SALT LAKE CITY — After a year of spearheading full-throttle change within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders shifted into a different gear at this weekend's international general conference to issue urgent and sometimes emotional pleas to follow Christ and achieve the "grand spiritual objectives" of the church.
President Russell M. Nelson announced eight new temples and signaled sweeping renovations ahead for pioneer-era Utah temples in Salt Lake City, Logan and Manti, but he and other leaders focused on asking Latter-day Saints to love more, make their homes sanctuaries of faith and renovate their lives through repentance.
He said the need is imperative, for those in and out of the faith.
"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," he said. "Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves. Please do it now. Time is running out."
That urgency spurred the changes to church programs, many of them focused on the home, church leaders said.
"We hope and pray that each member's home will become a true sanctuary of faith, where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell," President Nelson said. "Despite contention all around us, one’s home can become a heavenly place, where study, prayer and faith can be merged with love."
In January, the church reduced Sunday worship services from three hours to two to allow families more time at home and introduced a new curriculum for gospel study at home.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said one of the fundamental reasons for making the programs and activities of the church more home-centered is to accomplish the "grand spiritual objective" of enabling members to obtain personal spiritual experience and knowledge.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Twelve said members should use the new time and resources to make their homes fortresses of spirituality and protection against the evils of the world.
"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, adding that stronger homes are necessary to deflect assaults from Satan, with whom he said the church and its members are at war.
"Satan knows his days are numbered and that time is growing shorter," he said.
Elder Rasband invoked the importance to Latter-day Saints of President Nelson's role as a living prophet.
"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.
Elder Bednar and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Twelve said Latter-day Saints must respond to their personal responsibility to strengthen themselves and their homes.
For example, Elder Renlund said, the 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."
The implication of the home-centered focus is that homes are the ultimate missionary training centers and can be family history centers, Elder Bednar said. Preparation to enter the church's temples also is most effective in homes.
"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," he said. "We cannot rely exclusively upon or borrow gospel light and knowledge from other people — even those whom we love and trust."
President Nelson's daughter Wendy N. Maxfield died in January at age 67, and he shared his tender, tearful farewell with her during the first of his two talks on Sunday. Two days after her death he said a first responder in Paradise, California told President Nelson how he worried where his family was while he helped others during the deadliest wildfire in California history.
"We miss our daughter greatly," President Nelson said with obvious emotion, but Latter-day Saint doctrine and ordinances provided confidence and comfort that his family will be together again in the afterlife.
That doctrine does not promise all people will live together with their loved ones again. Instead, he said 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.
His daughter's death and his experience in Paradise pushed him to make a direct appeal for those outside the church to seek out Jesus Christ and the ordinances he said are necessary for exaltation — eternal life with God and family — but available only in the church.
"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."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve said he felt an unexpected need to prepare the world for the Second Coming while participating in a religious conference at the G20 Interfaith Forum in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"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."
Several leaders warned that as Latter-day Saints try to do that, Satan will work to stop them.
"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.
He will work to make Latter-day Saints feel like they don't fit in or feel accepted or acceptable, she said. Some are paralyzed by grief, others are tired and still others are splintered by questions.
"If you feel that the beacon of your testimony is sputtering and darkness is closing in, take courage," Sister Eubank said. "Keep your promises to God. Ask your questions. Patiently melt stone to glass. Turn to Jesus Christ who loves you still."
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who joined the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a year ago, encouraged church members to celebrate the Easter season and "the Good Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God," he said.
"Of all His divine titles," Elder Gong added, "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?"
Sister Eubank said Christ will be available in times of need.
"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.
Love as motive
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said charity — the pure love of Christ — is essential to the home-centered, church-supported family religious observance introduced by the church in the past six months.
"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.
Sister Eubank and Elder Rasband also spoke of love as motive and motivator.
"It is an unwavering requirement of Christian disciples and Latter-day Saints to show true love to one another," Sister Eubank said, 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."
"Put your arms around those who stumble," Elder Rasband said, "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."
Elder Cook made a notable statement about the priesthood blessings and power available to both men and women in Latter-day Saint temples.19 comments on this story
"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 called on primary and youth leaders to continue to emphasize family history and temple work with Latter-day Saint children and said it is particularly important for parents to do so with their children on Sundays.