The call came on Saturday morning. Lois and I had just arrived home from an early trip to pick up groceries when Joy called and asked us to come to the Ottumwa Hospital “right now.” Joy and Tony’s dear friends, Chris and Melissa, had taken their 3 yr old daughter, Evyn, to the Doctor on Friday and she was admitted to the hospital. She had the flu and they wanted to give her some antibiotics and fluids to help her body fight it off.  Saturday morning Evyn’s vitals were not improving and they decided to transport her to Iowa City – the best medical facility south of Mayo Clinic. They never made it out of Evyn’s hospital room. Her heart just stopped.

Lois and I walked into the pediatric area just as the medical staff “pronounced” Evyn. We arrived to support our daughter and son-in-love but quickly realized the family’s pastor wasn’t there yet. Fortunately Dave is a friend and I wasn’t too worried about offending him. (I called him as soon as possible and told him what had transpired.) For the next two hours I had the opportunity of offering spiritual direction in a time of crises.

The medical staff recognized me as a pastor and told me that Evyn had died. I walked into the room where everyone but the parents were waiting and told them Evyn was gone. What a shock! I prayed with the family and friends who were gathered and then went into the room where Chris and Melissa were sitting on the edge of the bed holding their first-born and weeping over her still body. It’s an image I’ll cherish the rest of my life. I wept, too. The pediatrician was still in the room and we all prayed through our tears.

After a little while we brought Evyn’s almost 2 yr old brother, Isaac into the room to be with his family. And, two-by-two, other family members and dear friends joined the grief around that hospital bed.

I found the medical staff huddled together trying to process everything. I knew their faces – they are people that have delivered all our grandchildren and cared for them. To a person they were soaked with perspiration and emotionally drained. I asked if I could pray for and with them and they readily agreed. We moved out of the hallway into a room and I looked into their eyes and thanked them for “giving their all to try to save Evyn.” I prayed for them and then together we prayed for Evyn’s family. I walked out of that room grateful for the privilege of prayer.

It took about 90 minutes for everyone to get to the place where they were ready to leave Evyn’s room. In the meantime, the family’s pediatrician had to have the difficult talk with the parents about an autopsy – they needed answers. We found out Tuesday that it was Influenza B. The flu isn’t supposed to kill children that have had the flu vaccine.

It’s wonderful to be able to stand alongside the pastors who are extending love and grace and comfort to this family. Providing spiritual direction in situations like this is both tough and necessary. These are the truths we are holding up:

? God did not DO this. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God does not make plans to bring us harm.

? Evyn is NOT an angel. Angels were created to be “God’s Secret Agents,” to quote Billy Graham. Humans were created in God’s image and are more precious, more valuable than any angel could hope to be. Some angels actually get sent out of God’s presence while we, His children, once in heaven, will never leave His presence. If God needs another angel He just thinks the thought and its done.

? Bad things happen to good people because we live in a broken, fallen world.

? It’s true that sometimes God intervenes with a miracle and we don’t understand why He chose not to do that in Evyn’s life. But then we are reminded that God’s ways are inscrutable – to us they are mysterious and beyond understanding. What seems wise to us is foolish in God’s sight.

? No matter what, God is completely trustworthy. He will not abandon you.

There have been multiple meetings with the parents and family. We’ve prayed together again and again. Pressing the reminder of God’s constant presence into the hearts and minds of God’s people is a continual process but especially in times of crises. Wednesday, several pastors will take turns being with the family as they receive visitors. Pray for me on Thursday as I have the responsibility and privilege of leading the committal service.

Together in Christ,


I was driving this morning and took a call on my cell phone. It was a bi-vocational pastor calling to let me know he wrote his resignation letter last night after church.

I said, “Quit? You’ve got to be kidding!” Then I began to recite back to him all the good things God has been doing in the church. One bad day shouldn’t be enough. . . .

I know being a pastor is sometimes personally painful, discouraging and costly. In my years as a pastor I wrote (and then tore up) many resignation letters! The thoughtless and downright mean, personal attacks on my family were the worst times.

I remember calling a friend during one particularly discouraging time. He said, “Now is not the time to quit! In fact, it’s always too soon to quit.” I shared those words with the pastor who called this morning and I reminded him that even though he didn’t think it would make any difference to others if he quit, it would have a huge impact on him.

Maybe you’ve heard this statement, “If you quit now, quitting next time will be easier. When things grow stale, when you’ve run out of energy and inspiration, that is the time to buckle down, dig in and finish.”

Richard Halverson once wrote, “The acid test of a man’s worthwhileness is his response to the uninspired moments – how he reacts to duty and drudgery. The one who depends on inspired moments rarely finishes anything. He leaves a trail of half-baked tasks behind – muted evidence of adolescent self-indulgence.”

Those who are spiritually mature refuse to quit; refuse to throw in the towel. Don’t misunderstand, thinking about quitting, even wanting to quit, happens a lot. And maybe its good therapy to write that resignation letter. Just run it through the shredder instead of mailing it!

After all, football games have been won in the last few seconds by the losing team who refused to quit. Destructive behavior patterns have been replaced with positive habits in people who don’t quit. As pastors our reactions to difficulties impact a great number of people. They’re watching us.

Our supreme example is Jesus Christ. He was obedient all the way to the cross. He finished the work God gave Him to do.

But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit. Psalm 86:15 – (THE MESSAGE)

God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.
Psalm 145:14 – (THE MESSAGE)


A well-known pastor of a large church recently responded to some criticism because some of the church staff had a meeting with the mayor. This is the quote: “Some of our pastors had a meeting with the mayor of [Grand Rapids], which was simply for the purpose of asking who the most forgotten and the most hurting in our city are. The mayor had several very specific answers, and so we’ve actually reorganized a whole area of our church, putting the majority of our efforts around trying to take care of the worst problems in our city. I don’t know if you would say that’s political or not, even though it involved meeting with the mayor, but if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.”

Read the last sentence again, “ . . . if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.”

I’ve been following the comments in the blogosphere for three weeks and have been amazed at how easily well-meaning Christians can be sidetracked. It happens in small, local churches as well. We know what we are called to be and do as a household of faith, but we get wrapped up in arguing among ourselves to the degree that nothing is accomplished.

In order to stay on track; in our pursuit of what really makes a difference; one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is, “What is changing for the better in our community because we are here?”

Are hungry people being fed? Do people who need help paying the electric bill get assistance? Are there children at school who need a coat? Did the single mom who just moved into the area get an offer of free child care so she could hunt for a job?

Wait, before you protest, I know the churches whose leaders get this email average less than 55 in attendance and have limited resources. I spent eleven years in a small church where budgets were tight and there were always more needs than dollars.

But we didn’t let our small numbers limit our love and care for the community.

We joined forces with the local ministerial association. (I still live in the area and remain a member of this association even though I am not pastoring a local church.) This group is comprised of churches in our rural school district and includes mainline, evangelical, pentecostal, and independent pastors. Although there are great differences in theology, doctrine and polity, we are able to agree that as representatives of Jesus Christ, we should make a difference in the lives of people with physical needs.

In the past ten years the pastors and churches who are part of our association have witnessed God provide resources in ever increasing amounts and we have used that money to assist people with needs. The magnitude of that outreach is greater than any one of our small churches could have possibly imagined or managed on our own. Yet together we can honestly say our community is a better place now than 10 years ago or even six months ago.

This past Christmas we were able to help 45 families with 128 children at a cost of $9850.00 – and there’s still money in that account! Every month we have the privilege of helping people who need help paying for heat, or making a rent payment, or a myriad of various needs. Do we sometimes feel that we’re being taken advantage of? Yes. But we would rather be generous in the name of Jesus than stingy. After all, its His money.

We even help stock a special closet at school. Have you ever thought about what happens when a child has an “accident” at school and the parents are at work or maybe don’t have transportation to get clean, dry clothes to their child? The ministerial association makes sure the school has the funds to keep clothes on hand for just such an emergency.

The school knows they can count on the churches. Can you imagine how they respond when we come to them with a request?

Jesus makes our responsibility to take care of the “least of these” very clear in Matthew 25:31-46.  It should challenge our priorities to be reminded that we won’t be judged on how well we kept up our buildings, or how many prayer meetings we had, or if the parking lot was paved, or how many attended the Sunday night service.

So I conclude with the same question, “What is changing for the better in your community because the Gospel is being lived out?”

Note: I fully expect that some of my readers will get upset and conclude that, “Jim is starting to preach a social gospel! – He’s becoming a liberal!”  That seems to be a small but consistent reaction any time church folk are challenged to look beyond themselves.

Together in Christ,


Our scriptural home base for the “Restoring Balance” series has been Isaiah 30:15, Only in returning to me and waiting on me will you be saved.  In quietness and confidence will be your strength.

These words were God’s personal call to Israel to change their ways and adopt a posture of patient trust and rest in Him.  The words that follow this invitation to the people of God are a warning against stubbornly pursuing their own ways of handling their problems.  But you would have none of it. You said, “No, we will get our help from Egypt.”  God responds with the consequences of rejecting His way.  You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a distant mountaintop.

Present day followers of Jesus take heed.  It is not an option to make learning from and listening to Jesus our life’s priority.  It is not an option to build times of quietness and prayer into our daily schedules.  It is not an option to observe a weekly day of Sabbath.  And if we treat these spiritual essentials as such we will suffer the consequences.

That is just what is happening in the lives of many Christians.  They are frenzied, fatigued, and frustrated.  They are dissatisfied, depressed, and discouraged.  They are hurried, harassed, and hope- deprived.  They feel like that lonely flagpole on a distant mountaintop.

There is one solution to this situation.  Return to God and adjust life to His intended balance.  And that means setting aside daily times of quietness before God.  It means taking a weekly day of rest and renewal. It means making our relationship with God the one thing, the main thing.

Only in returning to me and waiting on me will you be saved.  Deliverance from the cultural taskmasters of stress and hurry and busyness and the emotional tormentors of anxiety, depression, and frustration will come if we choose to do it His way.  There are no other options.

Pastor Mike Polo

Update from Chuck Whitmire in Africa

Hi There!

I finally found a way to contact you.  All is well here.  All of my travel went smoothly and on time. Compared to many of the others here that is a miracle.  We have people who were held up for 24 hours at border crossings, missed flights and were delayed 24 hrs., luggage still missing, and other travel difficulties, so I have a blessing in having everything go so well.

Just finished teaching the AM session on Tues.  The first few days have gone so well. I arrived here right on time on Thursday.  Was met at the airport by the Blands, Kathy Vanderpool, and Matt & Henne Wiley.  The Wileys are field coordinators for Malawi.  They oversee a total of nine orphan units each staffed by two facilitators,  5 staff members and 15-20 BMW Students.  They own 160 lake front acres here at the base.  They oversee a farming operation that grows maize (a type of corn) pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and fish. Each unit also has some land where they grow some agricultural things to generate income and help feed the people.

On Friday I went to visit 3 of the orphan units up in the mountains about 3 hours away.  It was so beautiful!  Kids came to greet us at each stop.  At one place they stopped school and all the kids came out to sing for us.  At another the chief dressed up in his best ceremonial garb and came out to greet us.  They were all so impressed to have Mr. Bland the big Director from America come to visit. And rightly so, the more I am with him the more I am impressed too.  They are doing an amazing work here.

Saturday was spent mostly in rest, prayer and study.  On Sunday AM I preached in one of the local churches.  Then in the PM I preached at the opening rally for the summit.  Monday preached twice and twice today.

It is warm here,  probably near 90.  It is the rainy season so we see some rain most days.  Sometimes a lot of it.  It is a beautiful place.  Monkeys run around the base daily.  If we don’t watch them they try to steal food from the pots when they set up the serving line for meals.  I have seen a mongoose twice and various lizards and birds.  I went to the garbage dump and ran into a three foot monitor lizard.  Boy did I scare him.  Hippos come up from the lake at night and eat grass on the property.  Have not seen them but we see where they have been the next morn.  Sometimes jackels come around the animal barns at night looking for a goat or baby pig.  Some of the students sleep down there just in case.

The people are very open to truth.  This conference is designed to help each staff member be more effective in their work.  There are about 100 of us here,  85% African, it is a great thing to be a part of.

Give my greetings to all.

Chuck Whitmire

“This will change your life forever.”

Last night I was at a meeting at our local high school and got back home at 8 pm. Lois and I talked about the day and prayed together and then I needed to unwind. There wasn’t much on TV but we ended up watching Deal or No Deal.

The host, Howie Mandel, tried to make the contestant and audience believe this was a game about faith, luck, and nerve. Its not. Deal or No Neal is about greed – simple, unvarnished, drooling greed. (Our early church fathers listed greed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.)

Another phrase that Mr. Mandel used multiple times was, “Winning a million dollars will change your life forever.” I wasn’t counting at first, but I think he used a form of that phrase at least a dozen times. “This will change your life forever.”

But will winning a bundle of money really change someone’s life forever?

There are a lot of people who are confused about this. We know the “church answer” but honestly, what would most people rather have: a million bucks? Or, a life of surrender and obedience to God? Would we rather build houses, buy cars, and take off on world class vacations or clean toilets at the local homeless shelter?

As pastors and church leaders we need to personally wrestle with this question.

Our surrender to the Lordship of Christ must be continually evaluated. The people we lead see right through empty words. Our lives are an open book – and people can “read” us from a mile away. What is it that has changed your life forever? Does your family know where you place your loyalty? Does the household of faith you serve see you as someone who is totally committed to God?

Not only should our commitment and surrender be obvious to those around us, our obedience needs to be what makes us real. We all fail and fall; sin and disobedience is part of this life and we need to acknowledge our failures and shortcomings. Confession and repentance always results in change and those adjustments, those changes should be noticed.

I’m not advocating that pastors stand up on Sundays (or any other day) and publically discuss all their sins! What a disaster that would be. What we ought to understand is that lives of sacrificial surrender and humble obedience should speak for themselves.

Back to the main question: What is it that changes a life forever?

Are we communicating the love and forgiveness, the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ in a way that the people around us will notice the greed that drives a popular TV program? Will we be known for the transforming power of Christ in us? Or will people remember us as selfish and greedy?

“So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”  You call out to God for help and he helps – he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.  Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.”
1 Peter 1:13-17 The Message



Bruce Larson tells this story in his book, “Faith for the Journey.”

Once there was a successful factory that made drills. One day the owner told his corporate officials that he was going to retire and that he had chosen his son as his successor. At the next board meeting the son asked his four vice presidents, “What are your goals for the company for the next five to ten years?”

One vice-president replied, “Well sir, we’re looking at new sizes and shapes for different drills.”

The son then dropped his bombshell. “I have news for you – there is no market for drills.” One could feel the tension in the air. He continued, “From now on we will not think drills. We will not sell drills. We’ll sell holes! People don’t want to buy a drill; they want to make a hole!”

As they began to think of other ways to create holes they developed, among other methods, lasers for hole drilling. This attitude change and other innovations keep this company in business while its competitors are losing large shares of the market and many are even going bankrupt.

We need that kind of attitude adjustment in our local churches.

Many of us think in terms of presenting the message of salvation so that people will not spend eternity in hell. But look at it from a different perspective: Scores of people I’ve talked with can’t even begin to imagine eternity in hell because they think they are living in hell now. Their question is, “how can it be any worse?”

They live in a personal hell of drug and/or alcohol addiction and abusive relationships. The hell of rampant sexual immorality; AIDs; terminal cancer and insurmountable stacks of debt. The hell of deep and dark depression; the betrayal of a spouse; the bottomless pit of bitterness and the hell of desolate loneliness. People all around us are being overwhelmed by hopelessness.

Each of our local churches offers the solution: Hope! Jesus came so people can have real life; now, today – and in eternity! They can have a life today that is better than anything they ever dreamed of! (John 10:10)

Will coming to Christ solve everyone’s problems? No. There will still be pain, cancer, unfaithful spouses, and unpaid bills. But Jesus says, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.” (Matthew 16:24 The Message)

Instead of being repulsed by these people we need to beg God to help us see them as He does: People that desperately need to be embraced in Jesus’ love and offered unconditional grace and forgiveness and hope!

We have the message: Jesus is the Son of the Living God. He has come to save us from the sinful ways of life that rob us of hope – to give us abundant life, overflowing life, life lived to the max.

He has given His Bride, the local church, an awesome task of being a lighthouse of hope in a world of dark desperation. And He empowers us to the task in Matthew 16:18 when He says, “I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out!” (The Message)

Portions of this article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of the Christian Union Witness.


I’m traveling in OH visiting pastors and churches. Sometimes, not often, I eat a meal alone and found myself in that situation this past Saturday evening. I always have something to read with me and the server, probably in her late 20’s,  made note of the copy of Christianity Today which I was flipping through.

When she brought my salad she said, “You must be a spiritual person. I am, too. I’m rediscovering my spiritual side and am becoming a very spiritual person.”

I replied, “That’s great!” Where are you involved in church?”

She was exasperated as she said, “Oh, I don’t go to church. I don’t think being spiritual really has anything to do with organized religion.”

“So, what are you doing to explore your ‘spiritual side?’” I asked.

“I grew up in church and never really understood how people could claim to be Christians on Sunday and then raise hell all the rest of the week! Now I’m studying meditation so I can re-awaken the real spiritual me. I think spirituality is very personal.”

I said, “I agree. Being spiritual is all about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The server looked at me for a moment and then said, “You’re not one of those Bible thumpers, are you? I don’t like your type! My spirituality is very private and has nothing to do with any God who has a bunch of rules.” And she walked away.

When she brought my meal she wouldn’t even make eye contact and the conversation was obviously over. What a shame. But the whole event made me think. What is it that makes a person spiritual?

Hundreds of books have been written on this topic and I’m reluctant to add anything to the great wisdom that has been shared by people whom I consider spiritual leaders. But I’m convinced that we’ve allowed this issue to become far more complicated than necessary.

Let’s face it, there’s a huge disparity between contemporary spiritualities and the spirituality that is derived exclusively from the Holy Spirit. There is virtually no way to move from Oprah’s so-called practical spirituality to Biblical spirituality.

Solid, Biblical, Christian spirituality always involves repentance – at the beginning, constantly in the middle, in all things. Repentance. It is a deep, soul-searching, humble confession of sin; the turning away from sinful ways, and a new, total dependence on God.

Spirituality is not a feeling or a technique or a system of beliefs, nor is it a quest for the sacred through artistic creativity and mystical experience. It’s not found in one’s own inner voice. It is a personal relationship with Jesus, the Christ. It is in and through Christ that we know both ourselves and God.

Spirituality is not about going to church and following a bunch of rules. My participation in a household of faith and the moral and ethical absolutes I claim flow out of my relationship with God. And so I recognize that I’m spiritual not because of what I do but because of Christ in me.

There are scores of people just like the server I met on Saturday in your community. As a Christ-follower, you have the indescribable privilege of modeling genuine spirituality right where you live. Look for the open conversations and begin the dialog. You can be sure that next time I’m in the area I’ll stop at that restaurant and look for that server.

I really enjoy my job!

I really enjoy my job! I get to visit different churches and talk with pastors and leaders. I admit it, every time I pull up in the parking lot of a church and prepare to get out of the Camry and walk through the doors to chat with the pastor my heart and respiratory rates increase. If you watch me in the parking lot you’ll see me bow my head and pray – mostly to ask God to control my breathing so I’m not out of breath when I walk in!

Why am I excited to visit churches? Because your local church is a source of hope for your whole community. Your church can impact the lives of people who have fallen through the cracks, lost direction and have no where else to turn. Your church has the potential of being “family” to individuals who have never experienced unconditional acceptance.

Being a Biblical Household of Faith is uncomplicated. It takes a few people who are fully committed to Christ, the Word of God, and prayer. Accomplishing this doesn’t take huge budgets or the latest technology. The Household of Faith flows naturally as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in developing and cultivating meaningful relationships – both with each other and with those who are far from God.

Here are some “talking points” for your consideration as you lead your church in being and becoming a Biblical Household of Faith:

– Jesus describes following Him as “taking up our cross” which obviously includes suffering and pain and hardship. Does our leadership model self-sacrifice, self-discipline and self-control with the same humility as Jesus? Are we even trying?

– We must recognize that we don’t have an exclusive on the Gospel. There are other solid, Biblical churches around with whom you should develop partnerships. These partnerships serve to encourage one another by multiplying outreach. For instance, in the school district where I am part of the ministerial association, the churches partner to help families in need. This past year they spent almost $20,000.00 helping needy families; something no one church could possibly accomplish.

– Look for ideas from multiple sources. It’s so easy to succumb to “tunnel vision” because we have a natural tendency to operate within our own comfort zone. If we expect God to speak to us from His Word we need to prepare our minds and hearts. Music and literature and art help us begin to understand the world in which God has placed us and that expands our understanding of how He is moving and working.

– Seek transformation but remember that God loves people just as they are! No where in the Gospels does Jesus require someone to “clean up their act” before accepting the message of salvation. Maybe we should all post a sign on the church front door: “No Perfect People Allowed.” But that should never become an excuse for failing to confront sin with dump truck loads of grace and love.

– Promote healthy small groups where individuals can find meaningful, deep, personal relationships. Most people come to Christ and make significant decisions about following Him because of the personal relationships they have with those who are living out the Gospel. We need groups where those relationships can grow and flourish.

I hope you recognize this isn’t a formula or a program. These are topics for you as leaders to discuss as you study the Word and pray. God will direct your path as you depend on Him. It is only through Christ that we can be and become healthy, Biblical Households of Faith. The potential of the local church makes my heart beat faster!


New Life Tragedy

B from OHIO called about the tragedy at New Life Church: I’d like to know if they usually have armed security or if they had weapons only because of what had happened during the night at the YWAM place in Denver. IF a church needs security they shouldn’t carry loaded weapons.

K from MO writes: Loaded weapons in a church? No way! Too risky.

C spoke to me on the phone: Satan is attacking the church in more ways than one. Ushers should have a Taser and know how to use it.

J sent this email: My heart goes out to all those who’s lives were forever changed by what this young man did.  I also want to say my heart goes out to the young man who obviously had a lot of pain and struggle inside.  I do believe that this situation brings us to at least one moral dilemma, if not more.   . . . if a person believes in police protecting them (or any one else) with the use of force outside of the church building, then why on earth would it be wrong for someone to do the same inside the church building.  The argument, I know, is that we should trust God to protect us and I agree but the Scriptures are full of times where God used people to protect others by using force.  Trusting God does not mean we should pass up all physical means of protection while waiting for His supernatural protection.  Now some would say, “I just don’t think we should have guns in church.”  I am not saying we need to all pack a hand gun to church but if there is a threat and there is a gun there, then by all means, save lives with it.

D from OH writes: I keep a loaded shotgun in the pulpit. (Just kidding!) But maybe we ought to consider being armed to protect our selves from these crazies.

D responded by email: Your comments relative to the tragedy at the Colorado Springs church were provocative to say the least.  What would I do?  That probably can’t be answered clearly until one finds himself in that situation.  For myself I have a license to carry a concealed weapon. No one knows when I carry it or needs to know but I have it to help out in just the situation you are discussing.  I am not so much concerned about my own safety as for my wife and family or those around me who may not be able to protect themselves.

F from MN writes: The shootings at both the YWAM house and New Life Church come from the bias toward Christians from the media. If it weren’t for the godless liberal news we wouldn’t have this problem. How much do metal detectors cost? Much more, I think, than most churches could afford. Most people will get a gun inside church if they want to.

M from OH in a phone conversation: This is why God never meant for churches to be so huge. That way everybody knows everybody. These big churches are just asking for trouble because it gets the troublemakers on TV.

Encouragement to follow Jesus better!