Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Learning to Trust Jesus, My Shepherd

Posted on 02/24/19 by Russ Corley

Recently, I have been reading Dallas Willard’s book, Life Without Lack. This thoughtful reflection on the Psalm 23 reminds me of many people that I have encountered in hospitals who trusted in Jesus with big faith as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death with hopeful courage. Let me explain.

Discovering the Depth of Familiar Reality

I have met people who visited the Smoky Mts. National Park but who never got off the road and onto a trail. Their visits were centered in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and their presence in the park was in the car with quick stops to take scenic photos. They remind me of a person reading through Scripture during a year but never stopping with a text long enough to discover its deeper riches.

Many years ago, I got out of a car and hiked my first trail in the Smoky Mts. It led me up a beautiful stream with large boulders and finally to a waterfall. Sitting a while at the base of the falls, I enjoyed the sight and sounds that had escaped me when I was tied to the comforts of a car.

A few years later, I backpacked with a friend who knew those mountains well. He had hiked all of the trails, and many of them multiple times. He had backpacked the Appalachian Trail through the park, he has fished the streams, and he knew how to live in the woods for days. He hiked with me, taught me things about backpacking and about the wonders of the park and the life that fills the woods with beauty and sometimes danger. Our time together gave me new eyes and a deeper sense of wonder and awe.

A Deep and Beautiful Psalm

I first met Psalm 23 when I memorized it as a child in an elementary school class at church. It was not my first memory verse, but it was my first memorized chapter of the Bible.

Later, when I was a teenager, Ira North used Psalm 23 to teach some of us how to read scripture aloud so that others could grasp its meaning. Using vocal inflection and pauses, you could feature the Shepherd, or our personal relationship with the Shepherd, or the benefits provided by our Shepherd. For the first time, I realized that a text has a surplus of meaning that must be carefully explored if God’s word is to be understood. That insight became a lifelong invitation to study and meditate on Scripture.

Reading Willard’s book, I am humbled to see how a brilliant mind transposes a familiar text and surprises me with ideas that I’ve missed or that I noticed before but failed to explore like a side trail in the Smoky Mountains that breaks off a main path with hidden treasures.

Walking with a Friend through Psalm 23

When working with Psalm 23, one confronts two questions: (1) Do I trust that God will care for me in this way? (2) Do I live as someone who follows the good Shepherd all the days of my life, or do I constantly pull away?

These questions have become important to me because of a dear friend who is putting into practice Ps. 23 as he faces the reality of cancer.

He had just finished reading Life Without Lack when he heard from his doctor about the discovery of cancer in a lung that may have metastasized to his liver. He has begun re-reading the book and working with the Psalm as he faces tests, waiting, reports, waiting, decisions, waiting, treatments, waiting, and unfolding outcomes.

We shared lunch recently. I listened as he talked through some of the initial aspects of this personal crisis. At every turn in the path, he is working with his Shepherd, trying to trust Jesus when his emotions push him in a different direction. He is coming to know more about the guiding rod and staff and the voice that assures him that all will be well, no matter what lies ahead.

This is not a man in denial. His emotions are strong. More than once in our conversation, he paused and recomposed himself before he continued. During five years that I have known him, I have witnessed his development as a committed disciple of Jesus. This is not theoretical to him; it is an existential, practical reality that my friend now relies on in a new crisis.

I appreciate the book by Willard, and I cherish the Psalm. I see both of them as light filtered through the prism of my friend’s life. The refraction of this light through him is unique and holy. It is the beauty of one becoming more Christ-like, even in suffering. “We share in His suffering in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Rom. 8:17)

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.

When Christmas Isn’t Joyful

Posted on 12/14/17 by Russ Corley

The holiday season begins at Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas into the New Year. For many people, it is an exciting, wonder-filled experience. For others, that is not the case. Working with Encouragement Ministries for 27 years, I have witnessed how this “joyful season” becomes a difficult time to endure.

While seasonal events are being planned for some, somber plans are being made for others: surgeries, cancer treatments, long hospitalizations, rehabilitation, and funerals. As some families gather in homes to share meals and good cheer, other families struggle through an absence at the table and grief too intense for festivities. Hospitals minimize stays over the holidays, still there are families that bring a tiny tree with lights into a patient’s small room, decorate the walls with cards, and perhaps hang an ornament on an I-V pole.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I received a call from a friend asking to visit someone from her church in East Tennessee. The patient was in a Nashville hospital, isolated from family and friends with a serious medical problem. She was struggling emotionally.

I was unable to get to the hospital that weekend because of other responsibilities, so I called Pat Ward and asked her to call my friend and gather more information about this new patient. (What a joy it is to share in this work with Pat. Since she joined EM last summer, my load has been greatly eased. It gives me great joy to see her step into a crisis situation. She is a gifted minister whose tenderness and compassion is an expression of the love of Jesus.)

Pat called my friend, gathered the relevant information about this new referral, and immediately headed to the hospital. The patient was a woman who shared Pat’s last name. When Pat walked into the room, she introduced herself and the reason that she was there. She also smiled and suggested the possibility that they might be cousins. That smile and the twinkle in Pat’s eye brought a moment of laughter.

Pat explained more about EM and talked about the woman’s friend who called to make sure that someone would visit her in Jesus’s name. The patient began weeping at the realization of the long arm of love reaching across miles of separation to embrace her through Pat.

As Pat sat at the bedside and took the patient’s hand, the woman relaxed and began to talk. Her husband had just left for home to take care of some business, and she was alone. She was scared, lonely, and sad. Two days earlier, she had a leg amputated at the knee because of an infection. The pain and the reality of the consequences were bearing down on her in her isolation. Pat’s presence provided the assurance that God had not forgotten her and had sent someone to be with her.

As Pat held her hand, the woman talked. Pat patiently listened. I’ve been with Pat in such situations; her presence is an expression of love shaped by joy and peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. Her heart, filled with the Spirit, becomes an expression of God with us in the darkness. Such moments are filled with hope and a strong sense of the holy.

The patient asked Pat how she knew to come at just the right time. Pat explained how God works through people: this woman’s friend made a call that became a referral that Pat treated with a sense of mission filled with God’s purpose and possibilities. (Pat could have added that because of the supporters of EM, she is free to go where she is needed, when she is needed. It makes all the difference.)

Twice, Pat tried to leave. The woman kept asking her to stay a little longer. Pat knew that the patient needed rest, so Pat prayed with her, exchanged numbers, and promised to stay in touch.

The holidays can be very difficult, but because of people like Pat Ward there are unexpected moments of grace. Your referrals open doors of graceful opportunity. Your prayers keep us close to Jesus as we follow where he leads and empowers us to do all things in the Spirit’s power.

Your generous financial support of Encouragement Ministries helps provide Pat’s flexible schedule to go when needed. All that we do in Jesus’s name is made possible because people care enough to give and to work with us in this ministry.

May God bless you and those you love during this holiday season.

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.

Struggling with a Lesson Taught by Jesus: September 2017

Posted on 09/25/17 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the September 2017 e-newsletter: Struggling with a Lesson Taught by Jesus.


November 2016 E-newsletter: EM – This Thing We Do Together

Posted on 11/09/16 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the November 2016 e-newsletter: EM – This Thing We Do Together.

September 2015 E-newsletter: A Lifetime of Learning

Posted on 09/28/15 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the September 2015 E-newsletter: A Lifetime of Learning.

June 2014 E-newsletter: The Fears and Tears of a Father

Posted on 06/25/14 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the June 2014 E-newsletter: The Fears and Tears of a Father.

People Matter, Regardless of Their Age

Posted on 09/11/13 by Russ Corley

As I listen to what is said and observe what is done in some of our churches, I am left with the feeling that once you reach a certain age, there are a lot of people who think that you should find a retirement church. In many churches, the big push is for young members and young families. I understand that desire, but often it comes with the urgency to change things so that the younger crowd feels at home. Then as changes are ushered in, older members, who do not like the trendy alterations, are ushered out. That is puzzling and problematic to me. People much older than I am have shaped many of my important experiences in ministry. They taught and still teach me important lessons by the faithful lives they lead. They are treasures!

Today I attended the funeral of John Rucker, a man who served as an elder at Otter Creek Church for 35 years. He and his wife Ruth touched and transformed many lives. When I preached there, we often disagreed on issues, but we maintained an honest friendship. John loved the members of that church, he made many personal sacrifices to make it a better place, and I was grateful to see so many there to celebrate his life. John loved God with all his heart and strength, and his deepest desire was to serve his family, friends, and strangers in the name of Jesus. He did exactly that for most of his 100 years!

Last week, I received a text about a woman that I first met when I preached at Otter Creek Church from 1985-90. She has been an OC member since the 60’s. Her grandchildren and my children were neighbors, friends, and playmates in those days.

This wonderful woman is now in her early 90’s. She is at a rehab center recovering from a recent fall. When I visit with her, I am constantly reminded of her encouraging presence years ago when I was a young preacher. During our last visit, she said that the things that led me to be fired from OC then would not create a stir today. Then she smiled and told me, “I don’t think that they were very good reasons for getting fired then!”

During one of our visits, she reminded me that she and her husband were close friends of my mother’s parents during the 40’s and 50’s. Her husband and my grandfather both worked with Greyhound Bus when it was an important mode of transportation for many people. I suddenly realized that one of the things I like about this precious woman is that she reminds me of my grandmother. Her kindness and encouragement are a blessing.

In regards to Pat Ward’s work during the summer, one of the most important aspects is that she spends a lot of time with elderly people whose lives have become limited because of the difficult changes that are associated with aging. Pat never forgets them. She visits, she calls, and she writes countless notes of encouragement each week. Her example inspires me and reminds me constantly of the importance of this aspect of Encouragement Ministries.

In each letter, we ask for prayers and financial support. Prayer support is essential because of the spiritual nature of our mission: we believe that God must gift and strengthen us for service if we are to be successful. Financial support is essential, because it sustains our work as ministers who serve with flexibility as new situations emerge.

Just as importantly, though, your referrals are also essential; they alert us to people facing a crisis. Often you hear about someone and are the first to inform us of a situation where we can help. Sometimes I think that people assume that we are already aware of situations. Not necessarily! That is why I urge you to call/text (615-596-5607), email (, or contact us via our website: Let us know when you hear of someone, young or old, we can help.

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.

January 2013 E-newsletter: Why Do You Visit Patients So Frequently?

Posted on 02/11/13 by Paulette Fewell

Click here to read the January 2013 e-newsletter: Why Do You Visit Patients So Frequently?

August 2012 Art of Encouragement: A Beginning That Shapes the Day

Posted on 08/16/12 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the August 2012 edition of Art of Encouragement: A Beginning That Shapes the Day.