Archive for the ‘An Encouraging Word’ Category

What Comes to Mind When You Think of Encouragement?

Posted on 06/30/19 by Russ Corley

Thomas Pierce says, “Each time we make a difference in someone’s life, no matter how small, it will encourage them to do good for others. And each time that happens, we will be a stronger force for good.” I like to think that we will be a stronger force for God’s kingdom.

When I think of encouragement, many things come to mind: The encouragement from our Lord every morning when His new mercies flood my heart. The encouragement I receive from the strength of those I visit daily. The encouragement I gain from you, our co-ministers and generous donors. Russ and I are able to minister to those in crisis on a daily basis because of your faithful gifts, your referrals, and your prayers. Your gifts are not taken for granted. They constantly remind us that we are not alone.

Some of you who give to Encouragement Ministries find it very difficult to visit someone in the hospital or to work patiently with someone in a serious crisis. Such situations create great stress for you personally. Your support for EM allows Russ and I to work in such situations with people that you may not know or ever meet. Together we do something that would be impossible without each other. You not only enable us to serve in these situations, but you encourage us as we do.

The apostle Paul writes about such shared work in 1 Corinthians 12. “Just as one body has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  The body is not made up of one part, but many. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The body of Christ is a wonderful thing. Through our different gifts, we are able to reach more people and give God the glory.

We cannot adequately express our deep gratitude for what your faithful giving allows us to do for others day by day without the anxiety of financial concerns.

As an example of what your financial support makes possible, last week I met a family who had complications after the birth of their baby in Murfreesboro. The baby needed to be transferred to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The person who referred the couple also described them physically to me on the phone. I was able to pick them out in the Vanderbilt Cafeteria, and I introduced myself on behalf of my friend who shared their situation with me. We talked and prayed together and forged a new friendship. Such encounters happen daily because you refer people, you pray that God will help us in this ministry of compassion that He has called us to, and you give generously.

This daily work requires daily renewal. God has to provide new mercy and strength for this work. On many of those new mornings, I often pray this prayer, gathered from many friends through the years with phrases that touched my heart:  Lord, keep me from trying to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving. Help me to work to alleviate suffering and injustice wherever I see it, trusting the rest is up to you. Whenever I long to see your face, help me to not avoid the corners of my community where you most often dwell. Help me to minister to others in ways that validate and authenticate them as fellow children of God. Keep me from daring to assume that my good fortune is of my own doing or that my ability to serve is anything other than a gift from you. Teach me to share my resources believing that the more I give, the more you will provide.

Russ and I thank you for being generous souls and beautiful spirits in a world that could use many more people like you. You are appreciated more than words can express.

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.

Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field

Posted on 05/29/19 by Russ Corley

Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field. As summer begins, I think back a few years ago when my son Joel was learning to play baseball. I learned an important lesson about encouragement from him.

Joel was determined to become a good baseball player. He was eager to get me out on a ball field in the afternoon to work with him. Sometimes we worked out in the mornings, but he always seemed less thrilled about that hour!

I did not play baseball growing up, so to work with him, I had to learn some new skills. At first, it was not hard to stay ahead of him, but as he developed, I worked harder and longer to get myself up to speed.

I could hit ground balls and work with him on fielding and throwing. In the early years, I did a fair job on the basics of hitting. I knew that he needed someone who knew more about the game than I did. Fortunately, he had some good coaches for that. Most of them were willing to help me understand how I could best help him.

One of the things I appreciate about Joel was that he was eager to practice. He was not afraid to work hard on those hot summer afternoons. When I got home from work, he would get his glove, the bat, and a bucket of balls, and we would head to a dusty field. Often, on our way home, we stopped for something cold to drink and a small snack (you do not want to ruin dinner).

On the field, we had our routines. We warmed up, worked on fielding, and finally focused on batting. We both knew that the repetitions of the basic skills integrate those moves into the body so that in a game situation, his body was ready to instantly respond correctly. He had great gifts as an athlete, but also had a great work ethic—that was a wonderful combination.

Sometimes we came to the edge of his ability. Up to that point, things had been easy for him as he refined his familiar skills, but now we were trying something new. He was being asked to do something that was difficult and beyond his current range of ability.

There were a few times, when he was hot, tired, and discouraged by failure, that he would throw his glove into the dirt and tell me that he could not do this. He would be angry with his inability and frustrated with me for asking him to stretch into a new area.

The Basic Conversation: During those moments, we had our basic talk:

Joel: “Dad, I cannot do this. I stink!”

Me: “Son, the problem is that you are tired, and this is something new. You feel discouraged, and your feelings are telling you that this is impossible and that you should quit. I don’t think that they are telling the truth.”

He would listen to me, but if the feeling was strong, I would struggle to break through.

Me: “Let’s get a drink and take a short break. I believe that you can do this, and I don’t want you to quit. I want you to try something for me: Don’t tell yourself that you cannot do this. Tell yourself that this is hard for you to do. Remind yourself of all the hard things that you have learned to do and that now feel easy and automatic. The day is coming when this will feel exactly like that.”

Begin Again. Some discouraged people would quit listening as soon as I failed to agree with their emotional state. The good news is that Joel trusted me enough to think about what I was saying. His emotions had not overwhelmed him to the point that he would argue with me or storm off. Instead of quitting, he would get a drink, pick his glove up, and began to work again. On most days, after the break and the soothing of emotions, he found himself doing what he had declared to be impossible.

Those summer afternoons on the baseball field were special to me. I learned a lot about my son and about myself.

Deep encouragement is relational. As you grow to know someone, you realize their potential. Your conversations develop trust. When you try to encourage someone, you do not lie to them with a shallow “you can do it” slogan. Your hopeful and realistic knowledge of them allows you to address them truthfully and in love.

There is something thrilling in witnessing a person press beyond their moment of discouragement and achieve something that felt impossible to them.

As I watch Pat work in crisis situations with people, I see the same basic pattern. There are no magic words that bring encouragement. Encouragement Ministries allows the time and an opportunity to build relationships with people. That relationship becomes the living context of genuine encouragement. From your personal knowledge, you are aware of moments of discouragement and emotional fatigue. You carefully address the person in love and with hope. You do not abandon them. You do not agree with all that they feel (and sometimes that frustrates them in the short run). You help them see what is possible and you stay with them as they forge on. Truth spoken with love, addresses the heart and soul and can inspire them to keep pressing ahead in hope.

As summer unfolds, many of you will be very busy with new routines. Pat and I ask you to keep our work in your prayers, let us know if there is someone we need to meet and get to know in hopes of encouraging them. Your financial support of this ministry makes all of this possible, and we are grateful.

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.

In Memory of Judy Flatt

Posted on 04/29/19 by Russ Corley

Recently, I have been reminded of the beauty of faith, hope, and love when it seems that the world is falling apart.

Pat Ward, my friend and co-minister with EM, has been in the middle of a very difficult time during the past few months. About three months ago, her sister Judy went to the doctor to learn why things had become difficult in her life since she had a fall last autumn. That appointment became a series of tests and visits which led to the diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumor.

Judy met with specialists, including an oncologist, to plan treatment with the hope being remission. The treatment was aggressive; therefore, the side effects of chemo together with the rapid spread of the tumor led to a hospitalization, and the chemotherapy was not slowing the tumor’s spread.

After a few weeks in a hospital with radiation treatment, the decision was made to go into hospice care. A couple of weeks after that decision, Pat called me. She had just heard from Alive Hospice alerting the family that Judy’s time was very short.

In the midst of this valley of the Shadow of Death, I have witnessed Pat, her sister, her sister’s family, and a deep circle of Christian friends face this challenge with faith, hope, and love.

Judy was a gifted Christian leader who spent her life loving and following Jesus and serving others in his name. She lived her faith with her family and in close Christian fellowship with others. As a faithful, influential leader, she made life better for others and witnessed to the reality of God with us in all things. She lived with purpose and got things done. She did not believe in playing games. Instead, she spoke the truth in love as one convinced that words matter most when they become action.

During these last months of her life, family and friends have gathered in her home, in hospital rooms, and in her hospice room to be close to her. Her love for them over the years drew them to those places in this time of crisis.

It is not easy to witness to someone decline rapidly and reach the point where she was no longer capable of sustained speech or action especially when that person has been a powerful force in the lives of so many. When her capacity to speak and serve diminished, her loving presence in the midst of suffering bore eloquent witness to the One she followed and served with joy. In these last few weeks of life, she, who had constantly served others in Jesus’ name, was now the one being served by family and friends.

Some sent thoughtful cards that were posted on the door and the walls of her room. Others came to visit. In the early phase of this cancer, those visits often included the sound of laughter in the midst of concern. During the final days, a reverent silence filled the room. It was never a total silence. In love, stories were shared, scriptures were read, prayers were uttered, and there were tender expressions of gratitude and love spoken in soft voices with a gentle touch. And there was music.

A number of minsters came to see her. They came because Judy loved them, ministered to them, and encouraged them when they faced a crisis. They worked with her in a church to strengthen the family of Christ that gathered to worship and work in Jesus’ name. One sang a song. As his strong voice filled the room with praise, those of us with weaker voices joined him. It was a holy moment.

I witnessed Pat in this stressful situation as sister, best friend, and minister. She was all that and more. Some ministers are unable to step outside an official role in a crisis: they try to be the strong person in the room who knows exactly what to say and do. I never saw that in Pat. She was her true self with her sister. Sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears, and always in love. She was present in weakness, and in that weakness, she was a source of strength for Judy, the family, close friends, and hospital/hospice staff.

Psalm 23 makes a stunning claim: “Even in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.”

Jesus, the good shepherd, invites his disciples to come to him when they are weary and burdened. When they respond to his invitation, he shares their burden, teaches them more about trusting him, and gives them peace in a place where the typical human response is fear and anxiety.

There is no room for romanticizing cancer and dying. Both are cruel enemies. Still, it must be pointed out that neither cancer nor death is greater than what Jesus accomplished in the Easter story of death and resurrection. He himself is our hope in all things. He gives us hope in our afflictions. He sustains us and keeps us for things more beautiful than we imagine.

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.

Listen in Love

Posted on 03/26/19 by Russ Corley

When my children were young, sometimes they would talk to me when I became distracted. All three of them had a technique for getting my attention. It was simple in design and very effective. They would take my head in both hands, direct my face towards them, and say, “Daddy, listen to me!”

My children were constantly reminding me of a deep truth. As persons, we have things to say that are profoundly important to us. We want to share such things with someone who listens with love and understanding, and who shares our perception of the importance of that thought or feeling. When we are with someone who listens closely and follows us through the labyrinth of our soul, we feel cherished.

My children were not my first teachers. My first mentors came during my childhood in the form of my first true friendships. One friendship was formed in third grade and another when I was in seventh grade. Both friendships were born in conversations about problems and deep questions about life and relationships (as deep as third and seventh graders can go).

Early on, I learned that if I interrupted the flow of careful thought or strong feelings, that I could shut down what was happening: the disclosure of the hidden life of a soul is a delicate matter. I also discovered that if I refused to comment and asked thoughtful questions, then often I was blessed with new insights into someone’s life. Those two people are still friends. We still share meals and talk, and as we do, the friendships born in childhood, deepen and mature.

During my years in graduate school, I met two people who were great listeners. They both drew me out and allowed me to draw them out. My lessons on listening expanded as I personally experienced the profound benefit of being heard and understood. Their questions allowed me to disclose aspects of myself that I was not aware. I actually discovered things about my personal thoughts and feelings as we talked. Often, I was surprised by something that I spoke. As I became vulnerable, they were willing to share more. It was becoming clear that mutual trust and confidentiality were essential to the listening relationship.

When I first began to visit patients in hospitals during those years in Ohio, I found that the key to my work was not being someone with expert spiritual advice. Instead, what they seemed to need was someone willing to sit with them and to listen with love and sincere interest.

Patients seemed to share things with me that apparently, they were not sharing with other people, even members of their own family. They shared because I would listen without judgement or correction or advice. They wanted someone to hear about their experience of suffering, their anxieties and fears, and to think aloud about decisions that lay ahead. Often, friendships formed between us after a few visits. Friendship provides a context of trust that opens unexpected possibilities.

Sometimes people ask me about how to encourage someone. My answer may sound shallow, but for me it is true: listen with love and a genuine interest in another person’s life. Such listening is a deep spiritual practice. I am still learning how. Listening has made EM a wonderful adventure.

I am still learning to listen. I should add that my three children are now adults. Something beautiful has emerged in our relationship. Now, they ask me about how I am doing, and they listen for my answer and ask questions to draw me out. In such moments, God’s love is poured into my soul with healing power.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.