Utah North Multistake Conference Broadcast

By President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


The following is the text from an address given by President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a broadcast to the 120 stakes in the Utah North Area on October 28, 2018.

 

Brothers and sisters, this has been a wonderful session this morning. I want to commend those who have spoken and given such wonderful thoughts. You parents, the Lord bless you for hanging in there with all these little children. They do grow up. You do have to be patient, but they do grow up.

I was thinking about an experience I had. My father-in-law and mother-in-law were not active in the Church. I had worked very hard to get my father-in-law to go to church and finally worked it out for him and his wife to go to sacrament meeting with Barbara and me. A returned missionary was speaking, and he went on and on and on in his discourse. He wasn’t really teaching the gospel of Christ quite like I was hoping he would. He was more talking about the various places he had served. It was past time for the meeting to be over and a little child started to cry and the mother took the child out. My father-in-law leaned over and said, “If I start to cry will you carry me out?” That was the last time I got him to church. So I want your little ones to just sit tight for a few more minutes and you will soon be home. 

My brothers and sisters, it is a pleasure for me to meet with you here in the Dee Event Center and by satellite broadcast throughout the Utah North multistake conference area. We hope all of you listening in your ward and stake buildings feel like you are part of our conference this morning. I thank Sister Harkness, Bishop Waddell, and Elder Curtis for their important messages this morning.  

Because I am unable to personally meet with all of you in your 120 stakes where you are gathered in your many chapels, and unlike the Apostle Paul, who kept in touch with the ancient Saints through letters or epistles that he sent to different branches communicating his love, direction, and teachings, I will verbally give to you my own epistle today to express my love and gratitude and teachings.

To the Saints in Corinth, Paul wrote, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” [1]

I have also been called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and as a special witness of the Lord, I testify, as Paul did in his letters, that Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, that the Father raised Him from the dead. I further testify that Christ restored the Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith in these last days and that the fulness of the gospel and the blessings associated with eternal covenants are available to all who will believe and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul often praised the Saints for their example, as he did in his letters to the Romans: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”[2] The same can be said today about you Saints in this area—I thank you for your faith, dedication, and devotion, all of which are well known throughout the entire Church.

It could easily be said that during the early years of the Church history, the Utah Latter-day Saints carried the message of the Restoration throughout the entire world—giving members everywhere spiritual strength and testimonies of gospel truths.

That hasn’t changed much through the years, and as a consequence of your faithfulness and your heartfelt dedication, the Lord has blessed you greatly—and through you, the world has been blessed around you. In terms of tithes and offerings, missionary service, temple work, good deeds, and leadership, the Utah North Area provides the Church a generous resource to help build the kingdom of God and to establish Zion throughout the world.

We see this faithfulness in your lives to becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Additionally, your devotion to the Lord is revealed in the religious landscape of the Utah North Area, with:

  • Two missions.
  • Three temples, with an additional temple announced in April’s general conference.
  • Vibrant institutes of religion and programs associated with the great colleges and universities in the area.
  • Numerous ward, stake, and seminary buildings from Park Valley in the west, Layton in the south, to Croydon in the east, and to Malad City in the north.

The Lord has blessed you with unprecedented prosperity when compared to all those who have lived on the earth. Your access to medical and dental care, clean water, education, transportation, and sanitation services is unparalleled in world history. You have also been blessed with recreational and entertainment options, and you are surrounded by a beautiful, rich, and diverse natural world. Your productive farms, ranches, and orchards dot the land, and small and large businesses provide employment—paying mortgages, medical expenses, and educational expenses of employees. Sports and the arts flourish in your communities, drawing attention to Utah from around the world.

The Book of Mormon and Isaiah’s prophecies are being fulfilled in our very own time—the Saints are prospering in the land, and the land is blossoming as a rose.

Now, my brothers and sisters, as I have conferred with your leaders and prayed for heaven’s help, I have some recommendations that will help to keep you spiritually healthy and strong.

Paul warned the Saints in his own day of the spiritual dangers they faced. To the Galatians he wrote:

“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.” [3]

I raise my warning voice, as Paul did, that there are those “that trouble you”—people who “pervert the gospel of Christ.” I would be shrinking in my duty as an Apostle if I did not raise my voice to warn you of the challenges we face today.

My brothers and sisters, never forget that there are two powers in the universe; one invites us to choose the right and experience eternal joy and happiness, and the other invites us to choose the opposite, bringing sadness and regret. Our doctrine teaches us that life is a test—a time to see which invitation we will accept.

I remind you of Jesus’s prophecy regarding the last days in which we now live: “For 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.” [4]  We are saddened when we witness some of the “very elect” deceived as Jesus warned. I wonder why this happens.

I remember that I was invited to visit a small grove of sequoia trees planted many years ago on the BYU campus. A friend of mine explained to me that sequoias are the world’s largest trees and that they can grow to between 164 and 279 feet tall. They can live to more than a thousand years.

Another interesting fact about the sequoias is that their unique and resilient bark protects the trees from forest fires and also repels bugs and fungi that can damage and kill a tree.

One of the trees died, and the dead tree needed to be cut down, leaving only a stump to remind anyone passing by that tall, majestic tree which where it once stood.

The campus arborist wanted to know what killed the tree, as the sequoia certainly did not die of old age. After an examination, he determined that the tree’s feeding roots had died from a lack of water.

And how was that possible since the tree had flourished there for more than five decades?

The arborist discovered that the aquifer that nourished the little grove had shifted as an unintended consequence of the construction of a new building east of the grove.

To me this is a perfect analogy of what happens when stalwart Church members, the “very elect,” those who for all appearances seem to stand tall and erect in the faith and then spiritually they drift and, like the dead sequoia, die spiritually.

Like the dead sequoia, these Church members once received their spiritual nourishment from the well of living water offered by Jesus Christ. But for one reason or another, they have shifted away from the source of spiritual nourishment, and without that nourishment their spirit is dulled, and they eventually lose their faith and die spiritually. 

Now I ask you, brothers and sisters, how can we ensure that our spiritual feeding roots are always connected to the Savior’s well of living water?

The Lord outlined simple, personal habits that keep us rooted, grounded, and connected to Him. Such habits, when done with full purpose of heart, real intent, and without hypocrisy and deception, allow us to be unwavering disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These essential habits include the things that seem to slip away, such as sincere daily prayer, faithful fasting, regular study and pondering of the scriptures and the words of the living prophets, making the Sabbath day a delight, partaking of the sacrament with humility and always remembering the Savior, worshipping in the temple as often as possible, and, finally, reaching out to the needy, poor, and lonely—both those close by and across the world. We have had some wonderful instruction from those who spoke before me.

When someone stops doing these simple but essential things, they cut themselves off from the well of living water and allow Satan to muddy their thinking with his deceptively polluted water that clogs and drains the spirit with counterfeit teachings. Sin and guilt cloud the mind—leading many to deny past inspiration and revelation and causing a “de-conversion” from the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One thing that is constantly on my mind is knowing that individuals who don’t stay focused on the simple doctrine and gospel of Christ will eventually listen to false teachers and self-declared prophets and adopt worldly philosophies. These alternative voices include:

  • The allure of prideful wealth;
  • Allowing wants to overrule needs, thus increasing personal debt;
  • Recreation and entertainment that can take away from the wholesome goodness of the gospel;
  • Not properly observing the Sabbath day; and
  • Viewing social media posts, podcasts, and internet sites that raise questions and doubt without being intellectually honest enough to adequately and honestly present the Lord’s perspective.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions or investigating our history, doctrine, and practices. The Restoration began when Joseph Smith sought answers to His questions.

But I am concerned when I hear of sincere people asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practices and then being treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. Peter said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” [5]

We need to do better in responding to honest questions, brothers and sisters. Although we may not be able to answer every question about our history, practices, or doctrine to the satisfaction of every skeptic, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere. It’s good to remember that there is still a place in religion for faith. Sometimes we can learn and study and know; sometimes we have to believe and trust and hope.

When I have had a question that I cannot answer, I turn to those who can help me. The Church is blessed with trained scholars and those who have devoted a lifetime of study, who have come to know our history and scriptures. These thoughtful men and women provide context and background so we can better understand our sacred past and our current practices.       

The Church is dedicated, brothers and sisters, to transparency and has published precious resources to provide new insights and offer even more context to the story of the Restoration through the Joseph Smith Papers website and the Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org. It is a remarkable time to study Church history and doctrine, with abundant resources and experts providing helpful background and understanding of our past, including the new Church history volume 1, Saints: The Standard of Truth. I hope all of you will get a copy of that and read it. It is marvelous.

I am concerned that some live so close to the Church headquarters—and that may be some of you—that you may become casual in listening to the Lord’s servants. Some choose to miss sessions of stake and general conference because they see those special weekends as a time off from their Church assignments. It is hard for me to understand why anyone turns to other voices on the internet without first turning to the voices in the scriptures or the voices of the living prophets and apostles.

For example, if you are listening to me this morning, you will know that the Lord is guiding the leaders of the Church to help you increase faith in Heavenly Father and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ by getting the gospel of Jesus Christ deep into your hearts. 

For example, in September 2012, the First Presidency announced the new Come, Follow Me curriculum for Young Men and Young Women and for their Sunday School classes. The introduction of the integrated curriculum accelerated the effort to increase faith and lasting testimonies of Jesus Christ and His gospel in the hearts of the young members of the Church.

Then, in April 2015, in that general conference, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve announced an effort to increase faith in Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement through improved Sabbath day observance, which we had wonderful instruction on this morning, that included receiving the sacrament where we can contemplate the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Members will strengthen their faith by observing the Sabbath day at church and in their homes, and this will bless every member.

The involvement of the sisters and the brethren on the ward council has greatly elevated the spiritual experiences that are now provided in sacrament meeting. The increased focus on the Savior in sacrament meeting is touching hearts and building faith. We encourage the effort to elevate our devotions to our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son through emphasis on the vital role of the Sabbath day in drawing us closer to Them. 

Then, in general conference in April 2016, under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, Teaching in the Savior’s Way was introduced, which is intended to help teachers to help members to succeed in having the gospel knowledge embedded deep into their hearts.

Then, in August 2017, the First Presidency announced new materials for Sunday meetings of Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies. Members began using the new materials in January 2018. The materials guide adults in what they study and also how they use the time when they meet together to accomplish the Lord’s work. The introduction of this integrated curriculum accelerated our efforts to increase faith and lasting testimonies of Jesus Christ and His gospel in the hearts of the adult members of the Church.

Now, brothers and sisters, I don’t need to remind you that 2018 has been an eventful year already. The urgency to strengthen our faith in Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Atonement continues and is intensifying, as we witnessed in the April and October general conferences.

Reflecting on April general conference, none of us will ever forget the announcements from President Russell M. Nelson regarding the significant changes in the elders quorums and Relief Society and the introduction of the higher and holier way of ministering. He also announced at that conference seven new temples.

Then, in May of this year, under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, a new Children and Youth Development program that will be implemented beginning January 2020 was announced. This program is a comprehensive effort to (1) simplify existing programs, (2) improve the development and growth of children and youth across the worldwide Church through engaging them in spiritual experiences and exciting activities, and (3) bring greater gospel joy to families and leaders by encouraging an increased focus on the Savior. For children and youth, our greatest need is to strengthen faith, getting the gospel down into their hearts.

Then, on June 29, the First Presidency announced Come, Follow Me resources for individuals and families, Primary, and Sunday School. This curriculum prepared the way for President Nelson’s announcement at the beginning of the Saturday morning session of October general conference regarding a new balance and connection between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church. Elder Curtis has given us great instruction on that. President Nelson stressed that “we are each responsible for our individual spiritual growth.” The Sunday schedule changes are meant to further “fortify our members and their families.” The concept that “church” is something that happens in our meetinghouses, supported by what happens at home needs an adjustment. President Nelson said, “It is time for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.” [6]

You also recall in the Sunday afternoon session of the general conference that President Nelson announced 12 more temples. This brings the total number of temples operating, announced, or under construction to 201. Today, President Nelson is dedicating the Chile Concepción Temple. To operate more temples, brothers and sisters, we need more members filled with faith to carry on the great work of salvation on both sides of the veil. 

So, brothers and sisters, can you see this is one focus and it is tied to spiritual growth and deeper conversion of our members?

As Apostles today, one of our assignments is to watch and to warn, to encourage members to stay close to the Lord and to repent, if required. We are charged to prepare the Church for those days that will surely come if the people in the world continue to ignore God and disregard our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The scriptures are clear on the consequences of turning away from Them.

Now, some of you may be overprogrammed with lots of activities, including good ones. Please be careful not to overprogram your children. Turn off social media and other outside distractions from time to time to sit and talk and enjoy each other’s company. Have a basket where your family deposits their phones, iPads, and tablets so you can listen and teach one another.

Please carefully look at your calendars and consider how you can find time to “be still, and know that I am God.” [7]

Brothers and sisters, it is healthy to leave your smartphones alone and look up and see the beautiful creations of God, this wonderful world that we live in. You young single adults may see someone that you want to meet, date, and have real-world relationships with that could even result in an eternal marriage. Put your cell phones away and look around. See the beautiful girls, and you girls, the handsome men. Then get to know each other.

We should treasure one another with respect and kindness and especially those living among us who are not members of the Church.

Remember, our children learn best by the example of parents and leaders. Let us be careful regarding what we say about others and how we treat those around us.  

Jesus taught, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”[8] If we are His disciples, we must practice Christian civility and kindness to all we meet, including those who have chosen to disassociate themselves from the Church.

Brothers and sisters, let us join hands with all people of goodwill in every good cause and include them in our circles of friends and associates. Let us truly welcome them into our meetings and our ward activities.

Now just a brief warning—it comes from the Book of Mormon: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men [and I add women]! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”[9]

Those who have the gift of knowledge or who have had the opportunity to obtain an education should not look down on any of God’s children with disdain because an individual lacks the gift or the opportunity of education. Too often, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog posts mock and ridicule humble members who are doing their best. We should rejoice that God’s grace is sufficient to work through the “weak things of the earth.” For in His eyes, are we not all “weak”?

Brothers and sisters, my apostolic epistle to you concludes as I testify that if you will carefully consider our combined counsel today, you will find your spiritual feeder roots connected to the “well of water springing up into everlasting life.”[10] You will not die spiritually like the beautiful sequoia tree, but rather I testify that you will have more peace, joy, and happiness in your lives by accepting Jesus Christ and His servants He has called and by following His gospel plan. I repeat, unless the people of the world, and especially America, turn their hearts back to God and His teachings and His plan, we will surely face the consequences revealed over and over again in the scriptures.

My beloved brothers and sisters, we love you. May Heavenly Father bless you. May you have peace. May you have joy in your hearts. May you have the courage to repent if you need to. If there is something going on in your lives that is not what it should be, may the Lord bless you with the courage to repent and change, beginning today. May the Lord give you the strength to turn your hearts to Him, to love Him, and to serve Him, so you may safely continue through mortality preparing for the day to be held in the arms of our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son.  

I testify to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of God. These things that we have said to you today are true, and I hope you will receive them in the spirit in which we have spoken. I testify that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the head of it, and we can know His will. We pray that your testimony of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, will be anchored securely in your hearts.

I close with a personal witness that when you go through difficult times, which I have personally gone through with the loss of my sweet companion of 67 years, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the promises of eternity, the promises of priesthood blessings, the promises of temples and ordinances and covenants, and forgiveness and service and all the things we have talked about this morning become very, very precious.

May God bless you, my beloved brothers and sisters, as we unitedly do all we can to prepare for that day when the Savior and Redeemer of the world will come once again as our Lord and King and guide all of the affairs of God’s children. This is my humble prayer, my testimony, and my blessing that I leave with you in the sacred and in the beloved name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] 1 Corinthians 1:1.

[2] Romans 1:8.

[3] Galatians 1:6–8.

[4] Matthew 24:24.

[5] 1 Peter 3:15.

[6] See Russell M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2018.

[7] Psalm 46:10; see also Doctrine and Covenants 101:16.

[8] Matthew 19:19.

[9] 2 Nephi 9:28.

[10] John 4:14.