SALT LAKE CITY — Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered some tough love on Sunday during the faith’s 189th Annual General Conference.
Speaking of those who’ve left the church or haven’t been willing to investigate its truths, Nelson warned that time was running out.
“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, and please do it now. Time is running out.”
Nelson also said that while the Savior did promise, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” those who choose not to make the necessary covenants with God are “settling for a most meager roof over your head throughout all eternity.”
Nelson disabused the notion that all people will be with their loved ones after death. Resurrection assures that all will live forever, but “much more” is required for the privilege of exaltation with family, he said.
“The spirit in each of us naturally yearns for family love to last forever,” Nelson said. “Love songs perpetuate a false hope that love is all you need if you want to be together forever.”
However, “While salvation is an individual matter,” he said, “exaltation is a family matter.”
For a family to be exalted forever, Nelson reminded members that they must qualify for it by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential church ordinances.
Nelson said he weeps for friends and relatives who — despite their generous gifts of time, energy and resources in this life — have ignored Christ’s pleadings to “Come, follow me.”
“They need to understand that while there is a place for these hereafter — with wonderful men and women who also chose not to make covenants with God — that is not the place where families will be reunited and given the privilege to live and progress forever,” he said.
Also on Sunday morning, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of the work that needed to be done in preparation for the Lord’s return.
Christofferson recalled the time he participated in a conference with a variety of religious faiths in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During those meetings he received an “unexpected, yet powerful and clear,” impression from the Lord.
“It was this — beyond selfless service, it is supremely important to prepare for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
Christofferson believes the LDS Church is “uniquely empowered and commissioned to accomplish the necessary preparations for the Lord’s Second Coming.”
He pointed out that the current prophet has repeatedly emphasized that the gathering of Israel is the most important thing taking place on Earth today — “And if you choose to … you can be a big part of it.”
Christofferson pointed out that the Latter-day Saints have always been a missionary people, sharing the gospel with others and doing the “redemptive effort on behalf of our ancestors” is vital.
“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.
Also Sunday morning, Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, emphasized the essential role love has in missionary work, temple and family history work, and home-centered church-supported family religious observance.
“As members, we can show our love for the Savior and our brothers and sisters throughout the world by making simple invitations,” he said. “The new Sunday meeting schedule represents an exceptional opportunity for members to successfully and lovingly invite friends and associates to come, and see, and feel a church experience.”
Elder Dale G. Renlund, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, stressed the part women play in missionary work, pointing out that about 30 percent of the church’s full-time missionaries are now female.
“What is needed is a loving, compassionate, spiritual commitment by each of us — men, women, youth, and children — to share the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Renlund said. “If we show love, kindness and humility, many will accept our invitation. Those who choose not to accept our invitation will still be our friends.”
On Sunday afternoon, Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of being “cleansed by repentance.”
Oaks, who is a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court and current member of the church’s governing First Presidency, says he has had the opportunity to see the contrast between the laws of man and the laws of God.
“Christ redeems,” Oaks said, “and His atonement is real.”
Oaks said the purpose of God’s plan is to “prove” us, to see if we will do all that God asks. Oaks warned that if sinful acts and desires remain unrepented until the final judgment, the unrepentant person will remain unclean.
“The atonement of Jesus Christ gives us the only way to achieve the needed cleansing through repentance, and this mortal life is our time to do it,” he said. “Although we are taught that some repentance can occur in the spirit world, that is not as certain.”
Also Sunday afternoon, Elder Kyle S. McKay of the church’s Seventy spoke of the “immediate goodness of God” in the Book of Mormon, scripture unique to the church.
“When the Lord or His servants say things like, ‘not many days hence’ or ‘the time is not far distant,’ it can literally mean a lifetime or longer,” McKay said. “His time, and frequently His timing, is different from ours. Patience is key. Without it, we can neither develop nor demonstrate faith in God unto life and salvation.”
However, having said that, McKay said that even while waiting on the Lord, there are certain blessings that come immediately — blessings that “will deliver you from everything that threatens to diminish or destroy your life or joy,” although he warns “That deliverance may take longer than you would like — perhaps a lifetime or longer.”
In a recurring theme during the afternoon session, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Latter-day Saint homes should be fortresses against the evils of the world.
“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,” he said.
Rasband warned that the members’ homes are “only as powerful as the spiritual strength of each one of us within the walls.” He said Satan was warring for the souls of men, but in building a fortress of spiritual strength the advances of the adversary can be shunned.
“Your testimony of Jesus Christ is your personal fortress, the security for your soul,” he said. “When my grandfather and his fellow pioneers built the Heber Fort, they put up one log at a time until the fort was ‘fitly framed together’ and they were protected. So it is with testimony. One-by-one we gain a witness from the Holy Spirit as He speaks to our own spirit teaching ‘truth in the inward parts.’”
He encouraged members to put their arms around those who stumble and “lead them lovingly back to the fortress of spirituality and protection.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talked about the Savior being both the “Good Shepherd” and the “Lamb of God.” He said that of all of Jesus’ divine titles, none are more tender or telling than those two.
“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 asked.
Gong called upon all members of the church to become shepherds in Israel.
“Our Good Shepherd cautions that shepherds in Israel must not slumber, nor scatter or cause the sheep to go astray, nor look our own way for our own gain,” he said. “God’s shepherds are to strengthen, heal, bind up that which is broke, bring again that which was driven away, seek that which was lost.”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the importance of programs in the church becoming increasingly more “home-centered and church-supported.”
Bednar quoted fellow church general authority Craig C. Christensen in suggesting ways in which gospel learning could emphasize the idea of being home-centered and church-supported.
“He suggested that instead of returning to our homes after church meetings on Sunday and asking, ‘What did you learn about the Savior and His gospel today at church?’ we should ask in our church meetings, ‘What did you learn about the Savior and His gospel this week in your home?’” Bednar said.
Bednar said Latter-day Saints should not expect the church as as organization to teach or tell them everything they need to know and do to become devoted disciples. Parents have a sacred duty to rear children in love and righteousness.
“Rather, our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the Master would have us become,” he said. “And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.”
Bednar said the ultimate missionary training center “is in our homes.”
On Sunday morning, Sister Sharon L. Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, spoke of the spiritual light that Christ provides to all. She also encouraged those who grieve, who are weary or who feel they just aren’t good enough to take heart.
“I testify that you are beloved,” she said. “The Lord knows how hard you are trying. You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means ‘God with us.’”
Also in the morning, Tad R. Callister, who was just released as general president of the Sunday School organization, spoke on the atonement of Jesus Christ, saying that his sacrifice “gives us life for death, ‘beauty for ashes,’ healing for hurt and perfection for weakness. It is heaven’s antidote to the obstacles and struggles of this world.”