Smith once said the following prayer at the table: “Lord, we thank thee for this johnnycake, and ask thee to send us something better. Amen.”

The glory of Nauvoo lasted for less than a decade, but the legacy of its inhabitants lives on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learning more about that time period.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas with the Prophets

Every year I tell myself I am going to read Christmas with the Prophets by Laura F. Willes, but I never seem to get past Brigham Young. This year I really dedicated myself and I was able to finish the book in just a couple days. I actually really loved the stories! Each chapter is about a different prophet and is broken up into about five different stories. This makes it easy to break up the reading, but don't let that convenience keep you from getting through the entire book. In years past I tried reading just one story a day, and that never seemed to work.

There are three stories that I particularly enjoyed that I want to share on this post. The first comes from Joseph F. Smith. When he was a young father, his family was really struggling to make ends meet. They had enough money for food, but not enough for any presents or treats of any kind. The day before Christmas, he walked past all the shop windows and looked at the many wonderful things he couldn't afford, and then began to weep because he couldn't provide his family with a nice Christmas. He eventually went home and played with his children, that being the only present he could give them--his love and time.

Heber J. Grant loved to give out books and if you were to meet with him, there was a good chance that you would be leaving with a book in your hand. Of course, this also meant he loved to give books for Christmas. He once recorded in his journal, "Although my heart, alas, is bigger than my pocketbook, I pray it will stay that way." I loved this quote. I think that is a good way to live life.

The last story I want to share is from George Albert Smith. This cracked me up. At Christmas, when the grandchildren were spending the holiday with him, he would put out extra large stockings. One time he even cut out the toe and had the sock empty right into a bucket. The next morning the children's stocking would be full of goodies, while his stockings would be full of onions or something of that nature. The children would be so disappointed for him, but he would always use this opportunity to teach about the importance of not being greedy.

The book is done on really nice, colored pages and is easily one of the nicest-looking books in my Christmas library. I highly recommend this book for a personal library, but also as a gift.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Restored Gospel According to C. S. Lewis

I received a copy of The Restored Gospel According to C. S. Lewis by Nathan Jensen years ago, but I had only read excerpts up to this point. Finally I decided to read the entire book, and I'm glad I did. I have always greatly respected C. S. Lewis' writings, and this book just make me appreciate him even more. In this book, Jensen compares various statements from C. S. Lewis with general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is remarkable how many of these coincide perfectly.

My only complaint with this book is that some of the Lewis quotes get repetitive. Each chapter is divided into different subjects, and often the author uses the same quote repeatedly because it fits each new subject matter. Doing so reduces the novelty of the quote and softens its impact. That being said, there were several quotes from this book that I really enjoyed. These are a few:

C. S. Lewis talks about God taking great pride in His creations, just as an artist takes great pride in his paintings. Unlike an artist's painting, however, we are sentient creatures and whenever the Grand Artist makes changes or enhances His creations (us) we complain and moan because we think we are fine as we are. We cannot yet see the grand masterpiece our Master has in mind for us to become.

I also loved C. S. Lewis' description of angels and devils. He said that they are as similar as good and bad people, meaning that they are the same kind of beings. Devils are not creatures with pointed tails and horns, nor are angels creatures with bird wings. In fact, Lewis' entire conception of Hell and the devil is extraordinary and very accurate compared to what I believe.

Another quote I want to touch on regarding this subject is actually by Brigham Young. He taught that music is a language from heaven and is a great gift to mankind. He followed that up by saying there is no music in Hell. I had never thought about this before, but I found that very interesting.

Last of all, I loved what Lewis had to say about religion and sacrifice. He was very against "soft religions" that did not take the Bible at face value and tried to diminish was Christianity is meant to be. He especially deplores those who twist the Bible to mean things it did not say. He emphatically declared that either Jesus is the Son of God and everything He said or did is true, or else He was an immoral liar or a madman. You cannot believe in Him without believing EVERYTHING.

These quotes and so many more reinforced my admiration for the great man that was C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jerusalem: The Eternal City

If you are looking for a great book to understand Jerusalem's history, then I highly recommend Jerusalem: The Eternal City by David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner. This book begins its history with the city of Salem, under the rule of Melchizedek and goes until the time of the book's publication. This was an eye-opener for me. This is one complicated city!

Although this is not light reading, I am impressed with the quality of this book. The authors do a great job of helping the reader understanding the context of its history, even so far as to explain the part of Jerusalem's history that Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is based on.

The part of the book that I perhaps enjoyed the most was where it discussed the history of the city after the crucifixion of the Savior. In A.D. 70, the city and temple were destroyed. This had been prophesied by Jesus years earlier. What is neat is that the authors show how every point of this prophecy was fulfilled, including the false prophets and false messiahs that rose up during this time period. These false leaders were largely responsible for a lot of the devastation.

In connection with this, I was most impressed with the profound sorrow of the Jews when the temple was destroyed. To them, it was symbolic of no longer having God in their midst (little did they realize they crucified their God over thirty years earlier). Records report of Jews weeping for days when they saw the temple was destroyed, and even today they have symbolic reminders that their lives are not complete without a temple. For example, for most of my life I have known that at Jewish weddings the groom breaks a glass under his foot, but not until I read this book did I understand that it was a reminder of the loss of the temple. Some women leave off a piece of jewelry, others leave a portion of their buildings unpainted. All of these are to remind them that until they once again have a temple, they can never be complete. What a profound thought, and one that I think is easily applied to Latter-day Saints.

Furthermore, this book goes into great depth about Islam, giving it an equal treatment with the Jews. The more I read about the two religions and the holy regard they both have towards Jerusalem, the more I realized just how complicated this city is. Jerusalem is a city with a bloody history, with blood being shed by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Everybody is at least somewhat in the wrong. The authors conclude that only the coming of Messiah can finally set things right.

For anybody interested in learning more about Jerusalem, its history and destiny, I highly recommend this book. Don't expect a light reading, but you bring your reading plow, you're going to dig up a lot of really great information.