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What religion can learn from science

Appetite.  That’s what seems so prevalent in the world of science and so often lacking in religion, the appetite to constantly learn more, to not be satisfied with what we have, to continuously search, ponder, and strive to increase our knowledge and understanding.

It’s clearly not always the case- there are true spiritual giants among us, who set the example for the rest of us.  But by in large, it seems that more often than not, religion is often taken for granted, as though it’s a side-note to our lives.  As though it’s something that we think about on Sunday, or at Christmas and Easter, and not something that constantly occupies our minds, as we yearn for more.

But the world of science is constantly asking questions, trying to understand why, trying to get to the fundamental principles that lie behind the things that they observe.  They experiment, observe, take notes, draw conclusions, and then test those conclusions with more experiments. 

How often do we experiment upon the word of God?  How often do we take those experiments so seriously that we make a study of them?  How often do we strive to test our knowledge, and how unquenchable is our desire to further our understanding?

It’s so easy to let the urgent aspects of our life dominate our thoughts and monopolize our time, as the more important and everlasting side of us, that spiritual side, suffers the pains of disuse and apathy.

But we must learn, we must engage ourselves, we must seek learning, we must grow in knowledge and understanding.  Only then, will we be truly ready for the trials of life, and ready to stand firm amidst the buffetings, and the fiery darts of the adversary.  Only then shall our confidence wax strong in the presence of God, and shall the doctrines of the priesthood distill upon our souls as the dew from heaven.  Only then shall our foundation be so firm as to withstand the cunning craftiness of the adversary as he seeks to shake us from our testimony.

Joseph Smith once said “Thy mind, oh man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into, and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanses of eternity.  Thou must commune with God… None but fools will trifle with the souls of man”.

Truth is light, and if it be in you it shall abound, and if your eye be single to the Glory of god your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.  (D&C 88:67)  What a glorious promise. 

As leaders, as parents, as friends, and as individuals, let us all find ourselves a bit more engrossed in the gospel of Christ, and a bit more anxiously engaged in our study.

Rusty

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Gratitude, the key to righteous desire

Throughout my study of the scriptures, I often find recurring themes.  One of those is the use of gratitude to instill righteous desire.

One clear instance of this within the Book of Mormon is in the opening verses of 2 Nephi.  It’s around 575 BC, and Lehi and his family had just arrived in the Promised Land.

In the preceding chapters, Nephi, who had found his two older and very rebellions brothers – Laman and Lemuel – uncharacteristically open minded, had therefore been teaching them from the Book of Moses, and expounding upon the doctrine of Isaiah. 

Once he had finished, his father Lehi then wanted to speak to them.  I find it interesting to see the approach of this prophet as he endeavored to instill upon his sons some righteous desire.

If you read the first several verses (here), you’ll find that he simply lists out all the multitude of blessings they’d received.   He mentions how they were spared in spite of their rebellion on their trip over the sea, their obtaining a Promised Land, their being saved from the destruction of Jerusalem, etc.  And then he goes on to prophesy great things about America.

Additionally, within the scriptures, we often see this principle in action with those who have recently had poignant experiences with the spirit, personal manifestations, visions, etc. and who are subsequently filled with gratitude which leads to profound desire to do the works of righteousness.

When you recognize the hand of the Lord in your life, and you realize how much you’ve been given, the natural response is loyalty and the desire to do better, to “pay back”.  Corporations use this all the time to build employee loyalty.  Good leaders in any organization know how to leverage this principle in macro and micro scales.

So what is the practical application of this principle?

First, it speaks of the importance of recommitting ourselves to acknowledging the Lord in our lives.  If you want to ensure that you start each day with a healthy dose of righteous desire, try making a habit of counting your blessings.  Just try it, it really works.  Tomorrow on your drive to work, turn off the radio and just try thinking of all that you’ve been given.  Let your mind sweep through all aspects of your life, large and small.  You’ll find yourself amazed at what it does to you.

Secondly, this principle can be put to use by any leader, whether you lead a team, a corporation, or a family.  There are those within your sphere of influence that you can have a legitimate impact on simply by helping them appreciate the hand of the Lord in their lives.  Help them count their blessings.

Be the one to help them feel gratitude to the Lord, and you’ll be an instrument for righteousness in His hands, and you’ll find that all of you were enormously enriched by the endeavor.

Rusty

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An eternal perspective – what role will you play?

We are encompassed about by things of no eternal consequence, but which ceaselessly fill our lives, occupy our thoughts, and consume our time… the vain aspirations of man and the constant ongoing minutia of daily life.

While all around us wages a war.  A war that is extended from before the foundations of this world;  a war over the souls of the children of men.

A battle, the individual results of which will determine the fates beings all, whether it is to their everlasting salvation unto eternal progression, or unto eternal damnation.

Surely we must live, and the demands of daily life must be met, but we must also bring ourselves to see that behind all these frivolities lays a far greater purpose, one with everlasting ramifications. 

We must be able to look through this husk of mortal life and witness the kernels of eternity, the potential that lies within the souls of the children of God.

Too much is at stake for us to take our task lightly. 

You must pause, witness the world around you, and ask yourself, what role you will play.

Will you be one who stands up to make a difference?  Will you be one who puts on the armor of god in defense of the truth, to battle the adversary despite the cost?  Or will you sit idly by and let the cards fall where they may?

What role will you play? 

May we rise together, and may we find each other on the side of truth, anxiously engaged in this great eternal battle, for none but fools will trifle with the souls of men.

Rusty

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So many Mormon blogs

Today as I was looking through the recent search phrases people used to find my site, I found the following, which made me chuckle.

“Is having a blog a Mormon thing?”

I can answer that.  The fact is that it didn’t used to be.  But recently an apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a speech, an excerpt of which was later published in one of our official church magazines “The Ensign”, wherein he made the suggestion that those who are able, should start engaging in new media, speaking up about Mormonism, and adding their voice to the growing online conversation.

“We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the church teaches.  While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.”   (See the full article here).

See, Mormons believe in same structure that existed in Christ’s Primitive church, including living prophets and apostles (I explain more here).  These men have been called of God, just as in times of old, and as such, receive ongoing revelation and instruction from the Lord.  They, in turn (and just as in times of old), then endeavor to instruct, counsel, and advise the church.  We take their counsel to be of divine origin, which is to say we take it very seriously (or should).

So, to stumble upon someone out there who has made the astute observation that there sure are a lot of Mormon blogs sprouting up is just plain awesome.  We belong to a church led by inspiration and revelation, and we work together to prepare the way for the coming of Christ.

Something tells me that the momentum of Mormon’s blogging is just getting started.

Rusty

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How often do you feel the spirit?

I’m a big fan of measurement.  I think that unless you frequently measure those things in your life that matter most to you, then you’re achieving less than you could.  Simply the act of measuring brings you to consciousness, wakes you up, and makes you refocus.  Measurement brings clarity, perspective, and awareness to life.

In business there are proven techniques and formulas you can use that return hard and fast numbers that give you an accurate idea of how you’re performing.

But many find measuring their spiritual progress far more difficult. 

Ones level of spirituality, after all, is far more ambiguous, and can be difficult to measure.  What’s more, it’s difficult to apply the same formulas across multiple people, for our lives are very, very different.  But the inherent difficulty does not lessen its importance, and I propose that there are a few common techniques anyone can use to gauge their spiritual progress.

One of the most compelling, in my opinion, is in the answer to the simple question “How often do you feel the spirit”.

The frequency with which we encounter the spirit in our daily lives is directly proportional to the level of spirituality of our lives.  If our appetites are spiritual, if our pursuits are spiritual, then so too will our lives be filled with the spirit.  As your eye becomes single to god, your whole bodies are filled with light.  But that internal brightening happens by degrees, and those degrees are measurable by the instances of the spirit in our lives, as he confirms our actions.

I believe that a very healthy endeavor is to keep a simple calendar.  Perhaps it’s on your phone, or next to your bed, or on the wall, as long as it’s somewhere accessible, and every time you KNOW you feel the spirit, make a special mark on the calendar.

At the end of the month, tally up how many marks are on your calendar.  Now track this for several months running.  If you find that there are constantly diminishing number of marks on your calendar, you’re headed in the wrong direction.  If they’re the same, you’re stagnant.  We want to show more marks month after month.  But more importantly, we want to see more marks year over year.

What you really want to see is dramatic increases in encounters with the spirit this month, over the same month last year.

If that’s a lot, how about measuring only one month in three, or four months a year?

Initially, it may be hard to distinguish the spirit from other emotions.  Generally, the less you feel the spirit the harder it is to recognize.  But as I stated above, simply by measuring, you become more self-aware, you refocus, you wake up.  Simply by measuring you’ll do better at taking note, and those instances will become more meaningful, rather than lost in the rush of the day.  Then, over time, you’ll become more finely tuned to those encounters, and they will begin to play a larger role in shaping your daily life.

What’s more, feeling the spirit is a self-perpetuating cycle.  The more you feel the spirit, the more sensitive you become, the more tuned you become, and the more you’re likely to have such encounters.  So if you really want to know how well you’re doing, or if you’re improving and progressing.  Try keeping a calendar.

My hope is that we all might more proactively pursue a regularly realized relationship with the Holy Ghost.

Rusty

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Picking the lock of salvation

For those of you who weren’t aware, last week was the national HOPE conference in New York.  No, this isn’t a self-help conference teaching us how to increase our capacity to hope (I wish it were).  Rather, it’s a gathering of some of the most talented and well-known hackers around the planet.  HOPE stands for “Hackers on Planet Earth”.

At every HOPE conference there’s a popular area called “Lockpicking Village” where they discuss all the latest lock picking techniques. 

Reflecting on the whole thing, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to those who somehow think they can “slide” into heaven, somehow opening the “doors” of heaven without actually going through the mandatory prerequisite steps. 

A lock is made of tumblers in a tube, each of which must be in the correct place before the lock will turn.  Inserting just the right key will put those tumblers in their required positions, but inserting any other key, or a partial key, will only place a few of the tumblers, if any, in the necessary position, and no matter how hard you twist, or how long you wait, the lock simply won’t turn and the door simply won’t open.

So many religions teach the doctrine that man needs to do little, if anything, for salvation.  In fact, often they teach that it’s as simple as accepting Christ, or being baptized.  But first, baptism must be done by one holding the proper authority, but even then, that is only one of the tumblers in the lock.  There is more we must do.  Baptism and faith alone are insufficient for our exaltation; they’re only part of the lock.  Religions that teach such doctrine, therefore cannot adequately equip you to enter into the kingdom of God. 

The proof is in scripture itself, for we will, as Revelation 20:12-15 states, be “judged… according to their works”.

While the sacrifice of our Savior put the gate on the barrier, making entrance possible, it does not make entrance sure.  The surety of our salvation can only be gained by approaching that day armed with the right key, the one that satisfies the demands of all the tumblers in the gate, baptism by authority being one of them.

While this doctrine is far from traditional, it is prevalently backed by scripture.  And while critics are quick to protest, it is not the burden of Mormonism to back this claim, but the burden of anyone believing contrary to come up with a suitable explanation for each of the scriptures which clearly state otherwise (and which I list in detail here – a post that has gone almost entirely unchallenged).

But the miracle of Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that through Joseph Smith, the great latter-day prophet, the gospel of Christ was restored to the earth in its fullness along with all the keys, authority, ordinances and covenants necessary for us to do all we must do to enter the kingdom of our Father.

I invite you to learn more about this prophet Joseph Smith (here), partake for yourself in the miracle of Mormonism, and experience the rich blessings that come from understanding and living the fullness of the gospel.

Rusty

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Having a hard time feeling the spirit?

As I mentioned here (How often do you feel the spirit?), the frequency with which we feel the spirit can be an accurate measure of our spiritual “status” and regular measurement can help give us an idea of our spiritual progression over time.

But sometimes recognizing the spirit can be difficult.  Many struggle to obtain even a single, clear encounter.  The good news is that there are indeed specific things we can do to introduce the spirit more fully into our lives.  What’s more, these things are helpful to not only begin feeling the spirit, but are applicable by all to increase the regularity with which they feel the Holy Ghost.

The following are what I consider the building blocks of leading a spirit-rich life:

  • Sincere, heartfelt prayer
  • Earnest and thorough scripture study
  • Fasting
  • Wholehearted church attendance
  • Righteous living
  • Service

There is a healthy list that extends far beyond this, in terms of activities that effectively bring the spirit into our lives, but these seem the most fundamental.

Yes, they’re simple.  They’re straightforward.  And in that, they’re deceiving.  The bible tells of an instance where the Israelites were being afflicted by poisonous serpents, and Moses crafted a brass serpent and put it on a pole, and told them that whoever looked upon the staff would be saved.  But many perished because of the simplicity of the task, for they expected something more.

When the mighty Naaman, general and commander of the army of Aram suffered from leprosy, he went to see the prophet Elisha, who told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan.  But Naaman, expecting something far more complicated, left in anger.  Later, changing his heart, he obeyed the prophet and was healed.

Often we find that such small endeavors create the foundation upon which even the most mighty things can be accomplished.   For by small and simple means are great things brought to pass (Alma 37:6). 

But they must be done with full purpose of heart, with real intent, and not just going through the motions.  For he that does so in the wrong spirit, shall not reap the same rewards.

But I believe, that if you kept a calendar, and on that calendar you made a mark for every instance in which you did one of these simple things, with real intent, that over time, you’d find this number directly proportional to how often you felt the spirit that month.  And that over time, you’d look back an see that the months you invested the most effort, were the months you reaped the greatest reward – not just in the prevalence of the spirit in your life, but in other aspects of your life as well.

But I challenge you to put my words to the test.  Keep a calendar for yourself and see if you can’t prove me wrong.  See for yourself, the great good that is brought to your life, by true devotion to these most basic and foundational actions.  And may you find as much enrichment from them as I do.

Rusty

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Michael Phelps – Making your dreams come true

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/michael-phelps-making-dreams-come-true/

A quest for spiritual knowledge

Lehi’s landmark vision of the Tree of Life is one of the most well known revelations from the Book of Mormon.  It’s a beautiful depiction of life, and embodies numerous eternal principles with profound depth.  One of which is the importance of pursuing spiritual knowledge.

The Tree of Life, a synopsis:

Since many of my readers are new to the Book of Mormon, here’s a brief synopsis of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life.

In it, the prophet Lehi finds himself in a “dark and dreary wilderness”.  He travels for a time, and upon praying for assistance, beholds a large and spacious field, on the other side of which, stands a tree, whose fruit was exceedingly white, sweet beyond all other fruit, and caused his soul to be filled with exceedingly great joy.

Compelled to share this joy, he looks up to find his family, and notices the rest of his surroundings.

He sees a river of water, and next to it, a rod of iron with a “strait and narrow path” leading along the bank of the river, so as to protect one who held onto it from falling prey to the current and being swept away.

This path led through the great and spacious field, wherein “numerous concourses of people” were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path, which led to the tree. But in the field, there arose a mist of darkness, so that those who would not cling to the rod of iron, would lose their way, some drowning in the depths of the river, and others becoming lost along forbidden paths.

He spoke also of a great and spacious building on the other side of the river, which seemed, as it were, to float in the air, and in which there were many people who were pointing their fingers at, and mocking those who were partaking of the fruit. There were many who partook of the fruit of the tree, and feeling ashamed, left in search of the building, and were lost. After a time, the building, which lacked a foundation, fell to the earth, causing the destruction of all who were within.

The tree of Life, an interpretation:

Upon hearing his father speak of his vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi, a soon-to-be prophet, sought the Lord for understanding. He too was then given the same vision, but in expanded form, complete with interpretation of its symbolic meaning.

To Nephi it was revealed that the Tree of Life, and the fruit thereon was representative of the Love of God, which fills the soul with joy. The Rod of Iron was the word of god, the great and spacious field was the world, and the great and spacious building was the pride of the world.

The pursuit of spiritual knowledge

Amongst the many lessons taught in this vision, one of those that stands strongest for me is that of the rod of iron. Often within the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints (the Mormons), the phrase “hold to the rod” has become cliché. It has sort of come to represent the vague notion of righteous living, our need to “choose the right”.

But while these too are good, the specific, inspired translation of that symbol, as revealed to the prophet Nephi, is that the rod of iron, that thing to which we are to “cling” is specifically… the “word of God”. And cling to it we must.

There’s nothing casual about the word cling. It is defined as “to hold tightly, to grasp or embrace, to cleave”. It is an active word that depicts active behavior.

It’s no mystery where we can FIND the word of God. It is to be had in abundance, in the scriptures, in inspired teachings by the prophets today as well as in times past. And it is to be had by direct revelation to you, as an individual, according to your faith and effort.

In the chapter preceding Nephi’s vision of interpretation, he comments:

“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father… was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever… For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost…” (1 Nephi 10:17-19)

Here Nephi communicates the primary ingredient for receiving revelation: diligent seeking. This is how we cling to the word of God. By diligently seeking it. We must become singularly focused on obtaining, understanding, and internalizing the word of God.

We are told through modern revelation to do “all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19). And what is the Glory of God? “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36).

The prophet Joseph said “No man can be saved in ignorance”. We must therefore reflect upon the urgency with which we search the scriptures, seek divine revelation, and work to obtain the word of God. For this is how we cling to the iron rod, this is how we obtain the fruit of the tree… the Love of God, this is how we plunge through the mists of darkness (confusion of the world and the adversary).

Only by clinging to the word of God can we obtain the tree. As the angel told Nephi of the Great and Spacious building “behold the wisdom of the world”. Great was the fall thereof, for it was founded upon the pride of men. But our foundations must be built upon the solid ground of true doctrine, entrenched in the fertile soul of divine revelation, from which eternal lives may grow.

So cling to the rod, and begin your own quest for spiritual knowledge, that the fruit of the tree, or the love of God, will be yours.

Rusty

Ask a Mormon a Question

As I posted here “Researching Mormonism – a Lutheran Bishop’s advice“, Krister Stendahl gives us three rules for examining another religion.  The first and foremost rule is that when you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion, and not its enemies.

His words inspired me to create this page – allowing you to ask me any question you might, so that you can hear an answer directly from a Mormon.

As you’ll see by the disclaimer at the top of my blog, everything I say is simply my opinion and interpretation of doctrine, for official doctrine you can visit www.lds.org.  But, I will give you my honest opinions, and I will base them on scripture and doctrine to the best of my ability.

If I don’t know the answer to your question, then I’ll endeavor to get you an answer. 

Since I intend to keep this present at all times, I’ve created an “Ask a Mormon” page (click here).  All you have to do is type in your question in the comments at the bottom of the page.  I don’t moderate them.  If the question seems genuine, I’ll answer it in a dedicated post.  If it’s not genuine, or if your purpose seems to simply be to argue, disrupt, or be disrespectful, don’t bother – I’ll delete it and move on.

But if you’re someone who genuinely wants to know what Mormons believe about something, just ask.  But don’t ask here – go to the page.  Please reserve comments on this post to the endeavor as a whole, and not for specific questions.

Thanks,
Rusty

Little Lin Hao – a survivor, hero, and example

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/little-lin-hao-a-survivor-hero-and-example/

Two changes in my life – Leaving WordPress

Leaving WordPress – Moving to TypePad

Speaking of change, my experience on Wednesday encouraged me to make some changes I’ve been avoiding. 

One of those is to move my Blog from WordPress to TypePad.  WordPress has been great, it’s free (after all), and very stable.  Unfortunately, WordPress.com is just not robust enough for me to do the kinds of things I want to do.  I have a programming and animation background, but have been unable to use any of those skills on my blog because WordPress prohibits them.

TypePad, while it’ll cost me on a monthly basis to get these features, offers far more flexibility.  The end result will be a far more robust and interactive experience for my visitors.  I’ll be able to start building far more dynamic and engaging content, including interactive flash movies (like my upcoming flash-based presentation of the Plan of Salvation), polls, and lots more.

First Mormon blog in Chinese

What’s more, as I mentioned here (blogging in Chinese), I’ve decided to launch a Chinese arm of my blog, and had given myself 6 months to learn to write Chinese to get started.  I realized I was being lazy and selfish, and of little faith.  Who am I to procrastinate teaching the gospel of Christ because of a mere language challenge.  If I have faith, and my cause is righteous, then the Lord will provide me ample support right now.  If faith can part the Red Sea, move a mountain, and raise the dead, then I think it’s likely able to help me write Chinese.

So, I’m going to abandon my prior deadline, and start immediately.  Moving to TypePad will enable me to do that.

Downtime?

I hope that the change will be entirely transparent to you, but if you happen to hit the site and have nothing come up, don’t worry, I’m not dead, just moving (so to speak).

Now, what is there in your life that you’d like to change?

Rusty

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There must be opposition in all things.

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/there-must-be-opposition-in-all-things