During the announcement of President Russell M. Nelson as the 17th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday January 16, 2018, I eagerly anticipated his first message to church members. Through the guidance and inspiration of the Lord, what will President Nelson’s focus be during his administration?
Ready to move ahead as a new First Presidency, President Nelson, supported by counselors President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, shared thoughts on the present issues and areas of emphasis in the Church.
After offering heartfelt comments on President Monson’s impact on his life and his impact on the lives of all church members, President Nelson said, “We laid to rest a giant of a man--a prophet of God... I will forever cherish our friendship..Now we must look to the future with complete faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Church this is.” (President Russell M. Nelson Named 17th President of the Church)
President Nelson reiterated the doctrine that Jesus Christ stands at the head of His church and that this is His gospel. In April, all church members sustained President Nelson “...as a prophet, seer, and revelator--the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire church.” (True to the Faith pg 129) The pattern of God revealing His gospel through prophets has existed since the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses and was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith.
Early in his remarks, President Nelson reminded members to, “Keep on the covenant path.” (New First Presidency Speaks to Members Worldwide) Covenants are “...sacred agreements between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey these conditions.”(True to the Faith pg 44) Covenants are sometimes referred to as two-way promises with God, and “all the saving ordinances of the priesthood are accompanied by covenants.”
The covenant path is filled with opportunities for spiritual growth, inspired understanding of our purpose here in mortality, and knowledge of important truths about eternal life. “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants, will open the door to every spiritual privilege and blessing available to women, men, and children everywhere,” (Viewpoint: Stay on—or Return to—the Covenant Path) Elder Nelson said.
As church members, the most important action we take each week is to partake of the sacrament--renewing not just our baptismal covenants, but every covenant we have made with God. Those who remain on the covenant path, “...receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (Doctrine & Covenants 42:61)
In the October 2011 General Conference, President Nelson said, “When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. He is our God, and we are His people. Committed children of the covenant remain steadfast, even in the midst of adversity. When that doctrine is deeply implanted in our hearts, even the sting of death is soothed and our spiritual stamina is strengthened. The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper”. (General Conference October 2011 “Covenants” Elder Russell M. Nelson)
“Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there is a place for you in this, the Lord’s Church,” President Nelson said. In the press conference following the announcement of the new first presidency, President Nelson reiterated this message of love, forgiveness, and inclusiveness. 'God loves His children, and He wants them to have joy.”
'We are trying to help people find happiness and joy in this life and prepare them for their great possibilities in the world ahead. God loves His children and we love them, and there is a place for everyone who wishes, regardless of their challenges, to be with us in the Church.' (New First Presidency Answers Questions about Church’s Challenges and Opportunities)
In opening his arms to all and encouraging love and kindness, President Nelson echoed a long-standing and ongoing message of inclusiveness. In his general conference remarks back in April, 1994, President Nelson said, “Our commitment to the Savior causes us to scorn sin yet heed His commandment to love our neighbors. Together we live on this earth, which is to be tended, subdued, and shared with gratitude. Each of us can help to make life in this world a more pleasant experience. Not long ago the First Presidency and the Twelve issued a public statement from which I quote: ‘It is morally wrong for any person or group to deny anyone his or her inalienable dignity on the tragic and abhorrent theory of racial or cultural superiority.’ ‘We call upon all people everywhere to recommit themselves to the time-honored ideals of tolerance and mutual respect. We sincerely believe that as we acknowledge one another with consideration and compassion we will discover that we can all peacefully coexist despite our deepest differences.’” (General Conference October 2011 “Covenants” Elder Russell M. Nelson)
President Nelson expressed his feelings for members of the Church President Nelson has served as an apostle for nearly 34 years. He has traveled the world, having visited members in approximately 133 of the estimated 188 nations on earth. “A well-educated person never stops learning,” President Nelson said. Since the last general conference in October 2017, President Nelson and his wife, Wendy, have been in 10 countries in three different continents.
President Nelson also provided his counselors with an opportunity to share a message during the historic proceeding at the Salt Lake Temple.
President Eyring said growth in the membership of the church--spread across nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples is a visible miracle, but “...the greater miracle—and the one which will accelerate—is the growth in faith in Jesus Christ. This is a great time in the history of the Church. And yes, the best is still to come “
“With all my heart, I pledge my loyalty and support for President Nelson’s loving and inspired leadership. I rejoice in the opportunity to give my full efforts to bear witness of Jesus Christ and to proclaim the truth of His restored Gospel.” President Oaks said.
Canada’s 195,180 members meet in 494 congregations, worship in numerous chapels, and perform saving ordinances in eight (soon to be nine) temples. As we place our trust in our new First Presidency, exercising faith in Jesus Christ is central to accomplishing President Nelson’s admonition to “Keep on the covenant path.” Faith requires righteousness and righteousness leads to good works. “I give you my assurance that regardless of the world’s condition and your personal circumstances, you can face the future with optimism and joy if you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel,” President Nelson said.
Faith inspires covenant keeping actions including prayer with real intent, daily scripture study, maintaining an active temple recommend, attending the temple as often as possible, partaking of the sacrament worthily, and faithful service. Uniquely qualified and divinely prepared for his role as a latter-day prophet, President Nelson feels a responsibility to teach the commandments of God, and he reiterates the ordinances and covenants of the temple are the key to happiness and weathering trouble.
“I declare my devotion to God our Eternal Father, and to His Son, Jesus Christ. I know Them, love Them, and pledge to serve Them—and you—with every remaining breath of my life.”