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Three Books

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Three Books



Three Books


The Bible is the key book that directs and guides our actions and thoughts, but along the way we hear or read things apart from the Bible that have a lasting effect on us and help shape our lives and personalities. Some are good and help us understand things more clearly, if they are properly based in truth. Three books read at various times in life helped shape my outlook on what is one of the most important things to God.

This sermon was given on the Sabbath during the 2022 Winter Family Weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio.


[Rick Shabi] Well, good afternoon, everyone.

[Audience] Good afternoon.

[Rick Shabi] The room is really, really full. Very nice to have all of you here. It's great to be here, at the Winter Family Weekend. Let me start, well, first with a welcome to you and everyone listening on the web, but some thanks as well. Since we've been living in Cincinnati, I've been amazed and very pleased with all the musical talent that is in the Church, and you've seen some of that on display here this afternoon. So, thank you to all of you who participated and prepared that special music. Let me echo what Mr. Myers has said too, just seeing what is going on here, at the Family Weekend, and from afar seeing all the planning, all the people that are involved in it, it is quite a tribute to everyone in the Cincinnati Church and others who have participated in this weekend and making it all happen. It's quite an event. When we lived in Indianapolis, we used to come to the Winter Family Weekend but, since we've lived in Florida for so many years, we haven't been up here since 2006. And it was an enjoyable event back then, it has grown, it has grown since that time. So, it's wonderful to be here with all of you.

Let me thank all of you too. I know the weather hasn't cooperated at all, the way that we expected, but thank you. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to be here. It lets me see how important this weekend is to everyone and to have everyone here. You know, as I was thinking about the weekend, I think this is probably, probably even including the feast, I don't have numbers on it, but the largest gathering of young adults and teens and pre-teens probably of the entire year. So, it's great to have all of you here together. I know that you are looking forward to all the events of this weekend. And, you know, I'm just thankful to God that He makes these opportunities available to all of us.

You know, as I was thinking about being here this week, I was thinking about Church, and one of the things that you do as you grow older, young people, you will learn to appreciate growing older because you can identify with the ages of the people who were before you. My parents came into the Church when I was 10-years-old, and, so, I see some of our pre-teens and I remember what life was like coming into the Church at 10-years-old and giving up all the things that you give up when you come into the Church. Of course, you follow your parents. I was a teen in the Church and I went through high school and dealt with some of the same things that you do with, you know, going to the feast and not being able to participate in some of the activities that your friends participate in.

As a young adult, I went to college in the world, and that was in the 70s. And it was challenging then too. You won't remember but, back in the 60s, there were riots that were going on in the world around us. There was the sexual revolution of that generation that went on that now has become...the changes that happened in that time are now commonplace. Before that sexual revolution, it was almost unheard of that people would, man and woman would live together before they got married, now it's almost commonplace in the world. Right? Sometimes, when I hear about people outside the Church who haven't been married, I have to pause and appreciate for what they have done. I went to college, and drugs were beginning to be the norm at that point. I won't say the norm, it was being introduced, so, some of the challenges that you face but, I will have to say, in a much more challenging way today than maybe we did back then. But it was new for us. You face those challenges and you make some choices in your life.

And so, we got married, my wife and I, we were young, we've had kids in your Church. So, when I see you and I see the various ages, I find myself identifying with you because I've been through what you've been through. And there is a very, very valuable thing to be able to grow older in the Church and to be able to identify you. And it's not just me, I know every one of the older adults here identifies in the same way. And we adhere to help and to appreciate what you're going through. Although I'll have to say, the challenges in today's world are so much more than I could have ever foreseen coming. You know, the things that go on in the world today and the morality and how it's affected people, what goes on in schools and what's being taught is far, far different than anything that we experienced. But, you know, we're here for you and I want to just talk to you today about some things that might help you go through your lives, whether we're very young or whether we're much older and have been in the Church for quite a while.

You know, when we came into Church, we went to Catholic, we were Catholics before, my parents came in, I went to Catholic school, so, when we came in, it was a complete change of life. I went out of one school and into a whole new system, had to make a whole new set of friends. Of course, in Church it was a new set of friends as well. But one thing I knew from pretty early on, and I know it was God who did that, I knew that this was the truth, I knew from the things that were said in Church this was the truth. I knew, as I grew up and saw things in the Bible, this is the truth. If you believe in God, if you believe in Jesus, hear our Words that were different than the Words that I was taught in the parochial school, that I went through for the first three years, it was truth.

But, you know, as I grew up and I went through the various stages of life, I made mistakes along the way, I didn't do everything perfectly by any stretch of the imagination. I didn't fall completely away but there were stretches in my life that I had to learn about the world and I had to learn about me but always, in my mind, I knew this was the truth. You know, many things change in life, and Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 1, you’ll remember, he said, “There's nothing new under the sun,” there really is nothing new under the sun. Times change, morals change, society changes, technology changes but we go through the things we always come back to we must choose God and you must know the truth.

And so, today I want to talk about some of the things that helped me along the way that I hope might help you as well. You know, I've learned a lot in the last six months of being here. I've talked to many young adults and the ones who work at the home office here and I've learned some of what the young people today are listening to. And it's not bad, you know, you listen to podcasts, you have Instagram, you have social media. We didn't have any of those things when I was your age, it was pretty much word of mouth, who you hung around with. You had the phone but even if you wanted to make a long-distance call, it cost an inordinate amount of money, so, you didn't make too many long-distance calls, you were pretty much with the group that you were in.

But you know what we did have back then that helped me through life? Because I think you learn a lot of things through your podcasts and through social media. Now, I know you share things with each other and I know that you are searching for answers in life because, like any human being, you want a full and a complete life. You know, the world around searches and searches and searches and they can never find what they're looking for. That's why you have drugs that come up out of nowhere and people think they're going to find some answer in that. That's why you have this morality that just goes crazy when you think about it, thinking that they're going to find some answers and some fulfillment in life. You will never find the answers to life in the world, you will never find the answers in life, the fulfillment in life, ever, that you're looking for. You will only find it with God and you will only find it in the pages of the Bible, which is God's Word of truth.

So, today I want to begin in a few scriptures here. If you'll turn with me...just a couple of foundational things...let's turn over to Psalm 16. Psalm 16. We'll look at verse 11 here, in Psalm 16. And a couple of the things in Psalms. You know, maybe, as you're going through the Bible, you might take some time, as you're searching from things, to read some of the wisdom books of the Bible, go through the Psalms, go through them one by one and think about what's written in there. Go through the Book of Proverbs and look what's there. God records an awfully lot of truth, an awfully lot of answers to life in the Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Song of Solomon.

Psalms 16:11, It says, “You,” speaking of God, “you will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy.” Isn't that what everyone's looking for, whether we're very, very young or we're very, very old? “In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Isn't that what people are looking for? Isn't that what you're looking for? Aren't you looking for a life that will be full, happy, and have all the things that you hoped it would be? When you follow God, you will find that your life is far better than you ever could've imagined it to be. Far better, when you follow God. Let's look at Psalm 107. Psalm 107.

Psalm 107:9 Says, “For He,” God, “for God satisfies the longing soul, He fills the hungry soul with goodness.”

If you feel a hole in your life, if you feel that that hole needs to be to be filled somehow, don't look to the world for answers, look to the Bible. Look to some other sources that may supplement what your understanding from the Bible is but always tie it back to God's Word. That's the answer. The lesson will never be...or the lesson will be learned by the world, God always had the answer to whatever everyone always wanted.

Isaiah 58:11 Says, “The eternal, the eternal will guide you continually. He will satisfy your soul in drought. He will strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

See these promises that God has made? You can believe Him. I can tell you that I've learned to believe Him. If someone would ever have told me my life would be as full and rich and joyous when I was very young, I don't know that I would've understood it. But I've lived it. And I know along the way if we, my wife and I, hadn't followed God, if we hadn't learned that process through life as well, I don't know what our lives would be like. But I wouldn't change a thing because there's lessons you learn even through the mistakes, as you've heard through some of the seminars this morning and last evening, learn from those mistakes but always turn back, always turn back to God. You know, as we go through life we learn that one of the things...and we learn an awfully lot about God. Well, one of the things that we learn most and how we grow in our relationships with God is through the relationships that we have with each other and with God.

Those of you who have been in the Church for a while, you might remember years ago, I don't remember how long ago, a marketing firm, or a branding firm or whatever we want to call it, was hired. The Church hired a firm to kind of talk to members, talk to the ministers to kind of boil down to what is the Church about in some modern day language. And I don't know how much time they spent and how many time they spent but they weren't people in the Church, they were from the outside, they talked to members and they talked to the ministers and they looked at what the Church was about. Do you remember what they came up with, what they said what the Church is about? It came down to two words, meaningful relationships. Meaningful relationships.

We know we have to have a relationship with God and we have to learn to become like Jesus Christ. That means we need to know Him, we need to understand Him, and more than just the spiritual because He lived a physical life as an example to us, but through those relationships that we have at home, in our marriages, with each other, we learn God's way of life. We learn to become that, and without those relationships we would never ever learn what God wants us to. He is a God of relationships.

We now turn to Genesis 2:18, it says there, in the first few verses, “It's not good for a man to be alone,” and it goes on to talk about how God created Eve to be with Adam. But it's not good for a man to be alone, God always intended for man to be part of a body, part of a relationship. With Him, yes, with each other too, and to learn the very many lessons that we need to learn and develop the character and the ability to get along with each other that we have to have if we're going to be in the Kingdom of God. He's not going to teach us relationships when Jesus Christ returns and says, “Okay, now let's get to work,” this is our time now to be at work and learning those principles.

To show you just how important relationships are to God, let's turn to 2 Corinthians 5, and see what God inspired Paul to write about relationships. 2 Corinthians, 5, we'll begin at verse 17, a well-known verse, in fact, 17 to 20, we will read. You've heard these verses before but let's look at them through the eyes of the relationships that God wants us to have with Him and each other.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things, old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

You've heard that verse before. If you look up the word “reconciliation,” it'll talk about relationships. In fact, the newer translations will translate “reconciliation” in a little bit different form that has the same meaning of reconciliation but tells us exactly what God is doing. Let me read it from the New Living Translation, and I'll continue down through verse 20.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 “Now all things are of God, who has restored the relationship with us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of restored relationships. That is that God was in Christ restoring relationship, the relationship of the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us,” that's you and me, “has committed to us the Word of restoring relationships.”

Jesus Christ came so that the relationship between God and mankind could be restored. We made huge mistakes, mankind has, you and I have made huge mistakes in our lives. Thank God that He sent Jesus Christ that our relationship with Him could restore, that Jesus Christ was willing to sacrifice His entire life, His entire comfort, the pain that He experienced, as a human being, so that our relationship with God could be restored. That's the magnitude of His love that sometimes we just need to pause and think about what did He do just so that that reconciliation, or that relationship, could be restored.

You know, Matthew 5:23, Christ in the Sermon on the Mount is saying, you know, “If you're coming to the altar to offer God something and you pause and think, ‘Oh, there's something that my brother might have been offended that I've done,’ or there is something between you and he, or you and she, God doesn't say, ‘Well, come and bring me the offering first,’ He says, ‘Stop. Go back and restore that relationship with them first, then bring your offering to me.’” How important is it to God that we have restored relationships? That the relationships we have with each other are good? That we truly learn to become one with each other, as Jesus Christ and God the Father are one? It takes work. Takes effort. Takes humility. It takes having to face some things that may be uncomfortable for us to say or uncomfortable for us to hear. But the entire thing is about learning what God wants us to learn so that we become like Him. Become like Him, and we learn that through some of the things that we have to go through in life.

And there are some things along the way we have to look at ourselves and change. And sometimes we have to let others know this has to change if we're doing God's will or we're living the life that He wants us to live. Along the way, along the way I mentioned we didn't have podcasts when I was many of your ages, didn't have Instagram, didn't have social media. But we did have bookstores. We did have bookstores. And there were a lot of books written by a lot of people. And I remember, when I was younger, I would like to go to the bookstore and just look through the section, the self-help section. And there were countless books that were out there. Most of what I gravitated toward I looked back on and see it was about relationships. How I think God was probably telling me, “You need a lot of work in that area.”

But there were three books that I want to talk about today. You know, sometimes you probably listen to a podcast, hear something that someone says, and you think, “Oh, wow, I'm going to remember that.” And there were three books, if someone ever asked me, “What books had an effect on your life, besides the Bible?” Bible, bar none, is the most important book in your life, never ever, ever think anything else is, but sometimes there are books written and you read through that, or podcasts you may hear, and you hear something and you think, “Wow, that is a really good point.” Because some people just have that talent and have that gift of analyzing life and coming to principles. Always remember when you're listening to those things, tie it back to the Bible because you will find the principle in the Bible. If it's worth holding on to, you will find the principle in the Bible because everything is here.

But there were three Books that formed a lot of how I think and how, I guess, grew over the years. The first one was given to me by my dad when I was, I don't know, an older teen before I went off to college. And it's a book that maybe many of you haven't heard of, I think the older people have, and it was written by a man by the name of Dale Carnegie. Dale Carnegie was a businessman, he rose from nothing and was well-known in the steel industry. But he wrote a book, and a series of books later on in his life, and the one that my dad gave me was, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” And it was an interesting book. And I remember, as I read that...I mean, I read it only because my dad gave it to me and I knew he's going to ask me questions on it...and so, I looked at that book. But there were things, as I read through it, I thought, “Well, that's a good point.” I hadn't really thought of it in that way and I thought, “Yes, if you do that, if you do that, you're going to be able to get along with people a little bit more.”

And let me tell you, let me just share with you a few of the things that Mr. Carnegie said. One of them that he said was, if there is one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own. He said that, “if there's one key to success, try to see things from the other's point of view.” In the same section, he said, “Make the other person feel important," and said, "become genuinely interested in other people.”

And he made the comment, we all know these things, it wasn't like he, you know, just created these things but, you know, when you think about the relationships and how we get along with each other, it made sense to me. “Become genuinely interested in the other person.” And he made the comment that people like to talk about themselves and some people will never talk about themselves. We run into some people who want to talk about themselves all the time, but some people don't. And he said, “Ask questions. Get to know that person. You can't manage things well, you can't really develop a relationship with people unless you get to know them. Ask questions, figure them out, and just listen to them.” And to my young mind, I thought, “Well, that makes sense.” “You are honoring that other person,” is what he said. And that rang a bell with me because that principle of honoring the other person is there in the Bible. Let's go to Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:3 Says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

Well, I'd read that verse, I'd heard that verse read many times in Church before, you've heard it read many times, but I remember reading the Book and thinking, “Ah, give the other person the honor of getting to know them and pay attention to them.” And not just passing by and, “Hey, I know your name. How was your week? How was your day?” but take the time to get to know them. You can't develop a bond of oneness if you don't know the other person.

Philippians 2:4 He says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

It's the principle of Agape, right? As we learn Agape, what do we do? We might sacrifice our time, we might sacrifice what we want to say to understand the other person, give them the opportunity. Because you can't really come to know the other person unless you give them the opportunity and find out what they're about. As we go forward, you know, we'll turn to Peter's Epistles a few times a day, in 1 Peter 2:17, there's a simple little verse there where Peter sums up what he's been writing about.

1 Peter 2:17 He says simply, “Honor all people.”

Honor all. How do we show someone honor? Give them the time. Show them the interest. Make them feel important. It doesn't mean you agree with everything they say but it sure gives you the opportunity to talk. It sure gives you the opportunity to discuss and come to a oneness of mind. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Agape. Agape, the brotherhood. Sometimes Agape is just simply giving the time, giving the interest, showing the interest, counting them as important and not something you just sort of want to ignore or don't want to pay any attention to or their ideas couldn't possibly or their thoughts couldn't possibly be of any benefit to me. We all have thoughts. All of us in this room are called by God, all of us who are baptized have God's Holy Spirit. He works through all of us. Honor all. Love the brotherhood, fear God. It always turns back to God. And in 1 Peter 5, as Peter is wrapping up this first epistle,

1 Peter 5:14 He says, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.”

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Well, today we handshake. Today we give hugs. You know, when Peter wrote that, I have a feeling he meant there's a genuine relationship between you and the other person. Take the time to get to know them so that, when you greet them, you are really happy to see them, you see them as a brother, you see them as part of your family, you see them for who they are and who God is working with them as.

So, you know, as I went to college and began my career, I remembered these things. Sometimes I had to be reminded of them by things that I did and how I handled situations and realized, “No, that isn't the things that I remember hearing.” But decades later, I read another book, and you've all heard of that, I'm sure, it's by Stephen Covey. And he wrote of a book that I would recommend to anyone, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and it was a very good book. The one point that I remember, I couldn't tell you what the other six are, but the one point that I picked up on that struck me was Point Number 5 when he says, “Seek first to understand. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Seek first, understand them, and then there's the opportunity to discuss and be understood.

And all too often in life, you know, you run into situations where this isn't working at all. But if you are working with your fellow brethren, if you're working with people at work, if you're working with your professors, each other, seek first to understand. Understanding each other is a gift you give to them. And when you show them you're interested in them, then, as a manager, as an employee, as a teacher, as a student, as a neighbor, as a fellow Church member, then they will listen and you have an opportunity to reach other people.

You know, you probably heard it in a seminar, “We are all unique people.” You know, outside we have snow, right? Snow. And somehow the scientists tell us that there's no two snowflakes that are identical. I don't know how they know that but, I guess, I have to agree that they're right. Well, if no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. Not one of us. Not one of us has had the same experiences, the same background, the same anything that makes us who we are. Because we are a product of all those experiences in our life. Today, we have God's Holy Spirit that binds us together but we still have to understand each other because I'm different than you, you're different than me, my wife was different than me when we got married, and we had to come to understand each other as part of that relationship in order for it to click, in order for us to become the one that God wants in marriage as well to be.

And the only way we can ever understand each other and our backgrounds is to take the time to do that. You can't do it all at once, it doesn't happen in one 15-minute conversation, it happens over a period of time. It's worth the effort. It's worth the effort to do that. You know, all too often in life we may judge a book by its cover. We've probably all been guilty of that. As we meet someone, we might think...you know, well, maybe we've even been pre-programmed, you know, “I don't like that,” or whatever, “there's something about that person. I don't agree with his ideas,” or this or that or whatever. And you're written off. We've all had that happen and we've all done it to other people. Now, Christ gives us a lot of points about relationships through the Words that He said.

Matthew 7:1-2 He says, “Judge not.” Right? “Judge not, that you be not judge. For with what judgment you mete out, with that same judgment you will be judged.”

Now, that is...you better get to know the person, just don't make an assumption about him, take the time, get to know them because you cannot work with someone effectively unless you know what they're about. And that takes some time to do. You know, Matthew 9...I'm sorry, John 9, Christ teaches His disciples then...and, of course, through His words and through the Bible He teaches you and me as His disciples today. In John 9:1, you can just imagine, as Christ would walk with His disciples and the opportunities that they had to be taught by Him and the experiences that they went through and just the things that they came across with...He always used it as an opportunity to teach them.

John 9:1-3 Says, “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” They prejudged. “He's blind? So, either he sinned or his parents sinned.” Jesus used that opportunity to teach them a lesson. He said, in verse 3, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

They would've passed by and just assumed, “Here's a sinner. Don't need to pay any attention to him, I've already prejudged what he is.” Could we be guilty of the same thing in dealing with each other, just by things we've heard other people say, never having taken the time to kind of get to know what the other person and what he's about? It's not pleasant when it happens to you and you know that that's happened to you but we've all done it to others as well. It's a universal problem. Go back to Proverbs again. There's a few Proverbs there that we might remember as we go through life and as we're dealing with relationships in whatever area it would be in, whether it would be at school, at work, in college, in your neighborhood, in your marriage, at Church. Proverbs 18, right around chapter 18, there's three principles that would all be good to remember.

Proverbs 18:3 Says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it's a folly and shame to him.”

You know, I know this, but, until you experience it, until you put it into practice, you don't really get it. In my years that I was pastoring as an elder, I learned this over and over again, you know, someone would come and, you know, they would have a story, this and this and this happened, and I thought, “Oh, I've got the answer to this. The other person is at fault, so, I need to go and talk to them.” So, I would go and talk to them but I would listen first to what they said, and I thought, “Whoa, it's a totally different story. It's a totally different way of doing things.” Not that one was lying or the other but the perception between the two was totally different. And I learned, "Oh, that's right." Listen to both sides of the story and then you can do it. When you understand, then you can get involved in it but you can't judge by the first person that you hear. Earlier on in the chapter, in verse 2 of chapter 18, it's all about seeking first to understand, then to be understood.

Proverbs 18:2 It says, “A fool has no delight in understanding.”

He doesn't want to take the time, Just give me a judgment, I'll just give you the answer and that's the way life goes from here on in. A fool has no delight in understanding but in expressing his own heart. “Here's what I think…” and that's kind of the way it is. Now, if it's God expressing, then it absolutely is true, if the Bible says it is absolutely true, but we all have ourselves in situations that we have to take the time.

Proverbs 17:27 Says, “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”

He's just listening, he's learning. He isn't going to make a rash judgment, going to look at the situation from afar and see what it is and how to deal with it. Here's one of the statements, the statement Covey makes in his book besides that fifth principle. He says, “The more deeply you understand people, the more you will appreciate them and the more reverent you will feel about them.” Isn't that true? Haven't you met someone and you've taken the time to get to know them, go out to lunch, go out to dinner, just spend some time talking, you begin to appreciate them a little more and think, “Oh,” you know, “I'm glad we took the time to know each other.” Become like Jesus Christ, that's our goal, right?

1 Corinthians 11:1 “Imitate me,” he said, “as I imitate Christ.”

What does God do? He knows you and me very, very well. If we turn back to Psalm 139, David expresses it so well. God is patient with us, God takes the time with us, He knows what motivates us, every thought, every action. He doesn't condemn us after the first mistake, He'll work with us and work with us because He desperately...I won't say desperately, but you know what I mean, He wants us to be part of His family. Psalm 139, you read through the first few verses here, you see what David is saying. “God, you know me. And I'm glad you know me.”

Psalm 139:1-4 “O Lord, You've searched me and have known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and You're acquainted with all my ways. There is not a word on my tongue but, Behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”

“You know it. You know me.” And He knows how to reach us. God called you when He finally, in my adult life, made it clear to me that I had no choice, you always have a choice, but no choice but to follow God. I knew it in the bottom of my heart when I was baptized. And no matter what, as you committed to God, it was like, “I will follow You wherever You go, do whatever You say. I don't want me anymore, I want You. Because what I do never amounts to anything. I'll just bring not-so-good things. But I know, if I follow You and let You lead, things will be different.” At the end of that chapter, in Psalm 139, David, again, "I want to be like You."

Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, o God. Know my heart. Try me, and know my anxieties.” I want to be like You. Know me. Because, as you understand me and I understand you and I trust you, I'll change. I'll give up that practice. Verse 24, “See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Well, you know, one of the ways that we show respect and honor to one another, one of the ways that we get to understand each other is listen. Right? Listen. Really listen.

James 1:19 Says, “Be swift to hear and slow to speak.”

Be swift to hear and slow to speak. That's a principle that we can all pay attention to. Especially important in marriage. Another book that had an effect on me was written in 1982 by a man named Gary Smalley. He was a counselor, a family counselor by background, and he wrote a series of books in the 1980s that, as I went through the bookstore and looked through them, I thought, “Well, here's a simple book,” and there was a companion book that went with it, “If Only He Knew” was the name of it. And it wasn't full of all these statistics and studies and all these other things, it was very simply written that you could understand what he was saying. And what I liked about it was that he tied what he had done to Bible verses.

And my wife and I hadn't been married, you know, for years and years and years by that time but, like any new married couple, we would have our issues every now and then. And, you know, I began to understand, you know, when you would listen to the comedies and they would say things like, “Who can ever understand a woman?” right? And I thought, “I don't understand what my wife is mad about. What does she expect me to do?” Right? You probably have all been that way. So, I read this book and it helped me understand the way a woman thinks. Because they are different than us, they're wired differently. What they see as love from us is differently than what we see as love from them. And as I read through the book, I thought, “Oh, that's this exact situation that we found ourselves in that we, you know, got ourselves in a little disagreement over.” And, you know, light bulbs began to go on in my head. He made quite a statement, you know, on Page 74 of that book that I hesitate, but I'm going to do it, I'm going to say what his statement was that kind of struck me like a sledgehammer.

And he said, “After five years of marriage, after five years of marriage,” I want to use the word “usually” but he didn't, “it is usually the husband's fault if there are lingering problems in the marriage or unresolved problems in the marriage.”

Now, when I read that, I thought, “Well you are wrong, Mr. Smalley. I can guarantee it.” But, you know, I looked at his examples and I read as he talked about Ephesians 5 and how the husband is the spiritual head of the house and how relationships and developing the relationship and healing the relationship and going to God to see what needs to happen doesn't mean always that the husband had to change but to lead and understand because it's the responsibility to restore that relationship and come together. It kind of made sense to me. And I thought about some of the things that we had agreements over, nothing that was, like, earth-shattering or life-altering. And I thought, “Yeah, you know what? I could've done a better job in that. I could've understood my wife more. I could've taken the time to listen to what she was thinking when we had that.” “Tell me what you're feeling so I can understand, so I can respond to you in a different way.”

In that book, he gave five ways to build a lasting relationship. You know what the first two had to do with? Understanding. Understanding. He said them different ways but both of them had to do, “Understand your wife,” and, “wives, understand your husband.” When there's something go, understand, you got to talk about backgrounds, you have to understand why we react the way we do.

Again, as I became a pastor and I did some pre-marital counseling and when my wife and I got married, you know, we were married in the Church but we did no pre-marital counseling, the minister knew both of us and said, “Oh, you know, you're a good match.” And so, we got married when we did. But, so, the first time, you know, premarital counseling was like, “Whoa, I really don't have a background in this.” So, I did a lot of studying, you know, to find out, “Well, what is it is?” I went through the Prepare and Enrich thing. You know what I found, over the years, to be the most valuable part of that premarital counseling? It's when the two people would be together and they would talk about their backgrounds. What happened in your house, what happened and who was responsible for this, who was responsible for that, what were your parents like? When they got into arguments that you saw, how did all that affect you?

And as I watched, as one would begin talking, the other one would be listening, and I thought, “This is really valuable. Because they're beginning to understand each other, they're taking the time as you go through that process.” And I hope, as time went on, that they would remember some of those things, the first time they had and, “Okay, let's just sit down and talk about this. Tell me what you're feeling, tell me why you're feeling this way.” And so, you know, God, it's a principle in the Bible, right? Do you know what verse you're thinking about? 1 Peter 3, verse 7. Again, when you read these things, when you listen to podcasts, when you listen to your Instagram posts, when you read books, if you find points you're going to hold on to, make sure they're in the Bible. And you know what, if you're led by God's Holy Spirit, I believe He will bring that Scripture to mind. Yes, you can take this, know it, but then the trick is...or the key is applying it. Make the change in your life that it becomes you.

1 Peter 3:7 Says, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them,” your wife, “with understanding, giving honor to her, as to the weaker vessel,” this doesn't mean physically inferior but as a precious vessel, the most precious physical gift that God gives us is our wives, “as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together,” working together. In marriage, we learn so many things, as we become one. Similar things that we learn in becoming one with one another, understand one another, be together with one another. “Being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

And, you know, that is so true. That is so true. I've heard from people and we've experienced in our lives, when my wife and I would be at odds with each other, it was difficult to pray. But when we came back together and we reconciled whatever difference it was, the relationship with God would be there. Because God says, “Go first, go back, restore that relationship, then come and make your offering to me. Do that, become one, learn the things that are there.” If you go on, in verse 8 here.

1 Peter 3:8 Peter says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.”

Now, the Greek word translated “compassion” there, when you look at it in the Greek, the word “sympathy,” the English word "sympathy" comes from it. And so, sympathy doesn't mean you just feel sorry but you feel this empathy of someone, if you will. When you read through Vine's Expository Dictionary, when it talks about that word, it says, “Be touched with, be touched by that person. Let what they're saying into your heart.” Don't just listen and, you know, be thinking about something else or don't be, as we so often, as humans, think about what we're going to respond, really listen. Really listen because you're interested in that person and you want to have that relationship. Be touched with.

If you go on the internet, they'll talk about empathy. Let me read to you about empathy and empathic listening. Stephen Covey talks about empathic listening, he talks about it in line of marriage. Gary Smalley does the same thing in different language. Here's what it says. It says, “When you have empathy, it means you can understand what a person is feeling in a given moment and understand why other people's actions made sense to them. Empathy helps us to communicate our ideas in a way that makes sense to others and it helps us understand others when they communicate with us.”

It's the same word, verb as opposed to adjective when it describes what Christ did for us. If we turn a couple of Books back to the Book of Hebrews, in verse 4, we find...or chapter 4, we find the same word, talking about Christ who came down, lived as human, flesh and blood. Why did He do that? Because He wanted to understand what you and I were going through. He created us, He knows what our bodies are made of, He knows the temptations, He knows the pleasure, He knows the pain, He knows all the things we go through, the emotions. Why did He do that? Because He wanted to be able to understand what you and I go through. Verse 14 tells us that.

Hebrews 4:14-15 “So, seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the Heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession for we don't have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was at all points tempted, as we are, yet without sin.”

He knows, He can empathize, He can understand what we're going through so that, when we come before Him and pray and pour our hearts out to Him and don't think that we're going to hide something from Him because He knows what we think, He knows what we do, He knows our strengths, He knows our weaknesses that you can come before Him and acknowledge because He knows, because he's been through it, in all points, tempted or tried as we are. He knows the ups and downs of life, He's been through it all. He understands us. God says to you and me, “Understand. Develop that empathy. Honor. Get to know.” In Psalm 103, Psalm 103, in verse 13...again, David writes, David got to know God, David took the time to understand God.

Psalms 103:13 “As a father pities his children,” or has compassion might be a different way of saying that, “as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.”

And those of us who have had children, you know, as our children grow up, we know what they're going through. You know, I would tell my kids, and, well, the boys especially, probably my wife told the girls that, you know, “I know what you're thinking.” And sure enough, I did. Because I've been there, right? We've been there, we grew up, we understand the look in the eye, we understand the words that are there, we understand the eyes going back into the back of the head. It's like, “Okay, I know what you're thinking, so, I get it.” But just like that, as a father pities his children and you have compassion on them, you want them to learn, you want them to grow because you know what they're going through as well just as, you know, your parents and all of us know what you're going through and pray for you and empathize with you, as you go through the growing-up stage, the college stage, the going to work stage and dealing with everything you do so God looks at us the same way. He knows, Jesus Christ knows what we've been through.

Psalms 103:14 “For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.”

We are works in progress, we are here in training to become who God wants us to become. And He's patient and He loves us and He wants us to learn those things. Psalm 56. Maybe we've felt this at work and school with those who, you know, we might consider not our friends, on the outside world, maybe even some, you know, David. You know, you go through the Psalms and you kind of see what David went through and you think, “Yeah, I identify with what he's done. I've been in that situation.”

Psalm 56:5 He says, “All day they twist my words. I said one thing and then it was twisted and meant to be something else,” ever had that happen? Kind of frustrating. “All day they twist my words. All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps when they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger,” says David, “cast down the peoples, O God.” I wouldn't say be angry, be understanding. God will reveal and God will teach them as well. “You number my wanderings. You watch what I do, God.” And look at the beautiful next line, “Put my tears into Your bottle.”

“Do you see what I did? Do you see what I went through? Do you see how I feel? Put my tears into your bottle. Aren't they in your book?” God knows. God knows, continue to follow Him and look to Him and things will be made right. Maybe not the next second, maybe not the next day, but go through your life never leaving God, always looking to the Bible, always basing your beliefs and actions in the truths that are in the Bible. All the answers are there, all the truth is there. And that's what we live by, and guide us.

So, I hope, as you are listening, that you can see how Agape...you know, God says He wants us to develop Agape “By this will all men know you are My disciples if you have Agape for one another.” What we can do, it's all about serving, seeing the needs, as it says in 1 John 3, but those needs are not always physical, it's not always just taking food to those who are hungry or sending flowers to those in the hospital. Those are all good, those are all right things, but sometimes the need is to take the time. Get to know, listen, pay attention, show the honor and show the time of doing that.

The third book, the third book that made a huge impact on me was a book that Mr. Armstrong recommended and I heard many times as I was growing up. I finally thought I'm going to find that book and I'm going to read it because I remembered he kept saying, “Read that book.” And so, I went to the bookstores and I finally found it, it was called “The Man Nobody Knows,” written by Bruce Barton, now almost 100 years ago. Bruce Barton was another businessman. Bruce Barton wrote the book because, he'd heard of Jesus Christ, and he was very successful in all avenues of business that he operated in. He looked at Jesus Christ through the pages of the Bible and he wrote what is really a remarkable book that shows what Jesus Christ was like in all the physical settings of his life. He talked about His social character, he talked about His business dealings, he even talked about how Jesus Christ was, using today's term, marketed. Right? Which I found to be a fascinating thing. All based in the Bible, example after example after example. “Look what Jesus Christ did, look how He related to people. He was humble. He was impartial. He didn't hesitate to sit down with a sinner or a harlot if they had the time because He wanted to get to know them.”

And the Bible tells us that. And the people looked at Him and said, “What are you sitting down with these people for, these tax collectors, these sinners, these harlots? What are you doing hanging out with Mary Magdalene, don't you know what she's about?” Imagine if Jesus Christ had listened and just judged a book by what He heard about them. Look at the people that He took the time with and look what it did in their lives when He gave them the time and He gave them the attention. Look at Zacchaeus, look at the people that were around Him. He had quite a way with people and He had quite a way, you know.

Mr. Barton, you know, when Jesus Christ said, “I must be about my father's business,” he picks up on that word and he says, you know, “Jesus Christ was here to do a work on Earth just like,” he didn't say it, but just like you and I are called to do a work. It's something that God has called us to do. “Look at His way of doing it,” he said. You can find the answers. And he, apparently, applied many of the concepts he learned into his business. And as I read that book, I thought, “Oh, I get it. That is what he did, ‘follow Christ,’ he gives us the answers and that difference as well.”

But Jesus Christ, as you see Him from early on in life, you see Him doing some of the things we've already talked about. If we turn back to Luke 2, the one little glimpse we have into Christ's childhood we find in verse 46. Verse 46, Luke 2, "Now so it was..." this is when they went up to Jerusalem for the days of unleavened bread, the family left, they thought Jesus was with someone else. After three days, they realized He wasn't there.

Luke 2:46-47 Says, “So it was that after three days they,” His parents, “found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers,” notice the word “both,” what was He doing, “both listening to them and asking them questions.” Exactly what some of those books said. Listen. Ask questions. Get to know what they're thinking. Jesus Christ did that, even as a young man here, you know, pre-teen, if you will. In verse 47, it says, “And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Get to know your audience and your person you're talking to, then you can lead them to the truth. Then you can talk about things and come to agreement when the other person feels honored and listened to and appreciated for who they are. Because Jesus Christ died not only for you and me but for all of mankind. Right? He loves all of mankind. They will all come to understand that He loves them all.

Let me read another thing from Mr. Covey. And again, Point 5, this is on page 239 of his book, it talks about listening. One thing that I had to learn, and still learn, that we could all pay attention to, he says this, he says, “There's a difference between simply hearing and really listening which involves our intellect and emotions. Listening involves more than just being quiet. When conversing with another person, do you truly want to know what he or she is thinking and feeling? Listening begins as an attitude that is based on a genuine desire to understand what others are saying. It's a value to embrace, not an inconvenience to be tolerated.”

Okay, I've got to listen to you because I was told listening is a good thing. No, that you listen intently, that you're not formulating in your mind, “What is my response to this and my comeback to this?” not thinking about, you know, “When I leave here, I'm going to go home and have dinner. And I wonder what my wife is having for dinner tonight,” that you are paying attention to what is being said, you are honoring that person the way it is. Jesus Christ did that. Dale Carnegie said this, he said, “There's a reason why the other man thinks and acts as he does. Ferret out that reason and you have the key to his actions and perhaps even to his personality.” Get to know him and you can work with them. You can have an influence in their life. You can lead them to God when you know them and they get to know you. And through your actions and the way you live your life, you are an example of God's way of life.

You know, Christ did that and He developed deep relationships. We've talked about a few of them but, you know, you probably remember how Christ was with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. You remember that Lazarus died and, before he died, the word came to Him that Lazarus was sick, but Christ delayed. Remember that in John 11? And He made the comment, “Well, this sickness isn't unto death,” but to Mary and Martha and Lazarus it was. In fact, he died. And Christ knew that it was done so that Lazarus could be resurrected back to physical life, He knew that. But when He went there three days later and He saw the people weeping, you know, He didn't think...it affected Him, He had that sympathy in Him, that in touch with their feelings. And He wept with them. Remember that? Shortest verse in the Bible

John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”

He knew Lazarus was going to be brought back to life but He felt what they were feeling. We can develop that. We need to develop that. We need to know what God is working and get to know one another. You know, in that book he talks a lot about what Jesus was. Let me read a few things. I've said them once but I'll say them again, “He was social,” it makes the point He was impartial. Impartial. Good businessman, good business and marketing principles, always a servant, willing to serve wherever He could and always humble. If there was one man on Earth who could esteem himself better than anyone else, it would be Jesus Christ. He didn't. He didn't.

He was humble. He knew a lot. There, at age 12, He was talking in the temple with the teachers of that day but He didn't lord it over them and have the superior attitude, “I know more than you,” because, you know, knowledge, you know, it tells us in 1 Corinthians 8 I think it is, knowledge can puff up. Knowledge is good, we need knowledge, God says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.” So, knowledge is just one part. The grace of Jesus Christ, the way He lived His life, the way He operated on Earth is another thing. And we could take some time to see who He is if indeed our goal is to become like Him. If indeed we are going to live up to the measure and stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ because we are physical and this is our time to learn those things and to become like Him in that regard, as well as in the spiritual way of life. Paying attention to that.

He learned a lot through life and we can pattern our life after Him, if you are so interested. That book, “The Man Nobody Knows,” is now free on the internet, when I was looking yesterday, you can read the whole book, you don't even have to go out and buy it, you don't have to go to Barnes & Nobles or Amazon or any place, you can read it if you are interested. It's a very easy but a very interesting read. I'm not going to say that every single thing in there...I don't remember anything I disagreed with but I'm not going to say that because, again, whatever you do, trace it back to the Bible. Just remember that when you read these things, when you listen to podcasts, when you do the social media and you hear things, trace it back to the Bible. That's the definitive text on relationships. Never forget it and know that God has called us and know that this is the truth and determine that in your life as you go through and as you learn things.

So, let me recap a little bit about what we've talked about too. One was seek first to understand. And let me say take the time to understand God and understand Jesus Christ. Look at the Bible, study what they do, the patterns that they have, what they say what they do. Take the time to know Him. Seek first to understand. Yes, read the Bible. Yes, some other things you're going to hear that you will trace back to the Bible and say, “That's a Biblical principle. This is said in a different way that I can understand better,” but then apply it into your life because you never grow in the grace of Jesus Christ unless you actually and actively make the choice to apply that into your life. Change the way you are. Change the way it is so that we collectively, individually, as a Church, become more like Him. Take the time to get to know Him. And when you pray to Him, pour your heart out to Him...you know, Matthew 11, verse 28, He says, “Come to me all you who are weary. Just tell me, just talk to me.” You know, pray the very many forms of prayer that we have but take the time to listen to God as well.

I can't underscore enough the principle of meditation. Listen to what God has to say. Listen and engage yourself and don't let your mind drift off into other things. Pray, read, and then take the time to think about it. Turn the internet off, turn the voice, the games off, put your cell phone away, the earbuds out of your ear, take the time to just have your mind free so God can reach it. If there's one thing that's a big, big, big difference between now and the time when I was younger, it's how we can have ourselves busy listening to something all the time, we never have time...or take the time to let our minds think.

I'll give you John 17...well, let's turn to John 17, we're just one book away from it. John 17:3. You know, as Jesus Christ was praying that last prayer before He was arrested in verse 3, at the beginning of the prayer.

John 17:3 He says, “And this is eternal life that they may know You.” Wow, “that they may know You.” Not know of You, but that they may know You, “the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

And, of course, Jesus Christ earlier that evening told Philip, “If you've seen me, you've seen the Father. We're one, we're exactly united in mind and purpose.” Take the time to get to know God. Know each other and understand but know God as well. Take the time with each other. Learn to empathize with each other. We talked about that. Become like Him. And I said, you know, compare everything to the truth of the Word of God.

Let me close here, in Psalm 119, there's an awfully lot in Psalm 119, the longest chapter, if you will, in the Bible. It would be well worth your while to look at each one of those 22 parts of this Psalm and see what God is saying because there's a lot of depth in getting to know God in Psalm 119. Of course, all the Bible, but in verse 9, you know, if indeed you were looking to follow God and claim the promises that He has for all of us.

Psalms 119:9-16 It says, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” If you want to become like God, if you want to live your life according to them, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” David says, “With my whole heart I have sought You.” I've looked for you, I am seeking to understand you and what your will for me is and what your principles for me are. “With my whole heart I have sought You. Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord. Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, and I will contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes and I will not forget Your word.”

If you want a happy, fulfilled, satisfied life that is beyond anything you can imagine, follow God and get to know Him, and obey Him.