Brother Truman G. Madsen
Lecturer and Author
Bio not available
Truman G. Madsen
Ricks College Devotional
February 29, 2000
Brother and sisters, you have inspired leaders. And we were touched— and I and our daughter Mindy— that remarkable rendering of an anthem written by Crawford Gates.
I am here, having set aside the prepared talk that I had, and hope you will permit me to open my heart on another topic.
Let's begin with a glimpse of Church history. One day in Nauvoo, Brigham Young (not long in the Church) approached the Prophet's father who was the Patriarch. "I would like," he said, "a patriarchal blessing." For some reason the senior Joseph Smith was committed to something, could not pull away, and said to Brother Brigham Young: "Here. Here is a piece of paper. Sit down at this table and write down every good thing you seek in righteousness, and I will sign it and that will be your patriarchal blessing." Staggering.
When I was a little boy we used to get into the contest of what you would wish if you only had three wishes. But somebody ended the game by saying, "Well, if I had only one wish, I would wish for all the wishes I could ever wish for."
Brothers and sisters, in the heritage of the House of Israel we receive and give patriarchal blessings. "A paragraph," as one of my great and admired mentors taught, "a paragraph from the book of our possibilities." That was Karl G. Maeser.
Without asking that you open your scriptures (which I now know you all have), I want to refer to three other patriarchal blessings besides your own that I believe were given for you and should be as clearly written in your aspirations as any specific promise or counsel you have from your own personal blessing. Before I do, may I mention that in the course of my life, which is stretching out, I have known many patriarchs in the Church and have had the privilege of counseling with them. Most recently, as a stake president, I have had the association of Brother Bruce R. Clark who has been a patriarch for more than 20 years. He is now in his eighty-second year and still clear and inspired. He has taught me that the anguish and the initial shock of such a call is overwhelming— responsibility of not only giving a blessing but knowing that every word of it will be recorded and that for the rest of the person's life it will be sought after, and probed, and prayed over, and that, therefore, he is in effect speaking scripture.
He, among the many that I have talked to, was not surprised at his call. It's one of the interesting common elements in the lives of most of our patriarchs that at some point in their lives there is a premonition, a herald, a whispering—this calling will come to you." I know even of one case where the General Authority walked in on a brother the morning of a Sunday and said, "Do you know why you're here?" And he replied, "Yes." "Are you willing?" "Yes." "Sit down." And he put his hands on him and ordained him a patriarch. He knew in advance.
Well that same challenge rests upon any in our history who have served in the callings—with Joseph Smith— leading. And the blessing I have in mind that reflects your past, which all patriarchal blessings sooner or later do, is section 86 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Don't open. But on a future occasion you might look at what precedes the verses I am going to quote. It's a reference to the great parable of the tares and the wheat. And you live in a generation where the tares are winning— tare getting "tarier" and the wheat getting "wheatier." And the contest is real. It says:
"[Blessed are ye] with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers."
And now listen:
"For ye [this is talking about you] are lawful heirs, according to the flesh [meaning you have been born in this dispensation in the House of Israel either by adoption or birth you are now in it] . . .
"For ye are lawful heirs according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—
"Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things . . . "
And then skipping just a little:
"Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness ["continue" means you didn't begin in his goodness in this world]—Blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel."
That is your first patriarchal blessing in the Doctrine and Covenants. Now another.
There are verses in "The Vision." Brother Crawford Gates wrote a magnificent pageant of "Visions of Eternity" which is his musical arrangement of the section we call 76, sung and performed where it was first commissioned here at Ricks College. We have it on video and audio, and I have occasionally played it for my stake family and said: "Look at those young people and listen to their music. And then ask yourself if their faces aren't different than some of the rock groups you see on television." It says, among other things, that you will receive after your testimony of Jesus, baptism ". . . being buried in the water . . ." as was Christ before you. It says that you will ". . . receive the Holy Ghost . . . [under] the hands of him who . . . [has been] ordained and sealed unto this power." And then it says of you: "And who overcome by faith [and it means faith in Christ] are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true." And then there are verses that have so many alls and everys it is incomprehensible. "Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's. . . . [Therefore] they shall overcome all things."
And now the last one. There are verses in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I have heard these verses quoted to explain why it is possible that some of our aged men and women still seem to have an effervescent youth and are quickened and strengthened in their service. Yes, that is one application. I insert that it is striking to me that we have both the most incredibly young leaders in this Church and the most incredibly old. Do you know the average age of the men called to the First Council of the Twelve in this dispensation? Twenty-six; twenty-six. Do you know the earliest age of a man called to the Twelve? Twenty-three. Do you know when at least a dozen that I have studied first had their intimations that they had a mission in life and had dreams and/or visions of their unfolding lives? Age, on average, nine; nine! It is almost as if the heavens could not wait. The years of accountability—, nine, immediately! On the other hand, we have a president who is coming up on his ninetieth year. Vigorous. Inspired. Blessed. And that is because living the gospel has begun to regenerate the race.
Now, back to my third blessing. " . . . .whoso [it says] [receiveth] . . . these two priesthoods"— the Aaronic and the Melchizedek, and it applies to the sisters because it applies whoso receive the blessings through these two priesthoods — ". . . and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies."
There is an interesting anecdote of two little girls in Sunday School. One turns to the other and says with a bit of pride, "My grandfather is the prophet." The other little girl thinks about that and then says, "My grandfather is God."
Listen to this promise. Who is your father? Listen to this." [You] are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of [your] bodies." [Verse 33] And now the deeper meaning of that transformation: They become the sons and or daughters. "They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God." [Verse 34] Wherefore, and I am jumping a little, ". . . all that [the] father hath shall be given unto [them]." [Verse 38] All. There is that word again. All.
Having been, as I have, a stake president and before that a faculty member and, as you've heard, long associated with missionary work. I probably have interviewed over 3,000 missionaries coming or going or both. Students want to know what they'll be when they grow up, and they have become particularly anxious about that since they have grown up. I have learned a couple of things about preparing for a life mission— not just a two-year or eighteen-month mission.
I have learned, first of all, from serious academic work that (though you may not believe me and I put it so starkly) everyone sitting here today is a genius at something. Every one of you has an intellectual gift. It is indirectly related to what we are so intimidated by, which is the IQ (which, by the way, does not measure everything and even what it does measure can be changed; so it is often misleading). You are a genius at something. You may not have discovered it, but it is there. And every one of you, according to the teachings of the modern restoration, has at least one spiritual gift—at least one. And you have been counseled to pray on the behalf of your leaders that they may have of all gifts the gift of discernment which enables them to see in you as the Lord would see: the good when others cannot, the promise when others cannot, the gold that is in the mine when other people treat you in other ways. In addition to that knowledge, I have the testimony that there are a cluster of gifts and talents that all of us are more or less good at, all of which are needed in the work of the kingdom. No matter what you do in life or vocation, whatever you do to earn and supply and support, these will be needed. Just this week we have learned (I hardly dare state these because they change so quickly), we know that there will be100 temples if President Hinckley has his way. I predict he will. One hundred temples before this year ends! The growth is becoming exponential. There will be need within five years for us to ordain in any one week 1500 bishops. There will be need within the same five years to have at least 600 General Authorities just to administer the affairs of a worldwide Church which is now in 170 countries. What are the talents everyone needs to cultivate in recognizing these needs? Well, among others, it is obvious you all—one of you— going to have to be a teacher. You are going to have to communicate and teach. That is even if you have no other singular calling than home teaching, visiting teaching, or your home and family. But, likely, you will have dozens of calls to teach and/or speak. There is a worldwide Church program to upgrade teaching. And the letter from the First Presidency says: "You who call yourselves leaders [stake presidents, bishops], you also must understand you are teachers. And you must become better teachers."
Second, it is obvious that every one of you will need to be, as we say out of Harvard Business School, administrators— who can organize, and plan, and implement, and follow up. That is the nature of any organization. This is an organization. It is said that if three Mormons bail out of an airplane, before they hit the ground they will have a president and two counselors. True, except that does not quite cover the ground. (If they were Mormons they would have organized before they jumped and had somebody waiting for them.)
Third, it is obvious, and this is more important even than the other two, that if the Lord is going to have witnesses and leaders and faithful parents they have to be worthy; and worthy means pure. And the blessings I have quoted, and I suspect your own in most instances, refer to the need—absolute need—get the power of the Lord Jesus Christ into the very veins of your blood and transform you and purge you of whatever is amiss or whatever poisons you have taken. On the word poison, indulge me for a brief visit to the Holy Land.
Here was a group of BYU students sent out to have a "kibbutz" experience, which meant cutting back certain trees. They were warned when they went into this grove. "Somewhere out there you may run onto a thing—, black. They are known as vipers. Don't touch them! As soon as you see one, call us; and we will take care of it." We had an older student who'd had some experience with snakes. He came onto one. He took hold of it right up by the top of the neck. Instantly the viper turned and bit him, and his arm began to swell almost visibly. They ran. They ran for what they thought was the antidote. They gave him a shot. It wasn't the antidote. It was a tetanus shot. And by the time he realized he had not been given the antidote, he was already in critical condition. They took him to the hospital. Ann and I both visited. He barely survived after a priesthood blessing. The pain, the anguish, the swelling, the almost black-looking hand were unspeakably horrible.
You live, as the Master said you would, in a generation of vipers. And I won't dwell on it except to tell you that the use of drugs is addictive; the use of pornography is addictive; the use of other substances that are now being called date drugs are not only poison, they will kill you. They will burn your brain ultimately. They will destroy your conscience. And you get to the point where you care about only one thing—own habit. And you will hurt your loved ones, and you will be unworthy of serving the Lord in His kingdom.
Now there is always through Christ a way of starting back, but preventive medicine is better than medicine. I plead with you. If you don't start, you never have to stop.
Now I was talking of talents. I will just name six that a man named Calvin Taylor classifies. There is actually a book on this that has 120 talents listed. It would be interesting for you to read that sometime and find out if you fit anywhere. The educational system often teaches you fairly early, like about kindergarten, where you are weak. And you assume that you are no good across the board and figure you are going to have to work harder than anybody else. It would be marvelous if we had a system that could help you find out at age five where your strengths are and then cultivate them. I do not believe they were given to be abused; I think they were given to be used, and you have them.
Here are the six he talks about:
He talks about academic. That is a talent in a way. There are people who seem to have a special gift for getting through school, for pleasing their professors, writing the right kinds of papers, getting grades. I do not like the grading system, but I do not know any other way to deal with this problem. Some people are just specially blessed to academics; they are the ones who end up being the teachers. Well, that is a blessing. And I repeat the statement you all will be teachers no matter what else you ever do.
Second, he talks about creative talents. And those are the sort of glamour ones we all think about. The power of music and singing, sculpture, painting, the arts, dancing, and all the spinoffs of those. Some of you have those gifts, greatly. Some of you may be as my grandfather was, tone deaf. (In the resurrection it is promised that you will be able to make a joyful noise.)
Then he talks about three that are closely related: planning, which I suspect would lead you into architecture, engineering, and other things; wisdom, which no one can quite define but some people have it. They may not know any specifics about a problem, but they are wise in counsel (sometimes comes with age). And then there is what they call forecasting. I suppose this is the weatherman phenomenon, being able to anticipate certain trends or movements or activities.
Finally, communication. The evidence is that those who are good at conveying ideas or a vision or a gift to others are also remarkably able in listening. In the real world, communication—all of its advertised power, and it is powerful—often a weakness if we're talking about spiritual things. For ultimately, it isn't a performance the Lord wants from any of you; it's the worthiness to stand and have the Spirit of the Lord go through you so that you who teach and you who listen are as section 50 says Aboth edified" and "both rejoice together." Both.
As a professional teacher I have been puzzled over two things. One, that sometimes after all the preparation I know how to make, including spiritual preparation, I have gone into a class and even though I've tried to do it right—doesn't quite go over. And I know it. And I think the students do, but they're kind enough not to say too much. On the other hand, I have gone in not as well prepared in the intellectual sense but humbled with the responsibility (maybe didn't even have time to offer a genuine full prayer), and the Spirit of the Lord comes into the meeting. And I go home saying to myself: I was blessed, but somebody else was blessed. My theory is that happens because the Lord wants to bless you— recipient— he uses an instrument, however incompetent, to do that. Well, your strength (in that sense) is your weakness. Your strength is to acknowledge before the Lord that you are dependent upon him and that if you do not receive the Spirit, you will not teach.
The other thing that I marvel at is that when the Spirit of the Lord is present in a meeting, it isn't just words that carryover. It is the face. It is the person himself. I said once to a man, who had touched me deeply, that he could have stood up and counted to ten and I would have been inspired just because of the majesty of the spirit that was with him. I feel that way at times when I am truly sensitive in a general conference. President Hinckley, to me, is a beautiful man; and he would say he is homely. But when the Spirit is with him, he is magnificent. And his very face and his smile and his expressions carry a message, and it rings true.
Now brothers and sisters, one of the patriarchs I knew told me this story. He said:
I was hesitant to give blessings at first; and until I had had the experience, I hardly slept. One day a girl came in. Though I had never designated Judah as a lineage, I placed my hands upon her head and it came to me she is of the House of Judah. And immediately she began to weep. And for the rest of the blessing she was sobbing. When I finished I thought that it was because she was surprised and perhaps disappointed at what I had said. I said, "Sister, Judah is a wonderful lineage to be from." And she said: "Oh. It wasn't that. I had impressions in my early life of this but there is no evidence in our family history that I am of Judah."
Well, he went on to tell me that he has given (let's say) hundreds (I think it is thousands) of blessings and that he has come away from those with two convictions which apply to everyone, whatever their differences. The first is that in every case when he has given a patriarchal blessing, he has known that the Lord our God loves this person. He has felt it. He has yearned to transmit it. And he has stated it often: "You are beloved of God." That has been true even when he has sensed under inspiration that the person is not fully worthy and perhaps is even involved in deception and some self-deception because of transgression. He still feels the love of God. The other is that in every case he has felt and has most of the time said that, that person has a lifetime mission for which he or she was prepared before the foundations of the earth. Let's see, how far back do we go in our memory? We have amnesia. We do not know our name and rank and serial number from before. We have a name we received in this world. Yes, a name and a blessing. But a patriarch is gifted sometimes to see earlier than that and to speak of that prior world. It is real. We were nurtured there. And we were sent at this time and in these circumstances and perhaps to the very families we came, however traumatic some of the experiences are, because the Lord knew that is what we needed to experience. That exactly defines our lifetime mission.
I have a conviction from retrospect of my own life that all these blessings we are talking about, and they ultimately become all blessings, are indeed conditional. But the Lord surely knows who he has sent into the world and where they are. And the Lord surely knows, even when you do not, that the gold is in the mine. In my case, I received what one of my friends would call an "iffy" blessing. So many "ifs" that I wondered if I could ever really inherit the promises. "If," one paragraph begins, "you are faithful" (this is when I was 17) . . . "If you are faithful and true and studious and diligent and humble and prayerful then . . . ." Well, good heavens. But the "then" came true because I tried to be those things. And that is true of you—of you.
Another patriarch whom I greatly honor whose name was Winslow Farr Smith (close relative of George Albert Smith and related to that remarkable twosome, the Joseph F. Smith and the Joseph Fielding Smith, each of whom rose high in the kingdom) said to me: "You know, more patriarchal blessings are not fulfilled than are." And that struck me. I did not like to hear that. He said: "Because [finishing his sentence] the persons do not fulfill the conditions, and then the promises fail." See, the glory of it is the Lord never, ever breaks his word. He never breaks a covenant, he never breaks his word. But we, being free, can do so.
Now in summing up and in closing: The late President Wilford Woodruff gave a blessing to a missionary about to depart, and it was recorded. In due time he, Wilford Woodruff, saw to it that it was published because said he: "This blessing doesn't just apply to Elder [so and so] but generally to the youth of Zion." Several of our presidents were so (in their late years) grateful, impressed with their blessings and their fulfillment that they made them public knowledge. In the case of President Lorenzo Snow, he saw to it that for a time while he was president of the Salt Lake Temple his blessing was put on the wall. Now that is not what most of you are counseled to do. You are counseled to keep it to yourself; but he was the president, and he wanted the Church to know that the blessings pronounced upon him had been vindicated. I am paraphrasing slightly, but this is the paragraph I wanted to share with you:
The Lord has reserved a number of choice spirits out of all the creations of God [I remind you that the creations of God are extensive and even, by our reckoning, numberless] . . . Out of all those creations he has selected a group of choice spirits and has kept them in the Spirit World for 6000 years [which I take it means since the time of Adam or approximately] in order for them to come into the Church and the world in this last dispensation. [Now listen to his summary of why.] That they may receive the testimony of Jesus Christ; that they may receive the eternal and everlasting priesthood and its blessings; that they may build up the kingdom of God unto him and prepare themselves and the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Brother [so and so, he finished] you are one of these.
My testimony to you today is: Brothers and sisters, you are among those. You are in the time when the very most valiant will be needed in the final struggle; and, not only that, you are equipped amidst those who are untried and who are faltering and failing and who have not even comprehended the beginnings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I bear you my witness that the Lord Jesus Christ lives; that He loves you; and that a patriarchal blessing is His message to you in His time. He wants you to serve him at your best. He wants you to rise to the majesty of your privileges which always involve responsibilities. He wants you to avoid the vipers that are in the world today and live close to Him. And He promises that He will be with you and be before you and ahead of you in the unfolding of your life. I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A House of Order
Dr. Mack G. Shirley gave the devotional address at Ricks College on November 24, 1998.