General conference Saturday: LDS leaders preach ‘covenant path,’ focus on atonement
Christ’s atonement, and focusing on him for peace and as an example, was the theme of Saturday morning’s session of the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The session began with a surprise announcement that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was not in attendance.
President Dallin H. Oaks, of the First Presidency, told those watching in-person and around the world that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland would not be in the building after contracting COVID-19.
“Pat and I love being with you at general conference. Unfortunately, we both tested positive for Covid and are not able to attend this weekend. We will be watching together, hand-in-hand, at home. Like you, I express my gratitude for the Savior this Palm Sunday weekend,” Holland tweeted.
With the conference’s second day on Palm Sunday, Elder Gary E. Stevenson spoke directly to members of the church about the importance that needs to be place on Holy Week and Easter — even more than Christmas.
“I observe a growing effort among Latter-day Saints toward a more Christ-centered Easter. This includes a greater and more thoughtful recognition of Palm Sunday and Good Friday as practiced by some of our Christian cousins. We might also adopt appropriate Christ centered Easter traditions found in the cultures and practices of countries worldwide,” Stevenson said.
Elder Stevenson noted that, along with the New Testament, the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus and the account of his visit in his resurrected glory to his children in the Americas.
Stevenson suggested reading 3 Nephi 11, which tells the story of the resurrected Christ’s visit to the Nephites, his Easter ministry. These Easter scriptures bear record of the resurrection.
It is through Christ and his sacrifice that the people of the world can find peace, according to President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor of the First Presidency.
“The savior knows that all of Heavenly Father’s children yearn for peace, and He said that He could give it to us. You remember the words of Jesus Christ recorded in the book of John: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,'” Eyring said. “I have learned at least five truths from that teaching of the Savior. First, the gift of peace is given after we have the faith to keep His commandments. … Second, the Holy Ghost will come and abide with us. The Lord says that, as we continue to be faithful, the Holy Ghost will dwell in us.”
Other talks focused on different aspects with the common theme of following Christ.
President Bonnie Cordon, of the Young Women Presidency, also referenced 3 Nephi 11, saying followers should imagine hearing “the Lord’s personal invitation” after bearing witness to chaos.
“When Christ physically visited the Nephites at their temple, His invitation was not to stand at a distance and look upon Him, but to touch Him, to feel for themselves the reality of the Savior of humankind,” Cordon said. “How can we draw close enough to gain a personal witness of Jesus Christ? … While we may not enjoy the same physical proximity as those who walked with Christ during His earthly ministry, through the Holy Ghost we can experience His power every day! As much as we need.”
Speaking about meeting people from around the world at conference and other locations, Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve, discussed how others can best minister to each other.
“In some places in the church, we have a ministering gap. More say they are ministering than say they are being ministered to,” Gong said. “We do not want checklist concern. But often we need more than a sincere hello in the hall or a casual ‘Can I help you?’ in the parking lot.”
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve, noted that gathering continues on. But he asked, “Where is the Church today? In the 62 years since I commenced serving a mission in 1960, the number of full-time missionaries serving under a call from the prophet has increased from 7,683 to 62,544. The number of missions has increased from 58 to 411. The number of members has increased from approximately 1,700,000 to approximately 17 million.”
He added a prayer for “every child, young man, young woman, family, and quorum, Relief Society and class to review how we individually and collectively accept dramatic counsel to help gather Israel that have been issued by the Lord and our beloved prophet.”
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the Saturday afternoon session of the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Business of the church was conducted by Preside Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.
Following the business of the church, a combined choir from Brigham Young University, which provided the music for the session, sang “How Firm of Foundation” and set the tone for the variety of talks given in the session.
Elder Dale G. Renlund spoke on accessing God’s power through covenants. “Before the earth was created, God established covenants as the mechanism by which we, His children, could unite ourselves to Him,” he said. “Based on eternal, unchanging law, He specified the non-negotiable conditions whereby we are transformed, saved and exalted. In this life, we make these covenants by participating in priesthood ordinances and promising to do what God asks us to do, and in return, God promises us certain blessings.”
“We become covenant children of God and inheritors of His kingdom, especially when we identify ourselves completely with the covenant,” Renlund explained.
“The term ‘covenant path’ refers to a series of covenants whereby we come to Christ and connect to Him. Through this covenant bond, we have access to His eternal power,” Renuind said. “The path begins with faith in Jesus Christ and repentance, followed by baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ showed us how to enter the path when He was baptized.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of Jesus Christ being the strength of parents. “Have you ever thought about the tremendous risk our father in heaven takes each time He sends a child to earth? These are His spirit sons and daughters. They have limitless potential. They are destined to become glorious beings of goodness, grace and truth,” he said. “And yet they come to earth completely helpless, barely able to do anything besides cry for help. The memory of their time in God’s presence is veiled over, along with the knowledge of who they really are and who they can become. They form their understanding of life, love, God and His plan based on what they observe from the people around them — especially their parents, who, honestly, are still trying to figure things out themselves.”
Uchtdorf said God gave parents a “sacred duty” to raise their children lovingly and with righteousness, provide for their every need — both physical and spiritual — and teach them to heed God’s commandments.
“Satan will oppose you, distract you, try to discourage you,” he said. “But every child has received the light of Christ as a direct line to heaven. And the savior will help you, guide you and encourage you. Seek His help. Inquire of the Lord! Just as Jesus Christ is the strength of youth, Jesus Christ is also the strength of parents.”
Uchtdorf added, “Your efforts may seem small compared to the loud voices your children hear in the world. At times, it may not feel like you’re accomplishing much. But remember that ‘by small means the Lord can bring about great things.'”
Elder Peter F. Meurs of the Seventy testified that Christ has the power to heal his followers’ pains and sorrows.
“When our savior Jesus Christ looks upon us, He sees and understands the pain and burden of our sins. He sees our addictions and challenges. He sees our struggles and afflictions of any kind — and He is filled with compassion toward us,” he said.
Meurs invoked the words of the church’s current prophet when said, “President (Russell M. Nelson) taught: ‘When the Savior atoned for all mankind, He opened a way that those who follow Him can have access to His healing, strengthening and redeeming power. These spiritual privileges are available to all who seek to hear Him and follow Him.'”
Elder Randall K. Bennett of the Seventy spoke of the directions received through personal patriarchal blessings.
“Each patriarchal blessing is sacred, confidential and personal,” Bennett said. “A person who receives a patriarchal blessing should treasure its words, ponder them and live to be worthy to receive the promised blessings in this life and in eternity.”
“President Russell M. Nelson has repeatedly taught about the importance of a patriarchal blessing … that it gives each recipient ‘a declaration of lineage back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ and that it is ‘personal scripture to you,'” Bennett noted.
Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy stated that God’s children “were created to have joy” and that joy is made possible via redemption by Jesus Christ.
“The gospel message is a message of hope, of ‘good tidings of great joy’ and the means whereby all can experience peace and occasions of joy in this life and receive a fullness of joy in the life to come,” he said. “The joy we speak of is a gift for the faithful, yet it comes with a price. Joy is not cheap nor casually given. Rather, it was bought ‘with the precious blood of Christ.’ If we really understood the value of true, godly joy, we would not hesitate to sacrifice any worldly possession or make any necessary life changes to receive it.”
Elder Benjamin De Hoyos of the Seventy spoke of the blessings of the temple and the sealing keys restored and the beginning of family history research. Latter-day Saints are asked to engage in family research to help families unite for eternity.
“The FamilySearch Centers have been designed so that almost everyone with little help can find their families,” De Hoyos said. “Doing this will stir our hearts. The work of the temple and the work of family is one in the same.”
When President Dallin H. Oaks greeted worshippers to the Saturday evening session of the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he noted members of the church watching this session from around the world.
In past conferences, Saturday nights were reserved for either a Priesthood session or a Women’s session. Over the last few conferences the evening session has evolved into a joint session giving more leaders an opportunity to speak and for members to get to know them.
Elder Mark A. Bragg, of the Seventy, introduced the evening talks with a lesson on Christ-like poise.
“Spiritual poise blesses us to stay calm and focused on what matters most, especially when we are under pressure. President Hugh B. Brown taught, ‘Faith in God and in the ultimate triumph of right, contributes to mental and spiritual poise in the face of difficulties,'” Bragg said. “In the Garden of Gethsemane, in unimaginable agony, as ‘he sweat as it were great drops of blood,’ He exemplified divine poise with the simple yet majestic statement, ‘Not my will, but thine, be done.'”
Bragg described Jesus’ sense of self and poise in the face of his “divine mission” alongside preaching priesthood and that “all who faithfully yoke themselves to Him by making and keeping sacred covenants received through priesthood ordinances will be saved.”
“It is through Christ and His Atonement that all good things come into our lives. As we remember who we are, knowing that there is a divine Plan of Mercy, and drawing courage in the strength of the Lord, we can do all things,” Bragg said. “We will find calm. We will be good women and men in any storm. May we seek the blessing of Christ like poise, not only to help ourselves in challenging times, but to bless others and help them through the storms in their lives.”
Milton Camargo, first counselor of the Sunday School General Presidency, encouraged those listening to focus on Christ.
“Unfortunately, too often we concentrate so much on our own problems that we lose focus on the solution, our Savior Jesus Christ,” Camargo said. “How do we avoid that mistake? I believe the answer lies in the covenants we are invited to make with Him and our Father in Heaven. Our covenants help us focus our attention, our thoughts, and our actions on Christ.”
Elder K. Brett Nattress of the Seventy spoke about forgiveness and the love of the Lord.
“Brothers and sisters, I testify that our Heavenly Father always remembers us and that He loves us perfectly,” Nattress said. “My question is this: Do we remember Him? And, do we love Him? … To those who have strayed from the covenant path, please know there is always hope, there is always healing, and there is always a way back.”
Nattress asked his fellow members to rely on hope as “the healing balm” for troubles in the wider world.
Elder Juan A. Uceda, of the Seventy, spoke of The Good Shepherd — a description of Jesus Christ for this willingness to “(lay) down his life for the sheep” — and the importance of nurturing and ministering to his flock.
“When the Pharisees and scribes murmured against the Lord, ‘saying, this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them,’ He responded by presenting three beautiful stories that we have come to know as the parable of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost Coin, and the parable of the Prodigal Son,” Uceda said.
On their face, Uceda said, each of these parables appears to focus on different quantities of people or things. But at their heart, he insisted, is the number one.
In this same way, he advised, Latter-day Saints should keep a focus on the individual when ministering to others.
“You never say, ‘what a foolish sheep,’ or ‘after all, I do not really need that coin’ or ‘what a rebellious son he is,'” he said. “If you and I have with us the pure love of Christ, we, as the man in the story of the Lost Sheep, will leave the ninety and nine and go after that which is lost until, until, until we find it.”
The music for the evening session was provided by a combined choir from students of the Logan Utah Institute of Religion.