Thus far, the sights and sounds of general conference have been inspiring: the choir, the thousands of saints gathered together, the conference center, the music... but certainly the change of heart and the feelings, those things which cannot be seen with the human eye, as well as the increased devotion to the Lord, the actions and the commitments that follow, are more important. Among other things, I was struck by the numerous direct and indirect references to the testimony of the prophet Isaiah that were expressed during the first session and priesthood session of the 182nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The prophet, President Monson, the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are true watchmen, prophets, seers and revelators, just as Isaiah was a true watchman, prophet, seer and revelator in his time. There were also many noteworthy references to the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the importance of becoming truly converted to the Lord. There were other themes and parables which merit further study and application, but here follows a summary of the talks of the 182nd General Conference.
Saturday Morning Session
President Monson announced plans to construct two new temples, one in Tucson, Arizona and one in Arequipa, Peru, and the missionary age was lowered from 19 to 18 for young men and 21 to 19 for young women. The call for more missionaries, including senior couples, continues to be an urgent priority. As was mentioned in the Sunday morning session of conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that, "After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel." (TPJS, p.113)
Another salient theme of this conference has been the importance of acquiring a deep and lasting conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and inviting others to experience the same deep conversion. Elder Cook emphasized that repentance is the only panacea to the world's problems, and that conversion to Christ comes through immersion in the scriptures, service to others, and resistance to the evils of the world, including pornography and immorality. Elder Cook recalled the example of Eric Liddle, a British Olympian with a desire to glorify God who challenged conventions in Great Britain by refusing to run on the Sabbath (see Chariots of Fire, or one of my previous blog posts on this topic The Race is not to the Swift).
Sister Dibb, inspired by a young lady who was not afraid or ashamed to wear a T-shirt identifying her as a Mormon, decided that the personal declaration of her own faith would consist of four main points: 1. I'm a Mormon, 2. I know it, 3. I live it, 4. and I love it! President Monson's lovely and enthusiastic daughter emphasized patience, humility and the enabling power of the Atonement in helping us to live and pray with Christ-like submission and the attitude of "Not my will, but Thine be done."
Elder Craig C. Christensen recounted a story of when he knelt in the celestial room of the temple to listen to his son who was touched by the Holy Ghost, which taught him the importance of feeling the Holy Ghost in one's heart and acting on the promptings, and not just enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the temple. He was reminded of President Monson's oft repeated teaching that to heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost in order to become the answer to someone else's prayers is the sweetest experience in mortality. Elder Christensen testified of the various roles of the Holy Ghost and the difference between feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Elder Shane M. Bowen recounted the heart-wrenching and tragic loss of his 8 month old son, and the process by which he obtained a new heart through the Atonement and mercy of the Lord. By turning to the Lord in our trials we can be assured that great blessings await if we prove faithful.
Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke more of missionary service, and how conversion increases one's desire to serve and to share the Gospel.
Elder Uchtdorf shared three principles to help us make better use of our time during this brief mortal sojourn, and to help us live without regrets, namely, 1. To spend more time with those we love, 2. To become the person that the Lord wants us to become, and 3. To find happiness regardless of circumstances and to find joy in the journey. As Elder Uchtdorf's wife often reminds him, life is not a race, but a journey. Now is the time to rejoice. Now is the time to prepare to meet God.
Saturday Afternoon Session
After the choir sang the hymn "I am a Child of God" and Elder Marlin K. Jensen gave the invocation, Elder L. Tom Perry spoke of the importance of family in this rapidly changing world. He shared his gratitude for having been blessed with a long life (he is a spritely 90 yr. old) and his gratitude for goodly parents, especially his mother. Elder Perry called for greater devotion to a culture of covenants as opposed to the cleverly camouflaged cultures that run contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He outlined several principles to help parents strengthen marriage, family, and gospel living in the home, namely 1. pray in earnest, 2. spend time together in scripture study, prayer, family home evening and meal times, 3. use the Church support networks and communicate with leaders, 4. share testimony often and 5. organize family on clear traditions, responsibilities and rules. He emphasized portions of the Proclamation to the World, particularly that spouses should strive to consistently demonstrate love for the Lord, for each other, and for their children.
Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a parable of honey bees that is worth reviewing. The cumulative effect of small acts of kindness and the living of the small and simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ produces over time the blessings that can be compared to sweet and nutritious honey. Seemingly small contributions in the beehive can make a great difference. Elder Ballard noted that integrity simplifies our lives, and he counseled us to follow one simple daily practice: To pray each day to be guided to recognize opportunities to serve someone and to become an answer to someone's prayer. Responding to this counsel will help the Lord to "pollinate the world with the pure love of Christ" so that we may always answer "Yes" to the question of the hymn "Have I done any good in the world today?".
Elder Larry Echo Hawk shared an inspiring testimony by recounting an experience during the Vietnam War in which an officer rummaged through his bag and found a Book of Mormon, then asked if he were a Mormon and if he believed in book. Elder Echo Hawk was able to respond affirmatively to both questions then, and now with his unique ancestry and calling, he was able, in Book of Mormon-esque fashion, to invite the modern descendants of the Lamanites to come unto Christ and be saved.
Elder Robert C. Gay spoke about the Oath and the Covenant of the Priesthood. Testimony of Christ and the Gospel is the most prized possession, never to be traded for trivial things. All that the Father hath is worth ever so much more than money or even a national championship. He recounted an experience in Africa when the Lord prompted him to help a young boy who was crying. He learned not to rationalize away any prompting from the Lord, but to trust the Lord and act immediately on the prompting. He also shared a stirring quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Satan need not get everyone to be like Cain or Judas, he need only to get able men to see themselves as sophisticated neutrals".
Elder Scott D. Whiting of the quorum of the seventy spoke of temples and temple standards, and the importance of correcting anything that may be amiss in our lives in order to enjoy the blessings of the temple. The gritty walls that were sanded and the crooked window piece that was fixed are like small changes in our lives that help us to qualify for the blessings of the temple.
Elder Neil L. Anderson spoke on the trial of faith. In order to build our core of faith we need to 1. exercise faith in Christ, 2. pray and study the scriptures, and 3. stay close to the Church and turn to the Lord. Elder Anderson reminded listeners that God's ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, and that the witness that follows our trial of faith is more precious than gold.
The concluding speaker of the second session, Elder Oaks, spoke on the importance of little children. Like all of the talks, this is a talk that is well worth reviewing, so I will not elaborate here except to say that Jesus taught that in order to enter into the kingdom of God we must all repent and become as little children.
The priesthood session was inspiring. Elder D. Todd Christofferson began the session with a talk entitled "We Have Work to Do". Elder Christofferson's talk answered many questions that I had been pondering, and is one that I will return to and refer to often. He spoke of those who denigrate men and manliness, and that the world, women and the Church are looking for those who will rise up and be men of God.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson spoke of integrity and resistance to digital peer pressure. The measure of virtue and integrity is what you choose to think of and do when no one is watching, or it seems that no one is watching. He called for young men in particular to be valiant and truly devoted followers of Christ.
Elder Anthony D. Perkins related a story of a highway with treacherous falling rocks to the path of life and the oath and covenant of the priesthood. He warned priesthood holders to beware concerning themselves, with an invitation to obtain deep personal conversion and to strengthen family relationships through love and living the covenants of chastity and tithing. Obedience to these commandments would act as a guard rail against dangerous falling rocks such as pride, anger, lust and greed. Elder Perkins taught five principles that will help priesthood holders to always remember the Lord and to beware concerning themselves: 1. Pray always and obtain divine help, 2. Study ancient and modern scriptures, 3. Worthily participate in ordinances and seek earnestly the best gifts, 4. show genuine love, 5. obey the law of tithing, and 6. fully live the law of chastity like Joseph in Egypt.
Elder Uchtdorf revealed another airplane parable, comparing the flight of a restored 1938 Piper Cub to the flight of the Blue Angels. He expounded upon the vision of the priesthood as not only the power to act in God's name for the blessing of others, but also the eternal power and authority of God to create and govern worlds without end, to redeem and exalt his children, and as the channel of the revelation of God in his glory.
Elder Eyring spoke of the experiences he had while praying to discover the gifts in his children, and how to help others discover and develop gifts in order to fulfill their full potential to serve and build the kingdom of God. He discovered their gifts and carved symbols on boards to help his children remember and develop those gifts... an eagle, a lion, trumpets, a sun, bread and the words "J'aime et j'espere" ("I love and I hope").
President Monson also spoke of conversion to the Lord and reminded priesthood holders that a woman needs to be told that she is beautiful, valued, and worthwhile. He encouraged us to see men not just as they are, but as how they may become, because repentance is available to all and men can change to become like the Savior through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It was a powerful meeting with talks that are well worth reviewing and assimilating into our daily lives.
Sunday Morning Session
This morning Elder Henry B. Eyring taught that sometimes we create our own pavilions that cover God, but that he never hides from us. He is there, always mindful, and when we remove our personal ambitions and desires for worldly success, we can find him, hear him and submit to all of his will, and to all of his timing as well. We can ask God what he wants us to do and do it. We can pray "Thy will be done, and in Thine own time". We can trust the Lord and recognize his hand because he knows perfectly what is in our best eternal interest and welfare, even when we do not. A little girl in the temple asked with purity, "Where is Jesus?" Another faithful soul prayed, "Heavenly Father, I will give Thee all of my time... please show me how to fill it", thus submitting to all the will of the Lord. Jesus' only desire was to serve and to bless others. We need not fear, and we can forgive and show love to all.
Elder Boyd K. Packer derived his talk from the hymn "Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy". We can fix our gaze on the Lord and his teachings, turn away from sin, take the Lord's hand, and he will forgive and remember our sins no more.
Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society President of the Church, spoke of the Savior's loving kindness to each soul, ministering to them one by one.
Elder Walter F. Gonzales spoke of learning with our hearts.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a memorable talk about the first and great commandment, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, might, mind and strength. Elder Holland's talk, and many others, referenced the life of the apostle Peter, whom the Lord asked, "lovest thou me?" The Lord asked three times, and each time Peter replied in the affirmative, "Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee". This question is one that will be posed at the judgment seat of God, which judgment seat will be a pleasing bar for those who can respond like Peter, and like Elder Holland, with deep sincerity and devotion, "Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee" and who remember that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one on the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me". This is a talk to always remember and to apply at all times and in all circumstances.
President Monson asked that we each take an inventory of our lives to look specifically for the blessings, large and small, that the Lord has already bestowed upon us. The purpose of life is to experience joy, and we can recognize that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father, and that He answers all of our sincere prayers, not always in the way that we expected, but in the best way because He loves us. The more we act upon and quickly follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the more Heavenly Father can entrust us will revelation.
Sunday Afternoon Session
This afternoon, Elder Robert D. Hales addressed the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?" He also asked, "How are we doing in our quest to follow Christ?" We can reject worldly habits and forsake our sins, deny ourselves, and leave our metaphorical nets to follow Jesus Christ daily. Conversion is only possible through the Savior Jesus Christ. Only He can make weak things strong (Ether 12:27). In our homes, in the Church, and in the world, the Savior will make us equal to His work as we follow His teachings. He will make us fishers of men. Elder Hales spoke of Christlike attributes such as kindness and seeking the lost sheep, Christian faith during trials, Christian sacrifice, Christian caring, Christian service, Christian patience, Christian peace, Christian forgiveness, Christian conversion and Christian endurance.
Elder Richard G. Scott promised that those who engage in the work of redeeming the dead and family history will gain great protection from the adversary. He admonished us to pray about our ancestors work, and with a sincere desire to help, find someone to guide in the beginning stages of identifying ancestors with the purpose of doing vicarious ordinances.
Elder Russell T. Osguthorpe spoke of true conversion as a life-long quest that includes learning to know and teach in the Lord's way. Teaching in the Lord's way, as outlined in Teaching, No Greater Call, includes 1. teaching key doctrine 2. an invitation to action, and 3. promised blessings that bring a change of heart and help us to become more like Jesus Christ. As we learn, teach and live the Gospel, we will become truly converted. He reminded us of the Savior's teaching to the Nephites when they were commanded to return to their homes and ponder and pray for understanding.
Elder Marcus B. Nash likened life's journey to a hike up a steep mountain side, like a mountain side near Machu Picchu in Peru. Faith and Reason are like the wings of a plane... and both are needed. We can resist doubt, fear and sin with the Lord's help and relying on the Lord. We can pray "Lead Kindly Light" with the hope that, as President Monson has taught, "The future is as bright as your faith".
Elder Daniel L. Johnson spoke of this life as a test, and that sometimes prosperity and peace are a greater test than even suffering or or trials. The ultimate goal of discipleship is to do and become like Christ, to be one with him.
Elder Don R. Clarke shared five principles to help us develop greater conversion to the Lord and appreciation for the ordinance of the sacrament: 1. gratitude for the Atonement 2. remember the renewal of covenants 3. prepare for the sacrament by repenting and leave feeling the forgiveness from sin 4. pray for inspired solutions to life's problems with a humble desire to serve God, and 5. hunger and thirst after righteousness to be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Elder David A. Bednar gave a powerful talk on the relationship between testimony and conversion. Peter answered correctly that Jesus is the Christ, but he still needed deeper conversion. Elder Bednar praised the example of the Lamanites who never did fall away because of the depth and fortitude of their conversion to the Lord. Samuel the Lamanite taught that conversion is brought about by 1. believing the prophets 2. exercising faith in Jesus Christ 3. repenting 4. experiencing a mighty change of heart, and 5. becoming firm and steadfast. Testimony is a point of departure that is necessary but not sufficient for salvation and exaltation. Knowing the Gospel is true is testimony, but being true to the Gospel produces conversion. Elder Bednar likened testimony and conversion to the parable of the 10 virgins. The five wise virgins not only carried the lamp of testimony, but had accumulated the oil of conversion, drop by precious drop, with patience and persistence.
Finally, President Monson closed the conference with the invitation that we study the talks in greater depth and seek to apply the principles more fully in our lives, to be truly converted to the Lord. President Monson counseled us to be of good cheer, to strengthen our testimonies and to become more fully converted to the Lord.
As I mentioned earlier, some things that stood out to me from this general conference were the references to Isaiah and to the apostles Peter and Paul, as well as the increased emphasis on conversion to the Lord, a mighty change of heart and becoming true followers of Jesus Christ. Today I came up with a personal metaphor to help me remember to seek greater conversion to the Lord when I ignited a spark in the water heater in the morning and later in the afternoon sat by a full-fledged fire in the fireplace to enjoy conference. The spark of testimony is a necessary starting point, but in order to warm others that spark needs to grow from a spark and a small flame into a burning fire of conversion and consecration.
In conclusion, I resolve to study the talks in more depth, and to record some personal thoughts, impressions and action points from the conference in order to facilitate the process of becoming more truly converted to the Lord Jesus Christ, obtaining more drops of the precious oil of conversion, and increasing the flame of testimony into a burning fire of conversion and consecration.