Elder Holland's opening reminder: Christ is the center of conference — and our lives

SALT LAKE CITY — In welcoming Latter-day Saints worldwide to the Church’s October 2019 semiannual general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland cautioned against getting lost “in the midst of all this delightful commotion.”

“The prayer of every speaker,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “the hope of all who sing, the reverence of every guest — we are all are dedicated to inviting the spirit of Him whose Church this is, the living Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace,

The Gospel of Luke, he explained, tells of a blind man on the road to Jericho who, when hearing a commotion, learns of Jesus passing by as the reason for the crowd’s clamor. The blind man persistently cries out above the crowd’s noise until he is taken to the Savior, Who in turn restores his sight and heals him (Luke 18:35-43). 

Conferencegoers walk outside the Conference Center prior to the Saturday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“As in our New Testament story, those blessed with sight will recognize that, in spite of everything else this conference tradition may offer us, it will mean little or nothing unless we find Jesus at the center of it all,” Elder Holland said. “To grasp the vision we are seeking, the healing that He promises, the significance we somehow know is here, we must cut through the commotion — as joyful as it is — and fix our attention on Him.”

His conference-opening message underscored not only what should be the tone of general conference itself, but also the tone of any announcements or advancements impacting the still-being-restored gospel.

At the beginning of his address, Elder Holland outlined, with his trademark wit, some conference-weekend traditions and trappings.

“Here on these grounds you see families of all sizes coming from every direction. Old friends embrace in joyful reunion, a marvelous choir is warming up, and protestors shout from their favorite soapbox. Missionaries of an earlier day look for former companions, while recently returned missionaries look for entirely new companions — if you know what I mean! 

“And photos?” he added in mock disbelief. “Heaven help us! With cell phones in every hand, we have morphed from ‘every member a missionary’ to ‘every member a photographer.’”

Conference participants and listeners this fall may have an expectation of announcements and changes, given how President Russell M. Nelson hit the ground running when ordained and set apart as the Church’s 17th president on Jan. 14, 2018.

Consider the following from President Nelson’s 20-month tenure:  lacing the globe by traveling nearly 100,000 miles to six continents, 27 nations and 43 cities; emphasizing the necessity of gaining personal revelation; underscoring the covenant path and process of repentance; inviting members to participate in the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil; explaining the love and laws of God; announcing 27 temples in three previous general conferences; calling for the use of the full and correct name of the Church; introducing a new and holier way of ministering to others; and rebalancing gospel instruction with a home-centered, Church-supported approach.

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And most of those either were announced, explained or reviewed in one of the three past general conferences.

And amping up expectations are oft-cited comments from President Nelson, such as these select few from the past year:

In October 2018, speaking about the future of the Church, he said: “Wait until next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest.”

Nearing the completion of his August 2019 Central and South America ministry, he promised in Brasília, Brazil: “There are exciting things ahead,” with “more to come.”

And the next day in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he added: “I want our members to know that the Restoration is a continuing process … and we have a lot to do before the Lord will come again.”

In his opening address, Elder Holland acknowledged recent and announcements — and redirected the attention back to the Savior.

“Consider the swirl of bold initiatives and new announcements in the Church in just these recent months,” he said. “As we minister to one another, or refine our Sabbath experience, or embrace a new program for children and youth, we will miss the real reason for these revelatory adjustments if we see them as disparate, unrelated elements rather than as an interrelated effort to help us build firmly on the Rock of our Salvation.” 

One doesn’t need to be in a conference center to find Christ, the latter-day apostle added. A focus on the Savior can come while reading scriptures, learning doctrines and principles of the faith or attending the temple.

Similar to the story of the blind man, Joseph Smith rose above his day’s confusion and cacophony of competing Christian witnesses, with his seeking served as the catalyst for the First Vision. “Then the Father set the example we have been applauding this morning,” Elder Holland said. “He pointed to Jesus, saying, ‘This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’ ”

No greater expression of Jesus’ divine identity, His primacy in the plan of salvation and His standing in the eyes of God could ever exceed that short seven-word declaration, he added.

Attendees line up for the Saturday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Joining with Joseph Smith and the blind man on the road to Jericho, “I testify with those two and a host of others down through time that surely the most thrilling sight and sound in life is that of Jesus not only passing by but His coming to us, stopping beside us and making His abode with us.”

Elder Holland concluded by extending both an invitation and a promise:

“Through the incessant din and drumbeat of our day, may we strive to see Christ at the center of our lives, of our faith and of our service. This is where true meaning lies.

“And if some days our vision is limited, or our confidence has waned, or our belief is being tested and refined – as surely it will be — may we cry out the louder, ‘Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me’ (Mark 10:47).

“I promise with apostolic fervor and prophetic conviction that He will hear you and will say, soon or late, ‘Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee,’ (Luke 18:42).”

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