As The 193rd Semiannual General Conference Sunday morning session opened, President Dallin H. Oaks again noted the absence of President Russell M. Nelson, who usually speaks during this session.
The doors opened early for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word.” A woodwind ensemble accompanied the organ and choir in the group’s latest original song, “Because of Him,” and Lloyd Newell spoke of God’s love and care for all His children.
President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve
Due to challenges with his eyesight, President Ballard shared a message and testimony without written remarks.
“I think of how grateful we are as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Joseph Smith, a boy, desired to know what he needed to do to have his sins forgiven,” President Ballard said.
President Ballard bore testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and was called to translate The Book of Mormon.
“Though my testimony today is simple, it’s deep and it’s full of love for the prophet Joseph Smith, and for all of those brothers and sisters who were willing to sustain the prophet in his youth,” President Ballard said.
Ballard testified that the greatest knowledge available on earth is to know that the fullness of the gospel has been restored to the earth. Traveling across the world through the last 50 years to share that message has been his greatest blessing.
“May we increase in our commitment to serve, strive to keep his commandments and try to be more like Him,” Elder Ballard said.
Sister Emily Belle Freeman, Young Women General President
Sister Freeman shared her story of trying to hike the “Jesus trail,” a path from Nazareth to Capernaum in Israel. The support of her friends and trail mates helped her push through the pain of a broken ankle and walk the whole path, and she related that to the support Jesus Christ gives his children.
“No matter the heaviness of our story, or the current course of our path, He will invite us to walk with Him,” Sister Freeman said.
She explained that the covenant path we walk with Him is not about checking off the required covenants, but building a relationship with God and trusting in His promises.
“Jesus Christ came to lift us. He wants to help us become. This is the ‘why’ of the temple,” Sister Freeman said. “We must remember, it’s not the course alone that will exalt us, it’s the companion –– our Savior. And this is the ‘why’ of covenant relationship.”
The strength of that relationship with Jesus is how we answer questions about why we walk the covenant path and maintain those covenants in our daily lives.
She testified that we will strengthen our personal devotion as we share personal experiences with Christ.
Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella, General Authority Seventy
Elder Parrella taught that we witness of Jesus Christ by sharing our beliefs through words and actions.
“When we humbly share our testimony of the Lord through our words and actions, the Holy Ghost confirms to those with real intent, open hearts and willing minds that Jesus is indeed the Christ,” Elder Parrella said.
Elder Parrella shared the story of a lady in Spain who attended meetings for two years, despite not being a member, because the members so often spoke of Jesus Christ in the meetings.
In an example of bearing witness through action, he shared a story from his time guiding groups during the Feather River California Temple open house. In one session, a church member who was taking a tour with his non-member friends made an impact on his friends through the way he consistently lived his beliefs.
Elder Parrella closed by emphasizing that using the correct name of the Church is one small way that we remember Jesus Christ better and feel his influence.
“By following the prophet, we can all learn to testify more of Jesus Christ by using the correct name of the Church, thus taking upon us more fully the name of the Lord,” Elder Parrella said.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve
He opened by sharing his gratitude for President Ballard’s testimony.
Elder Cook described how we can find strength to overcome adversity by being a peaceable follower of Christ. He reminded the congregation that our heavenly destiny is not altered when we suffer adversity.
“As peaceable followers of Christ, we strive to live His commandments,” Elder Cook said. “It has never been easy for His followers. Nor was it easy for the Savior to faithfully fulfill His mortal mission.”
He referenced the updated “Preach My Gospel” which focuses on the understanding and peace we gain from a relationship with Jesus.
“Preach My Gospel” says, “As we rely on Jesus Christ and His Atonement, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Elder Cook reminded the congregation that God has provided scriptures and prophets to prepare us for the challenges ahead. He also shared how the Lord gave President Brigham Young practical guidance to prepare the early Saints for their journey West.
“As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I testify that ‘peaceable followers of Christ’ will find personal peace in this life and a glorious heavenly reunion,” Elder Cook said.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quorum of the Twelve
Elder Uchtdorf also shared his love for President Ballard.
“Although your eyesight may be failing, you have 20/20 spiritual vision,” Uchtdorf said.
He opened with a retelling of the Prodigal Son, focusing on the son’s progression from excitement to embarrassment.
“It wasn’t just an empty stomach that troubled him,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “It was an empty soul. He had been so sure that giving in to his worldly desires would make him happy, that moral laws were obstacles to that happiness.”
Elder Uchtdorf focused on the father’s yearning for his son’s safety and the great celebration he organized when the son returned.
“Our Heavenly Father will run to us, His heart overflowing with love and compassion,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “… Though choices may have taken you far away from the Savior and His Church, the Master Healer stands at the road that leads home, welcoming you.”
Coming back is not an easy thing to do, Elder Uchtdorf reminded the congregation, and when people around us choose to return, we ought to rejoice with them. After all, each of us has walked that same road at some point in our lives.
“Together, we will ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; for Jesus Christ is our strength,” Uchtdorf said.
Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric
Bishop Waddell opened with a story of Brigham Young pleading for volunteers to rescue the handcart companies trapped in the winter storms of 1856. Years later, a monument in Salt Lake celebrates their sacrifice and willingness to serve.
He warned that in our world of athletes, politicians, celebrities and scientists, it can be easy to lose track of who the great heroes are.
“The hero, our Hero, now and always, is Jesus Christ, and anyone or anything that distracts us from his teachings can negatively influence our progress on the covenant path,” Bishop Waddell warned.
He contrasted the example of the children of Israel, who let the gold they carried from Egypt distract them during their exodus, with the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to worship the “hero” of their day.
“We must be watchful that this form of hero worship does not become our golden calf,” Bishop Waddell said. “Choosing the ‘right’ hero has eternal consequences.”
Bishop Waddell closed by reminding the congregation that Jesus Christ stands above all others.
“No leader has shown more courage, no humanitarian (has shown) more kindness, no physician has cured more disease and no artist has been more creative than Jesus Christ,” Bishop Waddell said.
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency
President Eyring framed his address as a letter to his posterity of how they can receive the influence of the Holy Ghost in their life. He shared the examples of both Nephis in the Book of Mormon and how they received revelation.
“You and I have the opportunity to have the Holy Ghost as our constant companion and to have these truths confirmed to us,” President Eyring said.
The companionship of the Holy Ghost is something we all desire but do not always feel that we have. He reminded the congregation that this doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us.
“Of all the things to which the Holy Ghost testifies, the most precious for us may be that Jesus is the Christ, the living Son of God,” President Eyring said.
He shared the courageous example of two home teachers who followed a late-night prompting from the Holy Ghost to visit a girl who was about to make negative choices. If we are prepared and willing, God will reveal those same opportunities to us.
“I pray that we may have that blessing today and in every day of our lives,” President Eyring said.