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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Conferencegoers arrive at the Conference Center for the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — In an emotion-filled and impassioned address to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson said "time is running out" to find God as he invited all to come unto Christ and obtain the ordinances that qualify families to be together in the afterlife.

President Nelson, the prophet-president of the church, implored those both inside and outside the church to seek out Jesus Christ and said the ordinances necessary for exaltation are available only in what he said is the restored Church of Jesus Christ.

“Now, as president of His church, 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. Please do it now. Time is running out.”

He spoke as the final speaker in the Sunday morning session of the faith's 189th Annual General Conference. He shared his tender, tearful farewell with his daughter Wendy N. Maxfield, who died in January at age 67. Two days later, he was in Paradise, California, where a first responder told him how he worried where his family was while he helped others during the deadly wildfires there.

“We miss our daughter greatly,” President Nelson said. “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.”

He said Christ’s Resurrection does not promise all people will live together with their loved ones again. Instead, the “high privilege of exaltation” is a family matter that requires God’s children to choose to make and keep covenants with him and receive essential ordinances like baptism and temple dealings.

“The anguish of my heart is that many people whom I love, admire and respect decline his invitation,” he said. “They ignore the pleadings of Jesus Christ when he beckons, ‘Come, follow me.’ I understand why God weeps. I also weep for such friends and relatives. They are wonderful men and women, devoted to their family and civic responsibilities. They give generously of their time, energy and resources. And the world is better for their efforts. But they have chosen not to make covenants with God. They have not received the ordinances that will exalt them with their families and bind them together forever.”

He spoke directly to those loved ones, pleading with them to put themselves in a position to have experiences with God first: "I feel to say to my reticent friends, ‘In this life, you have never settled for second best in anything. Yet, as you resist fully embracing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, you are choosing to settle for second best. … However, as you choose not to make covenants with God, you are settling for a most meager roof over your head throughout all eternity.'"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also spoke about the need for urgency in faith.

"This great and last dispensation is building steadily to its climax — Zion on earth, being joined with Zion from above at the Savior’s glorious return," he said, adding, "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."

He said he felt the unexpected need to prepare the world for the Second Coming while participating in a religious conference at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in September.

He noted that President Nelson has repeatedly emphasized that the "gathering (of Israel) is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to ... you can be a big part of it."

Elder Christofferson described how people can prepare for Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

"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. All of this must occur in some substantial degree before the Lord comes again."

He said Latter-day Saints must continue, as they always have, to be a missionary people and to engage in "the great redemptive effort on behalf of our ancestors" through temple work.

Some Latter-day Saints may not feel like they fit in or feel accepted or acceptable, but if they take faith-inspired action and engage in missionary work, temple and family history work and home-centered, church-supported family religious observance, they will receive blessings from Jesus Christ, other leaders said during the opening session.

"Satan tries to exploit the worldly pressures we all face" and "works hard to isolate us and tell us we are the only one experiencing them," said Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and director of LDS Charities.

"Some of us are paralyzed with grief. When tragedies overtake us, when life hurts so much we can’t breathe, when we’ve taken a beating like the man on the road to Jericho and been left for dead, Jesus comes along and pours oil into our wounds, lifts us tenderly up, takes us to an inn, looks after us," she said.

Some are tired, she added, but Christ is rest. Some are splintered by questions, but Christ is light to see. Some never feel good enough, but Christ makes wool white.

She said, "It is an unwavering requirement of Christian disciples and Latter-day Saints to show true love to one another," adding, "As President Nelson has encouraged, we can bring the Savior’s light to ourselves and the people important to us by the simple act of keeping our covenants. In a variety of ways, the Lord rewards that faithful act with power and with joy."

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said receiving blessings from God requires action and faith, but are not earned.

"Blessings from heaven are neither earned by frenetically accruing 'good deed coupons,' nor by helplessly waiting to see if we win the blessing lottery," he said, adding, "Restored truth reveals that blessings are never earned, but faith-inspired actions on our part, both initial and ongoing, are essential."

He said first, God's children act in faith in Christ, then receive power.

"Small actions fuel our ability to walk along the covenant path and lead to the greatest blessings God can offer," he said.

He described what he called the necessary activation energy.

"The activation energy needed for us is to have enough faith in Christ to sincerely ask God in prayer and accept His will and timing for the answer," he said. "Often, the activation energy needed for blessings requires more than just looking or asking; ongoing, repeated, faith-filled actions are required."

He compared those actions to preparing a pile of wood to fuel a fire.

"Faith in Christ requires ongoing action for the blaze to continue," he said. "Small actions fuel our ability to walk along the covenant path and lead to the greatest blessings God can offer. But oxygen flows only if we figuratively keep moving our feet. Sometimes we need to make a bow and arrow before revelation comes as to where we should search for food. Sometimes we need to make tools before revelations come as to how to build a ship. Sometimes, at the direction of the Lord’s prophet, we need to bake a small cake from the little oil and flour we have to receive an unfailing cruse of oil and barrel of flour."

He said the church's new home study curriculum was designed to build faith and spiritual strength in members, "but it is up to us to claim these blessings. We are each responsible to open and study “Come, Follow Me — For Individuals and Families,” along with the scriptures and other “Come, Follow Me” material. We need to discuss them with our family and friends and organize our Sabbath day to light a metaphorical fire. Or, we can leave the resources sitting in a pile in our homes with the potential energy trapped inside."

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said charity, the pure love of Christ, is essential in missionary work, temple and family history work, and home-centered, church-supported family religious observance.

"Love of the Savior and love of our fellow men and women is the primary attribute and motive for ministering and the spiritual purposes we were charged to undertake by our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, in the adjustments announced in 2018," he said.

Elder Cook emphasized the priesthood blessings and power available to men and women in Latter-day Saint temples

"When a man and woman are sealed in the temple, they enter the holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant, an order of the priesthood," he said. "Together they obtain and receive priesthood blessings and power to direct the affairs of their family. Women and men have unique roles as outlined in 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World,' but their stewardships are equal in value and importance. They have equal power to receive revelation for their family. When they work together in love and righteousness, their decisions are heaven-blessed."

He also called on primary and youth leaders to continue to emphasize family history and temple work with Latter-day Saint children.

"Relief Society sisters and priesthood brethren can lovingly help fulfill their temple and family history responsibility individually and also by assisting and inspiring children and youth to gather Israel on the other side of the veil," he added. "This is particularly important in the home and on the Sabbath. I promise that lovingly performing ordinances for ancestors will strengthen and protect our youth and families in a world that is becoming increasingly evil. I also personally testify that President Russell M. Nelson has received profoundly important revelations relating to temples and temple work."

Brother Tad R. Callister, released Saturday after five years as the Sunday School general president, compared Christ's Atonement to a man who jumped out of an airplane. The man wished he could take back his mistake, but the law of gravity knew no compassion. But he was saved when a friend, like Christ, intervened and put a parachute on his back.

"When we sin, we are like the foolish man who jumped from the plane. 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. We can be saved only because the Savior, through his Atonement, mercifully provides us with a spiritual parachute of sorts. If we have faith in Jesus Christ and repent (meaning we do our part and pull the rip cord), then the protective powers of the Savior are unleashed on our behalf, and we can land spiritually unharmed."

Brother Callister said Christ overcame four obstacles that prevent spiritual progress — death, sin, afflictions and infirmities and weaknesses and imperfections.

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"The Savior’s Atonement gives us life for death, 'beauty for ashes,' healing for hurt and perfection for weakness," he said. "It is heaven’s antidote to the obstacles and struggles of this world."

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang "How Firm a Foundation," "I Feel My Savior’s Love," "Come, Ye Children of the Lord" and "Come, Follow Me."

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session. Elder Bradley D. Foster, a General Authority Seventy, gave the opening prayer and Sister Jean B. Bingham, the Relief Society general president, closed the meeting with prayer.