Church members were urged Sunday by President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, to let love be "a beacon of hope in a world of distress," and to let their love - constant as a lodestar - shine upon all within their spheres.
He conducted the Sunday morning session of the 159th General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Music was provided by the 325-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir.President Hinckley told of his experiences as a boy sleeping outdoors during the summer. He and a brother would trace the Big Dipper and its handle and cup to find the North Star.
"We came to know of the constancy of that star. As the Earth turned, the others appeared to move through the night. But the North Star held its position in line with the axis of the Earth. And so it had come to be known as the polar star or the polestar, or the lodestar," President Hinckley said.
During his boyhood musings President Hinckley came to recognize the polar star as constant in the midst of change.
"Love is like the polar star. In a changing world it is a constant. It is of the very essence of the gospel. It is the security of the home. It is the safeguard of community life. It is a beacon of hope in a world of distress."
He said God loves mankind beyond comprehension. "He is our loving Eternal Father. Out of his love for us he has given an eternal plan, which, when followed, leads to exaltation in his kingdom. Out of his love for us he sent his firstborn into the world who, out of his own divine love, gave himself as a sacrifice for each of us. His was an incomparable gift of love to a world that largely spurned him. He is our great exemplar.
"Let love become the lodestar of our lives with the absolute assurance that, because of the love of God our Eternal Father and his own beloved son, our salvation from the bonds of death is sure and our opportunity for eternal exaltation is certain. Let that divine love, shed on us, be reflected from our lives onto others of our Father's children."
President Hinckley counseled members to let love shine not only upon members of their families and church groups but also upon others.
He suggested being generous with financial and other resources in alleviating hunger and other problems, in being faithful temple workers and in reaching out to people who need strength and encouragement.
President Hinckley also urged church members to reach out to those whose lives are torn by hate and who spread falsehoods about people and the church.
He said: "It is not always easy to follow the polar star of love. It requires a discipline almost beyond the power of many to observe. I think it is the most difficult and also the most important of all commandments. But out of its observance comes a remarkable discipline and a refining influence that are wonderful to experience. It savors of the sweet and all-encompassing love of Christ."
Focusing on those who live in troubled homes, he suggested that love should become the lodestar of family life.
"Love is the only remedy. It is the very basis of marriage. It can be nurtured and strengthened or it can be starved and weakened. The power lies within ourselves. Bridle your tempers, husbands. Wives, hold your tongues. Revive the wondrous feeling that brought you to the marriage altar."
Noting that love is the essence of family life, President Hinckley asked, "Why is it that the children we love so frequently become the targets of our harsh words? Why is it that these children who love their fathers and mothers speak as if with daggers that cut to the quick? There is beauty all around only when there's love at home."
Because most people live in urban centers, where city lights affect their vision of the night sky, President Hinckley said few see the polar star anymore. "But, as it has been for centuries, the star is there, in its place, its constancy a guide and an anchor.
"So likewise is love, unyielding, unchanging, the pure love of Christ."
The hand of God has been manifest in "miraculous events pertaining to the church in the German Democratic Republic," President Thomas S. Monson declared in the Sunday morning session of conference.
Second counselor in the First Presidency of the church, President Monson traced historical and spiritual events leading to construction and dedication of a temple, reopening of the land to missionary work and other church activities.
Before the outbreak of World War II in Europe 50 years ago, the area - now known as the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany - was the most productive area of missionary work in the German-speaking world, President Monson said.
When World War II began, hundreds of missionaries were withdrawn from Europe and reassigned.
Six years later, fighting ceased and an extensive rebuilding effort began, with missionaries returning to some nations. The gospel was taught, and the church began to grow, he said.
President Monson told of a promise he made in 1968 to the people of the German nation. He said if they would be true and faithful to God's commandments that every blessing any member of the church enjoys in any other country would be theirs.
He said blessings began to unfold, including the ordination of a patriarch, church members being eager to learn and carry out assignments, a prayer being offered on the land in 1975, stake centers and chapels being dedicated and plans materializing for a temple in Freiberg. The day the temple was dedicated was a historic occasion, he said.
Last October, President Monson, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and other church leaders met with political and other public officials in the German Democratic Republic. Among other things, permission was obtained for missionaries to enter and to be called from the land.
Reflecting on his and other church leaders' visits with national leader Erich Honecker and other political officials, President Monson said it is clear that the way is being opened for Christ's gospel to be carried to millions of people in the nation.
President Monson said that visit and previous events made him realize that the time of darkness is past, that a new day had dawned and the Kingdom of God will go forth.
On March 30 the first full-time missionary representatives in 50 years entered the German Democratic Republic.
Young people were counseled Sunday morning by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve to remember that they are children of God and it is never too late to repent of past mistakes.
"You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God," Elder Packer emphasized in an address that focused on the spiritual potential of young people.
He prefaced his remarks by discussing some of the wishes, frustrations and temptations of teenagers, saying he realizes the challenges they face are much greater than those of his generation.
"Few of us would trade places with you. Frankly, we are quite relieved that we are not back where you are. Few of us would be equal to it.
"But, oh, what a wonderful time to be young. You have knowledge of many more things that we needed to have. It is my conviction that your generation is better and stronger than was ours - better in many ways! I have the faith that you young men and women can meet the world on its own terms and conquer it!."
He urged young people to avoid taking anything into their bodies that might harm or disturb the functions of mind or spirit. He also strongly counseled them to avoid sexual relationships outside of marriage and to not toy with Satan worship or associate with anyone who does.
Elder Packer discussed the function of alarm systems built into the body and spirit - pain and guilt - urging young people to be thankful for them.
"Learn to pay attention to that spiritual voice of warning within you. Even then, you will not get by without some mistakes," he said.
He said people who make one serious mistake tend to add another by assuming that it is too late for them. "It is never too late. Never," Elder Packer stressed.
"The discouraging idea that a mistake, or even a series of them, makes it everlastingly too late does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will he forgive us our transgressions, but he will forget them and `remember them no more.' "
Christ can give relief and bring strength amid all of life's ironies and adversities, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve said. His address, "Irony: The Crust on the Bread of Adversity," added a deeply spiritual tone to the conference.
Elder Maxwell used numerous scriptural references to illustrate the ironies of events and circumstances in Christ's life and how they were overcome. He used the scriptures in sketching a pattern from which church members or others can draw strength amid problems in their own lives.
"Irony is the hard crust on `bread of adversity.' It can try both our faith and our patience. Irony can be a particularly bitter form of such chastening, because it involves upsetting incongruity and outcomes in violation of expectations. We see the best-laid plans laid waste," he said.
Irony, he said, "may involve not only unexpected suffering, but also undeserved suffering. We feel we deserved better, and yet we fared worse. We had other plans, even commendable plans. Did they not count?" he asked.
For Jesus, "irony began at birth. Truly, he suffered the will of the Father `in all things from the beginning.' This whole Earth became Jesus' footstool, but at Bethlehem there was `no room at the inn' and `no crib for his bed.'
"At the end, meek and lowly Jesus partook of the most bitter cup without becoming the least bitter. The Most Innocent suffered the most. Yet the King of Kings did not break, even when some of his subjects did unto him as they listed. Christ's capacity to endure such irony was truly remarkable.
"We are so much more brittle. We forget, by their very nature, that tests are unfair," Elder Maxwell said.
The general authority offered a number of ways to help people fortify themselves against ironies in their own lives and to cope when they are faced with challenges. Fortification comes, he said, by "being more like Jesus, such as by loving more." Other significant keys for coping, he said, include practicing wise self-denial, which he said "shrinks our sense of entitlement," and living "in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which (God) doth bestow upon you."
"As we learn to be loving, caring families in mortality, our hearts will naturally turn to the members of our kindred family in the spirit world.
"As they continue to live beyond the veil, they wait - they wait for us, their family, to share the blessings of the ordinances of the priesthood. They yearn to belong to the eternal family circle. They are anxious for us to make this possible. Are we not compelled to do so?"
These points were made by Elder J. Richard Clarke, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department of the church.
His talk centered on work supported and encouraged by the department, whose purpose is to "help each of us experience the joy of covenants and ordinances of the temple as we make them available to our loved ones."
Through family history, Elder Clarke said, "we discover the most beautiful tree in the forest of creation - our family tree. Its numerous roots reach back through history, and its branches extend throughout eternity. Family history is the expansive expression of eternal love. It is born of selflessness. It provides opportunity to secure the family unit forever."
Elder Clarke cited scriptural references on the importance of research and temple work to families. He counseled fathers to give their children blessings and told of an Arizona family that had expressed satisfaction in compiling family records. He also urged sensitivity to the needs and feelings of single-parent families and individuals who have not been married.
"They especially need to be part of a gospel kindred family. . . Within the Lord's design, no one should be ignored. We are all members of the body of Christ."