My favorite saying about your associations and my way of saying it is, "You are the same today as you're going to be in five years except for two things, the people you meet and the books you read." Hang around thinkers; you'll be a better thinker. Hang around givers; you'll be a better giver. Hang around workers; you'll be a better worker. Hang around a bunch of thumb sucking, complaining, griping boneheads; and you will be a better thumb sucking, complaining, griping bonehead.
Now, with that said… how many of you are under 16 yet? Great. How do you like an idea that you might be driving a Cadillac when you're 16? I got it for you. When my son was your age, he wasn't quite as excited as you. I said, "Jerry, do you want to have a car when you're 16?" "Yes." "Do you want me to help you buy that car?" "Yes sir, dad." "Alright, son, we're going to do it, but the free ride's over. No more allowance. I'm going to give you a way to make a lot of money. “Here is the deal. I am going to pick out books for you to read. There will be motivational books, history books, inspirational books; and every time I give you a book, you give me a book report. Every time I get a book report, I'll put money in your car fund. Another book report; more money in the car fund. In two years, if you read in style, you'll drive in style. But if you read like a bum, you're going to drive like a bum." Overnight he developed a fantastic hunger for reading.
Now the first book I had him read was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. The first day he came down and said, "Dad, dad, there's a whole chapter in here on smiling and shaking hands." And he shook my hand, shook my hand—the first sign of life in 14 years. Woohoo! And he smiled at me. Then I had him read a book named Joshua in the Old Testament on discouragement. And we were going to Sunday school one week, and I said, "Jerry, how are you getting along with Joshua?" He says, "Dad, dad." He hit my leg. Imagine that, he hit my leg. And he said, "Everybody ought to have to read that book." That was a sign he was beginning to think about somebody other than himself.
Well, he read 22 books. Did he buy a car? No. He kept the money, used my car and my gas. But wait a minute. Don't laugh. It was worth it. Then he went off to college, and I got one of the greatest experiences of my life. And the last chapter of my book Life Is Tremendous is about Jerry Jones (my son), and there is the reading contract to negotiate with your dad to get it in writing, so he can't change his mind. So Jerry goes off to college and he writes me a "Dear Dad" postcard every day for four years.
You know what I used to do when I would get some of the cards? I would put my head on my desk and cry. Do you know why? He was thinking thoughts that I never dreamed a young person could think. Now he didn't understand the full meaning of them, but he had read and he had the thoughts in his mind.
So I would like to read you a couple cards from college to me:
"Dear Dad, It's tremendous to be able to know that when you are in a slump, just as a baseball player will break out in time, so will you break out of yours. Yes, time really cures things. Like you said, you don't lose any problems; you just get bigger and better ones, tremendous ones. Tremendously, too. Jerry"
“Dear Dad, Just started reading a hundred Great Lives. Thanks for what you said in the front; the part that every great man never sought to be great. He just followed the vision he had and did what had to be done. Love, Jerry."
"Dad, I just got done typing up little quotes out of the Bible and Napoleon Hill, so everywhere I look, I see them. When people ask me what they are, I tell them they are pinups. Tremendously."
"Dad, I am more convinced than ever that you can do anything you want to. You can beat anyone at anything just by working hard. Handicaps don't mean anything. Because often people that don't have them have a bad attitude and don't want to work."
"Dad, nothing new. Just the same old exciting thought that we can know God personally and forever in this amazing life."
"Dad, when you're behind two papers in the fourth quarter and you're exhausted from the game, you have to make up a set of downs in order to stay in the game, and you get up to the line and you see two, 250-pound tests staring you in the face, it sure is exciting to wait and find out what play the Lord will call next."
Well, the power of books. Now here is another one. Sammy is my 9-year-old grandson. I'd like to share something that I hope your dads will get for you. So last Father's Day, I'll just read you a couple paragraphs I wrote to Sammy about reading:
My dear Sammy, each word in this letter is bathed with my love and prayers for you. As you get older, you will discover that your mind doesn't always keep pace with your body. The food you eat can nourish your body, but the food you feed your mind and heart determines your good as a person. I am going to share a few principles I pray you will commit to memory. I could share many more, but I have tried to select ones that I wish I could have begun working on earlier in my life. Read, read, read, read. A proper diet is good for your body, and the best books are good for your mind. Your life will be determined by the people you associate with and the books you read. You will come to love many people you will meet in books.
Read biographies, autobiographies and history. Books will provide many of the friends, mentors, role models and heroes you will need in life. Biographies will help you see that there is nothing that can happen to you that wasn't experienced by many who used their failures and tragedies and disappointments as stepping stones for more tremendous lives. Many of my best friends are people I've never met—Oswald Chambers, George Mueller, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, Abraham Lincoln, Jean Gietzen, hundreds of others. Don't read the Bible, but instead study it. Digest it. Memorize it. Realize that God's greatest gift for our time on earth is His word. Well, know the word!