January 2019 e-newsletter: When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small

Posted on 01/23/19 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the January 2019 e-newsletter: When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small.

When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small

Posted on 01/18/19 by Russ Corley

I often talk to many Christians who, when they look at their lives, feel unimportant compared to others. They believe that they have very little to offer God. When they observe the impressive accomplishments of Christians who live in the spotlight and are promoted as examples, they feel inferior. They ask themselves, “What difference can my life and limited resources make given the big problems and the overwhelming needs of the world?”

I am always eager to remind people of what Jesus said to his disciples, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of my little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will not certainly lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42).

My point? Small things done in love can be transformed into great things by God. Things that you consider insignificant have a potential for great good. Tiny actions brought into relationship with God’s purpose can create an experience of love with unexpected power. When you work patiently with that principle, it creates a world of possibilities that will constantly surprise you.

Let me illustrate my small point. What Pat and I do in our work consist of small, everyday actions: listening, speaking, touching, and praying. Little that we do lies outside the capacity of any person that you have ever met, including you!

For example, late one afternoon after a long day, I received a phone call. Weary, I did not answer but instead listened to the forty-two-second voicemail. It was a referral to see someone who was admitted that afternoon to a hospital through the ER.

As I listened to the message, I knew that the next day was going to be very busy with no opportunity to go by that hospital. A decision had to be made.

I talked with Jackie about switching our plans for the evening. She was gracious and gracefully flexible, and that kindness created our time together before I responded to the unplanned opportunity.

When I started my cross-town trip, I was not in the best of moods! I realized that something in my heart had to change in about twenty minutes, or I would be a Pharisee: looking good on the outside, but not within.

As I drove, I called Pat. That reality check helped me refocus. After we finished, I confessed to God what he already knew about my heart and asked him to take this small visit and use it for his purpose.

The visit went well. As I spoke with the patient, I shared about her friend’s thoughtful call that created our opportunity to be together. I added that her friend had emailed their small group so that a circle of loving friends was praying for her.

We joined that invisible circle of prayer as I prayed for her healing. There was nothing impressive about my prayer. Rather, it was an expression of the things that we had talked about, but it placed that situation in the hands of Jesus.

During our prayer, the door opened softly. When I said, “amen,” her husband stood there with her sister from Seattle. The four of us talked for another ten minutes. Our conversation was filled with love and laughter primarily led by her sister. Love and joy are gifts of the Spirit and aid healing.

Jesus taught his disciples about the greatness of small things. Long ago, Jesus stood with his disciples observing wealthy people in the temple making large gifts to the treasury. Apparently, many people were impressed, but these individuals in the spotlight did not get Jesus’s attention. Instead, his eyes followed a small widow walking in the shadows to give her small gift unnoticed by most. He discerned the greatness of her heart full of a love for and faith in God (Luke 21:1-4; compare this with Jesus’s teaching about the motive of our giving in Mt. 6:1-4).

Jesus did not simply observe this widow; he also taught his disciples how to perceive such moments.

Jesus can transform the way you think about the meaning and significance of small things done in love and faith. The next time the Spirit prompts you to do a “small thing” like write a note, make a visit, cook a meal, make a referral, do not refuse to act by rationalizing that it will make no difference because it is so small. Instead, thank God for giving you something to do. Accept his gracious invitation to work with him. You, too, may be surprised by the results of a small thing given in love for the glory of God.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

December 2018 E-newsletter: We Are Grateful for Your Prayers and Financial Support

Posted on 12/12/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the latest e-newsletter: We Are Grateful for Your Prayers and Financial Support.

We Are Grateful for Your Prayers and Financial Support

Posted on 12/11/18 by Russ Corley

God has been gracious to EM for 28 years. Our approach to fundraising has always been low-key. We do not focus on our financial needs, we avoid manipulating people to give with deeply emotional pleas, and we refuse to pressure anyone to give. We trust that those of you who believe in the importance of this ministry will help us. We continue to ask God to give us work and to provide the strength and wisdom to do it. We believe that if this is what He wants us to do, He will provide the support necessary for that work.

Some people think this is a crazy way to do business as a non-profit. You will not find this model in the books on running a charity, but 28 years of experience has made clear that God opens opportunities for service and provides financially in ways that surpass our expectations. I stand in awe of Him and I am grateful for those people who sense his prompting to pray for and to give to Encouragement Ministries.
What also amazes me is how a small beginning becomes a deep story if we are faithful and allow God to work.

Several years ago, I was taking a call for Pastoral Care at VUMC. One of the patients that I was asked to visit after chapel on Sunday morning was a couple from Kentucky. Our first conversation ended with prayer. That humble introduction became an enduring relationship that eventually included Pat Ward.

In that first meeting, I met the husband who was critically ill and his wife. He would be in the hospital and then at Stallworth Rehab for many months. I saw the couple almost daily through EM. We became very close, because they were far away from their friends and their home church.

When they left the hospital, they moved in with their daughter who lives in Nashville. They eventually had to sell their home in Kentucky and became permanent residents at her house. I would go by every couple of weeks to visit. The wife always provided me with Diet Dr. Pepper and cashews for a snack. We would talk about their concerns, laugh, and always end in prayer.
The wife’s health slowly declined as she cared for her husband and dealt with his developing dementia on top of all his other physical limitations. Yet they always greeted me with kindness and continued to feed me cashews.

Years passed. Their lives were rather isolated because of their limitations. They often had two jigsaw puzzles working at the same time on a large table set up by a kitchen window that allowed them to watch birds and squirrels in the yard.
When the husband died, I performed the funeral in Clarksville. After the funeral, the period of grieving and adjustment began as his wife now faced life without her husband and was separated from her network of friends in western Kentucky. Those were often very long and lonely days.

Then Pat Ward entered the scene. She had just begun working for EM during the summer. She would go by twice a week to visit. She would stay longer than I would and was much better at long talks and doing things with our mutual friend.

I was often reminded with a smile that I did not come by as often as Pat! When the new school year began, our mutual friend would be sad at her loss of Pat’s frequent visits.

When Pat began full-time work with EM, that brought tremendous joy to this woman. Now there was a year-round presence of love, prayer, laughter, and comfort. Pat and this woman began to work on coloring together, an interest that I do not share (I cannot stay in the little lines). They would color, look at photos, talk about the struggles of growing older and being alone. Sometimes Pat would take her to eat with some other friends or take her to get her hair done or pick up some groceries. They always prayed.

This past week, our friend went into the hospital with a serious heart problem. Pat and I have been working in tag-team fashion, going by frequently to check on our friend and her daughter who is trying to balance work and family responsibilities during this crisis.

On the day that I wrote the first draft of this letter, I had visited my friend early. She was having a tough day and was discouraged. I also was struggling with my emotions. As she shared her depression, I felt my energy draining. Her cardiologist walked in and needed to see her, so I excused myself.

While walking out of the hospital, Pat called. Her voice was sunny, and she was having a good morning. She was heading to the hospital to see our friend. I updated her on the situation and also confessed my emotional struggles. Pat assured me that she would see her soon and wear her “happy pants” and see what would happen. When our conversation ended, I was once again grateful for how God provides for EM, not only financially but also in bringing Pat to work in her unique way to complement what I can and cannot do.

This continuing story is possible because God works through people like you to make this work possible. The great actor in all of our stories about EM is God. He makes all things possible and is working all things together for good.

You see this truth when you read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, the accounts of the birth of Jesus. Read closely and see all the ways that our unseen God is working in the midst of history in the grand miracle of all creation, the incarnation of the Son in a baby named Jesus, Immanuel—God with us. May we all have eyes to see our God working in us and in the world today and honor Him with our lives. May God bless you and those you love this Christmas.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

November 2018 E-newsletter: A New Lesson in Encouragement

Posted on 11/14/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the November 2018 e-newsletter: A New Lesson in Encouragement.

A New Lesson in Encouragement

Posted on 11/13/18 by Russ Corley

Hi there! Cynthia Bennett here, Vice President of the Board of Directors for Encouragement Ministries and pinch hitter for this newsletter. My love and respect for Russ and Pat multiplied recently as I joined them for the first time for an Encouragement Ministries visit.

On a rainy morning, the three of us arrived in separate cars in front of the home of a dear woman who was uniquely special to each one of us for different reasons. This beautiful and strong woman of 98 years had been placed recently under 24-hour hospice care. Her thoughtful daughter had moved in with her to help care for her. We were greeted at the door and welcomed in.

I will admit that this visit made me feel very sad and emotional. I mentally kept telling myself, “Get a grip, Cynthia. It will not help anything if you become a blubbering mess.”

We walked down the hall and into the bedroom where the hospital bed had recently been installed. There was our friend. She appeared to be in a deep sleep. I felt uneasy, and I was afraid we would wake her. I wondered if we should offer to come back another time but….

Pat and Russ appeared to be completely at peace, and immediately each of them went to her bedside – one on one side and one on the other. Pat touched this precious woman and spoke soft words of encouragement in her ear. Russ put his hand on her shoulder and spoke the 23rd Psalm over her in his booming yet pleasant voice. (Our friend is hard of hearing.) Pat joined in on the 23rd Psalm, and I choked out a few words while fighting my tears. More kind words were spoken. Russ prayed. Our friend appeared to still be asleep.

We moved away from the bed and started talking with the daughter, but then we heard our friend wake up. Pat went back to her. She calmly talked with her and kissed her on the head. I drew close and talked with her. Russ waited for us to speak and then took his turn to talk with her. He reminded her of deep connections between his grandparents and her and her husband long before Russ was born. He reminded her that two of her grandchildren were friends of two of his children. Then he joked with her! She responded to his joke, and the room filled with unexpected laughter. Finally, we said our goodbyes and assured her of our love.

Before we left, we focused on her daughter. We let her share with us some of what had gone on the last week and how that had affected her. We talked about some of her shared moments with us: Pat’s weekly notes now include her, as well as her mother; Russ spoke at her father’s funeral thirty years ago; and there were other connections. Then we made sure that the daughter knew we are available for any future needs. (Russ and Pat both gave her their cards with their cell numbers.)

Have you ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule? Or the 1,000-hour rule? Some claim it  takes 1,000-10,000 hours of practice to get good at something. What I witnessed during that visit with Russ and Pat makes me believe this statement might be true. How many hours has Russ practiced the art of encouragement over the past thirty years? How many hours has Pat practiced the art of encouragement and heartfelt note writing over the years? Their experience is evident in their comfort and peace in painful and difficult situations. They genuinely feel honored to be invited into this sacred space by the people they visit. We all believe God gifted them and called them to this ministry and that the Holy Spirit strengthens them to do this work on a daily basis.

We currently live in a pain-avoidant and technology-saturated society. When suffering and crisis arrive, we need people to come alongside us who are familiar with pain and who are not afraid to be in the presence of suffering. We need people who enter into the pain, look people in the eye, pray with them, hug them, and encourage them. And this is exactly what Russ and Pat do. Every. Single. Day.

If you have someone in your life that could benefit from a visit from Russ or Pat, please let them know of the need. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to Encouragement Ministries, you can do that today and help us in this ministry of compassion. As a member of the Board of Directors, I can promise you that a donation made to Encouragement Ministries is money well spent.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

October 2018 E-newsletter: God Working in Your Life before You Were Born

Posted on 10/26/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the October 2018 e-newsletter: God Working in Your Life before You Were Born.

God Working in Your Life before You Were Born

Posted on 10/25/18 by Russ Corley

Do you ever stand in awe of what God has been doing in your life, even before you were born? At times, I am overwhelmed contemplating the countless things that happened in my life to prepare me, train me, and position me for the work that I am called to do. I need to have a deeper sense of wonder and amazement.

When I consider the key people in my life who were the encouragers of everything good and important in my life, I am deeply humbled. And it all began before I was born!

My father fell in love with my mother when she first arrived at their elementary school as a new student. She was in fifth grade, and he was in sixth grade. She caught his eye and captured his heart. That early attraction became a commitment that only death would sever.

My father worked hard and made sacrifices to provide me opportunities that he never enjoyed. My mother is my original encourager. She always focused on the good she saw in me. She also dealt with the bad in me with swift justice! Both aspects in me had to be worked with, but her focal commitment was to affirm and encourage every good thing that I did. For 65 years, my ears have become accustomed to her distinctive voice assuring me, “I love you. I am so proud of you.”

Then came a long line of friends. My first three key, early friendships began with Betty Ann in elementary school, Mike in Jr. High, and Jim in college. They were each born before me. I do not know what my life would have been like without their transforming friendships.

We loved each other, encouraged each other, came to understand so much about ourselves through each other. These childhood friends continue to be part of my life today. I thrill to see them and to hear their voices. Their love for me and their hope for my life continue to strengthen me.

Two professors in graduate school became mentors and later personal friends. Jim and Bill inspired and nurtured an intellectual side of me that I had not understood before their presence. Both helped me discover my passion for learning and teaching. Their goodness towards me created an educational experience that was nurturing and exciting then and that continues to be foundational to all I do today.

Then there were the people in churches. In some of those churches, I was only a member, but in others, I served as a minister. The list is too long, and I am sure that I would unintentionally leave someone important off the list. I know this: beginning in my childhood, churches at their best have been extended families where love and encouragement were the essence of our being together.

My involvement with Encouragement Ministries has allowed me to work with talented Board members. A few years ago, Pat Ward joined us as a fellow minister and gifted encourager. I first met her in 1985, and she has been a wonderful friend of encouragement since those early days when I first started telling Bible stories at Otter Creek School. Later, Amanda became a part of our staff and began to take care of the important things that freed Pat and I to focus on ministry. She brought a new level of laughter to our work together. Both Pat and Amanda have been wise friends and faithful encouragers.

You might wonder what all of this has to do with Encouragement Ministries. Everything! Long before we formed EM in 1990, God was filling my life with encouraging, life transforming relationships. He made clear to me how much I needed others. He spoke to me through them when I needed to be challenged. Those encouragers love me through successes and celebrations, failures and frustrations.

In the crisis moments of intense challenge, they did not abandon me. Instead, they were bearers of graceful encouragement. They helped me depend on God and allowed me to replace my human discouragement with a Christ-centered hope rooted in the reality of God’s living presence in the world.

Since my birth, God has patiently worked on me to deepen my understanding of the importance of human relationships and encouragement. I must be a dense and a slow learner! Still, He did not give up on me and kept sending encouragers into my life to remind and strengthen me.

Along with those special friendships, God also provided the resources necessary for EM. He used people like you. Some of you I know well, and many of you are tucked away in that paragraph about nameless followers of Jesus who have loved me in good times and bad. Others of you know and encourage Pat more than me. You support EM because you believe in her gifts and her calling. All of you are a living gift to EM because you make this ministry possible. In giving, you are a part of this ministry of encouragement.

I hope that you will take a few moments to reflect on the men and women God has used and continues to use in your life to bless and encourage you. Have you let those people know the role that they played in your life and thanked them for their kindness? If not, perhaps the real purpose of this letter is to remind you of the importance of taking a moment to affirm people that they have been a living gift in your life. Remember, Thanksgiving is only a month away!

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

September 2018 E-newsletter: Aware of God as We Work with God

Posted on 09/26/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the September 2018 e-newsletter: Aware of God as We Work with God.

Aware of God as We Work with God

Posted on 09/26/18 by Russ Corley

I continue to be amazed at the depth and delights of this abundant life that we discover with Jesus. For many years, I operated as if this new life in Christ was primarily about getting to heaven after I die. That idea loomed large in my thinking and in my talking about salvation. I knew that living a “good life” was important, but I thought that meant acting good, according to a shared standard. I did not realize that a genuinely good life was primarily about the formation of a Christ-like character and the quality of my relationship with God and others. Our Father calls us to develop a transformed life that expresses our dynamic relationship with the risen Jesus, and the Spirit of God works within us to produce the fruit of that new life.

Such ideas seemed strange to me in my childhood and for much of my adult life. People who talked that way seemed odd. I had ways of assessing them theologically and psychologically so that I would not be endangered by their beliefs.

When I began to study scripture carefully, I discovered things that I did not expect. I saw how Jesus talked with his disciples about their life with him. I read the way Paul wrote about the everyday life of a follower of Jesus. I saw the huge gap between what they were saying and what I was expecting.

I am still in kindergarten spiritually when it comes to understanding this. I am convinced that we have been invited by Jesus to participate in the goodness of life with God. I am trying to practice this life with Jesus. I am intentionally working at being more aware of Jesus working with me, on me, and through me day by day.

There are many days when I fail in this attempt to follow and to work with Jesus minute by minute. I am self-centered, and there is still a deep part of me that wants to be in control of things. Those who know me can testify to my sinful failure to live consistently in rhythm with his divine presence.

But that is not the only truth. There are days, or more accurately, small segments of some days, when I concentrate less on me and more on him. In those better moments, I ask him to guide and to help me with the work he gives me, and I am consistently astonished at what happens.

I look at Wednesday morning, September 19. I had been in two early meetings, and as the second meeting ended, I had the distinct impression that I was to do something very different than what I had planned. It seemed clear that I needed to postpone a responsibility and drive to Centennial Hospital to visit two patients.

As I drove, I talked to Jesus as if he were sitting in the passenger’s seat. I discussed things with him and asked him for help in this assignment. I know this sounds strange to some of you reading my words. Would it sound different to you if I had written, “I prayed to Jesus and asked him for help in what I was about to do”? The former way seems more informal, more conversational, more personal. For some of us, perhaps, too personal. The shift is intentional, and it still feels awkward to me at times.

Walking to the first visit, I envisioned Jesus walking with me. I asked him to lead the conversation ahead of us. As I talked with him, a woman with a baby stroller walked towards me, so I smiled and greeted her. The baby seemed to be intently staring at me with bright eyes.

When I arrived in the Cardiac Care waiting area, I found seven members of the patient’s family. We shared a wonderful conversation and prayed together. As I was leaving, I noticed a blanket with toys spread on the floor. When I commented, they explained that grandmother had stepped out with her grandson (the patient’s mother and nephew). The father stood up and asked me to go with him as he wanted me to meet his wife down the hall.

As we walked together, I saw the woman and child that I had met before. When she got close, we both laughed remembering our first encounter as strangers. The conversation we shared for the next few minutes was deep. They shared their thoughts about what was happening with their daughter today. As they talked, scripture came to mind, texts that aptly addressed questions or framed a word of encouragement. It was as if someone else was helping me with what was to be said. All the while, an attentive seven-month-old baby did not take his eyes off of me, as if something very odd right beside me or behind me had caught his attention.

After making a second visit, I called Pat Ward and asked her to see the two patients that I had just visited. I did not explain more than the situations of each patient. She agreed to try to get by soon, but she did more than that! Being a woman who practices what I am learning, she rearranged her schedule and went immediately. She put aside a planned thing and went to a divine appointment.

Two hours later, she called me with joy and excitement. Both of her visits had been powerful experiences for her. When I talked to those visited by her on the next day, they told me that they were blessed and encouraged by her visits.

When you experience God working with you, the quality of everything alters. This is the deep meaning of the good life, the abundant life, the life with Jesus!

Now if you read this and are like the old me, you think, “Well, Russ has gone off the deep end!” I understand how you might think that and how you might come up with alternative explanations for what happened and have some tough questions for me. I am not sure if all the talk in the world could change your mind. I think my response would be: “Why don’t you begin your own experiment with Jesus. For the next few days, ask Jesus to walk with you and work with you. Seek his face at work and at home and in every place in-between. Knock at his door and ask him to spend time with you. Try it.”

Pat and I are deeply grateful for those of you who pray for us, refer people to us, and support us financially. We do this work together with you and with God. We believe He moves the hearts of others to help us in this ministry. We believe the purpose of this work is to point others to Him and to glorify Him in all that we do. We are grateful for the flexibility EM provides to adapt to the demands of each new day. What a joy to be caught up in something larger than ourselves.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.