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Monthly archive: December 2017

10 Days of Advent Devotions

At Richmont, we equip students to advance God’s work of healing, restoring and transforming the lives of individuals, churches and communities. To this end, we welcome the season of Advent as we eagerly look back at the birth of Christ. 

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” It is a season of preparation and expectation for the birth of God into the world.

To help in this preparation, we have compiled devotions from professors, staff members, students and alumni. For ten days leading up to Christmas, this devotional walks you through the ways the Messiah sustains and gives life. 

Jesus the meekest of Kings! 

Dec. 23

Day 10

By Dr. Timothy Quinnan, President of Richmont Graduate University

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days … And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2,4 ESV) 

While there may be more stirring passages in Scripture, this is the one that speaks the most deeply to me each Christmas season. By ancient accounts, Bethlehem seems to have been an obscure place, inconsequential in comparison to the larger and more prominent cities in Judea. Yet Our Savior chose to enter the world here rather than a princely palace in some grand capital city.  

To fulfill the prophecy from Micah, Jesus decided to be born in the small town of Bethlehem, in a stable, and laid in a manger from which barn animals had fed. The God of All Creation, Lord of the heavenly hosts, and King of kings, personified humility in where and how he came to earth. These humblest of origins also foreshadowed the life he would lead- to call not the ruling classes but the common man and woman to be his followers.  

In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd knows his sheep by name and willingly lays down his life for his sheep.  In the strength of the Lord (as referenced in Micah), Jesus modeled great leadership through shepherding his followers. 

In Christ there is a perfect contradiction:  an all-powerful God who voluntarily abases Himself for our redemption. Christ comes to us in an otherwise forgettable town, when his parents cannot even find room at an inn, is born in a stable, and eventually takes on the meek but spiritually meaningful role of a shepherd.  This paradox is the true beauty of the Christmas story.  For God so loved the world that he sent his Son, and he sent him in a way that reveals his heart and his character.   

It may be difficult for us understand as power and humility rarely coexist in our society or leaders today. But we might reflect on 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  If ever you feel forgotten, tiny or insignificant, remember that God often uses humility to reveal His greater purpose.   

This Christmas, let us feel the joy of Jesus the Meekest of Kings who knows us by name, who laid Himself down for our salvation, and whose greatness reaches to the ends of the earth and beyond. 

Jesus is Unchanging 

Dec. 22

Day 9

Dr. Jama White, Assistant Dean of Clinical Affairs 

“For I, the Lord, do not change.” (Malachi 3:6, NAS)

I received my most meaningful Christmas present a few years ago from my brother, who is a librarian and a bit of a historian. A couple of months before Christmas he asked me for my favorite Scripture verses, so I was curious as to his gift for me. On Christmas morning that year, I opened a small, carefully wrapped folder holding a single page from a Bible that contained one of my selected verses. The page had been printed in 1651. 

As I sat and pondered the fragile page that Christmas morning and many times since, I am moved by thoughts of all the others who have held that very same piece of vellum over the last 400 years. I will never know their stories, perhaps a colonial settler, perhaps a sister who lost a brother in the Civil War, perhaps a father struggling to feed his family during the Great Depression, perhaps an immigrant looking for an opportunity in a new land. Wherever or whoever these persons were, the God they saw on that page and the rest of the pages of His Word was the same for every one of them. And He is the same for all of us.     

In all our circumstances, geographic locations, and emotional states, God has remained the same for every one of us through all centuries. 

He has never wavered in His Person or Promise to any of us. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. No matter the century, following His way is healing to our souls. Even though circumstances in our world are ever-shifting and our responses flower and fade, He still stands. He still hears. He still forgives. He still comforts. He still provides. He still searches us out. He still redeems. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Thanks be to God!! 

Jesus Gives Us a Fresh Start 

Dec. 21

Day 8

Dr. Sonja Sutherland, Assistant Dean of the School of Counseling

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, NRSV) 

 The church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this way, as believers, we remain in the tremendous hope of seeing “all things new” when we are with Christ, and we are like him. We will be made perfect. This is our glorious future.  

But what of our understanding of His “making all things new” today, when it seems that life’s mountaintops are sometimes fleeting, and life’s valleys dark and endless? For many, even in the Christmas season, hope is a nebulous thing that we see dimly, as though it is slipping through our fingers. There is a struggle to truly remain in hope during life’s ongoing struggles, remembering that his promise to make “all things new” is “trustworthy and true,” not just for tomorrow, but for today. 

To remain in hope is a choice we make, to refuse to let our circumstances control our thoughts, moods, behaviors, and relationships. Hopefulness empowers us. It encourages us to continue to work through to find new understanding, and when there is not understanding, new faith. It propels us through to victorious living, even in the midst of our circumstances. Despite what you see around you, in your life or in the lives of others, remain in hopeLive there. You will see, that in this Christmas season, in the coming year, he is, “making all things new.” 

Jesus Heals Us 

Dec. 20

Day 7

By Steve Bradshaw, Dean of the School of Counseling 

By his wounds you are healed (1 Peter 2:24, NLT).

Jehovah Rapha means, “the Lord that heals.”

Someone once said, “Pain in life is inevitable; misery is optional.” We all are touched by the fallenness of this world. Trying to make it Eden again will make you miserable, give you an anxiety disorder, or both. Unfortunately, we often turn our pain into misery by responding to circumstances in our flesh instead of trusting His grace. 

Yet Jesus is our healer. In fact, over 73 verses in the Bible refer to some form of healing. Jesus, first of all, is the healer of our physical pain. In Proverbs 3:7-8, we are instructed to turn from evil and fear the Lord, to find healing for our bodies and strength in our bones. Moreover, Jesus heals our very souls, offering spiritual wholeness and forgiveness of sin. 

Interestingly, in the Gospels, Jesus never assumed what type of healing another person wanted; He always asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer to that question revealed the state of the person’s heart before the Lord. Even most of the physical healing He performed was followed by the phrase, “Your faith has healed you,” pointing to the importance of belief in the healing process. 

May you allow the healer of your soul to collide with your life and circumstances for Him to perform His healing work in your life this Advent season.

Jesus Holds Us Together 

 Dec. 19

Day 6

By Dr. Vanessa Snyder, Richmont Institute of Trauma & Recovery Vice President

He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17, HCSB)

The Christmas season brings a flurry of activity and intensity that can be overwhelming. As many join in the holiday spirit with joy and excitement, others are reminded of pain and loss that becomes vivid in the sparkle of Christmas lights. For these, the celebration of the Savior’s birth bows to loneliness and suffering. 

Although His human entrance into the world was a manger in the small town of Bethlehem, Jesus, the great I AM, the firstborn over all creation, created all things. In this magnificent creation, He used himself as the single source of cohesion to unite and bind our complex physical, mental, and spiritual being. In the most literal sense, without him, we come undone. John speaks to Christ’s sustaining force: “… apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3, HCSB).  

In the ultimate example of both humility and power, meekness and majesty, the mighty force that binds our cells together stepped into a four-dimensional world to tend to His sheep. Jesus knew us as He knitted us together. He could share in our suffering because He is in every part of it as He is the power that holds us together. But He chose also to enter into it, our humanness, and allow himself to experience it as we do. He became a man of sorrow, one who fully understood pain and loss. And now, He is the one who holds us together in ours, as He is able to fully empathize, as well as give hope. The King was before all things. The King was born. The King died. The King rose. The King now reigns and promises us forever with Him as He continues to hold us together. 

Jesus Cries with Us 

Dec. 18

Day 5

By Dr. Amanda M. Blackburn, Dean of Students

“Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then, Jesus wept. (John 11:34, 35, NLT) 

Who likes waiting? During times of waiting, I am often reminded of the ways I wish things were different and my helplessness to shorten my wait. 

I imagine Mary and Martha felt that as they waited for Jesus to arrive following the death of their brother Lazarus. Their brother had been ill, and they had hoped their friend Jesus would save his life. Instead, Jesus arrives four entire days after Lazarus’s death. As Jesus finally arrives, one sister questioned Jesus as to his delay, and Scripture tells us that Jesus was deeply moved. Immediately after they invited Jesus to come see the body, we read that Jesus wept. With both his anger and tears, Jesus fully and mercifully embodies his humanity through his capacity and willingness to be fully engaged with his emotions.  

Jesus mourns with us. While he mourns, he also promised that we will be comforted in our own mourning (Matthew 5:4). The God who cries with his friends is also the one who brings new life. 

Advent is a season of waiting, longing, and anticipating that things will be made right. The inherent tension in waiting is this: We can grieve that this world is not as it should be, while remaining fully aware of the power and divinity of God. While this process is fraught with difficulty, it is my favorite aspect of Christmas. It reminds me of my part in the larger story, when a little baby comes to save the world. This advent season, I invite you to come to Jesus with your tears, knowing the God of all comfort is making all things new. 

 You who weep, come to this God, for he weeps. 

You who suffer, come to him, for he cures. 

You who tremble, come to him, for he smiles. 

You who pass [in death], come to him, for he remains.  

(Victor Hugo, 1847) 

  Jesus Offers More Abundant Life 

Dec. 17

Day 4

By Dr. Mike Stewart, Adjunct Professor School of Ministry 

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV) 

When my youngest son was two years old, he decided he was quite old enough to fill his own glass with milk. Taking the large gallon jug from the refrigerator, he managed to carry it over to the kitchen table, open the cap, and, after struggling a bit with the weight of the bottle, pour the milk into the glass. Of course, getting started was the easiest part: now the weight had shifted, and the milk filled the glass, the kitchen table, and even splashed onto the floor. He had just about emptied the entire gallon of milk, to which he proclaimed, with a sense of accomplishment, “I did it!” Yes, he had filled his glass and much more.  

Jesus speaks the words in John 10:10 as a counterpoint to the destructive power of the enemy of our souls. He reminds us that the chief aim of that destructive force is to kill, steal, or destroy life. The motive may be disguised, and sometimes even inviting, but the end is clear. There are many thieves who wish to rob us of the life we have been given in Christ. 

Jesus offers abundant life. He gives life to the fullest. Literally, Jesus says I have come to give you life with a surplus. In a world of complex and changing values, believers have this wonderful assurance that our life is not subject to the winds of times. Jesus gives us a full and abundant life of safety, subsistence, and significance. This assurance allows us to live in freedom and joy, knowing that Jesus is our life. 

I can just imagine, Jesus pouring His life over us, much like my son. He pours and pours life into us every day until it is overflowing. Maybe He also steps back with a sense of accomplishment and says, “I did it!” 

Jesus Delights in Us 

Dec. 16

Day 3

By Elesa Bentsen, School of Ministry Graduate

“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV) 

As we prepare for Christmas and sing our favorite songs, reminding us of the joy of the season and encouraging us to rejoice, why do we so often feel weighed down by the demands of the holidays on top of the normal pressures of life? It is way too easy to focus on what remains to be done and to be distracted, trying to find the elusive perfect gift. Our life begins to feel like a hamster-wheel race with no end in sight and no winner. We wonder when we will finally get off and rest.   

All the while that we are wearily racing around, God is in our midst, inviting us to join the celebration of his love for us and to remember we are not alone. He offers us the gift of presence, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus. How often we stumble on our unworthiness to receive this gift of divine presence and fail to hear and experience the joyful sounds of Jesus delighting over us like a new bridegroom with gladness and singing. What would it be like to quit trying so hard to earn God’s approval and begin to relax into his loving arms? If we believe he gives us victory, could we relax in his strong arms instead of working so hard to save ourselves and make our lives work? What would it be like to enter his presence where there is fullness of joy and to discover that he is rejoicing over us… that he actually delights in us and enjoys us? 

Jesus Comforts Us

Dec. 15

Day 2

By Dr. Mary Plisco, School of Counseling Assistant Professor

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone, and her sins are pardoned.” (Isaiah 40:1, 2, NLT) 

I remember it so vividly during a period of significant sorrow. I was feeling overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. I walked into church, and just the smell of it started to help me feel better. The peace and quiet of the building, the stained glass windows, and the wooden pews all invited me to sit and be still. But what was most comforting was the crucifix behind the altar – I could feel Jesus’s opening arms embrace me and provide solace. I could sense His reassurance that everything would be okay, that He knew my worries and my concerns, and that they would not go unheard. What a gift to know that God is a comforting God, the perfect listener who understands all that we feel and experience. 

 During this Advent season, we pray in thanksgiving for God’s presence and embrace, and we are reminded of our calling to provide comfort to all. 

Jesus is God 

Dec. 14

Day 1 

By Dr. Keny Felix, School of Counseling Adjunct Professor

“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30, NIV) 

To think that the God of the universe would step into history and take the form of a servant was unimaginable to many individuals Jesus encountered. Fast-forward 2000 years and questions about Jesus’ identity remain. Could he be the Messiah? Could he be the Christ?  

The thought of Jesus being God was considered blasphemy as he walked the dusty, busy streets of Jerusalem. Yet his response when questioned was simply, “I and the Father are one.” It was a statement that almost prematurely cost him his life. In that very moment, his opponents picked up rocks to stone him, foreshadowing what was to come. How dare he? How could he make such a claim? 

But how could he not? He was God, stepping into history. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:1,14, NIV). Yes, the very God who created the moon, the mountains, and humanity moved into the neighborhood. 

But why didn’t they recognize him? Perhaps Jesus’ brief biography from the Apostle Paul can help us understand. Speaking of Jesus, he wrote: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8, NIV). Wow! So the Father through the Son in the form of a servant entered our world, dwelled among us, and eventually gave up his life on our behalf? Who else could we be waiting for? What greater demonstration of love could there be?  

Thank you, Father.


 What If Jesus Never Came? 

Dec. 13

A Preface by Dr. Larry Crabb,  School of Counseling Adjunct Professor

Advent, the coming of Christ to this world, into the clutter that we created, is cause for both celebration and challenge. It is an opportunity to throw a party and a call to walk a narrow road.  

Jesus once told would-be disciples to “count the cost” before committing themselves to follow Him. Apparently, he wanted resolute followers, not fickle fans. The thought occurs to me: Did Jesus count the cost required to reveal His Father’s love for self-centered rebels, before He became an unborn child in Mary’s womb knowing He was on His way to a miserable death? 

Romanian pastor Josef Ton has written a provocative study of both the cost Jesus paid to win our eternal happiness and the cost his disciples must pay to make the Father’s love visible to blind prodigals. In his introduction, Ton writes, “… God always conquers by a love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing.” His book, Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven, is a deeply personal and exhaustive study of the cost-reward dynamic in the Christian life. 

Had Jesus not been willing to count the cost of rejection, persecution and crucifixion, the trinity would have forever continued to live in perfect community without us. Our eternal existence would then have been defined by unbearable loneliness in a world without relationships. The famed Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote that hell is the suffering of being unable to love. Imagine living forever without being loved and never able to love.   

Of course, Christ’s not coming to earth would have been unthinkable to our loving Lord; it was never an option. Divine love, the passion that is committed to another’s well-being at any cost to oneself, would do nothing less than provide us with a purposeful life of deeply rooted joy in this world and, in the next world, the happiness of perfect love received and given. 

But hear Ton again: He speaks of “God’s method of sending His Lamb into the world, followed by many thousands of other lambs, to overcome the world by proclaiming the love of God and by dying for the sake of their proclamation.” 

We must never think of our Lord’s advent as nothing more than something inexpressibly wonderful for us. It is that, but it is so much more. Christ’s cost-counting advent is an invitation to us, a call to make known the nature of divine love by relating to others with a commitment to their wellbeing at any cost to ourselves. 

Can we do it? Of course. We are participants in the divine nature of suffering, self-sacrificing love (see 2 Peter 1: 4). May advent season draw us to become little Christs, little lambs who count the cost of following Jesus. The cost is great. The gain is greater–and lasts forever. Jesus counted the cost and paid it. 

It’s my prayer, and the prayer of everyone who has written Richmont’s Advent meditations, that our thoughts about the stunning truth that Jesus did come will lighten you with hope and center you in the wonder of divine love received and the privilege of divine love given.  

Current Student Q&A: On Homelessness, Nonprofits and Clinical Counseling

Richmont Graduate University is full of exceptional students. We’re quite proud. It is an honor to spotlight the accomplishments of current students and alumni.

Meet Cary Bayless. He is in the second-year of his Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree. Cary, a creative writing major from Auburn University, is the development and marketing director at Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga.

Cary’s job is to end homelessness in the Scenic City, and he believes his studies at Richmont will help him accomplish this, one person at a time.

Cary has a full course load while working more than 40-hours a week.  He burns his fair share of daylight–and a heaping portion of midnight oil.

Despite the academic and job rigor, Cary’s social calendar is bewildering. He is active on campus and in the community. He fills his time with:

  • Richmont’s student government association
  • North Shore Fellowship’s local missions committee
  • North Shore Fellowship youth group leader
  • ArtsBuild’s Community Cultural Connections Grant panel
  • First Tennessee Bank community development advisory committee

We had a chance to catch up with Cary to find out more about his work and how Richmont is helping him bring healing to the homeless community.

Cary, tell us a little about what you do for work?

I have worked in the nonprofit world serving homeless families with children and veterans for four years now. During this time, I’ve worked various roles from raising funds, marketing, teaching life-skills classes, case management, and even home visits for clients. I love this demographic and believe they are one of the most grossly underserved and misunderstood people groups of our era.

Why did you decide to pursue an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling?

I chose to pursue my CMHC degree from Richmont with the trauma certificate and green cross certification so that I can serve this demographic in a deeper way through offering therapy and mental health services.

Mental health issues, from my research and personal experience, are quite prevalent and often combined with trauma for many who experience homelessness. My training at Richmont is equipping me with the skills needed to be able to sit with those wounded by homelessness from a holistic, integrative, therapeutic approach.

How do you want to use your degree?

In the future, I hope to be able to offer nature therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy for this demographic, as well as anyone who desires it. To boil it down simply, in the years ahead I look forward to being able to sit with many brave individuals who have experienced homelessness and offer a safe space for healing and growth to flourish.

I recently finished the first two certifications to be a part of the Green Cross trauma field team, so I’m already putting my class work to use.

Any advice for people considering a graduate degree?

I would say, count the cost before you begin. Graduate school is rewarding, but it’s a big commitment. It can be a season of sacrifice and opportunity cost, but if you’re excited about it and feel you can make the world, and yourself, better for it, you can make it work. Be sure the degree is something you’re passionate about.

A degree from Richmont is worth the time and dedication. Interactive lessons with professors, clinical internships, and a 100 percent passing rate on the national licensure tests are second to none. Find out why Cary and many others choose Richmont to equip them to make the world a better place. Apply today.