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.

ncouragement 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.

August 2018 E-newsletter: When Jesus Sends, He Provides

Posted on 08/17/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the August 2018 e-newsletter: When Jesus Sends, He Provides.

When Jesus Sends, He Provides

Posted on 08/16/18 by Russ Corley

We often mention two important things that the supporters of Encouragement Ministries do that are essential in our work: they refer people for us to serve, and they pray for us as we serve. Both are critical to our success. Referrals open unexpected opportunities, and intercessory prayers are a rich resource of blessings from God who enables and empowers true ministry. Let me share a story to illustrate.

Last week, I received a call from Ohio about a man in Kentucky who had been severely injured in a freak accident when a car plowed through the front of a bank and hit him. He was rushed to a local hospital and a few days later transferred to Vanderbilt (VUMC) in Nashville to receive specialized care. The person calling me supports EM, she knows the brother of the man injured, and she invited us to be involved. She promised that she would be praying for our first meeting.

I went the day after the referral. When I got to the Patient Information Desk, I gave the name and asked for a room number. Then the dreaded HIPAA moment happened! I only had the patient’s middle and last names, and without the first name, not even a room number can be shared in that hospital. This information specialist was a “strict constructionist” in the interpretation of the law! She would not budge an inch. I am sure that she has been trained that way with threats of termination if she failed to comply.

I tried to reach my contact in OH but to no avail. Understandably, I was frustrated. Then I remembered that the patient was supposed to have surgery. I went to the Surgical Information desk and explained my plight. This kind woman had a possible solution. There was only one patient by that last name scheduled for surgery. She called the patient’s room and asked if the patient went by the name that I knew. She got permission for my visit and sent me on my way with a graceful smile.

As I left, I had a sense of joy and appreciation for such unexpected kindness. One person felt compassion and worked within the rules to solve my problem. Then I was reminded of my praying friend in Ohio, and I was grateful for God providing helpers along the way.

After my visit, I went back to the Surgical Information Desk. I spoke again to the woman that helped me. At first, she had a suspicious look on her face. I assured her that I came with good intentions. I observed that she had helped many people that morning and that most of them took for granted her assistance. I did not want to be a member of that majority. I thanked her for changing my morning and helping me in my work and noted that her smile was an added blessing.

For 28 years now, I have been blessed by acts of intentional kindness (in contrast to random kindness) by people who were at the right place at the right time to help. Some might attribute that to good luck. I will not. I believe that when God gives us something to do in the name of Jesus, He provides for our needs in unexpected ways. I know that people like you pray for our work, and God answers those prayers as our loving Father.

Referrals and prayers are both essential things that our supporters provide. The third component of support is their generous financial assistance. We do not focus much on that essential element in our work. Our commitment through the years is a theological one: If God gives us work to do, He will provide for that work without our putting pressure on people or making fundraising a constant focus. Our loving Father has been faithful in moving hearts to provide for our every need. He uses people like you to help us with referrals, in prayer, and in giving. We serve a great God together, and we must never fail to say thank you with grateful hearts.

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.

Presence and Participation in Someone Else’s World: July 2018 E-newsletter

Posted on 07/24/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the July 2018 e-newsletter: Presence and Participation in Someone Else’s World.

Entering Someone’s World with Compassion and Interacting through Participation

Posted on 07/24/18 by Russ Corley

This past month, I witnessed Pat Ward involved in two aspects of ministry that are important but often neglected in our busy world of fast-paced change: Presence (really being with someone) and Participation (immersing yourself in their world of thought and action). These are not sophisticated techniques that require years of college education and technical expertise. They seem elusive in professionalized ministry, yet they embody the ministry of Jesus. 

Presence (being with someone) and Participation (indwelling someone’s world)

Years ago, I met a couple from Kentucky at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). The husband was very sick, and his wife was with him constantly in the hospital and through a long rehab. During the long months at VUMC, I saw them often, and we became friends. After they left rehab, they moved to Nashville to live with their daughter. I made visits to the house, but they were not often as before.

When Pat Ward began working part-time during the summers, she would stop by this couple’s house twice a week! She was lavish in her time with them, talking and listening with genuine interest. When Pat would leave, the wife would tell Pat with a wry smile, “Remind Russ that he is getting a little behind, and we have a diet coke waiting for him in the refrigerator.” When the summer ended, Pat’s visits became rare until the following summer.

A few years ago, the husband died, thus isolating his wife more. A few people from her church checked on her, especially one wonderful woman who became like a daughter to her.

Last year, through the generosity of our supporters, Pat began full-time work with EM. One of the first things that she did was to establish a regular rhythm of loving visits to this woman’s home.

Pat does more than go by and listen. Our mutual friend took up coloring a few years ago to fill time with something creative. I stopped by for a surprise visit when Pat was there. Our friend showed me some of the coloring that she and Pat had done together. As she talked about their shared project, her eyes sparkled with love and joy. As we talked about other things, Pat and our friend updated me on what had been happening in our friend’s life. It was clear that through many conversations, Pat had drawn her out to elaborate the details of her life and had listened closely with interest.

As people grow older, isolated, and physically limited, it is an enormous challenge. Pat has been with her through good times and bad. They have shared meals out. Pat has provided transportation to doctor appointments. This woman considers Pat to be another daughter. When she talks about Pat, I hear the love in her voice and see it in her eyes. There is no quick way to describe that kind of relationship.

Both presence and participation are important, and there is an underlying factor that motivates and suffuses both: the love of Christ in us. Without love, my spending time to be with someone will be tainted by impatience. Without love, participating in someone’s world seems shallow. In love, I am able to enter and indwell another’s world. In such graceful moments, we share the joy of being together in the presence of God. In doing this, we glance a fleeting insight into the depths of the beauty of the incarnation, God with us in Jesus, the Word become flesh and serving us in love at the point of our greatest needs.

Thank you for providing the financial support for this kind of relationship-intensive ministry where time is not spent in meetings and planning projects (those are very important things) but where time is allocated to being with a person and participating in their world in love. It makes a difference, and it honors the unique meaning and inscape of people made in God’s image.

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.

Crisis and the Hope of Reconciling Love: June 2018 E-newsletter

Posted on 06/28/18 by Russ Corley

Click the link to read the June 2018 e-newsletter: Crisis and the Hope of Reconciling Love.

Crisis and the Hope of Reconciling Love

Posted on 06/26/18 by Russ Corley

 

Today, I want to share a story that is not about what Pat and I did this month. This is a more personal story that expresses the foundational hope that informs all that we do as we work with people dealing with a crisis in their lives.

Often a crisis moment generates a strong emotion of hopelessness. The same crisis can evoke an intense experience of shame centered in the unrelenting message, “If you were a better person, this would have never happened.”

A few years ago, I made a decision that brought about a terrible crisis in the lives of people that I love deeply. After years of a struggling marriage, I had become increasingly hopeless for any path ahead. We had gone through repeated seasons of counseling that had been unsuccessful in repairing deep problems. In my discouragement, I minimized many of my contributions to the failure of the relationship.

I insisted that I would not get a divorce. I knew the biblical teaching on marriage as a sacred covenant and the strong injunction against divorce. For years, those texts kept me from contemplating divorce. They also drove me deeper into despair. I found myself dealing with intensifying hopelessness and fear. I rationalized behavior that provided only short-lived relief from the pain.

One day I talked openly about divorce if things did not change. That met with harsh reactions of disappointment and rejection. Some well-intentioned friends asked me to commit to another year of counseling. I agreed, but the experience did not lead towards the solution that anyone hoped for. Eventually, I asked for a divorce.

That decision was painful to many, especially to my wife and our three children. Their pain became a part of my suffering and the source of unspeakable guilt and shame.

Over the next few years, I witnessed their suffering. It haunted me in my dreams and in my waking hours. There were moments when well-intentioned people made matters worse by what they said. They assumed that I was unaware of how I had failed and how my failure was difficult for others, especially for the four people most affected.

I knew that divorce was never God’s intention for marriage, but I believed that it was not an unforgivable sin. I asked God to forgive me and trusted in the grace found in Jesus. Still, I encountered people who did not share that conviction. At times, their coldness, disappointment, and rejection caused me to doubt the possibility of God’s forgiveness.

It was hard watching my children in the aftermath. They were disappointed by my failure to fix what was broken. They struggled with the consequences of my failure in their own lives. When I witnessed any major problem they experienced, I always felt responsible. I kept thinking that if I had been a better husband and father, their lives would be better.

As the years passed, my children began to soften towards me. We have made progress on the road to reconciliation, and those stories are still being written. Each step ahead is an experience of grace.

In February, my youngest son, Jonathan called and asked me what I was doing on June 20. I told him that I had no idea. He told me to save the date. For Father’s Day, he purchased three tickets for the Paul Simon Final Tour concert in Nashville. He explained that growing up, I introduced him to that music during our car rides together. He wanted a special evening with his Dad and his brother Joel, and he had made sure that would happen. When Jon hung up, I wept with joy and gratitude.

On that night, the three of us sat in the Bridgestone Arena surrounded by the music of Paul Simon, the music of our shared lives. We laughed. We sang with loud voices, but not always in key. Often, my arms were around one or both. The music evoked something deep within us.

When we returned home, the three of us got out of the car and hugged with tears. When someone forgives you, they build a bridge over troubled waters and provide a path ahead together. Such grace is a miracle of God’s deep love. Such moments inspire hope and gratitude.

When things are darkest in a crisis, strong feelings of hopelessness and shame may arise. They may be persistent and tyrannizing, but they do not have to provide the final word on the situation. Long ago, Jesus invited hopeless people to come to him, to trust in him, and to learn from him the reality of forgiving love in the heart of his Father. The experience of that love is the driving pulse of new life, the rhythm of the song of reconciliation.

There is hope, a light shining in the darkest valley as we trust God to guide us with goodness and mercy and love to a safe home.

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.

Learning from Our Mistakes: May 2018 E-newsletter

Posted on 05/30/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the May 2018 e-newsletter: Learning from Our Mistakes.

Learning from Our Mistakes

Posted on 05/29/18 by Russ Corley

Recently, I received a text from someone that I know well: “I could use your prayers today. My family is doing fine, but many close friends are walking through incredibly dark times. Death of a child, marriages falling apart, family in prison…It is weighing heavy on my heart, and I want to be present for my friends in a healthy way. Prayers for strength and wisdom would be most appreciated.”

Earlier the same week, I met with four men. We talked about their desire as Christians to make a difference in the world. I listened to their recent stories about helping people. Some of them felt stressed and overwhelmed. We talked about some of the practical challenges we faced when helping people in crisis.

Through the years, I have been involved in crisis situations, many in hospital settings but quite a few outside hospital walls. I made mistakes that became my teachers. Four things stand out in my mind.

First, know your limits. Often, well-intentioned people become overwhelmed, because people asking for help have big problems that do not have neat solutions. They share a few aspects of their problems, and you get involved with good intentions to make a difference. The dilemma: many crisis situations are very complicated, because the problem emerged over time through a long line of decisions and actions that are irreversible and have extensive consequences. Usually the story about the problem leaves a lot of important details hidden in silence. Once you get involved, more details emerge. Soon, you feel overwhelmed and entangled trying to solve something much larger than your good intentions and training. Know the difference between what you can realistically offer and those things that are beyond you. Knowing the difference between what you can do and what lies outside of your expertise or your responsibility is crucial to avoid burnout and other more serious problems.

Second, in many situations, your main role is to provide personal support while well-trained professionals do the heavy lifting. Many people want relief from their crisis but resist making any necessary changes. If you begin to deal with the underlying problems or the intricate social network that is at the root of a problem, you will meet resistance and often conflict emerges.

One of the nice things about working with a crisis in hospitals is the fact that my responsibility does not include medical care. That lies outside of my expertise. I am grateful for doctors, nurses, and other professionals who are trained to deal with medical problems. What I do is important, but it is not the reason that hospitals exist. I spend time with patients and their families to listen, pray, encourage, and support in the context of a spiritually-focused relationship. Sometimes that role seems small in my eyes given the situations that I deal with, but I know that a small thing done in Jesus’s name can be a blessing. Never overestimate your importance but do not underestimate the greatness of God and what He can do through someone He calls to serve in love.

Third, be prayerful. Prayer is essential in loving and serving others in Jesus’s name. Jesus worked with great power and authority to heal the lame and the blind, to give relief to the mentally and spiritually tormented, and to care for the hungry and the confused. When you read the gospels, you discover that often Jesus rose early in the morning and went to places to be alone in prayer; then he would meet the crowds who came to him for help. How can I help someone in Jesus’s name without prayer? When I have been prayerless in my work, others have suffered.

When I speak about doing this work in prayer, I do not mean just praying with people. That is important, but if my only time of prayer is when others are present and listening, I am in danger of Jesus’s strong critique of prayer as a performance for others’ approval (see Mt. 6:5-8). No, I need to be in prayer often with my Father who is in secret, when no one else is present to hear.

Finally, learn to work in a crisis situation with Jesus. In Mt. 11:25-30, Jesus teaches his disciples that when they become weary and burdened because of the demands of life, they must come to him to find rest for their souls. He will work alongside us if we come to him and stay with him in his yoke.  He says that he will share our burden. He will also teach us how to do this work with others. Imagine that — Jesus will mentor you to do his work. But you must be willing to learn from him, which means putting into practice what he teaches. He wants to change me so that I am able to do his work. Sometimes he humbles me with my failures to get my attention. Even then he is gentle and continues to be my guide.

Pat and I are deeply grateful for the generosity of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. Your financial gifts are needed and appreciated. So are your referrals and your prayers. We do this work together in Jesus’s name. He is the one who we desire to glorify in all that we do and say. Without him, our efforts crumble. With him, wonderful things are possible. We hope that you will continue to share this adventure with us.

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.