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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Mario Hernandez, right, laughs with his son, Ray, before Saturday's priesthood session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — God needs selfless men who honor women, President Russell M. Nelson said at the end of the first day of 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Speaking for the first time in the conference at the conclusion of the priesthood session on Saturday night, President Nelson urged the church's priesthood holders to embrace repentance as a daily act.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
Steve Spigarelli, right, his son Henry, his brother David, and David's son Daniel take a photo before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s general priesthood session at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

"The Lord needs selfless men who put the welfare of others ahead of their own," he said, adding, "The Lord needs men eager to repent — men with a zeal to serve and be part of the Lord’s battalion of worthy priesthood bearers."

Other speakers during the evening session highlighted Latter-day Saint sports stars to suggest creation of a priesthood playbook for game-planning life and service, urged men and boys to strengthen priesthood quorums, encouraged them to thoughtfully make choices and asked them to improve the way they sustain their leaders and each other.

President Nelson said too many people see repentance as occasional punishment to be avoided instead of daily invitation to personal development.

"When Jesus asks you and me to 'repent,' he is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit — even the way we breathe," he said. "He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children and even care for our bodies."

Ravell Call, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells priesthood holders to listen to their wives as he speaks during the priesthood session of the 189th Annual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Repentance is a choice to change and allow God to transform one into one's best self, President Nelson said.

"Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance," he added. "Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ."

One place men and boys could begin to repent might be in the way they have treated the women in their lives, he said.

"Brethren, your first and foremost duty as a bearer of the priesthood is to love and care for your wife," he said. "Become one with her. Be her partner. Make it easy for her to want to be yours. No other interest in life should take priority over building an eternal relationship with her. Nothing on TV, a mobile device, or a computer is more important than her well-being. Take an inventory of how you spend your time and where you devote your energy. That will tell you where your heart is. Pray to have your heart attuned to your wife's heart. Seek to bring her joy. Seek her counsel and listen. Her input will improve your output."

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said church leaders love church members and pleaded with them during the priesthood session to make choices with the future in mind, including education, gospel study, temple attendance and participation in the sacrament.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conducts the priesthood session of the 189th Annual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

"Our present and our future will be happier if we are always conscious of the future," he said. "As we make current decisions, we should always be asking, 'Where will this lead?'"

This should extend beyond one's personal choices.

"As we see threats creeping up on persons or things we love, we have the choice of speaking or acting or remaining silent. It is well to ask ourselves, 'Where will this lead?' Where the consequences are immediate and serious, we cannot afford to do nothing. We must sound appropriate warnings or support appropriate preventive efforts while there is still time."

While he warned about the opportunity costs of spending too much time playing video games, watching TV or texting, he said thinking of the future should also apply to how one labels oneself.

"Most importantly, each of us is a child of God with a potential destiny of eternal life," he said. "Every other label, even including occupation, race, physical characteristics or honors, is temporary or trivial in eternal terms. Don’t choose to label yourselves or think of yourselves in terms that put a limit on a goal for which you might strive."

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said Latter-day Saints can pledge their sustaining faith to church leaders.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks during the priesthood session of the 189th Annual General Conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

“By raising your hand to sustain, you make a promise,” he said. “You make a promise with God, whose servants these are, that you will sustain them.

These are imperfect human beings, as are you. Keeping your promises will take unshakable faith that the Lord called them. Keeping those promises will also bring eternal happiness. Not keeping them will bring sorrow to you and to those you love — and even losses beyond your power to imagine.”

He suggested five questions for ask in preparation for a sustaining vote — “Have I thought or spoken of human weakness in the people I have pledged to sustain? Have I looked for evidence that the Lord is leading them? Have I conscientiously and loyally followed their leadership? Have I spoken about the evidence I can see that they are God’s servants? Do I pray for them regularly by name and with feelings of love?”

He said church members generally are loyal to their leaders and each other but "could rise higher in our power to sustain each other." He provided suggestions — identify specific actions recommended by speakers at general conference and act, pray for the speakers and listen for messages that are answers to personal prayers for help.

"In the priesthood quorum and in the family, increased faith to sustain each other is the way we build the Zion the Lord wants us to create," he said. "With His help we can, and we will. It will take learning to love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind and strength and to love each other as we love ourselves."

Young men should develop a priesthood playbook to avoid temptation and become priesthood all-stars, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said.

Elder Stevenson provided spiritual game-plan advice from apostles and priesthood-bearing sports stars in American football, baseball, basketball, soccer and rugby.

“Successful players study the playbook so thoroughly that, when a play is called, they know exactly, almost instinctively, where to go and what to do,” he said.

He quoted NBA players Jimmer Fredette and Jabari Parker, NFL players Taysom Hill and Daniel Sorensen, soccer’s Ricardo Rojas, rugby star William Hopoate and retired baseball pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who now is serving as a mission president.

“I found it interesting that they do not identify themselves by what they do, as professional athletes, rather by who they are, as sons of a loving Heavenly Father and holders of the priesthood of God,” Elder Stevenson said.

He also quoted Bryce Harper, the baseball star who earned a $330 million contract this spring and was sealed to his wife in a Latter-day Saint temple in 2016.

“I thought fame, fortune and an MVP award would make me happy,” Harper said. “Something was missing. So, I ... prepared and (entered) the temple. I am now on a path to (return) to my Heavenly Father and have an eternal family — which is the greatest joy in the world!”

Elder Stevenson said the athletes aren’t perfect but know the value of teamwork.

“Do you strengthen your teammates” in your quorum? Elder Stevenson asked. “How well have you studied your playbook? Do you fully understand your assignment?” He added, “Learn the playbook. Read the scriptures. Study the words of modern-day prophets. Create your own playbook of how you will prove yourself as a disciple of Christ. Know in advance the plays you will use to strengthen your spirit and avoid the snares of the adversary. Do this and God will use you.”

He said great athletes spend hours perfecting a small aspect of their game.

“As a priesthood holder, you need the same mindset,” he said.

Other apostles suggested 10 plays for Aaronic Priesthood holders to follow — “pray every day for greater light and a testimony of Jesus Christ, listen carefully to the teachings of your parents, bishop and Young Men and quorum leaders, avoid pornography and immoral social media content, remember the promises you have made to God and work to keep them."

Also, "Study scripture stories of great prophets and emulate their good qualities, bless Heavenly Father’s children through service, seek good friends to help you become the person you want to be, become an expert in the FamilySearch app and research your own family history, plan places of retreat where you can escape evil influences, and love and help strengthen other members of your priesthood quorum.”

Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy also spoke to young priesthood holders, telling them their quorums must be places of belonging. He said a strong, united quorum makes all the difference in a young man’s life.

“The Lord would have you establish a strong quorum, a place of belonging for each and every young man, a place where the Lord’s Spirit is present, a place where all quorum members are welcome and valued," Elder Cook said. "As the Lord gathers his children, they need a place to belong and grow.”

Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and the Church Commissioner of Education, said priesthood bearers have an inspiring charge to engage in the work of salvation.

“Working with our sisters, we are to minister in a holier way; accelerate the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil; establish our homes as sanctuaries of faith and gospel learning; and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”

He asked priesthood holders to live their covenants and said when they do they commit acts of covenant devotion that make those promises rock-solid commitments.

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“Heavenly Father’s promises to fill us with gratitude and joy,” he said. “Our covenants cease to be rules we follow and become beloved principles that inspire and guide us and rivet our focus on Jesus Christ.”

President Dallin H. Oaks conducted the priesthood session. An Aaronic Priesthood choir from combined stakes in Layton, Utah, provided the music, including "Count Your Many Blessings" and "Hope of Israel." Elder John C. Pingree Jr., a counselor in the church’s Mexico Area presidency, said the opening prayer. Elder Brian K. Taylor, a counselor in the Idaho and North America Central area presidencies, gave the benediction.