Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision Retold as a Single Narrative

Let Him Ask of God Kindle CoverIn honor of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, I just published a new book on the subject that combines many early accounts and weaves them into a single narrative. From the introduction of the book:

Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820 is one of the best attested visions in recorded history. In honor of the 200th anniversary of this sacred event, I’ve carefully reviewed Joseph’s primary, first-person and the contemporary, third-person accounts of this remarkable vision, the story together into a single narrative, attempting to fit the pieces together into completed puzzle.

This book is a sort of translation of historical fragments and part historical fiction, subjectively told but intended to help create a picture of what actually happened. It’s a “based on actual events” retelling that takes as little literary license as possible, though certainly some is taken. I did my best to preserve the original story with great sensitivity as I wove the parts together, seeking to favor the reader’s experience over the critic’s.

I modernized or corrected spelling, added quotation marks, altered some word order and punctuation, dropped some words and phrases in favor of clarity, and added transition words to help with the flow of the story.

I first heard the story of the First Vision from a close friend when I was 17 years old when not yet a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The moment I heard the story, I believed it with all my heart. It filled my soul with fire and set me on a lifelong path of faith and joy. I totter from time to time, but I’m still on the path.

I learned on my journey to baptism that disbelief is based on filling in blanks with assumptions. I call it “closed case” thinking. Real faith, on the other hand, is based on seeking with an open heart and mind. It is “cold case” thinking, a relentless detective’s search, never giving up, never stopping short but searching far and wide and deep for answers. (

See Steven C. Harper’s Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts, chapters 1 and 8 for an inspiring comparison of seeker versus assumer. I highly recommend his book.
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I trust you will find this retelling of the First Vision worthy of your consideration. When I meet Joseph again and he beats me soundly at stick pull, should he beat me over the head with that stick for being so audacious to publish a book like this, I’ll take my lumps and love him still.

I’ve priced it low so it’s within reach of any budget. You’ll find it on Amazon.

“The Lamb” by William Blake

John Tavener’s arrangement of “The Lamb,” a poem written by William Blake in the late 18th century, touched me deeply this Christmas season. See lyrics below. This is the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Tavener’s arrangement in 2014.

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

William Blake was an English Romantic poet and painter who lived from 1757 until 1827. This poem was first published in Songs of Innocence in 1789.

[First posted in May 2010. Thanks to Paul S. for sharing a link to a 2008 recording of King’s Choir. ]

Nephi’s Formula for Spiritual Success

Courtesy Gospel Media Library © By Intellectual Reserve, Inc.There was a critical event in the Book of Mormon that doesn’t get headlined very often. It was when Nephi was dealing with the bitterness, doubts, and scorn of his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel.

Instead of allowing his brothers to dissuade and discourage him, he took his questions to the Lord independently. And he got a crystal clear answer. It’s one of my favorite verses in the whole book. Here it is:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16.)

Hinge Points

We all have hinge points. Sometimes those points open doors, other times they close them. To me, this was Nephi’s hinge point. Maybe it was hinge point of the whole Book of Mormon epic. I mean, if Nephi had followed his brothers’ examples and become a Mr. Grumble Grump, would we even have a Book of Mormon?

Well, I suppose the Lord would call and install another, as his works cannot be frustrated (see Doctrine and Covenants 3:1,3), but Nephi would not have been in the picture. Well, maybe he would have been another bad example. The Book of Mormon has a herd of goats and Nephi could have been numbered among them.

Nephi’s Formula

Here’s my take on Nephi’s formula.

  1. He had a great desire to know and understand the mysteries and will of God.
  2. He prayed to the Lord, at the right time, for the right reasons. It seems he didn’t just say his prayers, but cried out to God in some pain and great earnestness.
  3. The Lord visited him and softened his heart so that he believed all the words of his father.

This formula works for me and you if we have the faith to apply it. That’s my experience. We don’t have to wait for someone else’s explanation. We can get an answer directly from the Lord. It takes time, patience, and repentance.

“I Will Go and Do . . .”

It was after his prayer that Nephi returned to his father’s tent and uttered these now famous words:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7).

Nephi must have had a remarkable experience to declare his faith and commitment like this. From what we can gather from the pages of 1 and 2 Nephi, that experience never left him.

Put Your Trust in Him

I have had a both good life and a difficult one. I have had lots of personal troubles—I still have plenty of them—but I’ve also had my own spiritual experiences, my own quiet triumphs. I make mistakes every day that I regret, but with all my heart, I believe these words from Alma the Younger:

I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 38:5.)

The Lord has led me out of my trials because when I take them to Him, He can help me—and He can help you. He can help everyone, no matter where they are on the trail. It takes patience and a humble heart, but God always delivers those who don’t give up on their faith in Him.

But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage. (Mosiah 7:33.)

Wow! Now that’s a promise. I like to think he will deliver us for any and all kinds of bondage: pride, deception, bad habits, bad attitudes, intellectualism, judgment, perfectionism, lust, addictions, sins new and old—He will deliver us from any and all of them, if we can manage to trust Him and act on that trust.

“Behold the Man” Free on Kindle from April 18–22, 2019

20190417 Behold the Man Kindle CoverBehold the Man: The Bible’s Story of Jesus’s Last Days Retold is free on Kindle from April 18 until April 22, 2019. Happy Easter!

Here’s what the book is about from the back cover of the paperback edition:

“The Passion of Jesus Christ is the greatest tragedy and triumph in history. I have never found anything to compare with it. This book began over three decades ago as a study of the events surrounding the Passion—the last week of the mortal life of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament.

“In 1986, I began to piece together the enormous puzzle of the Passion as told in the gospels. The testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each provide unique details about the events leading to Jesus’ death. My goal in writing this book was to: (1) identify the unique details from each of the accounts relating to the Passion; (2) to unify that material; and (3) to present it in an easy-to-read, narrative or story format.

“The source for this book is simply the Authorized King James Version of the New Testament. While completely based on scripture, I have updated the punctuation and paragraphing in the text, altered some capitalization and pronouns, and added quotation marks where appropriate. I have also added conjunctive or transitional words, without setting them off in brackets, and deleted some words, to help the flow of the narrative.”

You can download your free Kindle copy here.

Find Lasting Peace in Troubled Times

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Peace comes and goes for most of us, day to day, possibly several times a day, but there is a peace that lasts. It doesn’t go away unless we choose to go away from it. It’s a peace that “passeth all understanding” (see Philippians 4:7), a peace from God. Because we come from God, it’s not surprising that abiding peace comes from Him too.

My hope is to share a few things that have given me a peace that endures in troubled times.

You’ll probably read or hear these angelic words more than once this Christmas season:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14.)

The sentiment is familiar, but the King James rendition might not have captured the original meaning.

Consider several other translations of Luke 2:14 (emphasis mine). Let’s start with the Wycliffe Bible, translated under the direction of John Wycliffe in the late 1300s:

Glory be in the highest things to God, and in earth peace be to men of good will.

Here’s how the New International Version (1970s) renders it:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

And here’s yet another sense from The Message, Edward Peterson’s translation completed in 2002.

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

There’s a theme here: Peace will come to those who please God, to men and women of good will, on whom His favor rests.

Just before He entered the garden of Gethsemane, Christ said:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27.)

That’s not situational peace. He was about to suffer more than anyone was capable of suffering (see D&C 19:15–20), but His understanding rested on what would result from that suffering. In spite of betrayal, tribulation, or torture, in spite of what the world was saying or doing, he found a peace that was not of this world:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33.)

The religious establishment of the day could harm His body and inflict on Him unimaginable pain, but they could not take His peace.

He told us in this dispensation where to find that peace:

But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. (D&C 59:23; emphasis mine).

I love this verse about Enoch. It’s not often cited, but it describes to me one of the greatest sources of peace:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5; emphasis added).

To walk the path our Heavenly Father intends us walk,  and to remain on that path, can lead us to the testimony that our course pleases Him—a lasting source of peace. If we do our best to follow our heart and conscience, imperfect as we may be, we can have faith and not be troubled about the future.

That’s my wish for you this Christmas season: A testimony of your standing before Him, and peace of mind in this world and real hope in the world to come.

[This post was first published in Decemeber 2016.]

The Wexford Carol by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Here is a beautiful arrangement of an English carol that dates from the 16th century. Listen. I promise you’ll feel better when you do. Lyrics follow.

Good people all, this Christmastime,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belovèd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

[This post was first published in December 2016.]

A Prophet’s Example

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/pictures-of-jesus-1128833?lang=eng

I was inspired by the example of President Russel M. Nelson’s who recently studied over 2,200 scriptures about the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I want to follow that example. I’m excited to begin the adventure myself today.

After he was done reading all these verses, President Nelson said:

I have devoted much of my 92 years to learning about the Savior, but rare are the occasions when I have been able to learn as much as I did over this six-week study period. (Ibid.)

If he could learn more about Christ after serving in the Quorum of the Twelve for over 30 years, can’t I too? I’m going to give it my best.

Here are links to pages from the Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide that discuss the life and teachings of Christ.

Jesus (Bible Dictionary)
Jesus Christ (Topical Guide)
Jesus Christ, Advocate
Jesus Christ, Antemortal Existence of
Jesus Christ, Appearances, Antemortal
Jesus Christ, Appearances, Postmortal
Jesus Christ, Ascension of
Jesus Christ, Atonement through
Jesus Christ, Authority of
Jesus Christ, Baptism of
Jesus Christ, Betrayal of
Jesus Christ, Birth of
Jesus Christ, Condescension of
Jesus Christ, Creator
Jesus Christ, Crucifixion of
Jesus Christ, Davidic Descent of
Jesus Christ, Death of
Jesus Christ, Divine Sonship
Jesus Christ, Exemplar
Jesus Christ, Family of
Jesus Christ, Firstborn
Jesus Christ, Foreordained
Jesus Christ, Glory of
Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd
Jesus Christ, Head of the Church
Jesus Christ, Jehovah
Jesus Christ, Judge; Jesus Christ, King;
Jesus Christ, Lamb of God
Jesus Christ, Light of the World
Jesus Christ, Lord
Jesus Christ, Mediator
Jesus Christ, Messenger of the Covenant Jesus Christ, Messiah
Jesus Christ, Millennial Reign
Jesus Christ, Mission of
Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ, Power of
Jesus Christ, Prophecies about
Jesus Christ, Redeemer
Jesus Christ, Relationships with the Father
Jesus Christ, Resurrection
Jesus Christ, Rock
Jesus Christ, Savior
Jesus Christ, Second Comforter
Jesus Christ, Second Coming
Jesus Christ, Son of Man
Jesus Christ, Spirit of
Jesus Christ, Taking the Name of
Jesus Christ, Teaching Mode of
Jesus Christ, Temptation of
Jesus Christ, Trials of
Jesus Christ, Types of, in Anticipation
Jesus Christ, Types of, in Memory

Bonus: You can view his January 2017 devotional address, where he talked about his study of these verses, here.