My Mom, Clarice, had surgery yesterday and it went well although she is still in Intensive Care. She has four screws in her neck, two from C-1 into C-2 and two from C-3 holding C-2. She only has the wear the neck brace when she gets out of bed. The challenge came when they tried to remove the breathing tube. That didn’t work and she ended up on the ventilator all night. They removed the breathing tube this morning and Mom is breathing on her own and her vitals are stable.

The plan is to continue to stabilize her by weaning her off some of the medication, dealing with a little bit of drainage from the incision, and helping her swallow. If all this goes well she could be back on the Neurology floor before nightfall or at least by tomorrow morning.

Mom will spend 3-4 days at the University Hospital before transferring to skilled care at the Keokuk County Health Center in Sigourney. That will be close to family.

Thanks for praying

Jim Eschenbrennner


I’m sitting in the family waiting area of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) at the University of Iowa Hospital. Every two hours family members can visit their patient for 15 minutes and this is where we all wait. There are 32 beds in the SICU and today 28 of those beds are occupied and as a result the waiting area is full.

When I came back from lunch, I sat down at a table where there’s a convenient Ethernet connection as well as power outlet. I set up the laptop and checked email but before I could even read the first message a man and woman approached and asked if they could join me.

They said, “When you were here earlier with your son we got the impression you are a pastor. Are we right?”

I said, “Yes, but I’m not really here in that capacity; my Mom is in the SICU.”

“Well,” the man said, “we would like to ask some questions. Is that OK?”

“I’ll do my best.”

They introduced themselves as a brother (Bakr) and sister (Rihana). Their 68 yr old father is in SICU with complications following what should’ve been routine surgery for appendicitis. However, when they opened him up the surgeons found he was full of cancer. They removed as much of the malignancy as possible, but while they were still in the operating room, the father had a major heart attack. Now he is on a ventilator and the kidneys are not working.

Their parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1972 from Morrocco. The mother died some years ago as a result of breast cancer. Although their parents claimed to be Muslim, their adult children have never practiced that religion or any other. Bakr said to me, “My religion has been wealth and success.” Until now he has felt no need for a god of any kind. His sister, Rihana, nodded in silent agreement – the same is true for her as well.

Now they are faced with a crises that’s too big for them to handle on their own: After 3 days on the ventilator without any improvement; little or no brain activity on the EEG, and failing kidneys, the medical establishment wants to know how long to continue.

We talked about the origin of life; why we are born in the first place; and what death is like. They asked some intense questions about “the afterlife,” paradise, and evil. Through their grief and confusion there were several times when I know the words “connected” and the Holy Spirit impressed them with truth.

We talked about all the options they face but I didn’t give them any answers about what they should do. They have to make those decisions on their own. I did give them the name of a church in Cedar Rapids (their home) where I’m sure they’ll be treated with respect and where I know the truth of God is held high.

We spent about 40 min talking and when the call came that visitors were allowed in the “bay” where their father is, they thanked me and left. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again but the Seed has been planted.

It’s interesting to watch the people in this waiting area. Some sit in silence, not moving from one position for long periods of time. Others, like me, spend time on their laptops and cell phones. There are some families where they are obviously reminiscing; laughing one moment and shedding tears the next. Two different family groups, at opposite ends of the area, are playing cards and/or working on crossword puzzles.

I wonder how many of them sense a need to connect with God? More than that, I wonder how many of these people, like Bakr and Rihana, don’t have any idea what God is like, how much His loves them, and that only through Him can both life and death have meaning.

What you do, how you live, has the potential to impact people around you who are just like Bakr and Rihana. Don’t give up.



I think everyone ought to have the opportunity to spend five days with two busloads of teenagers! Being together 24/7 was so enlightening and exciting and, in some ways, discouraging. I learned so much from them!

One of the things we talked about a lot in the weeks prior to the trip was that this would be a group activity. (That’s a difficult concept in our radically self-sufficient culture where private rights and ultra-individualism are worshiped with great enthusiasm.) One of the priorities for traveling with teens is staying together and we had a great adult-to-student ratio of no more than four students for every adult. From the first stop for food, many of the students complained about not being allowed to wander off on their own – the were required to stay with their chaperon.

One girl said to me, “I need my personal space.” I replied, “Great, you can have all the space you need once we get back to school but not now.” She glared at me and stomped off. Individualism.

Many of the meals were provided but the selection was always limited. For instance, at Bubba Gump’s the choices were Shrimp, Fish and Chips, or a Cheese Burger. One guy saw a poster advertising crab – but that wasn’t an option for the group. He wanted crab and couldn’t understand why that wasn’t a choice even if he was willing to pay for it. Being part of a group means giving up my right to demand my way. Individualism.

One student got very upset when the security guard at the hotel stopped her in the hallway. All she wanted to do was get her cell phone from her sister in a room across and down the hall – at 1:30 in the morning. But all the students had been told they were to stay in their rooms from lights out until time for breakfast. Individualism.

Because we worship individualism more than we worship God, we’ve allowed this individualism to creep into the church as well. People tell me, “I wanted the church to have a video projector, so I used my tithe and bought one.” What arrogant individualism! First of all, if you decide how to spend the money that ought to be given to God, does it really count as tithe? Second, what if the leadership had already determined that fixing the sound system was a higher priority than a video projector? Individualism.

People who are far from God, and especially teenagers and young adults, see this level of individualism in our churches and in our lives and assume the church approves. Do we? Don’t the Scriptures call us to die to self and set aside the old ways in order to function as a community? It seems to me that we are called to live as a group – crucifying our selfish agenda in order to live in koinonia.

How do we address our culture’s destructive individualism? It starts in my life and yours. It gets worked out in the household of faith. Somehow we have to learn how to do this in ways that are obvious without being preachy. People who are far from God don’t want to be told what to do and what not to do – they need to have it modeled for them.

The “little trinity” of me, myself and I much be rejected in order to center our attention, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We become living sacrifices in order to allow the Holy Spirit to radically transform our minds, attitudes, priorities, and lifestyle.

Together in Christ


From Univeristy Hospital

My Mom, Clarice, fell in the early hours of Wednesday morning and broke her neck. As I write this, I am in her room at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City where she is receiving wonderful care. Fortunately there is no evidence of damage to her spinal cord and no loss of feeling or movement. The Dr. has given the options: either have surgery to fuse the vertebrae or wear a neck brace for the rest of her life.

Mom is very anxious and uncomfortable. She was unable to sleep at all last night – just can’t deal with the neck brace and all the limitations. She’s also very sore from the fall. It’s very difficult to sit or lay in one position for more than 15 min without an overwhelming desire to move. This afternoon they did a swallowing test because that has become a problem. Soft, pureed foods only for the foreseeable future.

After prayer, talking with family members, and consulting with several friends, Mom has decided to pursue surgery. Right now they are working to schedule surgery for Monday or Tuesday. There is some swelling in Mom’s neck at C2 & C3, where the break is, and they have to give that time to go down. Please pray for surgery at the earliest possible time.

From what we understand, Mom will be at the University Hospital for three days following surgery before being transferred to skilled care in Oskaloosa. From there we just don’t know what the plans might be.

Many thanks for all your prayers and calls.



Maintain. Now there’s a word that should be permanently deleted from the vocabulary when talking about church. The dictionary defines maintain, “to keep in existence; to preserve; to keep in a specified state.” I’ve had pastors and leaders describe the church as “maintaining services” or “we’re maintaining our Sunday School.”

Honestly? That makes me sick! The last thing we should be doing is “maintaining.”

OK, so I’m on a soapbox. I admit it. And I recognize that many times the term “maintain” is used and the speaker really doesn’t mean that the church is preserving a program or a building. But think about this with me.

If church attendance is the same now as it was three years ago, what is happening? How could we possibly say we’re being obedient to Matthew 28:18-20? Or, if the only growth the church has experienced is because the 20 somethings are having babies, is that actual growth?

What are we doing to reach the people in our communities who are far from God? This is not the sole responsibility of the pastor – it rests on everyone. We are all responsible for building relationships with people who are outside the household of Faith.

And what about our church buildings? Are we concerned about “maintaining” them or using them up? Wearing them out? Maybe we ought to think of our facilities like a ream of paper for the copier. We keep the paper dry and store it so it stays flat – we treat it with care. But we also use it up!

We need to change our perspective and attitudes. If Sunday School isn’t working don’t maintain it – do something different! If we’re not building relationships with people who are far from God, then something is wrong. If we treat buildings as if we are preserving them for future generations then we need to revisit the definition of idols.

I might make one exception to using the term “maintain” if one is speaking about keeping the church van in safe, running condition. But even the van ought to be viewed as a resource that is eventually used up for the sake of the Kingdom!

Together in Christ,

On a personal note: Lois and I are privileged to be the lead chaperons for our local high school music department trip to New York. We’ll be leaving Thursday evening and returning Tuesday morning. We’re looking forward to spending significant time with this group of 80 teens and adults – some of whom have been turned off regarding church.


I love talking with young adults . . . they keep me on my toes! “T,” a college student, just got off the phone. He’s had it with church and religion and all the hypocrisy. His Mom called me last night and asked if I would be willing to talk with him. She really wanted me to “talk some sense into him” so he wouldn’t “throw his life away.” I said I would talk with her son but only if he called me.

I was surprised when he called. “T” was loaded for bear and unloaded all the hurt, confusion, frustration and anger he’s been harboring against the church. It was pretty messy. The phrase that seemed to be repeated over and over was, “just a bunch of hypocrites.” So I challenged him to give me one example of this hypocrisy that was bugging him so much.

This is the nicest way I can summarize: “When I was a kid, the pastor talked all the time about giving 10 percent. Ten percent of your money; ten percent of your time; and ten percent of your talents. Nobody did it – at least not my parents or my friends’ parents. I’ve seen the tax returns. More like three percent. Yet every Sunday they’d go to church and smile and make nice and pretend they were doing the ten percent thing.

“When I got to college I was introduced to Islam. One of the things you agree to do when you become a Muslim is bring all your money to Mohammed and then the leaders let you take some back. Now that’s commitment.” When he finished I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

The hypocrisy in the church is most evident when it comes to money.

In 1896 Judson W. Van DeVenter penned some words that Winfield S. Weeden put to music as a hymn we know as “I Surrender All.” History proves that these two men did indeed surrender everything to follow Jesus but we cannot sing this song honestly. Maybe we should re-write the lyrics to represent what we teach but what few of us do. Therefore, in order to make the song reflect reality, I propose the following version:

Ten percent to Jesus I surrender
Ten percent to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In his presence daily live.

I surrender ten percent, I surrender ten percent;
Ten percent to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender ten percent.

Ten percent to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me Jesus, take me now.

I surrender ten percent, I surrender ten percent;
Ten percent to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender ten percent.

Is the “ten percent tithe” Biblical? It was in the Old Testament. But Jesus seems to hold up a higher standard when He asks us to “take up our cross and follow.” And when he teaches us that if we want to save our lives we have to lose them first. Paul continues the theme when he talks about being “living sacrifices.”

No wonder our young people are walking away from the church. We’ve made being a Christian way too easy.