The 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resumed Sunday for its two concluding sessions.
3:40 p.m. — At war with Satan
Humankind is at war with the devil for the souls of men, apostle Ronald A. Rasband said, but a “Christ-centered home” is a fortress for the kingdom of God on Earth.
“Satan knows his days are numbered and that time is growing shorter,” Rasband said. “As crafty and cunning as he is, he will not win. However, his battle for each one of our souls rages on.”
Rasband, whose remarks came near the close of this weekend’s two-day General Conference, echoed many of the previous speakers in promoting the value of a new home-centered focus for Latter-day Saint gospel study. But his remarks also stressed the threat of Satan, whom Rasband described as “a subtle snake.”
“He entices us with flattery, a promise of ease, comfort or a temporary high when we are low,” Rasband said. A testimony of the gospel, as well as family and church membership, can be a personal fortress against “the power of the evil one.”
3:25 — God’s immediate goodness
God’s time and timing are different than ours, said Kyle S. McKay of the Seventy.
Deliverance from problems and trouble may not be “immediate” to humans, McKay said, but it will come eventually.
“Patience is key,” he said. “Without it, we can neither develop nor demonstrate faith in God unto life and salvation.”
While waiting for relief, he said, divine comfort is there.
“No matter what, no matter where, in Christ and through Christ, there is always hope smiling brightly before us. Immediately before us,” he said. “Above all, God’s love is immediate. With [the Apostle] Paul, I testify that nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.’"
3:05 p.m. — ‘Secondary’ to the home
Apostle David A. Bednar focused his remarks on recent changes to the church’s Sunday School curriculum — intended to supplement home-based study and family gospel discussions — and the importance of members preparing at home to enter one of the faith’s temples and participate in the faith’s most sacred rites.
Bednar said the home is the best place for missionary training, gospel study, family history work and temple preparation, with “important, but secondary” meetings on those topics occurring in church meetinghouses.
“Our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the Master would have us become,” he said. “And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living and becoming.”
Bednar encouraged members to make use of church-produced information on the faith’s temples, while offering guidelines on how, when, and whether information on sacred ordinances can be discussed outside the temples.
Members should not disclose or describe symbols or specific promises associated with covenants received in temple ceremonies, Bednar said, but they can and should discuss, especially with their children, the basic purposes and doctrine of the principles associated with those covenants.
“A rich reservoir of resources exists in print, audio, video and other formats to help us learn about initiatory ordinances, endowments, marriages and other sealing ordinances,” Bednar said. “Information also is available about following the Savior by receiving and honoring covenants to keep the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.”
His comments come barely three months after the church changed its temple rituals to feature women more prominently and use more gender-inclusive language.
Bednar advised parents to use abundant church materials to help their children prepare for temple worship.
“Imagine,” he said, “that your son or daughter asks, ‘Someone at school told me that strange clothing is worn in the temple. Is that right?’ A short video is available on temples.churchofjesuschrist.org titled ‘Sacred Temple Clothing.’ This excellent resource explains how from ancient times men and women have embraced sacred music, different forms of prayer, symbolic religious clothing, gestures, and rituals to express their innermost feelings of devotion to God.”
Bednar said parents will be "blessed to understand and achieve in our homes the necessary balance between what is and what is not appropriate to discuss about sacred temple ordinances and covenants.”
2:50 p.m. — Good Shepherd
Gerrit W. Gong, the first Asian American apostle, explored the notion of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” and “Lamb of God.”
Those two titles and symbols “are powerfully complementary,” Gong said. “Who better to succor each precious lamb than the Good Shepherd, and who better to be our Good Shepherd than the Lamb of God?”
As shepherd, Jesus “reaches to the one and to the 90 and nine, often at the same time,” the apostle said. “As we minister, we acknowledge the 90 and nine who are steadfast and immovable, even while we yearn after the one who has strayed.”
The Savior “seeks and delivers us out of all places, from the four quarters of the earth,” Gong said. “He gathers us by holy covenant and his atoning blood.”
Jesus begged his disciples to “feed my lambs...feed my sheep.”
Shepherds must not “slumber, nor scatter or cause the sheep to go astray, nor look our own way for our own gain,” Gong said, but instead must “strengthen, heal, bind up that which is broken, bring again that which was driven away, seek that which was lost.”
Jesus Christ is “our perfect Shepherd,” the apostle declared. “Because he has laid down his life for the sheep and is now gloriously resurrected, Jesus Christ is also the perfect Lamb of God.”
2:40 p.m. — Spiritual muscles need exercise
The human body has more than 600 muscles, many of which require exercise to be in a condition to perform daily activities, said Juan Pablo Villar, a general authority Seventy. That is similar, he said, to the spiritual gifts that must be exercised to grow.
“Just as reading and learning about muscles is not enough to build muscle,” he said, “reading and learning about faith without adding actions is insufficient to build faith.”
Villar shared a personal story from his teens, when he visited his older brother who had converted to Mormonism and was serving a mission at the time.
Unfamiliar with missionary service, Villar expected to spend the day at the beach, but instead accompanied his brother and his brother’s missionary companion on their proselytizing lessons for the day.
A teary Villar said he witnessed people change as they were taught and how they “received spiritual light in their lives." He said he, too, learned even though he was never the direct recipient of his brother’s lessons.
“Looking back, I realize that my faith grew that day because my brother gave me the opportunity to put it in action,” Villar said. “I exercised it as we read from the scriptures, looked for people to teach, bore testimony, served others and so on.”
2:15 p.m. — Repentance and judgment
Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor to Nelson and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, compared mortal judgments to divine judgments.
He offered a message of hope to everyone, including “those who have lost their membership in the church by excommunication or name removal,” Oaks said. “We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance.”
In recent years, more and more Latter-day Saints have reported resigning their memberships, especially since the enactment of a November 2015 LGBTQ policy, which the church discarded last week.
As part of the gospel plan, Oaks said, “we are accountable to God and to his chosen servants, and that accountability involves both mortal and divine judgments.”
In the church, leaders seek “divine direction” as to how to judge “members or prospective members,” he said. “It is their responsibility to judge persons who are seeking to come unto Christ to receive the power of his atonement on the covenant path to eternal life.”
They must decide if a person is worthy of a recommend to attend the temple. Has a person whose name has been removed from the records of the church repented to be readmitted by baptism?
“The ultimate accountability, including the final cleansing effect of repentance,” Oaks said, “is between each of us and God.”
The Latter-day Saint apostle, next in line to lead the faith, reassured his listeners that Jesus “opens his arms to receive all men and women, on the loving conditions he has prescribed, to enjoy the greatest blessings God has for his children.”
11:40 a.m. — Exalt your family
President Russell M. Nelson spoke tenderly of his daughter, Wendy, who died three months ago of cancer at age 67.
“We miss our daughter greatly,” he told the assembled believers. “However, because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we do not worry about her. As we continue to honor our covenants with God, we live in anticipation of our being with her again. Meanwhile, we’re serving the Lord here and she is serving him there — in paradise.”
Everyone yearns to be with their loved ones after death, he said, and some “erroneously believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides a promise that all people will be with their loved ones after death.”
Not true, the Latter-day Saint leader.
“The Savior himself has made it abundantly clear that while his resurrection assures that every person who ever lived will indeed be resurrected and live forever,” Nelson said, “much more is required if we want to have the high privilege of exaltation” and living as families in the afterlife.
He weep for friends and relatives who “have chosen not to make covenants with God,” he said. “They have not received the ordinances that will exalt them with their families and bind them together forever.”
As president of Christ’s church, Nelson said, “I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the church and with you who have not yet really sought to know that the Savior’s church has been restored. Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out."
11:25 a.m. — Mercy provides a parachute
During remarks on the atonement of Jesus Christ, outgoing Sunday School General President Tad R. Callister compared sin to a person making a rash decision to jump from an airplane.
Callister said the man might flap his arms trying to fly, or promise to never jump out of a plane again, but the law of gravity knows no compassion, and makes no exceptions.
“When we sin, we are like the foolish man who jumped from the plane,” Callister said. “No matter what we do on our own, only a crash landing awaits us. We are subject to the law of justice, which, like the law of gravity, is exacting and unforgiving.”
To complete the metaphor, Callister said, the man’s friend had sensed his foolishness and placed a parachute on his back before the jump. The falling man is able to land safely, he said, despite the law of gravity being in effect.
For sin, he said, that parachute is available because Christ overcame sin and death, allowing the faithful to have faith, repent and be spiritually unharmed.
“Because the Savior performed his atonement, there is no external force or event or person — no sin or death or divorce — that can prevent us from achieving exaltation,” Callister said, “provided we keep God’s commandments.”
11:10 a.m. — Preparing for Lord’s return
Apostle D. Todd Christofferson addressed the need to get ready for Christ’s Second Coming.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is uniquely empowered and commissioned to accomplish the necessary preparations for the Lord’s Second Coming,” Christofferson said. “indeed, it was restored for that purpose.”
So what do modern-day Latter-day Saints need to do before the Christian Savior comes?
“We can prepare ourselves as a people; we can gather the Lord’s covenant people; and we can help redeem the promise of salvation ‘made to the fathers,’ our ancestors,” he said. “All of this must occur in some substantial degree before the Lord comes again.”
This last dispensation “is building steadily to its climax — Zion on earth, being joined with Zion from above at the Savior’s glorious return.,” Christofferson said. “The Savior’s return will fulfill all that his resurrection has promised for mankind. It is the ultimate assurance that all will be put right. Let us be about building up Zion to hasten that day.”
10:50 a.m. — Love is critical
The recent switch to a two-hour block of Sunday worship services and a home-based study curriculum, apostle Quentin L. Cook said, are an opportunity for Latter-day Saints to focus their missionary, family history and temple work around “love.”
“When it comes to gathering Israel,” he said, “we need to align our hearts with this kind of love and move away from feelings of mere responsibility or guilt to feelings of love and participation in the divine partnership of sharing the Savior’s message, ministry and mission with the world.”
Cook said shorter Sunday services may make it easier for members to invite family and friends to visit the church. Other changes, he said, like allowing some 11-year-old children to participate in the faith’s vicarious baptisms for the dead, have correlated with spikes in participation at many temples.
The apostle also referred to the “unique and pivotal time in history” in which members are living. The world is becoming increasingly evil, he said, but lovingly performing vicarious temple ordinances for their ancestors will strengthen youths and families.
He urged parents to limit the use of distracting media in the home, and to make sure that the media content their children encounter is wholesome, age-appropriate and consistent with a loving atmosphere.
“One adjustment that will benefit almost any family is to make the internet, social media, and television a servant instead of a distraction or, even worse, a master,” Cook said. “The war for the souls of all, but particularly children, is often in the home.”
10:40 a.m. — Lighting the darkness
Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the all-women Relief Society, discussed the ways that Jesus Christ is a light to the world.
“One of the fundamental needs we have in order to grow is to stay connected to our source of light — Jesus Christ,” Eubank said. “He is the source of our power, the light and life of the world. Without a strong connection to him, we begin to spiritually die.”
Eubank, director LDS Charities, the faith’s global humanitarian organization, acknowledged that some believers feel overwhelmed by modern life, weighed down by grief, sorrow, obligations or exhaustion. They feel unaccepted, unworthy or outside of traditional society.
In every case, she said, Jesus reaches them and helps them pull their personal yoke. He heals wounds. He provides rest.
“Our mortal brains are made to seek understanding and meaning in tidy bundles,” she said. “I don’t know all the reasons why the veil over mortality is so thick. This is not the stage in our eternal development where we have all answers. It is the stage where we develop our assurance (or sometimes hope) in the evidence of things not seen. Assurance comes in ways that aren’t always easy to analyze, but there is light in our darkness.”
To those who feel their faith faltering, Eubank was reassuring. “Take courage. Keep your promises to God. Ask your questions. ...Turn to Jesus Christ who loves you still.”
It can be tough to “get the lights back on by yourself,” she said. “We need friends. We need each other.”
God knows how hard each person is trying, Eubank said. “You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means God With Us. He is surely with you."
Eubank was the second woman to speak at the two-day conference.
10:20 a.m. — Activate heavenly blessings
Heavenly blessings are not received by collecting “good deed coupons” or by helplessly waiting to win a divine lottery, said apostle Dale G. Renlund.
“The truth is much more nuanced but more appropriate for the relationship between a loving Heavenly Father and his potential heirs — us,” Renlund said. “Restored truth reveals that blessings are never earned, but faith-inspired actions on our part, both initial and ongoing, are essential. ... You do not earn a blessing; that notion is false, but you do have to qualify for it. Our salvation comes only through the merits and grace of Jesus Christ."
Renlund compared blessings to the building of a large fire, with kindling and wood chips covered by progressively larger logs.
The wood pile may be ready to burn, Renlund said, but it still requires a person to strike a match, light the kindling, and a constant supply of oxygen to grow and maintain the blaze.
“I invite you to faithfully activate heavenly power to receive specific blessings from God,” he said. “Exercise the faith to strike the match and light the fire. Supply the needed oxygen while you patiently wait on the Lord.”
Saturday’s sessions focused on living a Christian life and loving in a Christian way. No major announcements were unveiled, but the twice-yearly gathering came just a couple of days after the church publicly reversed a controversial policy on LGBTQ members.
Church President Russell M. Nelson spoke Saturday night in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City — and to members around the world — encouraging male Latter-day Saints to repent and pay more attention to their families. The 94-year-old leader is expected to speak again Sunday.