Grocery Bag In A Bush

Scott Phillips

My girls recently modified the game of Slug Bug in order to make it more exciting and faster-paced. A couple of months ago, with the whole family in the car, we were introduced to it when we heard the words “gocery bag in a bush” shouted three times in rapid succession followed by “wow! three in a row” from one of the other girls.

The modification was simple. Instead of calling out VW Beetles, we all began to call out grocery bags that were snagged up in a bush alongside the road. We would also accept “tree.”  A grocery bag caught in a tree was also acceptable. Turns out, “Grocery Bag In A Bush” is much more exciting and fun than Slug Bug. Tons more action! I’ve never seen so many grocery bags in my life! And you should hear the squeals and laughter when one was spotted so far up in a tree that we all knew that it wasn’t coming down until the tree did.

Good times.

I’ve thought about Grocery Bag In A Bush many times since that day, and have made many observations about it. I’d like to share three of them.

Observation #1
The grocery bags have always been, and will always be, there. I just never “saw” them before. I don’t recall seeing a single slug bug while playing Grocery Bag In A Bush, even though they were probably there.

Conclusion #1
I will see that which I look for. Matthew 7:7-8 says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Observation #2
Grocery Bags don’t belong in a bush or a tree. It’s not what they were created for, but somehow they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared. They will most likely remain ensnared until someone cares enough to pick them up, or a violent storm rips them away from the unreachable limb where they are trapped. And if no one stops and picks them up, they will most likely drift away until they find themselves ensnared in another bush.

Conclusion #2
While we may excel at “stopping to say hello” when a brother is in the way, we should not let the business of “rolling our gospel chariots along” keep us from our responsibility to the lost to “stop and pick them up”.

Observation #3
We all financially support a vast army of sanitation workers through taxes and fees. We even personally pay for these services out of pocket so that they will come by our house each week to take our trash, and grocery bags, to where they belong. And yet, the grocery bags are everywhere.

Conclusion #3
Christianity cannot be outsoursed. It’s not enough to pay for, or support others, to do the work for us. This world is not our home, but it becomes a more beautiful place when each of us can see those around us who are ensnared in sin, and gently help them get to where they belong.

Feel free to make your own observations from this parable. It’s not perfect, and I’m certainly not equating those trapped in sin with trash. But before we start asking God to provide us with more opportunities, we might first ask ourselves if we are really in the  game. Because once you know what to look for, the opportunities are everywhere.


[Scott Phillips serves as a deacon at the Bear Valley church of Christ. He and Tammi have a son and 7 daughters!]

A Saved Life Saved Hundreds More

Neal Pollard

Ray Wallace, a great preacher friend of mine in Bayfield, Colorado, sent me an article about an incredible, heartwarming rescue. It happened late at night in Fresno, California, in 1971. Rick Freund was driving home when he saw a house going up in flames. Outside the house were three little girls and their mother, who was desperately crying for her baby trapped inside his bedroom. Firefighters had not arrived, so the slender, 24-year-old Freund was hoisted into the window, where he found the infant smiling in his crib. He rescued the baby, then simply walked away. Just minutes after the rescue, fire collapsed the ceiling and destroyed the bedroom. Little did he know that the family he helped would track him down 46 years later. The baby boy he saved, Bobby Magee, grew up hearing about this daring rescue and because of that has devoted his life to saving others. Now 47 and the father of three, Bobby has saved hundreds of lives by organizing a large blood drive over the last 18 years. Freund and Magee kindled a friendship built upon an incredible bond. Incidentally, Freund has also rescued a choking stranger by performing the Heimlich maneuver. On yet another occasion, he administered CPR on an elderly woman who had a heart attack at a funeral (Carmen George, The Fresno Bee, 2/5/18).

In the early 1990s, one of my elders in Mechanicsville, Virginia, Russell Young, studied with and baptized a man named Tom. Tom would influence his ex-wife, ex-daughter-in-law, future wife, and daughter, Debbie, to obey the gospel. Debbie would help convert several of her co-workers, including Shannon. Shannon and her husband, Michael, obeyed the gospel the same night. Shannon and Michael have gone on to go on several mission trips. Only eternity will tell how many souls have been saved through those. Who knows how many of those converted in these mission fields have reached others and how many have been reached? That is just one case I personally know about. Many people can share similar stories of dramatic rescue! It is a modern demonstration of 2 Timothy 2:2.

As we go about our daily business, God has us here on a rescue mission. We can never know, when we care enough to share Christ with a lost soul, where it will end. The person may seem humble and ordinary, but they may influence many more to be saved. And those saved ones may save many more. It’s truly exciting to think about this wonderful chain of rescued souls standing on the Lord’s right side at the Judgment! Let’s be heroes of the highest kind! A saved life may save hundreds more!

Rick Freund (L) and Bobby Magee

A Man Fell

Neal Pollard

I was connecting in Dallas for my flight back to Denver and had just come down the escalator from the SkyLink. Around the corner from me, I heard an agonizing cry. At first, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Then, I heard it again. And again. It was chilling. Walking just a few steps, I saw the source. A very large man was laying face down in the middle of the concourse. He was immobile. Several people were gathering around him, but no one seemed to know what to do. Most had no idea what had happened to him. I feared it was a heart attack and wondered if this was going to be a fatal event. EMTs soon arrived with a gurney to administer aid to this traveler. While I have no idea how this will turn out, what struck me was the looks on everyone’s faces. He was trying to maintain his dignity, but people everywhere around this scene were visibly distraught and felt for this man. They looked fearful or at least concerned. Things like this do not happen every day, to say the least.

Seeing this unforgettable scene made me appreciate the sober picture God has painted for us in His Word about those who are separated from Him. Galatians 5:4 terms it “fallen from grace.” Hebrews 6:6 speaks of some who have “fallen away.” Revelation 2:5 reveals that the Ephesus church had “fallen.” Jesus speaks of some who “fall away” (Luke 8:13). Romans 11:11 speaks of one stumbling so as to fall.  The rich can fall (1 Tim. 6:9), but so can any child of God (Heb. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:17). Repeatedly, this imagery is used of those who enter spiritual peril. It’s a dangerous position!

How often do I look at the people I encounter every day, who may seem physically fit and strong, but whose sins are not covered by Christ’s blood? Do I realize how dire their situation is? Too often, I’m afraid I don’t. As I looked at this poor, fallen man in Dallas, I thought about his soul. But in those moments, I did not think as soberly about the souls of the concerned onlookers. Statistically speaking (cf. Mat. 7:13-14), nearly all of them had to be traveling the broad rather than the narrow way. Would you help me to see the souls of men in this way, to feel a concern and sense of urgency for them? I know the Great Physician and know that He can help every case! May God grant us the courage to step through the open doors that may spell the eternal difference between life and death!


Communication Landmines

Neal Pollard

Paul writes two letters of instruction to Timothy, the preacher at Ephesus. As his father in the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:18), Paul wanted the younger man endowed with the wisdom and courage to be God’s man.  Timothy would face pressures and temptations from many different directions. The apostle’s words also provide some common sense to help him do the sometimes difficult task of preaching and ministry.

In a letter full of the theme of godliness, 1 Timothy, Paul gives him some intriguing encouragement in the sixth chapter. He says, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (6:3-5). In this brief admonition, he gives Timothy several tips to help him be a useful communicator of God’s truth. He urges Timothy to avoid:

  • Compromise. Not only here, but throughout the letter, Paul urges Timothy to teach the pure doctrine of Christ, those sound words and that godly doctrine. If we bow to pressures and change the revealed word of Christ, we become deadly communicators.
  • Conceit. Ironically, the conceited often look down upon others. Yet, Paul ties the arrogance to ignorance (“understands nothing”). When we encounter one who condescendingly communicates, we are prone to tune them out even if they are telling the truth. It is incongruous to have a pompous preacher speak of the lowly Jesus. It’s a credibility killer.
  • Controversy. We live in the age of controversy. It is splashed all over the traditional media and social media. It is often manufactured, and it is the mark of a morbid (literally, “sick”) mind. The controversialist will be found at the heart of disputes, ever seeking to dig up something, hash and rehash it, and keep it going. We can be accused of that for simply trying to communicate God’s will, especially when unpopular, but some are never far from contention. It is characteristic of them.
  • Constant friction. This is listed last among several other results of controversy, along with envy, strife, abusive language, and evil suspicions. Have you ever been around someone who keeps up an atmosphere of tension? The chip is always on the shoulder. Their communication is always confrontational. It appeals to the depraved and deprived, according to Paul.

Paul was so bold that he would die for preaching the truth (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-8). Yet, he urged Timothy to be peaceable, kind, adept, patient, and gentle when communicating it (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Is it possible to courageously stand with the Christ but do so using the precise scalpel of Scripture (Heb. 4:12) rather than the reckless explosives of excess? Yes, and each of us must predetermine that we will do so no matter how others act and react.


Avoid Being Ironic

Neal Pollard

Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival  on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.

On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.

It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25).  In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!



Neal Pollard

Incredibly, nine people in one family were in serious danger of drowning as they were swept into a riptide in Panama City Beach, Florida. It started with some little boys, but soon included would-be rescuers that included their mother and some other relatives. All of them were floundering in about 15 feet of water. The USA Today story seems to indicate that Jessica Simmons and her family thought of the idea of creating a human chain out to the imperiled family and towing them back to shore. About 80 people “started a football field-sized human chain to help bring them back to shore” (Mary Bowerman, 7/11/17, online ed.). The mother, Roberta Ursrey, summed it up well when she said, “I owe my life and my family’s life to them. Without them, we wouldn’t be here” (ibid.).

What a great story! It reveals the possibility of unity for profound purpose. It shows the power of working together. It says something about the best part of the human heart. It also illustrates the power of rescue and salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who saves (Titus 2:11). His Word is His power to save (Romans 1:16). His divine plan is the means of salvation (Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:21). But, the Bible makes it just as clear that He does His saving through the preaching, teaching, influence, and efforts of His people, sharing the good news with those who are languishing in the waters of iniquity. That’s suggested in “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47). It’s demonstrated in the constant efforts of New Testament Christians, taking the message of Christ with them throughout the world to those lost in sin (cf. Acts).

Think of the church as the God-given human chain, reaching out to the struggling, needy soul. They are drowning in sin and in desperate need of help. Unreached, they will drown (see the imagery of 1 Timothy 6:9). God wants you and me, as those who ourselves have been saved, to join hands and help others who need to be helped onto the shores of safety! We cannot delay! We must act while there’s time. Lives—souls!—depend on it.



Neal Pollard

I was asked by a preacher from Texas to go and provide emotional support to a family of brand new Christians he reached with the gospel. In a tragic circumstance, the matriarch of this family was in the hospital Sunday morning to have a gallstone removed and doctors accidentally severed the hepatic portal vein going into her liver. This led to multi-organ shutdown that ultimately ended her life. In this atmosphere of unanticipated emotional pain and suffering, family had gathered from all over the country to see her before doctors removed the lines keeping her alive. I was unable to communicate very much comfort or support because most of them spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. I sat in the waiting room with them throughout the afternoon, watching their anguish but having little more than smiles and sympathetic looks to offer. The matriarch’s granddaughter spoke good English, but it was hard to expect her to continually provide translation as she struggled with her own grief. Hopefully, they knew I cared and will allow the church to provide further encouragement. Thankfully, we have several members who do speak Spanish fluently who could help in ways I cannot.

As I was driving home and thinking about the best way to quickly learn Spanish, I had another humbling thought. How many opportunities do I pass up with people with whom my communication barrier is not language? There are some other, more sinister barriers that can keep us from speaking up for Christ in situations He is counting on us to take advantage of. There is fear—fear of rejection, opposition, or being ostracized. There is apathy—failure to consider or care about the eternal destination of the souls of those we encounter. There is selfishness—as we are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we do not open our hearts to the lost in our lives. There is sin—the presence of personal lifestyle issues for us that render us ineffective as sharers of the gospel message. These and other matters are much more frequently the roadblocks that keep us from reaching out to the people we encounter.

It will help us, I believe, to remind ourselves daily that this world is not our home and that every person is heading to an eternity that swiftly comes. We must have the courage to share with people how to prepare for that, to understand the great love God has for them and His desire to save them. We must keep the conviction strong that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that His applied blood is their only hope for such. We must care about people, enough to pray for boldness and wisdom, enough to walk through our open doors, and enough to share the good news with them. People are at the heart of our purpose as Christians. Let’s serve them by sharing the good news whenever, wherever, and however we can.


Your Impact

Gary Pollard III (Hope, AR)

On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb itself, compared to the city, was quite small; the devastation is still at the front of many minds today.

There is a lot of evidence on earth of multiple meteor impacts. It is chilling to watch re-creations of how those impacts would have affected the earth. A meteor just six miles across has the potential ability to destroy most of this planet, which is 24,901 miles in circumference. So, something just 0.024% of earth’s size can potentially destroy it entirely.

This country has 321,400,000 people. The church makes up about 0.03% of the US Population. We are ahead of meteors in terms of our ability to make an unforgettable impact.

It is far too easy for us to think, “I’m just one person,” or, ”We’re just a couple hundred people in a community of thousands,” but God can do mind-blowing things with just one person. With His Son, He gave all humanity across eons of time the ability to be saved. With just 12 apostles, the church grew into a global fellowship. With just one faithful Christian, an entire community of lost souls can be reached.

When a meteor strikes the earth, it’s not the crater that creates such devastation: it is what happens afterward. Maybe you convert just one soul. That soul turns around and converts his/her family. That family reaches out to their connections and shares their newfound faith. Before you know it, hundreds of lost souls are now in Christ. All because of the effort of one person to convert one soul!

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:9-10).


Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.




Producers Versus Consumers

Doug McNary

Allow me to take you back to the early 1930’s, when the U.S. economy was in the throws of the Great Depression. It was a time of record setting negative economic growth. Many Americans lost their means to sustain basic life functions. Many Americans lost all Hope.

At the time, President Herbert Hoover believed in the importance of the role of individuals in society and the economy.

He said, “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Now, let us fast forward to the church today. We find the church in a time of record setting negative growth. And according to a 2014 Pew Research Study, less than 27% of Millennials (defined as ages 18 to 35) regularly attend religious services. Yet, 67% say they believe in a heaven and 84% think there is a God. So, what does the mean?  

I think deep down inside, millennials believe there is a God, but worldly distractions and alternate priorities keep them from contemplating what that really means. A lack of understanding or knowledge of the truth translates into a lack of action. Their ignorance may lead to eternal demise.

So, let’s rewrite Hoover’s insight:

“Church growth cannot be cured by the action or pronouncement of church leaders. Church wounds must be healed by the actions of the members of the church body – the producers and consumers themselves.”

Church growth will not be achieved by elders, deacons or preachers alone. It must be cured by each of us also doing our part.

So I ask myself, “Am I a producer, or a consumer?”

In Matthew 5,  Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Honestly, I have been a consumer long enough. I sit in my pew every worship service, I do my daily bible reading, and dwell on God’s word… I have been a faithful Christian, with a proverbial basket over my head.

I want to be a producer…

–Sharing, Caring, and Acting to make a difference for the Lord’s church.

I want to be a producer…

–Proclaiming to others the Truth found in the Bible.

I want to be a producer…

–Openly Praising the Lord, each and every day, in my words and actions.

I want to be a producer…

–Participating in the building up of the body of our church by being involved in the work of the church.

I can no longer be just a consumer, I want to be a producer… Finding creative ways to prick the heart of a lost soul, for the sake of Christ!

Now here is the challenge:

I want to do these things… But, will I?… And how about you?

My brothers and sisters, I pray that each one of us can get up out of our “consumer” pew and DO Something Each Day to help our Lord’s church grow! I pray that we can all become “producers” for Christ.

I leave you with this thought…

In one of my favorite movies, Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart played the role of the father, Charlie Anderson. He sat at a campfire with his family as they were searching for his lost son. They were all about to give up hope when Charlie said: “If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?”

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly love the Lord’s church, we must try, we must do!