How to read well and fast, and hopefully smart

Or, if you don’t like the title above, try this one: How to read a 500 page book in 30 minutes! And retain 90 percent of what you read!

That’s the come-on which led some of us to pay for the Evelyn Wood speed-reading course some years back.  It was not money well spent in my judgement, although I did discover how a few people in this world manage to pull that off.  (If your experience with that course was better than mine, congratulations.)

A friend who is an editor for a Christian news service suggested that, since I’m a constant reader, I should write a blog on the subject of reading and how to do it faster and better.  As a trained editor, she tends to read critically and thus slower than she’d like.

That hit me like the time another editor asked me for an article on gluttony.  I had consumed three large meals that day.  But I thought, “Who better than me, who knows the subject so well?”  I wrote the article and it’s still circulating the globe in cyberspace.

So, I opened the laptop with that intention.  But first, I decided to put the question to my friends on Facebook.  How to read faster and more effectively.  The answers were many, some helpful and several silly.  For instance, the latter…

–Bob recommended the Jeff Foxworthy method of “reading more gooder fastly.”

–Ken suggested, “Rd onl fw ltrs, dnt dwl on evy wd.  Dnt gv u!”   Someone needs to buy Ken a vowel.

–Luther learned to cut his reading time in one-half, he says, by turning two pages at a time.

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The Irreducibles: My ten strongest sermons.

Whether you are retired or still actively pastoring, try reducing your sermons to ten that mean the most to you.  Ten sermons that basically say everything God has laid on your heart. Quite a challenge!

Dr. Perry Hancock is the longtime executive of the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe.  This week, on campus to sketch the children and talk to them, I had several visits with this great friend.  I was his and Tanya’s pastor in New Orleans, so we go back a ways.

At one point, Perry said, “I’m down to ten sermons which I preach all over.”  In a different church every Sunday, many for the first time, he does not need to reinvent the wheel each week in the way of a pastor of a congregation, God bless ’em!

He added, “I do have to keep up with where I’ve preached them so I won’t repeat myself when they invite me back!”

We laughed.  I know that feeling, being retired.

How many sermons do I have, I wondered.  Of course, as with every pastor, I have a Bible full of messages preached over some 55 years of ministry.  I’ve preached through the 28 chapters of Acts at least twice and could do it again.  (The first time, when still in my 20’s, toward the end of that long year, a deacon said, “Preacher, you’re about to Acts us to death!”  I said, “The famous ACTS-murders!”).  I have informed my new wife, “Honey, I cannot repair a car or build you a back porch, but I can give you a Bible study on Ephesians right now!”  We laughed. She’d been married to a good preacher for over half a century, so she knew how that is.

Anyway, here are my “ten best sermons,” so to speak.  Or, a better way of stating it is: These messages form the heart of what God has called me to preach to His people.

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The favorite books on my shelves

After giving away a few thousands books–dealing with the ministry, history, cartooning, and a hundred other subjects–I’ve pared down my collection to a stark 500 or so.  And, painful though it is, I’m still trying to shrink that number.

Adrian Rogers stood in my pastor’s study once, perusing the titles on the shelves.  “I’m a book-aholic,” he said.  “I cannot throw a book away.”  He paused and said, “I even have ‘None Dare Call it Treason,'” perhaps the worst book of the 20th century. Well, it is if we rule out Mein Kampf, and I’m in favor of ruling that one out forever.

Some books are such keepers, they are practically enshrined on my shelves.  They had something–a chapter, a story, a paragraph, a line, a fact–that left an indelible imprint on my soul, and are as dear to me as it’s possible for an inanimate object to be.  I keep Jeff Christopherson’s “Kingdom Matrix” just because of the story he tells of his parents.

Two or three are books I read in elementary school and never forgot. So, when I stumbled across them in old, used bookstores, I had to have them.  A few are Bible commentaries, but most are not.  Some are history books, my major field of study in college and seminary.  Three of them tell the same story, basically, of the life of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating characters, Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the Japanese bombing raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, triggering U.S. involvement in the Second World War.  Later, he was converted to Christ and spent the last quarter-century of his life spreading the Gospel across the globe. The most fascinating aspect of his never boring story is how the Lord reached him. Two of the books are biographies of Fuchida and one is his own account of his life.

An entire bookcase is devoted to books dealing with World War 2.  Two of them, sitting side by side, deal with incidents in 1940, arguably the most dramatic year of the century (due to the Nazi invasion of the low countries, the coming to power of Winston Churchill, the bombing of Britain, and all the hemming and hawing going on in this country as America tried to figure out what to do, what to do).  1940 was the year both my wife and I arrived on the planet, so that might figure into the choice, but I doubt.

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What is a pastor to do when a church kicks him out?

The headline from an online preacher magazines says a pastor fired because of his alcoholism is bitter at his mistreatment by that congregation’s leaders.  Not good.

I’ll not be reading that article, thank you.  But a lot of people will.  Looks to me like he deserved what he got.  But then, I’m neither his judge nor their advisor.  But when a fired preacher walks away bitter, that does concern me.

No one deserves to pastor the Lord’s church.

Your bitterness feels like you no longer trust the Lord.  Read Acts 16 again, preacher, and remind yourself how God loves to use setbacks and what appears to be defeats for His purposes.  But the one thing He requires to pull that off is trusting servants who know how to sing at midnight (16:25).

That God would allow any of us to preach to His people year after year, declaring Heaven’s message to the redeemed, without giving us what we truly deserve–the fires of hell come to mind, frankly–shows Him to be a God of grace.  Why don’t we see that?

Whenever I hear a Christian talking about not getting what he deserved, I run in the opposite direction, lest the Father suddenly decide to give the fellow what he’s asking for!

So, you were fired.  Okay.  Can we talk?

Call it whatever you will.  Perhaps they dressed up the terminology and told the congregation you were taking an extended leave, with pay for three months.  But you weren’t coming back.  Or, you were taking a well-needed sabbatical for rest and study. But you weren’t coming back.  Or you were going to the “wilderness” for some retraining and redirection for your ministry. But you weren’t coming back.

You will hold your head up and go forward and look to the Lord who called you into this work in the first place, asking Him to do with it whatever He has chosen.

Repeat:  Hold your head up!  Look to the Lord.  Give this whole business to Him.  And keep on doing that until no trace of resentment can be found on your person.  Even if it takes five years!

Sure it’s hard.  It’s very hard.

In fact, most people won’t be able to pull it off.  They will grasp their hurt to themselves like a prized possession and refuse to give it up.  Only those who truly trust the Savior can keep their eyes on Him, keep abiding in Him, and keep on trusting and loving and giving.

“The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own. Put on the gospel armor….”

What other things can the ousted pastor do, now that his status with the church is no longer in doubt?

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What I told the embattled pastor

Some friend reading this may think I’m revealing a confidence.  But the fact is I have much of the same conversation almost weekly.  Pastors call or visit to tell of the stresses they are facing, the opposition threatening their ministry, and various crises their church is dealing with, each one more than they can bear.  One said, “The strain is killing me.”    That is the background to this piece….

You’re the pastor of the church.  Things have gone well for the first couple of years (or longer) in this ministry.  You have loved a hundred things about serving here.  But lately, things have slowed down and you’re now hearing a rumbling in the congregation.  It’s like footsteps in the night.

They’re after you.

A few people have lurked around the edges of the fellowship since you arrived as pastor.  They seemed to be searching for something to use against you.  They spoke pleasant words but the sinister reports you heard made you guard yourself around them. And then, something occurred in the church to ignite the opposition against you.  The “something” could have been trouble with a staff member, a moral problem with a leader, a heavy contributor dying or moving away causing financial hardships, anything.  It doesn’t take much of a spark to ignite a fuel dump.

Members who had been on the fence about your leadership now jump onto the bandwagon opposing you.  Finally, they found something they could use against you.  The nay-sayers come out of the woodwork.  Some withhold their offerings and then they say, “The church finances are hurting, proving the pastor is failing.”

Nothing about this is fun.

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The noise of wolves in the night…and a few church members

You’re getting scared.  Your enemies are making fierce noises.  There are so many of them. You  are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go.  Whatever will you do? This is so awful.

Or, maybe not.

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s “Memoirs” make fascinating reading.  We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Before reading the Memoirs, I read “Grant’s Final Victory,” an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and plenty of varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  “To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.”

The part of Ohio where Grant had been brought up had no wolves, but his friend Lt. Calvin Benjamin came from rural Indiana where they were still in abundance.  “He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.”

Benjamin began moving straight toward the wolves, seemingly unafraid.  “I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back….”

After a bit, Benjamin spoke. “Grant, how many wolves do you think are in that pack?’

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How to change the world without ever leaving town

“Go home to your friends and tell them what the Lord has done for you, how He has had compassion on you.”  (Mark 5:19).

Start with the children.

Frank Pollard used to enjoy telling about a friend named Claude Hedges of Ollie, Texas.  Mr. Hedges taught a class of 10-year-old boys in the local Baptist church.  Frank said, “He didn’t just teach the ones who showed up.  He thought every 10-year-old boy in Ollie, Texas belonged to him.”

Frank said, “I knew he was coming.  Because I was boy number seven in our house.  Mr. Hedges had led all my brothers to Christ, and three of us became preachers.”

Now, Frank is the only one of the brothers I knew, but let me pause to tell you this about him.  For over 25 years, he pastored the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS.  At one time, he served the FBC of San Antonio and then was president of our Baptist seminary in the San Francisco area.  Sometime around 1980, TIME magazine named Frank one of the 10 outstanding preachers in America. And, for a number of years, Dr. Frank Pollard was the featured preacher on the Baptist Hour, a television production that was literally beamed across the entire world.


Frank said, “I used to go back and visit with Claude Hedges.  I would say, ‘Thank you for doing the best thing anyone ever did for me.'”

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Four things I wanted to know that most pastors do not

I’m confident most church members never analyze why they feel the way they do about their pastors, either positively or negatively. But I always wanted to know what was going on with them.

For forty-two years I pastored six churches, as well as serving on the staff of another church for three years.  During those times, four areas used to concern me, to bug me actually, about our people.  Whenever I would mention them to my ministry colleagues, most shrugged and said, “Not me.  I don’t want to know that.”

One.  Why are you leaving?

No matter how large or successful your ministry, people will leave from time to time and join a church down the highway.  I wondered why.

Pastor Ross Rhoads led one of the largest churches in Charlotte, NC at the time, easily twice the size of First Baptist Church where I was serving. But we had a lot in common–age, experience, demanding schedules (preaching four services each Sunday!), and such–and enjoyed a friendship.  That particular day, for some reason we began talking about people who leave our church to join another in the area.

I said, “I know we can’t pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Why did you join that other church?  Did we let you down in some way?’  But I’d like to know. We could learn a lot by knowing why people leave.”

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Divine appointments: God is on the job

Have you ever walked out of a church service knowing today’s sermon had your name all over it?  You should feel so honored that the God of the universe maneuvered everything to minister to your need.  Does He do that as a regular thing?  My experience says He does.  Every day.  God is at work.

What a mighty God we serve!

This is from my journal from May 3, 1999—

“Every once in a while something happens that lets you know God is really active in what you are doing.  Sunday a week ago, I preached about young people.  I called it “the 5 cries of youth.”  Today’s young people are crying to Belong, crying for Unconditional love, asking for Instruction, needing and will someday appreciate Limits, and finally, for Time.  (Resulting in the acrostic B.U.I.L.T.)

Two solos were featured in the service–both by young women, one in her teens.  And we had visitors in the service.  Now, that’s not unusual.  Often we’ll have folks who are in New Orleans temporarily and staying at a hotel near the airport and drop into our services.  But on that day, we had 55 visitors–all teenagers (with a few adults) from two high schools in Wisconsin.  They were part of two high school bands in some kind of competition at the University of New Orleans.  That morning the leaders had asked, “Who wants to go to church?”  and 55 (about half) had responded.

Most of the youths indicated they had never been in a Baptist church before.  Since this was just after the Littleton, Colorado tragedy, I talked about it in the sermon.  Later, the leader came up with tears in her eyes.  She said, “Pastor, you have no idea how appropriate your message was for some of the kids in our group.  Some of them are dealing with the very issues you touched on.”  She gave me a hug.

As far as I know, the next time we all see each other will be in Heaven.

I can go for days on that kind of encouragement.”  (end of journal)

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Why churches love their former pastors so much

“Most churches are two pastors behind in their appreciation.”  –Ron Lewis (taken from David Chancey’s response at the end of this article)

A cartoon shows a weary, embattled pastor standing beside a statue of a man on a horse.  The sign at the base reads, “Our former pastor.”  The preacher is saying, “Most popular guy in town.”

“They sure do love you here.”

The host pastor was talking to a former pastor, then the president of a theological seminary and celebrated as a distinguished denominational leader.  They’d invited him back for a special day, a homecoming or something.  Everyone was excited to see him and to hear him preach.  The attendance was good.

The distinguished guest looked at his host and said, “Really?  Did they tell you that?”

“Uh, yeah.  They say they really do.”

“Listen,” said the seminary president.  “That monument they built to me was made from the stones they threw at me.”

They threw stones at the preacher? And now they’re saying how much they love him?

Yep.  Ask any veteran pastor.

You serve a number of years at a church and have the typical experience of good and bad times.  You are loved by some and despised by others. It’s life.  It happens. And then, eventually, you retire or move on to another church.  After a few years and a couple of pastors, they invite you back for some big occasion.  And to hear them tell it, yours were the glory years for that church.  Those were the best times, you had assembled the greatest staff, everything was perfect back when you were here.  They rave about all the inspiring sermons you preached and the unforgettable moments in the history of the church.

That’s what they say.  And, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they probably mean it.

They suffer from a poor memory.

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