One purpose of the recent shortening of Sunday meetings is to allow better focus on the sacrament and the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, taught apostle Jeffrey R. Holland.
“In addition to making time for more home-centered gospel instruction, our modified Sunday service is also to reduce the complexity of the meeting schedule in a way that properly emphasizes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as the sacred, acknowledged focal point of our weekly worship experience,” he said.
“We are to remember in as personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family.”
To allow that, Holland urged less tardiness at Sunday meetings, more reverence, dressing up and even reducing announcements from the pulpit.
“As for punctuality, a late pass will always be lovingly granted to those blessed mothers who, with children, Cheerios, and diaper bags trailing in marvelous disarray, are lucky to have made it at all,” he said. “Furthermore, there will be others who unavoidably find their ox in the mire on a Sabbath morning. However, to this latter group we say an occasional tardiness is understandable, but if the ox is in the mire every Sunday, then we strongly recommend that you sell the ox or fill the mire.”
About reducing pulpit announcements, Holland said he “cannot imagine a priest such as Zacharias — there in the ancient temple of the Lord about to participate in the one and only priestly privilege that would come to him in his entire lifetime — I just cannot picture him pausing before the altar to remind us that the pinewood derby is just six weeks away.”
He urged, “As we unite across the globe each week in what we hope is an increasingly sacred acknowledgment of Christ’s majestic atoning gift to all humankind, may we bring to the sacramental altar ‘more tears for his sorrow [and] more pain at his grief.’”
It is possible to find and hear the voice of God among all the noise of the world, said Elder David P. Homer of the Seventy.
“We live in a world with many voices seeking our attention. With all the breaking news, tweets, blogs, podcasts, and compelling advice from Alexa, Siri, and others, we can find it difficult to know which voices to trust,” he said. “It is vital that we listen to the right ones.”
God has made it possible to hear his voice, but he often speaks in different ways.
“Sometimes, he speaks to our ‘mind and in [our] heart’ in a voice that is small, yet powerful,” he said. “Other times, his impressions ‘occupy [our] mind[s]” or “press … upon [our] feelings.’ Other times, our bosom will “burn within [us].” Still other times, he fills our souls with joy, enlightens our minds, or speaks peace to our troubled hearts”
Homer said God’s voice can be found through prayer, scripture study, attending church and the temple and while engaging in faithful discussions.
“We need to decide which, among all the different voices, we will obey,” he said. “Will we follow the unreliable voices advocated by the world, or will we do the work required to allow our Father’s voice to guide us in our decisions and protect us from danger? The more diligently we seek his voice, the easier it becomes to hear.”
3: 20 p.m.
Blessings will come if people will feast on the scriptures, said Elder Takashi Wada of the Seventy.
“When I was young, I thought that feasting was simply having a big meal with rice, sushi and soy sauce,” he said. “I believe when we feast upon the words of Christ, we ought to be thinking of the same kind of experience. Feasting upon the scriptures is not just reading them. It should bring us real joy and build our relationship with the Savior.”
He listed three blessings that come from such feasting: It will boost spiritual capacity to receive revelation; it will overcome lack of self-esteem by helping “us know who we really are and give us strength beyond our own”; and it will allow believers to lift others.
“The words of Christ will profoundly touch hearts and open the eyes of those who do not yet see him,” Wada said. “Feasting upon the words of Christ will bring life-sustaining revelation, reaffirm our true identity and worth before God as his child, and lead our friends unto Christ and everlasting life.”
Observing a world of diverse individual beliefs, apostle Neil L. Andersen declared unequivocally that “there are some things that are completely and absolutely true. These eternal truths are the same for every son and daughter of God.”
The gospel “teaches us that it does not matter if we are rich or poor, prominent or unknown, sophisticated or simple,” Andersen said. “Rather, our mortal quest is to strengthen our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, to choose good over evil, and to keep his commandments. While we celebrate the innovations of science and medicine, the truths of God go far beyond these discoveries.”
Notions of identity and morality have changed over time, he said.
“During my teenage and early married years, many in the world walked away from the Lord’s standard we call the law of chastity, that sexual relations are to occur only between a man and a woman who are lawfully married,” said Andersen, who is 67. “In my 20s and 30s, many walked away from the sacred protection of the unborn, as abortion became more acceptable.”
In more recent years, he said, “many have walked away from God’s law that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.”
The Utah-based faith teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin but acting on it is. The church opposes same-sex marriage, and treats LGBTQ marriage as a “serious transgression.”
Andersen told of a gay friend, who has been “true to his temple covenants” that require celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage.
The man has “expanded his creative and professional talents and has served nobly in both the church and the community,” the apostle said, and sympathizes with other gays who choose not to “keep the law of chastity in the world in which we live.”
But the man reiterated that “God’s standards are different from those of the world.”
Some, Andersen said, will say that the apostle doesn’t understand their situations.
“I may not, but I testify that there is one who does understand,” he said, “...one who, because of his sacrifice made in the garden and on the cross, knows your burdens.”
Beyond logical reasoning, God also teaches his children through inspiration of the Holy Ghost, said Elder Matthias Held of the Seventy.
“If we rely only on our rational mind and deny or neglect the spiritual understanding we can receive through the whisperings and impressions of the Holy Ghost," he said, “it is as if we are going through life with only one eye.”
Held said while people can see with only one physical eye, the second eye provides another perspective and allows the brain to perceive images in three dimensions. He said the same occurs when people combine physical and spiritual capacities to learn.
The Colombian native learned that lesson as he investigated the church 31 years ago while living in Germany. He rationally saw many fruits the church offered. “However, we still could not decide to be baptized because we wanted to know everything before doing so.”
Finally, a passage from the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, “entered our hearts and souls, and we suddenly felt and knew that there was really no reason not to be baptized. ... We learned that, in addition to our rational minds, another dimension to gaining knowledge can give us guidance and understanding. It is the still and soft voice of his Holy Spirt speaking to our hears and also to our minds.”
With all the big changes in the church in the past 18 months, some of the spiritual purposes behind them “might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves,” said M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The best ways for us to see the spiritual purposes of the church," he said, “is to live the true, pure and simple teachings of Christ and also apply the Savior’s two great commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'”
The 90-year-old apostle, second in line after Dallin H. Oaks to assume the faith’s reins, listed some spiritual purposes, for example, behind the recent change to shorten regular Sunday meeting from three hours to two.
“The Sabbath day adjustments that emphasize home-centered, church-supported gospel learning and studying are an opportunity to renew our spirit and our devotion to God within the walls of our homes,” Ballard said. “What could possibly be more simple, basic and profound?”
He also said recently eliminating the old home and visiting teaching programs for a new style of ministering to neighbors brings higher possibilities.
“Effective ministering is best viewed through the focused lens of loving God and loving our neighbors,” he said. “Simply stated, we minister because we love our Heavenly Father and his children. Our ministering efforts will be more successful if we keep our ministering simple.”
He urged members to “do the best you can do day after day, and before you know it, you will come to realize that your Heavenly Father knows you and that he loves you. And when you know that — really know it — your life will have real purpose and meaning, and you will be filled with joy and peace.”
Ballard also said he is impressed at how [94-year-old] President Russell M. Nelson’s breathtaking pace. “I say ‘breathtaking’ because he’s the only one of the apostles who is older than me, and I am having a difficult time keeping up with him!”
Among the new area Seventies announced by the church Saturday was a familiar name for football fans: Vai Sikahema.
After playing for Brigham Young University, he became the first Tongan ever to play in the National Football League. He played running back and kickoff returner in the league from 1986 to 1993.
He was drafted by the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals, and also played for the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Later, he became the sports director for WCAU-TV in Philadelphia.
Henry J. Eyring, president of Brigham Young University-Idaho and a son of President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, also was named an area Seventy.
Ten new general authority Seventies were named, including Peter M. Johnson, an African American born in New York, Benjamin M. Z. Tai, who was born in Hong Kong, and four leaders who were born in Latin America.
The faith’s other top leaders won “sustaining” votes from the members assembled in the Conference Center. Unlike in recent conferences, no audible “no” votes were cast.
Building faith in Jesus Christ is the key to reversing the spiritual decline in families and homes, said President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency.
“Faith is more likely to bring repentance," he said, “than your preaching against each symptom of spiritual decline.”
Helping family members to grow in faith that Christ lives and is their loving redeemer will help them feel a desire to repent.
“As they do, humility will begin to replace pride. As they begin to feel what the Lord has given them, they will want to share more generously,” Eyring said. “Rivalry for prominence or recognition will diminish. Hate will be driven out by love.”
Ways to build that faith include praying with love, teaching how to repent early, cultivating a missionary spirit to share the gospel and visiting temples.
“You will best lead by example. Family members and others must see you growing in your own faith in Jesus Christ and in his gospel,” Eyring said. “Contention, pride and sin have to be kept at bay. The pure love of Christ must come into the hearts of those in our family.”
Eyring said he once told an apostle that he feared his family may not be together in the next world because of poor choices by some. The apostle told him, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the Celestial Kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”
He added, “I believe that he would extend that happy hope to any of us in mortality who have done all we can to qualify ourselves and our family members for eternal life. I know that Heavenly Father’s plan is a plan of happiness.”
No one is too far gone for the Savior’s loving reach, taught Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the church’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.
He told how his brother, who had not regularly attended church for almost 50 years, was lovingly cared for by members as he developed pancreatic cancer. Treatment eventually brought him to Utah, where the mission leader of the care facility where the brother lived became his friend.
After invitations, Waddell’s brother listened to gospel messages. Plans were eventually made to ordain him to the church’s all-male Melchizedek Priesthood. On the scheduled day, visitors were told the brother had no pulse, but he awakened to say he was ready to be ordained.
“Five hours later, Mike passed away, crossing the veil to meet our parents as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” Waddell said. “Like my brother Mike, no one is too far gone, and it’s never too late, for the Savior’s loving reach.”
He urged Latter-day Saints to minister to individuals as Christ did.
“It isn’t necessary for someone to be suffering from a life-threatening disease to be in need of ministering service,” he said. “Those needs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and conditions. A single parent, a less active couple, a struggling teen, an overwhelmed mother, a trial of faith, financial, health, or marriage issues — the list is almost endless.”
Waddell noted that a former mission president used to tell his young proselytizers that “if someone is on a list that says ‘not interested’, don’t give up. People change.”
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf began his sermon by mentioning his recent participation in the dedication of the church’s Rome Temple, and how the Utah-based faith has become a global religion.
Before members become too self-congratulatory, the charismatic German said, they should remember that there are 7½ billion people in the world but 16 million Latter-day Saints.
“A very small flock indeed,” Uchtdorf said.
That means that, wherever members are, “there are plenty of opportunities to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with people you meet, study, and live with, or work and socialize with.”
However, he said, not every Latter-day Saint feels comfortable doing overt proselytizing. So Uchtdorf, who supervises the faith’s missionary department, offered "five guilt-free things anyone can do to participate in the Savior’s great commission to help gather Israel.”
Draw close to God.
Fill your heart with love for others.
Strive to walk the path of discipleship.
Share what is in your heart.
Trust the Lord to work his miracles.
He suggested that members “see everyone around you as a child of God. ... Laugh with them. Rejoice with them. Weep with them. Respect them. Heal, lift and strengthen them.”
Uchtdorf instructed believers not to give up as they try to follow in Christ’s footsteps, sometimes taking “two steps forward and one step back.”
“Keep trying to get it right,” he said. “You will eventually become better, happier and more authentic.”
Whatever ways “seem natural and normal to you, share with people why Jesus Christ and his church are important to you,” Uchtdorf concluded. “Understand that it’s not your job to convert people. That is the role of the Holy Ghost. Your role is to share what is in your heart and live consistent with your beliefs.”
God sometimes answers prayers in unexpected ways, but that is for our good, Elder Brook P. Hales of the Seventy taught.
“[Heavenly] Father is aware of us, knows our needs and will help us perfectly,” the general authority said. “Sometimes our most earnest and worthy desires are not answered in the way we hope, but we find that God has greater blessings in store. And, sometimes, our righteous desires are not granted in this life.”
For example, Hales said his youngest son received an overcoat just before he departed for a mission in France and packed it without trying it on. It was far too small for him — but happened to fit another missionary who had been praying to somehow get a new and better coat.
“Heavenly Father knew," Hales said, “that this missionary who was serving in France some 6,200 miles away from home would urgently need a new coat.”
He noted that Joseph in the Bible was sold into slavery, but that led to him eventually being able to save his family from starvation.
Hales, who serves as secretary to the faith’s governing First Presidency, also quoted how Patricia Parkinson, a Latter-day Saint who became blind as a young girl, responded to someone who suggested she could receive her sight again if she prayed for it.
“Well, sometimes Heavenly Father doesn’t work like that. Sometimes he needs you to learn something and so he doesn’t give you everything you want. Sometimes you have to wait.”
Becky Craven, second counselor in Young Women general presidency, spelled out two ways of following Latter-day Saint behavioral standards — which she described as “careful or casual.”
“As we consider our commitment to the Savior, are we careful or casual?” Craven asked the throngs listening in the Conference Center or watching from a chapel or at home. “Being careful in living the gospel does not necessarily mean being formal or stuffy. What is does mean is being appropriate in our thoughts and behavior as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Craven, the only female speaker at Saturday’s sessions, urged believers not to “lower your standards to fit in or to make someone else feel comfortable. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and as such we are about elevating others, lifting them to a higher, holier place where they, too, can reap greater blessings.”
Latter-day Saints are “not meant to blend in with the rest of the world,” Craven said. “We have been called a peculiar people — what a compliment!”
The Young Woman leader acknowledged that the only perfect man was Jesus Christ.
“Although we may not be perfect, brothers and sisters, we can be worthy: worthy to partake of the sacrament, worthy of temple blessings and worthy to receive personal revelation,” she said, while pleading with listeners “not to be critical of others making this same journey.”
As the conference opened, Elder Ulisses Soares, the most junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged members to bless and teach others by making Jesus Christ the center of their lives.
“The best teacher is a good role model. Teaching something that we truly live can make a difference in the hearts of those we teach,” he said. “If we desire people, whether that be family or not, to joyfully treasure up the scriptures and the teachings of living apostles and prophets, they need to see our souls delighting in them.”
Soares, a native of Brazil and the faith’s first Latin American apostle, said while many church members are sad that friends or family have distanced themselves from God, those who have gone astray may be blessed through love and offering a good example.
“For those of you who are right now experiencing these feelings of sadness, agony, and maybe regret, please know that they are not totally lost because the Lord knows where they are and is watching over them. Remember, they are his children, too!”
He added, “The best we can do in these circumstances is to just love and embrace them; pray for their well-being and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!”
The apostle said the father of the prodigal son in the Bible gave an example to follow for wayward friends and family who desire to return.
“If that happens with your dear ones, fill your hearts with compassion, run to them, fall on their neck, and kiss them, like the father of the prodigal son did,” he said. God “will bless your efforts and dedication to your dear ones if not in this life, in the next life. Remember always that hope is an important part of the gospel plan.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convened its semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday for the faith’s more than 16 million members to hear instructions from their top leaders.
It comes amid many recent big changes announced by President Russell M. Nelson — including reversing just two days ago a policy that had deemed same-sex married couples “apostates” and generally barred their children from baby blessings and baptisms.
Other recent changes include lowering the ages that some male youths may be ordained to priesthood offices; reducing the length of Sunday services from three hours to two; urging use of the church’s full name; restructuring “home and visiting teaching” into “ministering”: eliminating local-congregation high priest groups; restructuring bishop youth interviews; and adjusting temple ceremonies to include more gender-inclusive language.
Nelson quipped last fall, “Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It’s going to be exciting.”
General sessions continue Saturday at 2 p.m., with an annual all-male priesthood session at 6 p.m. The conference concludes Sunday with two more general sessions, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.