It should be celebrated.

Global Religious Trends (Are we less religious)

On Friday, I posted about an article I found that suggested that intelligent people are less likely to believe in God.  With all the comments I received, it got me wondering about religious trends in general.  While none of this is conclusive, it is, however, interesting.

Using Google’s search trends analyzer, I found that search trends for religious words were generally down accross the board.  In other words, fewer people are searching on these words today than there were in 2004 (as far back as these trends go).  What’s more, all this in the context of an ever-increasing trend toward online usage.  In short far more people are online today than in 2004, usage and familiarity with search engines has climbed in that time, broadband and internet access in general has increased, yet fewer people are searching on religious terms.

Here’s what I found (more below the charts)…

Search traffic for the term “Christian

For the term “Christianity

For the term “Religion

For the term “God

For the term “Mormon

Searches for the term Faith, Church, Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, and LDS were all down in general as well, some more than others (clearly there are myriad other search terms to look at – feel free to pick your own and peruse at will at http://trends.google.com).

Could this indicate a reduced global interest in religion in general?  Could it be another sign that as society evolves intellectually and scientifically, they push God away in general – trusting more in themselves and their own knowledge?

One possible alternative explination, is that churches in general have been slow to embrace the new medium and build up a suitable online offering.  In short, if pickin’s are slim, and search results find little of value, people will stop searching.  But is that just the optimist in me?  What do you think this means?

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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Our power to overcome

This post is part of an ongoing series “What’s in the Book of Mormon”, to provide a taste of this sacred record. It is not meant to be a substitute for reading the Book of Mormon itself, however (you can get a free copy here).

1st Nephi in The Book of Mormon, contains a profound and inspirational story about mans power to overcome adversity and create his own destiny.

In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi was commanded to leave Jerusalem and depart with his family into the wilderness. There they would spend a number of years, before journeying across the ocean to the Americas.

At one point in this journey, his righteous son Nephi records that as he and his brothers went out to hunt for food, Nephi broke his bow. Because his brother’s bows had already lost their springs, this left them incapable of providing sufficient substance for their family. They began to suffer much hunger and affliction. Many began to complain against the Lord for their hardships.

During this time, Nephi did not lose faith, but rather exhorted his family to be faithful, and to trust in the Lord. But he too began to feel the weight of their affliction and hunger.

At this point, rather than allowing himself to wallow in self-pity, or complain, he decided to take action.

1 Nephi 16:23

And it came to pass that I Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myslef with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?

It sounds easy, when said simply in only so many words. But Nephi and his family had lived a privileged and prosperous life in Jerusalem, and building a bow was likely as foreign to him as it would be to you or I. It must have taken significant work and care, and all while hungry.

Because Nephi decided to take action though, he was able to go out into the forest and hunt, returning with food, which caused much rejoicing.

Often our lives are disrupted by such events. I associated with Nephi well, having recently lost my job (my “bow”, or ability to provide food, was broken). But we each have been given the ability to overcome much, if we will just remain faithful, hopeful, and optimistic, take stock of what we’ve got, and then exert ourselves in working out our own solutions.

Often the Lords help comes only as we invest of ourselves. When our power to overcome is supplemented by His power, we too can overcome the adversity of our lives.

Rusty

Swimming in the devil’s pool

The Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool at the top of Victoria Falls in southern Africa near Zimbabwe.   During most months, the water surges down the river, shoots over the edge and slams into the ground 300 feet below, sending mist all the way back up.

But from September to December the water levels decrease, making it possible to swim in the Devil’s Pool, without being washed over the edge.  You can swim up to two inches from the very edge of the pool and peer over into the chasm below.

It’s such an exhilarating experience, that many tourists go there every year, during this time, to try it.

Here are some photos to show you exactly how close you can get to the edge…

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVN9KnWy-H8]

 

 

I can only imagine what a stunning and frightening experience this must be. I think the people that do this have got to be far braver (or crazier) than I.

Still, I can’t help but consider the spiritual analogy so strikingly illustrated in these photos.  How it is that we try to get as close to the edge as we can.  Blinded by the exhilaration of the moment and overwhelmed by the emotions of the now, we convince ourselves that we’re only looking, as we ease closer and closer to the brink, and peer into the chasm below.

So I ask you, are you swimming in the devil’s pool? 

Are there aspects of your life where you may be getting too close to the edge?  Are there others in the pool with you?  Are your children too close to the edge?  Are you standing by watching someone swim in the devil’s pool, without exerting any effort to help them out?

If you’ve felt any of these questions striking too close to home, then I exhort you to step back, look hard at your surroundings, and take stock of the precarious nature of your position.  For the floodwaters can come unexpectedly, and when they do, you don’t want to be found in the devil’s pool.

Please, get out now.

Rusty

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The approach of fall – hints of change

The first leaves of fall on my driveway.

The first leaves of fall on my driveway.

Wednesday morning, I was walking out to my car to go to the gym, when suddenly I was stopped dead in my tracks.  There were leaves on the ground.  There were no leaves on the ground Tuesday night, when I went to bed, I was sure of it.  But this morning, they were all over my car, and scattered over my driveway and lawn.

I had the shocking realization that summer was dying and fall was creeping around the corner.

I don’t know what it was about that moment that struck me so, but for a short time, I was mesmerized.  I got in my car, pulled into the street, and just sat there, staring at those leaves, feeling that unmistakable feeling that always accompanies change.  It’s a feeling somewhere between unease and excitement.

At that moment I realized, how refreshing it was, the ability to experience change.

Whether it’s the simplicity of the inevitable change of the season, or the unavoidable turn’s life brings our way, or the far more substantial capacity for us to elicit change within ourselves.

Change is beautiful, it brings variety, it sharpens the senses, increases awareness, builds character, creates memories, and more than anything, the changes we are empowered to make within ourselves carries the distinct flavor of divinity.  The power to enact change.  The power to influence, ourselves or others.

 This week, I have felt grateful for change.  As challenging as it sometimes is, may we embrace it and leverage it to propel us to even greater heights.

Rusty

Bernanke sees recession – I know how to fix it

 [NOTE:  I did this post in a hurry, but it’s gotten so much traffic I decided to refine it a bit – you’re welcome to read it, but you may prefer the updated one you’ll find here.]

 How do you fix it?  Repent.

We have all kinds of “economic indicators” today:  Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment, consumer sentiment, S&P 500 stock index, housing starts, etc., the list goes on and on.

But I propose a new indicator, and one far surer to accurately predict the state of our economy.  I call it the National Spirituality Index (NSI for short).

Whether you believe in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon (or most any other holy writ), then you’ve got ample evidence to show that when economies (and societies) start to crumble, wickedness is to blame. 

Wickedness begets tribulations; tribulations increase humility and ultimately an acknowledged reliance on the Lord.  When this happens, people repent and forsake their sins, turn to God, and pray for help.  And when enough people do just that, then things start to change.

So we’ve all got to repent – everybody.  It’s easy for us to always think “I’m not the problem”, but we’ve all got our favorite sins, those weaknesses we cling to and hate to give up on.  Some are obviously more serious than others, but they all equate to an overall depression in the sum-total of our National Spirituality Index.

What’s more, as individuals begin to increase their own spirituality (call it your Personal Spirituality Index – PSI for short), then they have a positive impact on those around them (the spiritual equivalent of gravity, which I discuss here).  Soon you get these islands of expanding righteousness, and pockets of perpetuating virtue.

But it doesn’t start with the whole; it starts with the individual – with you and me.

When we start to hear about record numbers of foreclosures, staggering oil prices, plummeting consumer confidence, severely depressed housing starts, continuously rising unemployment, surging inflation, drastically reduced home sales, large banks like Bear Stearns hitting rock bottom, or any other news of a depressed economy, you’re simply seeing the effects of the ACTUAL leading indicator – our National Spirituality Metric.  And instead of casting blame, and hoping the FED will help, we should be looking at ourselves, and praying to God for help.

Nothing against the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke but I’ll put my trust in the Lord.  I hope you do too.

Rusty

Staying in tune

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/staying-in-tune

Faith Fitness – day 2 (Optimism)

This post is part of a series called Faith Fitness – increasing our capacity to believe.  Don’t forget to see the intro, part 1 (Testimony), part 2 (Optimism), and part 3 (Hope).

Thanks for joining me again.  I hope that your finding yourself invigorated by your newfound appreciation for your divine worth.  You are magnificent, and incomprehensibly capable of achieving anything.

Now you’re ready to move on to step two – building up just a little more momentum.  The second exercise in building your capacity to believe and exercise faith is all about optimism.

First, let’s discuss the principle upon which this exercise is based.

Faith and pessimism are antithetical.  You cannot simultaneously be pessimistic and faithful.  The perniciousness of pessimism cripples your ability to hope (a crucial component for active faith), and fills you with a spirit of negativity.

Many people believe that the optimistic can be too much so, forcing them to be unrealistic.  But we need to watch ourselves, for faith is not based on reality, but our hope for things which are not seen.

When Peter sought to walk on water, as long as his eyes focused on Christ he maintained his belief that what he was doing was possible.  But when he cast his eyes toward the waves and the depth of the ocean beneath him – what he saw was reality.  What we perceive as reality blinds us to what CAN be.  And because reality told him that standing on water was not possible, pessimism and doubt shattered his foothold of faith, and he started sinking.

But optimism forces us to look beyond “reality”, and not in an ignorant, self-disillusioned manner.  While our physical eyes are trained to see “reality”, or what things ARE, optimism is the lens that lets us see what CAN be.

With optimism we see the bright side of things; we see the good in all that surrounds.  I testify that as you begin to perfect the practice of optimistic living, your world will become brighter.  You’ll be lifted up to the view of a vista that is abounding in opportunity, flush with goodness, dripping with wonder, and that perspective will change your life forever.

Optimism is empowering, for it lets you see the world as it could be.  And as the clarity of that vision begins to replace the dull reality that surrounds you, you’ll find yourself capable of believing that you can make a difference.  You’ll start to see the role you can play to connect the realm of reality to the wonder of what could be.

Now, armed with the testimony of who you truly are, and looking through the lens of opportunity, you’ll be prepared to move to the next step… HOPE.  The brilliant and empowering, propelling principle of hope.

So today’s exercise, is to be optimistic.  Focus your mind on forcing out the negative cloud of pessimism, look at the world not at what it is, but what it could be.  See the silver lining.  Enjoy the wonder and glory of a much brighter world.

Rusty

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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