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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Best Books

When I'm in church, I'm taken by two things: First, how much time and effort some teachers invest in preparing their lessons. Second, just how little we uber-blessed, uber-smart Gentiles know Jesus Christ.

Sure, we have mountains of information about Jesus. James E. Talmage's landmark book, Jesus the Christ, is one of four non-scriptural books in the Missionary Reference LibraryElder Bruce R. McConkie's Messiah Series went into tremendous depth about the life of the Savior before, during and after His mortal ministry. In fact, we can access all these facts about Jesus -- and much, much more -- in the palm of our hands, without ever having to leave our beds.

Yet, as I have found through personal experience, it's one thing to know about the Savior, and quite another thing to actually know Him.

Many of those who are really learned, yet do not personally know Christ (not just "know about Christ"), are like a mouse on a wheel -- busily running like the dickens, but never really moving forward spiritually.

That's what I think Brother Joseph was trying to tell us when he said,
"It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 345; see also Ether 12:39; emphasis mine).
"I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him" (History of the Church, 6:305; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton; emphasis mine).
"We must have 'a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes' and an admiration for 'the excellency of [His] character.'” (Lectures on Faith (1985), p. 38, 42; emphasis mine).
Even Jesus declared, 
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God.”(John 17:3; emphasis mine)
Now, go re-read these quotes carefully. Do you see the word "about" in any of them? No. Instead, I see:
  • "know for a certainty the character of God"
  • "know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another"
  • "I want you all to know him"
  • "[His] character"
  • "know thee the only true God.”
What point is both Jesus and Joseph trying to drive home? 

Know The Only True God

So, how do we know God's character? What should we be seeking, studying and doing if we ever want to converse with God as one man converses with another?

My advice: First, get informed.

Naturally, if we want to be better acquainted with God, we should turn to the scriptures! However, there are some nuances, some aspects of God which we may not be able to pick up on our own. Others' insights might be necessary. Perhaps that's why Christ told us,
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118)
What would you consider to be "the best books"?

Would such books have to written by General Authorities, BYU faculty and Seminaries and Institute employees? Must they be Mormon?

For the life of me, I can't see anywhere in that verse where the Lord gave specific, narrowing parameters as to what qualifies as "the best books."

But I'll bet you one thing: Whatever those books are, they'd almost assuredly help enhance your standing in the eternities. They would involve learning -- I mean, real studying -- and faith...stepping out into the darkness, with a hope that you're also taking a step closer to the Light.

In my last post, I mentioned studying books -- outside the official church curriculum -- which would help bring you closer to Christ. After reading the post, one astute reader emailed me and asked what I would consider to be some good non-curriculum books to read.

Fair question.

Last December, I posted here about three books most people don't read, but should: "The Lectures on Faith", "The Joseph Smith Translation (JST)" and the Book of Isaiah. You're smart -- and definitely blessed -- if you do read them. You're likely spiritually asleep and perhaps even condemned if you don't. Because they've been approved by Jesus Christ Himself, I recommend making these three books a higher priority than anything a mortal has written.

Still, I know some seek books which could help them develop a deeper, far more meaningful relationship with Christ.

So, below are some picks. My recommendations. No one has influenced these selections. No one has told me that it'd be good to promote them.

Instead, these books are about Christ's character. His personality. Once you know those aspects, it becomes much easier to know what to listen for, so that you may converse with Him as one man converses with another.

They have changed me, and will likely change you -- no matter what your faith is. They have inspired me to center my life on God, helped me better understand God and to have a more fulfilling relationship with Him.

Words of wisdom? Check. Learning? Check. Encourage you to study? Check. Help stimulate faith in God? Big time check. In fact, as I've asked God for opportunities to experentially learn what I've read in these books, He's over-delivered results, which have been far beyond my wildest dreams and anything I remotely deserve.

So, here are "The best [mortal-written] books", according to Mr. LDS Perfect Day...

Center Your Life on God
"The Divine Center" (Stephen R. Covey)

A personal story:

Many years ago (in what my kids would call "the prehistoric era"), I was attending college. It was the first day of Christmas break. All my roommates had gone home, and I stayed behind (my dorm apartment was a mile or two from my family). I was alone.

One late night, I walked from my work to my dorm apartment. When I arrived, I noticed a package in front of the front door. When I got inside and turned on the light, I noticed the package was for me. I hurriedly opened it. Inside was a book: "The Divine Center" by Covey. Inside the front book cover was a card. It said, "This book will change your life and your perspective of the Gospel. You'll take it around the world with you. Love, Dad"

The next morning, I thanked my dad for the book. He was genuinely confused about the book, and said he didn't buy it -- in fact, he'd never buy me a "Mormon Book" (he was pretty anti-Mormon at the time). He was practically insulted that I had insinuated that he would.

To this day, I have no proof as to who "Dad" was. But I can tell you this: That book did travel across the world with me -- a fact I couldn't have foretold when I received it. And no other book, save the scriptures themselves, has had as much an impact on my life, and my perspective of Christ's gospel, than The Divine Center.

The basic premise of it: All of us seek balance between family, friends, career, church, spirituality, activities and more. "The Divine Center" addresses the need, not just for balance, but for putting all of life into proper perspective by centering our thoughts, desires and actions on Jesus Christ. When you make Christ #1, everything else works out, leaving you with a greater amount of peace, inspiration and God's influence. Here's the official write-up:
"All of us at some point search for an organizing principle in life, one that is simple without being simplistic, that offers enduring direction. The book introduces, explains, and illuminates such a principle – centering one’s life on Christ. It examines twelve other "centers" and their effect on key dimensions of our lives: our security, guidance, wisdom, and power. Although those other perspectives offer some value, only the "divine center" meets all the tests. This powerful principle is given life by an inspiring presentation of "how-tos" –imaginative, thought-provoking explanations of the divine-centering process and steps necessary to achieve the goal."
Here are some "Divine Center" quotes I've used in my blog:
"We each see not with the eye but with the soul. Each person sees the world not as it is but as he or she is."
"Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties, a leaning into life not away from it."
"Once a person is true to the light he has received, he is then capable of receiving more light and obeying it. Until he is true to the light already given, additional light would only condemn him, for he is capable neither of understanding it nor appreciating it. Observing our covenants may not always be easy, and it may require sacrifice. The Lord said, 'Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice —- yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command —- they are accepted of me.' (D&C 97:8)"
"This means to see in your mind’s eye the characters and events portrayed in the scriptures. Such an empathetic effort will help you understand the situation that produced the teaching. Then you can relate that situation to yours and distill the universal principle that may apply in both.
When you visualize, you’re exercising faith. Visualizing is a powerful mental process, one of man’s unique endowments. Most of us neglect this power. Realize it or not, control it or not, the spiritual creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Most of life’s battles are lost in this private phase."
"I believe that most of us horribly neglect this creative power within us. We live too much out of our memories, too little out of our imaginations. Realize it or not, control it or not, the spiritual (mental) creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Always begin with the end in mind. Most of life’s battles are really lost in private, not in public."
"Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the 'Personal Commandments' given us by the spirit."
"Personal commandments are given by God through His Holy Spirit to His individual children. They are individualized, tailor-made to each individual in his or her particular situation. Personal commandments come in the form of practices or specific things to do, which are largely based upon general commandments."

Better Understand Christ's Personality
"Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus" (John Eldredge)

It's been my experience that quite a few people know about Christ, yet very few actually know Him.

As I stated on January 7, 2016,
"If you do not know Jesus as a person and His remarkable personality - His playful, irreverent, bold, forgiving, giving, anti-establishment, tender, fierce, witty, funny, sublimely confident personality - you have been cheated.
If you do not experience Jesus regularly, intimately, in any of these ways mentioned above - if you don't experience His comfort, His sense of humor, His eagerness to heal your brokenness, His over-enthusiasm to forgive you - you have been robbed."
You see, knowing about Christ -- yet not knowing Him (and His personality) -- is like trying to understand someone's vocal inflections via an e-mail. It's like trying to love a get-well card. It's like extrapolating color from a black-and-white movie or TV show.

It's that whole higher dimension that is one of the most important truths of the restoration: You can know Jesus Christ for yourself, independent of any other person. Just ask the Brother of Jared, Nephi or Joseph Smith what they were trying to get across in their writings.
"...God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them" (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, October 1969 General Conference; emphasis mine; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149).
Out of everything I have ever read, the one resource that effectively addresses Christ's personality is John Eldredge's book (or watch his YouTubes of) "Beautiful Outlaw". Here are the videos, in order:

Beautiful Outlaw

Chapter 1: The Playfulness of God
Chapter 2: The Missing Essential -- His Personality
Chapter 3: Is Jesus Really Playful?
Chapter 4: Fierce Intention
Chapter 5: The Most Human Face of All
Chapter 6: Extravagant Generosity
Chapter 7: Disruptive Honesty
Chapter 8: A Scandalous Freedom
Chapter 9: Cunning
Chapter 10: Humility
Chapter 11: Trueness
Chapter 12: Beautiful
Chapter 13: Loving Jesus
Chapter 14: Letting Jesus Be Himself -- With You
Chapter 15: Clearing Away the Religious Fog
Chapter 16: Letting Jesus Be Himself -- Encounters
Chapter 17: Letting His Life Fill Yours
Epilogue: One Last Thought

(Note: In Chapter 1, I understand how some might develop the perception that Eldredge disdains organized religion. I don't want to focus on that. It's clear that in the final analysis, we -- ourselves -- are the ones who allow false paradigms of Christ to take root within our souls. I do agree with him, though, that Satan has done a bang-up job of diverting mankind from knowing Christ in a far more meaningful way).

For more details, click here.

Better Understand the Beautiful Simplicity of Christ's Gospel
"Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" (John Pontius)

I think one person's review (who said this book is "the handbook we didn't get to bring to earth with us") put it best:

"All spiritual development rests on understanding the Light of Christ, our conscience, and then being deeply obedient to that light so that we gain more and more light and grow to have increased capacity to have greater spiritual experiences. If I could only have one book besides the scriptures, it would be this book."

I second almost all the Amazon reviews of this book.

Originally written in 2002, "Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" is the owner's manual we were sent to earth without.

Have you ever longed for a clear, precise, unambiguous description of the way to powerful righteousness? Have you ever wished an angel would appear beside your bed, as he did beside Joseph's and just plainly, sweetly describe the path, and what you need to do?

Revealed within "Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" is a mystery unveiled, a door opened. It reveals the key to receiving answers to your prayers, daily guidance, personal revelation, prophetic understanding, power in the priesthood, rebirth of the Spirit, calling and election, unspeakable joy, and much more.

When you've finished reading this book, you'll know much of what your soul has yearned for, and it will seem as if an angel truly did come and minister unto you.

Some may accuse me of being a little biased in my praise of this book, because John Pontius was -- and remains -- a dear, close friend of mine. But even if I didn't know him, I would still list this book on my list, because it brings to light simple ways to make personal revelation easy to recognize and implement it in your life.

With this book at your side, you'll be better prepared to prosper along your life's journey and accomplish the work the Lord has planned for you.

NOTE: John Pontius' Unblog website just posted a free download of the third book of his fictional Millennial Quest series. It's a great read!

Aim Higher. Reach Farther. Attain Greater
Various books and media by Avraham Gileadi, Ph.D.

"Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet. Likewise the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote from Isaiah more than from any other prophet." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary,

It's no wonder the Lord said,
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles." (3 Nephi 23:1-2)
Despite Isaiah's scriptural importance, I'm constantly astounded by many online who claim to be serious students of prophecy and the end times, or have a deep interest in it, yet they've never taken the Book of Isaiah seriously. It's amazing to see the discussions and even outright predictions made by some when it's very obvious they haven't read this most-quoted prophet.

I admit: Isaiah's deep and can't be read superficially. Searching it diligently requires uncommon dedication and focus.

To aid in this pursuit, you have the opportunity to read a lot of books about Isaiah, and what Isaiah says. While such books may be fascinating, their value is clearly subordinate to a clearer understanding of what Isaiah is actually saying.

Enter Avraham Gileadi.

Fluent in Hebrew, Gileadi worked with the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, and the Septuagint Version to provide a translation of the Book of Isaiah intelligible in English that remains true to the Hebrew. He used lexical tools constantly in order to catch every nuance of meaning in the original language, finishing his translation of Isaiah during his Ph.D. program at BYU.

Gileadi worked on the LDS edition of the Bible. He revised the Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon for the Church's Translation Division. He completed his Ph.D. in Ancient Studies from Brigham Young University in 1981, under the supervision of Hugh Nibley.

In 2006, Analytical Commentary of Isaiah was published. It's an audio-based introduction to Isaiah's endtime prophecy as it analyzes the Book of Isaiah verse by verse, introducing the listener to Isaiah's endtime message embedded in a series of literary devices such as word links, keywords, and code names that reveal the deeper layers of Isaiah's prophecy. In 2013, Gileadi's Apocalyptic Commentary of the Book of Isaiah was published. It, too, contains a verse-by-verse literary analysis of the Book of Isaiah containing numerous cross references to other scriptural prophecies.

Again, I highly encourage you to not read about Isaiah, or what various well-meaning authors think Isaiah's talking about. Instead, better understand the Hebrew language which Isaiah used, the history and culture of Isaiah's time to better understand his words and accompanying context. Gileadi's devoted his life to this end. Is he perfect? Nope. But I have yet to see anybody with as much experience as he when it comes to understanding Isaiah.

You can:

  • Read his analysis of Isaiah, verse-by-verse, online for free here.
  • Order his books online here.
  • Download a FREE copy of the "The Book of Isaiah: New Translation" (as an e-book or downloadable MP3) here.

Better Understand the Interrelationship Between Our Behaviors with Others and God
"The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" by Steven Covey

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil there is one striking at the root." —Henry David Thoreau
What are the roots of the problems we face in the world...even your life and your relationships with others?

According to Covey, these roots are moral and spiritual. And since the problems are rooted spiritually, the solutions are, too.

Published in 1970, The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations sets forth a bold statement: the way we treat others is indicative of how we treat God, and visa versa. It helps you to achieve personal growth from the inside-out, empowering you to improve your relationships with family, neighbors, co-workers and, ultimately, God.

For example: Covey writes about winning our private battles (like unrighteous aspirations, selfishness, perverse inclinations, touchiness, impatience, anger, impurities, procrastinating tendencies, sheer irresponsibility, lack of discipline) in our minds and in our hearts. Once we've done that, we're better able to win our public public battles (like temptations, pressures and stresses, the storms that descend upon our lives). "When we do this, staying in the presence of God our Father, we will have the strength from the light and life of the world-the Savior- to resist and to overcome.  Our spiritual roots will have grown out of Him naturally."

This situation mirrors something found in the scriptures: the spiritual creation precedes the physical creation -- a concept which Elder Bednar also agrees:
"In a similar way, meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day—and precedes the temporal creation or the actual execution of the day. Just as the temporal creation was linked to and a continuation of the spiritual creation, so meaningful morning and evening prayers are linked to and are a continuation of each other. … Morning and evening prayers—and all of the prayers in between—are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years." (“Pray Always,” Ensign, November 2008, p. 41–42)
I think all of us have relationships in our lives which need improving. If you can't think of one, then consider your relationship with God as in need of improvement. Grab this book, read it, and integrate Covey's concepts into your life. You'll be glad you did.

The Best Books You'll Ever Read

Still, the best books I've ever read contain the actual words spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I read His words in the New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, I'm astounded by His sensitivity, His wisdom, His generosity, His non-judgmentalism, and of course His blatant defiance of Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes. And through it all, He always deflects the praise towards Father.
"How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.
I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy word.
Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me thy judgments.
My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I erred not from thy precepts.
Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end." (Psalm 119:103-114)
And unlike the aforementioned authors, He makes an astounding promise to those who cherish His words:
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Sometimes God speaks to us through authors -- men and women with premortally-developed talents which God uses to bring about His purposes. Sometimes His words are heard and written by other mortals, which are later compiled and canonized as scripture. He also speaks words to you everyday.

Seek out His words. Cherish them. Live them.

We have no idea of the awesomeness of the blessings He holds in store for those who do.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Background Behind "The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student"


[  ] Do you enjoy studying the gospel beyond an official curriculum?

[  ] Are you sometimes caught enjoying a book on doctrine/the scriptures rather than playing video games or watching sports events?

[  ] Are you sometimes bummed that you don't know very many people to share your passion for enjoying a deeper, more profound relationship with God?

[  ] Do you sometimes think, "Wow, this is SUCH a cool doctrine! Too bad I can't share it at church!"?

[  ] OK, let's call it like it is: Do you sometimes feel like a freak or wierdo because one of your hobbies is learning about the mysteries of godliness?

If any of the above may apply to you, I invite you to read (or even better, listen to) "Well-Informed, Unquestioned Desire (aka The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student)".

Some background: I've had a few dreams which I felt could be shared on this blog. Even fewer were the dreams which were were deliberately, unmistakably intended for sharing on this blog.

"The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student" was one of those dreams.

Originally posted on Thursday, November 22, 2012, it's a story not only about me, but many of my friends -- those I already knew, those I ended up meeting, and (I suppose) more I have yet to meet.

I was tremendously blessed to have witnessed this story with my own (unconscious) eyes. Even today, my memory retains all the vividness of the dream as it did many years ago.

This post, and especially its accompanying podcast, is a very accurate retelling of my dream, down to the smallest detail and the song at the end.

I hope to it's as meaningful to you as it is to me.