This week our usual church services were replaced by the Northern Europe Area broadcast. Northern Europe appears to cover the British Isles, Scandinavia and Finland. The first 20 minutes or so of the meeting were conducted locally. We then heard from President L Whitney Clayton, Sister Linda S Reeves, Elder Timothy J. Dyches and Elder M Russell Ballard via broadcast from Salt Lake*.
In our stake we opened with the hymn Glory to God on High, a great opening hymn of worship. One of my favourites. Following an opening prayer given by our stake Relief Society president, and the conducting of local business by our stake president, we were treated to a fantastic musical item by our stake choir, a hymn of praise: To God be the Glory.
Our stake president then spoke about how we can help others, and how it doesn’t always have to be a huge effort to do so, using as a metaphor an extended cycle ride he’d taken with younger fitter friends, and how he had appreciated being able to benefit from their slip stream for the latter part of the return journey. They helped him. Sometimes we need help.
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” (Luke 15:4-6)
We were encouraged to look out for that one person today, that it is not too much effort to pick up a phone or send a text.
“Over the centuries, this parable has traditionally been interpreted as a call to action for us to bring back the lost sheep and to reach out to those who are lost. While this is certainly appropriate and good, I wonder if there is more to it. Is it possible that Jesus’s purpose, first and foremost, was to teach about the work of the Good Shepherd? Is it possible that He was testifying of God’s love for His wayward children? Is it possible that the Savior’s message was that God is fully aware of those who are lost—and that He will find them, that He will reach out to them, and that He will rescue them?” (Dieter F Uchtdorf, He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home, General Conference, April 2016)
Following our stake president’s words, we attempted to connect to the broadcast. There were some initial hiccups so that the opening words of President L Whitney Clayton senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy, who was conducting were lost to us. He was also the first of the broadcast speakers.
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)
An optimistic divine perspective, we have the great plan of happiness. Sometimes joy and happiness can seem to be elusive. Enos referred to the “joy of the saints”.
Jesus and his disciples walked everywhere. On one occasion Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. There were no cars… no internet. News travelled by word of mouth. Very different to our day when news stories can travel around the world in minutes. Elder Clayton itemised more of the things we have/do now that would not have been the case in the past, including eating food we did not grow with little idea of where it came from, and asked are we happier? He referred to his mission in Peru, beginning March 1970. He had come from a prosperous family, and found in Peru the people were just as happy, perhaps happier without the many conveniences he had taken for granted at home. Joy comes from something other than material abundance, it comes from within. He isn’t saying material possessions are evil, they can free us from worry and give us increased opportunities to serve others. He gave us examples of joy found within from the scriptures:
1. Alma the Younger who with the sons of Mosiah had sought to destroy the church and was visited by an angel in answer to the prayers of his father. Spent three days unconscious and in torment until he remembered the teachings of his father about Christ.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:10-20)
Real repentance brings joy, a blessing of obedience. “And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you”.
2. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), in which a man gives 5, 2 and 1 talents to his servants before going away. On his return he commends the two servants who had used his talents wisely saying “enter thou into the joy of thy lord”, and reprimanded the one who had buried the single talent he had been given. The way we live our lives qualifies us for everlasting joy. We have the opportunity to choose how to invest our talents, in our families, church, employment, family history, sharing the gospel. No effort will go unrewarded. Joy is a consequence of following the Saviour. We have been blessed and have the agency to choose what to do with what God has given us. The rewarded servants did something useful with their talents. The parable teaches of the kingdom of heaven, and that there will be a day of reckoning. Whether we have few or abundant blessings we need to use them well in this life to enter into the joy of the Lord.
3. Lehi’s vision (1Nephi 8), in which he finds himself in a dark and dreary waste until he prays for mercy and sees a tree laden with desirable fruit, which fruit so filled his so with joy he wished for his family to also eat of it. He sees a straight and narrow path with an iron rod leading to the tree. It is by holding to the rod that they would be able to reach the tree. Nephi asks the meaning and also receives a vision in which he is told it is the love of God in the hearts of men that is the “most desirable …most joyous to the soul“.
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)
Joy is a gift from God which comes from living as they desire us to live, comes as we put God first, as we love our neighbours as ourselves starting in our homes, and as we apply the principles of the restored gospel in our lives.
President Clayton was followed by Sister Linda S Reeves 2nd Counsellor in the Relief Society General Presidency. The broadcast of her address was interrupted on several occasions.
Sister Reeves has ancestors from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the British Isles. Her son and daughter-in-law are currently in London (I think it was that way around) and she feels like she is talking to family.
Some time ago she was encouraged to keep a list of “why I know”, and each time she has an experience with the Holy Ghost she makes a note of it. Each time she adds something her testimony is strengthened. She listed some of the things she knows.
1. She was present when her daughter gave birth to a son and felt the witness of the spirit that the child had come from the presence of God.
2. She was touched by the testimonies borne by young adults at a meeting in Canada that the earth was created by a supreme being, following a video presentation of the beauties of creation. She loves the testimony of Alma confronting Korihor’s sign-seeking saying:
“Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)
3. God is in his temples. She related a story about neighbours they had previously invited to attend church with them, but it was only when they invited them to the Los Angeles temple visitor’s centre and in walking the temple grounds that her friend Margaret felt of the spirit. She referred to the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple:
“…that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.” (D&C 109:13)
There friends subsequently took the missionary discussions. Sister Reeves and her husband were present in the temple when their friends and their four children were later sealed. At the time they had no idea how important this would become to the Reeves family, the families were connected as the youngest son from one and youngest daughter of the other family married, also in the temple.
4. Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration. She quoted Brigham Young.
“It was decreed in the councils of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people and receive the fullness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. [Joseph Smith] was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, 47)
She has spent a lot of time studying his life. She is aware of both the positive and negative comments about him on media. After this life we can receive answers to searching questions. Then we will be grateful we had trusted in prophets and apostles.
5. The Book of Mormon is true and saved for our day. She recalls the second time she read it for herself when Nephi and Moroni felt like friends. There are blessings that come from reading the Book of Mormon daily. She recalls speaking with the bishop of a ward where the youth had many challenges, who felt that getting a testimony of the Book of Mormon from a young age would help strengthen them. The Book of Mormon was preserved for this time amidst trials. How does the Lord feel…
There was a break in the broadcast at this point, but it would appear from the recap at the end of her address that the next points were:
6. We are led by prophets who prepare us for the return of the Saviour. I’m told that Sister Reeves quoted from Elder Oaks 2004 conference address about preparing for the second coming.
7. The atonement of Christ. When we rejoined the broadcast Sister Reeves was saying that Korihor was an anti-Christ because he tried to negate the atonement. Repentance is real. Cleansing comes from the atonement of Christ and the price he paid for each of us individually. Those feelings cannot be imitated or duplicated by Satan. This is the greatest witness of the reality of the atonement and truthfulness of the gospel.
Sister Reeves then bore her testimony summarising the points she had covered during her address, and urged us to keep our own lists of “why we know”.
Elder Timothy J. Dyches was the next to address us. He served as a member of the Europe Area Presidency from August 2013 to August 2016.
Elder Dyches told us he brings with him the love of the prophet. He is grateful for the exemplary way we take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and are to invite all to do the same. When Christ visited the Book of Mormon people he said:
“Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Nephi 15:9).
We must press forward, remaining steadfast. To get blessings we must endure to the end. The key is resilience.
He told the story of the long-distance swimmer Florence Chadwick and her resilience. She had previously swum the English channel and was attempting to swim the Catalina channel on the California coast. Conditions were tough with heavy fog, and her backup boats having to keep sharks at a distance. She couldn’t see where she was going and eventually gave up, and was devastated to discover she had been within a mile of her goal. Resilience can help us rebound after hard times or a failure. Failure can be a form of feedback. Florence began training and planning again. Near the end of her second attempt fog again obscured her view, but this time she kept going. This time she succeeded, not only setting a women’s record as the first woman to swim the channel, but also beating the men’s record.
We can have spiritual resilience if we centre our lives on Christ and his teachings. The Holy Ghost is indispensable. We can see examples of resilience in scripture: Joseph who was sold into slavery Egypt, and imprisoned; Peter who denied Christ but went on to preach the gospel; Nephi who was beaten and bound by his brothers; Joseph Smith who was tarred and feathered yet preached a sermon the next morning; pioneers.
The blessing of resilience is hope, and hope brings resilience. It allows forgiveness and overcomes doubt. As it says in the hymn we should “gird up [our] loins, fresh courage take, God will never us forsake”, “hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men”. The resilient are obedient for “there is a law, irrevocably decreed … when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” This includes the blessing of resilience.
We can be helped by the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost. We can be refreshed in the temple as we bring both ourselves and our ancestors to God. We can learn from the grit of our ancestors as we learn about them. We came to this earth to gain experience and wisdom. Knowledge of Heavenly Father’s plan can give is resilience. As we partake of the sacrament and renew our covenants we see that repentance and resilience are travelling companions. No-one came to fail. Whatever our challenges we can come to God. He quotes from a letter he received from someone on the path back bearing testimony that through God all things are possible.
Resilience can be enhanced by spiritual self-reliance. Elder Dyches then listed different aspects of spiritual self-reliance, and also aspects of physical and temporal self-reliance. Ministering to others can allow us to receive revelation for our own needs.
We need to teach our children so that they are prepared to face life’s challenges, to be able to adapt to the times without relinquishing core beliefs, and without losing sight of the purpose of life and our divine destiny.
We can seek for meaning in our difficulties and challenges. Elder Dyches quoted Elder Hafen that we “can learn from [our] experience without being condemned by it”. He wants us to emphasise optimism, to be believing and be happy, referring to an address by President Hinckley. Some things are beyond our control, other things come because of our choices. If we’re not centred on the Saviour nothing else can be permanently right, “it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that we must build our foundation”.
We need to develop spiritual resilience in a world with political correctness. Symbolically we are swimming in cold, shark -infested waters with rough waves. Live a Christ-centred life, our joy is his joy. Testimony of Christ. The virtue of Christ’s sacrifice is available to all who endure.
The intermediate hymn was We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet, conducted via the broadcast. As had been found with previous broadcasts the volume of the music was really not high enough to hear once we were singing, but at least we didn’t get so far ahead this time. Elder Clayton thanked all those in SLC and Europe involved in organising this conference, particularly the technical folk. The final speaker of the broadcast was Elder M Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
He’s sure we’ve enjoyed the talks so far. We know from the New Testament that Paul kept in touch with the saints through epistles. Elder Ballard can’t meet with us all personally, in over 50 stakes and several districts (he specified numbers but I didn’t get them written down fast enough). This is his epistle. Paul begins his epistles “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God”. Likewise Elder Ballard testifies of Christ, the resurrection, and additionally the restoration. Paraphrasing Paul:
“Unto the church of God which is in [northern Europe], to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)
In the beginning the saints from Europe have strengthened the heart of the church. He takes the heart metaphor further, and describes the early European saints, our ‘forefathers’, as having served as missionaries pumping the gospel truths throughout the world. Our dedication to the Lord is revealed in the religious landscape of northern Europe, he specifies numbers of temples, thriving seminary programs and suchlike. Missionaries come from the northern Europe area, and we provide the church with resources throughout the world. We are blessed with prosperity, access to dental and medical care, education and employment. We have flourishing sports and arts. We make a significant and important contribution.
We need to keep the heart healthy, regular medical check-ups. He has conferred with our Area Presidency and has some recommendations to make. We need to maintain healthy practice. This means holding fast to out area plan, making personal adjustments in our spiritual exercise.
Elder Ballard quoted from the epistle to the Galations:
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
He wishes to raise a warning voice that there are those who trouble us, who pervert the gospel of Christ. There are two powers in the universe, one which invites us to choose the right, and the other the opposite leading to sadness and regret. Life is a test. Which invitation will we accept? The Saviour said “there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” They are saddened to see this happening.
He has previously shared this story in Utah. On the BYU campus there is a grove of sequoia trees, the world’s largest trees. In the wild these trees can live for 1000 years. The bark protects them from fire, bugs and fungus. One of the trees on campus died last year, after only 50 years, and had to be cut down leaving a stump. The campus arborist wanted to know why the tree had died, and discovered that the feeding roots of the tree had dried up from lack of water. Nearby building work had resulted in movement of the aquifer. This is what happens when stalwart church members die spiritually. They become disconnected from the well of living water of Jesus Christ. We must ensure our connection. Spiritual habits help us maintain our purpose and be unwavering disciples, but can slip away in the rush of our busy lives. He suggested as spiritual habits sincere daily prayer, faithful fasting, regular study of scripture, Sabbath observance, temple attendance, reaching out to the poor and needy. All these things are in harmony with the area plan. Not doing these things can allow Satan to muddy the mind leading to de-conversion. Stay focused on the simple doctrine of Christ. False voices can include the allurement of wealth (he qualified the kind of wealth, but I forget the qualifier – sorry), internet sites that don’t fairly represent the facts, and other things.
He made it a point to say that there is nothing wrong with asking questions, or investigating history or doctrines. The church came into being because Joseph Smith asked questions. He asked parents and leaders not to brush off questions or to doubt the dedication to the Lord of those asking questions, but instead to help them find answers. He gave as an example an experience he had with a returned missionary who felt he was losing his faith and testimony, had many questions and met with Elder Ballard. Elder Ballard asked him to write down his questions. He also asked him how long it had been since he had read the scriptures. On hearing it was some time he assigned the young man to commit to reading the Book of Mormon for an hour a day. They met two weeks later. The young man said he no longer needed answers to his questions and had a testimony. Elder Ballard was happy to hear this but insisted he go through the answers anyway, since he’d put in the time getting them together. He has heard stories where those who have asked questions have been treated as faithless. He quoted Peter saying “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you”. We need to do better responding to questions.
We should not expect that parents and leaders will have all the answers. Even among the twelve there are different backgrounds and experiences. The church has trained scholars we can turn to. The church is dedicated to transparency. The Joseph Smith Papers project website and gospel topics essays provide background to our past. He particularly emphasised background and context.
Some have become casual about listening to the Lord’s servants, and skip attending their conference sessions. We won’t find all our answers on google. Some attempt to live beyond their means. Be content and enjoy the blessings you have, avoid unnecessary debt. Avoid being over-programmed, sit and talk and enjoy each others company. Consider how you might cut back and enjoy a less hectic life, finding time to “be still and know that I am God”. Avoid any kind of discrimination or persecution. He quotes from Alma that “there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves”. We should talk in our family councils about how we should treat others not of our faith. Let’s be careful what we say about others. We should love our neighbours as ourselves, practice civility and kindness.
Elder Ballard asked us to consider the counsel we have received today, to find our feeding roots connected to the well of living water. We will find more peace and happiness accepting Christ and the servants he has sent. The area presidency are doing a magnificent job. Follow the area plan. It is doable by attending to simple personal habits. May this be received in the spirit in which it was given, a spirit of joy. May we have the courage to repent as needed, the strength to turn to the Lord, to love him and serve him and be prepared to one day be held in the arms of Christ. If you need to do better, may God bless you to do so. Take time to think about your life, interview yourself. Keep moving forward through the process of mortality. Watch over one another, strengthen one another. Do those things that will allow us to arrive safely.
The closing hymn and prayer were conducted locally. Our closing hymn was Secret Prayer, and the closing prayer was given by our stake Young Women president.
This summary is taken from my scribbled notes made at the time. The choice of hyperlinks is mine. My apologies for any errors in reporting.
*So I believe, given a reference Elder Ballard made during his address. We missed the introduction to the broadcast by President Clayton.