After a day full of sermons (on doctrine, commitment and the dangers of social media), changes (to the Young Men and Young Women programs) and announcements (plans for eight new temples, including two more in Utah) members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered Sunday for the final sessions of the faith’s 189th Semiannual General Conference.
Here are summaries of Sunday’s sermons:
President Russell M. Nelson: 2020 a ‘bicentennial year’
During his closing remarks for this General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson encouraged members to study Joseph Smith’s account of being visited by God and Jesus Christ when he was 14 years old and prepare for the 200th anniversary of the “First Vision" that kicked off the Mormon movement.
“Thus, the year 2020 will be designated as a bicentennial year,” Nelson said. “General Conference next April will be different from any previous conference.”
Nelson also encouraged members to be prepared to answer questions about the faith’s temples, and encouraged youths to qualify for limited-use temple recommends.
He read the 15 questions — which he said “have recently been edited for clarity” — that members must answer to receive recommends to enter Latter-day Saint temples, where they can participate in the faith’s most sacred ceremonies, including eternal marriage.
“Individual worthiness to enter the Lord’s house requires much individual spiritual preparation. But with the Lord’s help, nothing is impossible,” Nelson said. “In some respects, it is easier to build a temple than it is to build a people prepared for a temple.”
Apostle Neil L. Andersen: The love of God
Apostle Neil L. Andersen built his address on an allegory spelled out in the Book of Mormon, the faith’s foundational text.
In it, there is a beautiful tree, whose fruit is “most sweet,” the “most joyous to the soul,” and more desirable than any other fruit.
The fruit represents “the love of God,” Andersen said. “...Partaking of the fruit of the tree also symbolizes that we embrace the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel — being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and entering the House of the Lord to be endowed with power from on high.”
Savoring this fruit and “staying true and faithful to the Lord, Jesus Christ, is still not easily done,” he said. “We continue to face distractions and deceptions, confusion and commotion, enticements and temptations that attempt to pull our hearts away from the Savior and the joys and beauties we have experienced in following him.”
Apostle Ulisses Soares: Don’t be discouraged after failure
Through determination to cast off all that is contrary to God’s will, and by striving to follow God’s teachings, apostle Ulisses Soares said, Latter-day Saints can follow in the path of Jesus Christ’s gospel, even in the face of tribulation, weaknesses and social pressures.
Soares said that unmarried or divorced individuals may feel lonely, hopeless or abandoned. But they should continue with faith on the Lord’s path, he said, and not indulge in worldly habits.
“The same principles apply to those of you who are experiencing same-gender attraction and feel discouraged and helpless,” said the native Brazilian. “And maybe for this reason, some of you are feeling that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not for you anymore. If that is the case, I want to assure you that there is always hope in God the Father and in his plan of happiness, in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, and in living their loving commandments.”
Soares encouraged Latter-day Saints never to give up after failures, or to consider themselves incapable of abandoning sins or overcoming addictions. And those who feel bitter, angry, offended or chained to sorrows, he said, should strive to lay aside those feelings and turn to the Lord.
“Unfortunately," Soares added, if we hold on to these negative feelings and emotions, we may find ourselves living without the influence of the Lord’s Spirit in our lives.”
Seventy Peter Johnson: How to overcome Satan
Peter Johnson, the church’s first African American general authority, warned of the dangers of the devil.
Lucifer uses three tactics, Johnson said, to misguide and destroy believers: deception, distraction and discouragement.
“We are created in God’s own image, and he has a work for us to do,” he said. “The adversary attempts to deceive by having us forget who we truly are.”
If believers do not understand they are sons and daughters of God, Johnson said in his first General Conference address, “then it is difficult to recognize who we can become.”
Satan also tries to distract people from their righteous goals by various means, including social media, he said. “Let us be careful and not casual in our use of technology. Continually seek for ways that technology can draw us closer to the Savior and allow us to accomplish his work as we prepare for his Second Coming.”
Apostle M. Russell Ballard: Remember to live right
M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Latter-day Saints should not miss opportunities to look into their family members’ eyes with love, or to express their love and appreciation.
He talked about the death of his wife, Barbara, just before last fall’s General Conference, and said individuals may wake up like him to find the time for such moments has passed.
"I am happy that I chose to sit next to her when I came home from the office during the last months of her life, to hold her hand as we watched the endings of some of her favorite musicals — over and over again because Alzheimer’s would not allow her to remember that she had seen them just the afternoon before. Memories of those special handholding sessions are now very precious to me.”
The most simple, basic certainly of life, said Ballard, who will turn 91 on Tuesday, is that no one escapes death. But there is also a need to “live right,” he said, which is made difficult by the battle between carnal and spiritual natures.
One of the most important things to learn in life, he said, is to emphasize the eternal, spiritual nature and to control evil desires. But every person who has ever lived made a decision to accept God’s plan, Ballard said, and came to Earth with a proven track record.
“This is who you really are, and who you have always been: a son or daughter of God, with spiritual roots in eternity and a future overflowing with infinite possibilities,” Ballard said. “You are — first and foremost — a spiritual being.”
Seventy Hans Theodorus Boom: All have a part to play
When the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2016, Hans T. Boom of the Seventy said he thought about the effort it took to transport the choir and its accompanying instruments, particularly the large gong.
The gong was struck only a few times compared to the smaller instruments, Boom said, but the sound of the performance would not have been the same without the effort of moving the gong across the ocean.
“Sometimes we might feel that we are, like that gong, only good enough to play a minor part in the performance,” Boom said. “But let me tell you that your sound is making all the difference.”
Boom said repentance and improvement are needed daily, and may include apologizing for poor behavior. He also invited Latter-day Saints to find a place where they can be alone and ask God what part they have to play.
“Wherever you are on the path of life, some of you might feel so overburdened that you do not even consider yourself on that path,” Boom said. “I want to invite you to step out of the darkness into the light. The gospel light will provide warmth and healing and will help you understand who you really are and what your purpose in life is.”
President Henry B. Eyring: More holiness, more happiness
Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the faith’s governing First Presidency, spoke about the relationship between happiness and holiness.
“Greater happiness comes from greater personal holiness, so that you will act upon that belief,” Eyring said Sunday afternoon. “ ... Greater holiness will not come simply by asking for it. It will come by doing what is needed for God to change us.”
Latter-day Saint scriptures teach that “we can be sanctified or become more holy when we exercise faith in Christ, demonstrate our obedience, repent, sacrifice for him, receive sacred ordinances, and keep our covenants with him,” he said. “Qualifying for the gift of holiness requires humility, meekness and patience.”
Eyeing concluded: “Whatever our personal circumstances, wherever we may be on the covenant path home, may our prayers for greater holiness be answered. I know that as our petition is granted, our happiness will increase. It may come slowly, but it will come.”
President Russell M. Nelson: Look for ways to help, lift and love others
In 1984, Latter-day Saints held a churchwide fast and corresponding fundraiser, generating $6.4 million in a single day to assist people affected by drought in Africa, church President Russell M. Nelson said Sunday in Sunday morning’s final speech.
That effort led to the creation of the recently renamed Latter-day Saint Charities, which has grown to provide more than $2 billion in aid to those in need throughout the world, Nelson said.
“This assistance," he noted, “is offered to recipients regardless of their church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender or political persuasion.”
Nelson said that Latter-day Saints feel a kinship to those who suffer in any way, and — as with other followers of Christ — look for ways to help, lift and love others.
He described some of the church’s humanitarian operations, including 124 bishops’ storehouses — analogous to food pantries — around the world and roughly 400,000 “food orders” each year to help individuals in need.
“In locations where no storehouse exists,” he said, “bishops and branch presidents [overseeing local Latter-day Saint congregations] draw from fast-offering funds of the church to provide food and supplies for their needy members.”
Latter-day Saints observe “fast Sunday," typically the first Sunday of every month. Those who are physically able go without food for 24 hours and then donate the money saved by skipping those meals (and sometimes much more) to their congregation’s bishop, who uses those contributions, called fast offerings, to help the poor.
In a nod to the migration crisis gripping the globe, Nelson noted the Utah-based church helps refugees — “whether from civil strife, the ravages of nature or religious persecution.”
“More than 70 million people are now displaced from their homes,” he said. Last year, "the church provided emergency supplies to refugees in 56 countries. In addition, many church members volunteer their time to help refugees integrate into new communities. We thank every one of you who reach out to help those who are trying to establish new homes.”
The church also collects millions of pounds of donated clothing each year through its Deseret Industries outlets, Nelson said, the bulk of which is donated to other charitable organizations that distribute the items worldwide. Last year, he said, the church provided vision care for more than 300,000 people in 35 countries, and wheelchairs for more than 50,000 people.
“The activities I have described are merely a small part of the growing welfare and humanitarian outreach" of the church, he said. “And you are the ones who make all this possible. Because of your exemplary lives, your generous hearts, and your helping hands, it is no wonder that many communities and government leaders are praising your efforts.”
Apostle Gary E. Stevenson: Beware of deceptions
Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said many young people today are “either unable to see things as they truly are or are unsatisfied with truth, attempting to re-create it.”
There are “forces at play today designed to deliberately lead us away from absolute truth,” he said. “These deceptions and lies go far beyond innocent mistaken identity and often have dire, not minor, consequences.”
The devil, “the father of lies and the great deceiver,” Stevenson said, “would have us question things as they really are and either ignore eternal truths or replace them with something that appears more pleasing.”
The apostle said Satan deploys various weapons in his war on souls.
“For instance, he disguises the destructive consequences of illicit drugs or drinking and instead suggests that it will bring pleasure. He immerses us in the various negative elements that can exist in social media, including debilitating comparisons and idealized reality,” Stevenson said. “In addition, he camouflages other dark, harmful content found online such as pornography, blatant attacks on others through cyberbullying, and sowing misinformation to cause doubt and fear in our hearts and minds.”
The only way to avoid the influence of the “deceiver,” he said, is by “obedience to commandments given to our prophet.”
This “divine formula” is simple, Stevenson said, “righteousness, or obedience to commandments, brings blessings, and blessings bring happiness, or joy, into our lives.”
Seventy Walter F. González: Let Christ heal you
Walter F. González of the Seventy said the Savior’s touch can bring healing to physical and emotional suffering.
Like the lepers Jesus healed in the New Testament, González said, “we, too, can feel broken, whether due to our own actions or those of others, due to circumstances we can or cannot control. In such moments, we can place our will in his hands.”
The native of Uruguay urged his listeners who may be hurting to turn to Christ. “If you feel that in any way you are not clean, if you feel broken," he said, "please know you can be made clean, you can be mended. Trust that nothing bad can come from him.”
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Begin your adventure
Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf compared J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Bilbo Baggins, and his quest in “The Hobbit” to the adventure of Latter-day Saint discipleship.
“Accepting this adventure [of mortality] would mean leaving the comfort and security of [God’s] immediate presence, it would mean coming to earth for a journey filled with unknown danger and trial,” the popular German authority said. “We knew it would not be easy. But we also knew that we would gain precious treasures, including a physical body and experiencing the intense joys and sorrows of mortality. We would learn to strive, to seek, and to struggle. We would discover truths about God and ourselves.”
Uchtdorf offered suggestions for how to tread this path.
“Choose to incline your heart to God. Strive each day to find him. Learn to love him. And then let that love inspire you to learn, understand, and follow his teachings,” he said. “If you hesitate in this adventure because you doubt your ability, remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly, it’s about doing things intentionally. It is your choices that show what you truly are, far more than your abilities.”
The gospel is “a renewal of the call to adventure we accepted so long ago. The Savior invites us, each day, to set aside our comforts and securities and join him on the journey of discipleship,” he said. “There are many bends in this road. There are hills, valleys and detours. There may even be metaphorical spiders, trolls and even a dragon or two.”
But the journey is not a solitary one, Uchtdorf said. “The only way for you to progress in your gospel adventure is to help others progress as well. ...Faith, hope, love, compassion and service refine us as disciples. Through your efforts to help the poor and the needy, to reach out to those in distress, your own character is purified and forged, your spirit is enlarged, and you walk a little taller.”
Church members “love and respect all of God’s children," he said, “regardless of their position in life, regardless of their race or religion, regardless of their life’s decisions.”
He invited everyone to join the Latter-day Saints.
“You will make us better. And, in the process, you will become better as well,” Uchtdorf said. “Let’s take this adventure together.”
Primary leader Cristina B. Franco: Find joy in missionary work
Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, talked about finding joy in proselytizing.
She described a fellow Argentine woman, Susana, who was converted to the LDS Church by a chance encounter with Franco’s mother. After becoming a Latter-day Saint, Susana became “one of the greatest missionaries I have ever met,” said Franco, the only woman to speak on Sunday and the fifth to do so this conference weekend.
Susana’s secret, said Franco, is that she prays each day to be directed to “someone who needs the gospel in their life.”
The Primary leader urged members to invite friends to church, to give copies of the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon to others, and to “share with others what brings us joy to our lives.”
Apostle Gerrit W. Gong: Find ‘covenant belonging’ by keeping promises with God
The world is full of mirage, illusion and sleight of hand, apostle Gerrit W. Gong said, but individuals can follow guideposts and find security and comfort by keeping their covenants with God.
Gong, the first speaker during the Sunday morning session, emphasized a sense of “covenant belonging” that comes from making and keeping promises with God to obey commandments, following his prophets, and putting the needs of others first.
“As we honor our covenants, we may sometimes feel we are in the company of angels,” Gong said. “And we will be — those we love and who bless us on this side of the veil, and those who love and bless us from the other side of the veil.”
The Asian American apostle said that before marrying his wife, he felt at peace praying to know if he should get married. But the strongest spiritual confirmation came when he promised in prayer to be the best husband and father he could be.
“While situations differ, when we do all we can, the best we can, and sincerely ask and seek his help along the way,” Gong said, “the Lord will guide us, in his time and manner, by the Holy Ghost.”