I don’t know how I got on the email list for Beyond Borders, but I received an email from them yesterday. The subject is something that we have a lot of problem with in the UB Church: gossip (I don’t think we are unique in that). I suggest that you read the little article by Carl Richardson called “They Say.”

My children gave me a large book for Christmas, The All Encompassing History of Country Music. It’s been fun reading that. It’s not the type of book you sit down and read cover to cover. I read it in sections. 

Interestingly, a lot of country and bluegrass music has roots in Scottish music. Ramsey is a Scottish name. Maybe that’s why I have such an affinity for country music. 

I don’t like all country music, because some of it is trash, but I like the old stuff, the bluegrass. A lot of the early bluegrass had Christian themes to it. Probably my favorite song of all time is “Great Speckled Bird,” an old bluegrass song from a long time ago. The Great Speckled Bird is mentioned in the Bible; see if you can find it. 

At Mainstreet Church, whenever someone complained about our music, I would tell them, “I don’t like it either. You should be glad you’re not singing what I like, because it would be with a twang.” When I left, they brought in a bluegrass band for the going-away party. 

I keep a lot of CDs in my car. I mostly listen to Christian stuff, but I also have a lot of bluegrass. I enjoy listening to the Gaither Vocal Band. I became aware of Linda Randall on one of the Gaither Homecoming videos, and bought her CD. Her songs really speak to me. 

God on the Mountain. I love that song. I’ll put it in and keep repeating it for 30 miles, because it really touches me. The gist is that the God you meet on the mountaintop is the same God who will be with you in the valley. You have pain and hurt in the valley, but it’s the same God.  I’ve been through a lot of valley experiences in my life, with health issues, and that song has meant a lot to me. 

I have some Ray Charles music, a lot of stuff from Hank Williams, Sr., and some music by Cowboy Copas, my cousin, who was a star on the Grand Ole Oprey. Then I have some tapes that trace the history of country music.

I do listen to some talk radio when I travel, but only until it makes me mad. Then I turn it off and put in a tape. 

What kind of music do you listen to in the car?

As pastor of Mainstreet Church, I told the staff that we needed to take the lead in reaching non-Christians. We needed to look for redemptive opportunities.

I started going to the same barber every two weeks. He wasn’t a believer, which is why I went there. He didn’t come to faith, but I always felt he was getting close. I went to the same gas station, same coffee shop.

Our youth pastor got involved in sports leaves run by the community. Rather than fight them, let’s get involved with them. He would go to soccer games, meet people who didn’t know Christ, and try to reach them.

What are you doing to intentionally create relationships with non-Christians? Post a comment.

I heard  a complaint, though to me it was a compliment. Someone said, “We heard you talk, then we heart Pat Jones talk, and we heard the same thing.”

So? That’s the way it should be.

I wouldn’t have wanted to do this job without Pat Jones, the Director of Healthy Church Ministries. He’s a great asset. I want you to know that we’re locked at the hip. If you get one, you get the other. Pat and I don’t have secrets–what he knows, I know. This relationship has been a great thing for me. We keep each other halfway decent.

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Polly and her daughters.

Polly Dunten is home, after undergoing surgery last Monday to remove a brain tumor. She spent two more days than expected at the Cleveland Clinic, but on Saturday she made the three-hour trip back to Findlay, Ohio. Her husband, Darwin, pastor of First UB church in Findlay, sent me this note yesterday (and there’s more on Polly’s blog).

Currently, Polly is resting at home. She has vertigo very bad and has double vision. In the near future, Polly will have to meet with an optical neurologist. She will also have physical therapy in the next few weeks. Currently, she is using a walker and a wheelchair to get around. The doctor stated that Polly will be out of commission for at least two months.

Bishop, I cannot thank the UB church enough for the support we received during the past month.  We were contacted by individuals from all over the world. Brooks Fetters also contacted us (he had a surgery similar to this 14 years ago). He spent an hour and a half on the phone with Polly and really helped her prepare for this surgery. We received notes of encouragement from pastors who went through much worse situations with their wives in recent years than what I went through. I know it was tough for them, but it was encouraging.

God was really with us. Scriptures really came to life during this past week. I am reminded of Romans 8:25-27 and the intercession of the Holy Spirit; the power of holding up the leader as seen by Moses, Aaron, and Hur; and the power of intercessory prayer when the individual is so weak to continue.

Last Sunday, we had an anointing service for Polly following church. Polly and I talked on the way to Cleveland and we both had the same reaction. We were so emotionally exhausted that we were numb during the service. It was the church that held us up. Not only our church but the UB church.

We also learned the importance of worship. We continued to listen to worship songs during this time. That was extremely comforting and uplifting.

Thank you and the church for your support. We have seen God work. We have seen the grace and mercy of God this past week. I am thankful and I praise the Lord.

We were prepared to praise the Lord regardless of the outcome. We know that God is using this situation for his glory. We have already seen good as a result. We are thankful for the outcome and we are thankful to you the church and the Lord.

Jim Ellifritt (right) is an ordained United Brethren minister in Washington, who formerly pastored our church in Vancouver, Wash., and served for many years as the Northwest Conference superintendent. He is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves.

Jim reports that he was recently stationed at Fort Lewis, about 120 north of Vancouver, where he and his wife live. He writes:

Looks like I will be home once a week for a day and then Deb will try to come up weekly once I get my lodging squared away. She still prefers two years here verses a year in the desert. [Jim has served in Afghanistan while his son, Jim Jr., simultaneously served in Iraq.]

They have given me a Battalion Command at Fort Lewis. It is a rare opportunity commanding fulltime as a reservist, so I am honored. They have had there struggles here, so pray I am up to the task. We are responsible for training all the small units going to Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations as needed. The training is for 40 days straight and we work 365 days a year, so there is an intense management process.

I am looking around again for a church to plug into here or a Bible study. I have one to check out tonight.

Below is a list of humorous “Lessons I’ve Learned,” which Jim wrote in 2004 while serving in Afghanistan.

  • After 15 days, you really need to bathe all parts of your body. No matter how many baby wipes and how much baby powder you use, your body sticks to itself! And you really smell!
  • You can wash from head to toe with five pints of water.
  • Being shot at is highly over-rated.
  • A three-week-old newspaper is still better than no news.
  • A cup of Starbucks coffee will make most days begin civilized.
  • Eating with local nationals is a privilege and a challenge.
  • Drinking Chi (tea) out of an unwashed cup probably won’t kill you. Same with eating off unwashed plates.
  • Lots of places cook and eat food that is very different. Goat brains are really gross looking!
  • Imodium or Kaopectate is your friend. After a week of the trots, a little pill makes you mighty happy!
  • When the nearest church is three hours away through “Indian country,” it’s still worth the drive.
  • Letters from home can be read over and over, and usually are.
  • Phone calls home are worth whatever it costs.
  • People can live on less than $40 per month.
  • The finest soldiers in the world are the young men and women representing America.
  • God is in charge no matter where you are in the world or what the dominant religion is.
  • One wife is better than four even if your religion allows it (Islam allows 4).
  • No woman looks good in a burka.
  • Electricity is for the weak. But it sure is nice to have.
  • Expensive health care is better than no health care at all.
  • Girls should go to school.
  • You really can spend $1,000,000 in seven months and still have barely scratched the surface when it comes to humanitarian aide.
  • Sand buggers are just part of life. Get ready to dig daily.
  • There is nothing like the smell of burning human fecal matter (we burn ours daily).
  • Running at 5200 feet is a challenge physically.
  • Afghans are the most hospitable people in the world.
  • Knowing a few Phastoo words opens many doors.

I love books. I keep a lot of books at home, and I’ve given away a lot of books. Someone told me that a person who can read but doesn’t is no better off than a person who can’t read at all. Books can open up your mind and vista. You can do things by reading a book, be translated to somewhere else. That’s the magic of books.

Christian men are notoriously bad about not reading. At Scripture Press, when we produced a book for men, we had to use a cover with a soft design that would attract a woman, who would then buy it for a man. Women, we knew, buy more books than men, even books for men.

At Mainstreet, I was always after people to read. I gave the elders books to read, theology books. There are so many good Christian books.

Polly Dunten underwent surgery Monday morning to remove a brain tumor. Her husband Darwin, pastor of First UB in Findlay, Ohio, sent me this report this morning.

The surgery is over and the Lord answered our prayers.

The surgeon feels he got all of the tumor either through surgery or by burning it out. There is nerve damage and we will see to what extent in the next few days. She currently has numbness on her left side, However, I saw the most beautiful almost smile I ever saw this evening before I left her. The tumor was pressing hard on the brain stem.  It also “thinned” the nerve. Similar to an electric wire that looses its insulation.

Thank you so much for praying for us. God is good and I am so thankful He allowed me to have my wife for a little longer.

We heard from people from around the world and around the United States.  We are humbled. I have written a more indepth statement on Polly’s blog.

At Mainstreet Church, I used a big PVC pipe to illustrate the disciple-making process. Outside the pipe are people who don’t even acknowledge that God exists. But once they realize there is a God, they enter the pipeline, and we try to move them along–

  • realizing a need for God
  • learning about Jesus
  • realizing their need for Jesus
  • giving their life to Christ
  • and then growing.

It’s all part of the journey through the discipleship pipeline.

After a person came to Christ, I would tell him, “You need to go back to your non-religious friends and get them in the pipeline with you.”

“How do I do that?”

“Tell them what you did.”

So they’d come to church with someone on their arm, and would walk with them through the process.

Spiritual maturity is not measured by what you know, but by who is on your arm and heart on Sunday. If you don’t have someone on your arm and heart, don’t talk to me about your maturity.