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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees at the close of 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 — Each member’s home may become a sanctuary of faith, President Russell M. Nelson said as he finished a general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by announcing plans for eight new temples — “the most sacred structures in the church” — and plans to renovate pioneer-era temples in Salt Lake City, Manti and Logan, Utah.

“We hope and pray that each member’s home will become a true sanctuary of faith, where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell,” he said. “Despite contention all around us, one’s home can become a heavenly place, where study, prayer, and faith can be merged with love.”

He called the 189th Annual General Conference a spiritual feast and said, “As we speak of our temples old and new, may each of us signify by our actions that we are true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we renovate our lives through our faith and trust in him. May we access the power of his Atonement by our repentance each day. And may we dedicate and rededicate our lives to serving God and his children — on both sides of the veil.”

Each pioneer temple will rededicated when renovation is complete, he said. Specific plans for the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square and Church Plaza will be announced on April 19. The St. George Temple will close in November with renovation scheduled to be complete in 2022. The Manti and Logan temples will be renovated later.

“God’s objective should be our objective,” President Nelson said. “He wants his children to choose to return to him, prepared, qualified, endowed, sealed and faithful to covenants made in holy temples.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who mercifully offers repentance for serious misbehavior and his followers should exercise their spiritual muscles to increase their faith in him, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Sunday afternoon at the start of the final session of the faith’s 189th Annual General Conference.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, taught about repentance from his unique perspective on the differences between man’s laws and God’s laws.

“I have had the unusual experience of judging serious misbehavior under both of these laws,” he said, “earlier as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court and now as a member of the First Presidency."

He said God’s laws are more merciful because of repentance, which he called a joy, not a burden, and he continued a conference-long theme of reaching out to people outside the church. He said he intended his message to provide hope for all people, “including for those who have lost their membership in the church by excommunication or name removal. We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance.”

Repentance, he said, is a sign of God’s love and provides his assurance that in the face of mortal and divine accountability and final judgment, all sins can be cleansed through Christ and God will “remember them no more.”

Spiritual gifts are like muscles that need exercise to grow, said Elder Juan Pablo Villar, a General Authority Seventy from Chile and counselor in the church’s South America South Area.

"Just as reading and learning about muscles is not enough to build muscle, reading and learning about faith without adding action is insufficient to build faith," he said.

He said the church provides greater information about how God helps his children develop their spiritual gifts.

"Let’s accept the invitation of President Russell M. Nelson and intently come unto the Savior by identifying those muscles that need more spiritual activity and starting to exercise them,” Elder Villar said. “This is a long-distance race rather than a sprint, so do not forget those small but constant spiritual activities that will strengthen those important spiritual muscles. If we want to increase our faith, then let’s do things that require faith."

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who joined the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a year ago, celebrated Christ, “the Good Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God,” he said. “Of all His divine titles, no others are more tender or telling. We learn much from our Savior’s references to himself as the Good Shepherd and from prophetic testimonies of him as the Lamb of God. These roles and symbols are powerfully complementary — who better to succor each precious lamb than the Good Shepherd, and who better to be our Good Shepherd than the Lamb of God?”

He quoted Christ’s statement that the good shepherd “giveth his life for the sheep.”

“Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is our perfect Shepherd,” he said. “Because he has laid down his life for the sheep and is now gloriously resurrected, Jesus Christ is also the perfect Lamb of God.

Elder Gong said Christ will gather like lambs in his arm those who are the only members of the church in their family, school, workplace or community and those whose congregation may feel small or isolated, those who have moved to an unfamiliar place with a new language and those facing problems they never expected.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve said one of the fundamental reasons the programs and activities of the church are becoming more home centered is to achieve the “grand spiritual objective” of enabling members to obtain personal spiritual experience and knowledge.

The implication of the adjustments to church programs is that homes are the ultimate missionary training centers and can be family history centers, he said. Temple preparation also is most effective in homes.

He said each church member has a personal responsibility to learn, live and become what they should, and homes are the ultimate setting for each.

“If all you or I know about Jesus Christ and his restored gospel is what other people teach or tell us, then the foundation of our testimony of him and his glorious Latter-day work is built upon sand,” Elder Bednar said. “We cannot rely exclusively upon or borrow gospel light and knowledge from other people — even those whom we love and trust.”

He encouraged church members who wonder if they can make their gospel learning home-centered and church-supported.

“Yes, you can do this! I promise that enabling blessings will flow into and be evident in your life. Doors will open. The light will shine. Your capacity will be increased to persevere diligently and patiently. I witness that compensating blessings will come as we strive to fulfill our individual responsibility to learn and love the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy since March 2018, said God’s timing is different than man’s, but his love is immediate and so are some of his blessings.

"God also gives immediate hope for eventual deliverance,” he said. “No matter what, no matter where, in Christ and through Christ there is always hope smiling brightly before us. Immediately before us."

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urged members to make their homes fortresses of spirituality and protection.

“Our homes are fortresses against the evils of the world,” he said. “In our homes we come unto Christ by learning to follow his commandments, by studying the scriptures and praying together and by helping one another stay on the covenant path. The new emphasis on personal and family study in the home through the curriculum ‘Come, Follow Me’ is designed to “deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ.”

He said such protection is necessary to face and deflect assaults from Satan, with whom he said the church and its members are at war. Those assaults are increasing, he said, because “Satan knows his days are numbered and that time is growing shorter. As crafty and cunning as he is, he will not win. However, his battle for each one of our souls rages on.”

He invoked the importance of President Nelson’s role as a living prophet to Latter-day Saints.

“As the Lord’s living Prophet, Seer and Revelator in this day, the watchman on the tower of our fortress, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he sees the advances of the enemy,” he said.

Outside the home, he said, Latter-day Saints can build strength by taking the sacrament each Sunday and worshipping in temples.

He also asked members, after making Christ their personal fortress, to “put your arms around those who stumble and with the strength of the Spirit within you, lead them lovingly back to the fortress of spirituality and protection. Seek ‘to be like Jesus’ in all that you do, shun evil and temptations, be honest in heart, be upright and pure, show compassion and charity, and love the Lord, your God with the devotion of a true disciple.”

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President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session. Music was provided by Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, which sang “Sweet is the Work,” “Come Unto Jesus,” “Hark, All Ye Nations,” “I Know That My Savior Loves Me” and “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Elder Tanielo B. Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy from Fiji and counselor in the church’s Philippines Area presidency, said the opening prayer. Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, a General Authority Seventy and president of the church’s North America Southeast Area, gave the closing prayer.