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Articles By: Matt Pulford

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 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.

Richmont Alumna Brings Healing to Human Trafficking Survivors

Emily Aikins makes the world a better place every day. She works with human trafficking survivors at Second Life Chattanooga.

Emily Aikins

Emily, director of survivor services, and her team at Second Life create spaces of trust and security for survivors to process and heal. “These women and men have been through a lot, and healing does not happen overnight,” Emily said.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, minors are the most frequent victims of human trafficking in the state. Victims need access to trauma specialists.

There is a vacuum of services for victims of human trafficking, and Emily is on the frontlines. Never in her dreams, though, would she have thought she would be working with society’s most vulnerable.

Emily’s journey to Second Life began years ago as a whisper when she discovered her heart for teenagers.

While at college in Indiana, Emily worked with local high schoolers through Campus Life. She loved befriending these students and meeting them where they were at–brokenness and all. “These kids instantaneously stole my heart,” Emily said.

She found much of her time filled with these kids amidst laughter and tears, sharing their joys and their sorrows. Emily walked with teenagers through the best of times and, in some cases, the worst of times.

“These kids were funny, fearless and asked questions I didn’t have answers to,” Emily began. “I was honored to become the person in their lives with whom they felt safe. I found that I wanted to develop a professional toolset to help guide other students like the ones I got to know.”

She decided to pursue a graduate degree in counseling.

The spring semester before she graduated, Emily went to Preview Day at Richmont Graduate University’s campuses in Atlanta and Chattanooga. She liked the small class-size and the real-world counseling experience from on-site internships.

She chose to relocate to the Chattanooga campus. Emily began classes in the Scenic City where she learned a wide variety of psychological theories and perspectives, including human sexuality, which would later inform her work with human trafficking victims.

After graduating from Richmont with a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, Emily worked as a counselor at Georgia HOPE and then the Bradley County Juvenile Court, working with teens.

“While in the juvenile court system, there were lots of hard moments,” Emily said. “The kids I worked with in the juvenile justice system look like problems to the rest of society. The focus was on the punishment for their behaviors. Instead, I was driven to discover the motive behind these behaviors. There was a larger story at play. They have been dealing with trauma their entire lives.”

She saw firsthand the results of lifelong trauma. Luckily, Emily was equipped to care for them well.

“I learned from classes at Richmont how to look survivors in the eyes and let them know they are a person, not a problem to figure out what to do with,” Emily said. “Everyone has a story. These were individuals who have lived really hard lives. And I was able to see and hear the humanity in the situations, and help them rewrite their stories moving forward.”

These experiences caused Emily to look more deeply into trauma-related fields. She remembered the CEO of Second Life Chattanooga speaking at a class while in grad school about the prevalence and devastating trauma of human trafficking.

She pursued work with Second Life Chattanooga, and she was hired.

“As part of a statewide network, Second Life Chattanooga has helped to position Tennessee as the leading state in the country in the fight against human trafficking,” Emily said. “We do our work every day guided by hope, passion, and an unshakeable belief that we can and will see human trafficking defeated. I’m thankful for Richmont’s emphasis on working with survivors of trauma, because this has been the primary work of my career.”

Emily changes lives every day. She makes the world a better place today and for generations to come. It began with the decision to go to Richmont.

Come and find out how you could change the lives of individuals forever. Learn how a degree in counseling will equip you to better love and minister to the hurting and broken. Take your first step. Contact Richmont.

 

 

 

 

 

Q&A with Dr. Rice: How to discern your calling

Dr. Josh Rice

Does God still call people? Is this calling just for church work?

What are you called to do? And how would you know?

Dr. Josh Rice is the Dean of the School of Ministry for Richmont Graduate University. He has spent his life walking the tightrope between pastoring a church, executive leadership and academia. All of these stations have been avenues for ministry.

“American Christians have separated the sacred and the secular to our detriment,” Dr. Rice said. “The Protestant Reformation renewed interest in the Biblical idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ I believe we live out our priesthood in our vocations–whether as a garbage collector, a lawyer or as a pastor.”

We recently sat down with Dr. Rice to gain a better understanding of Christian vocation. In seven concise answers, he briefly illuminates the idea of calling in the everyday lives of believers.

What is a “calling”?

Calling might also be defined as Christian vocation. It includes elements of one’s profession, of course, but also of the giftedness of each person to uniquely accomplish God’s work in the world.

How might someone determine what his or her calling is?

I believe that we listen to God in many ways. One way, in the words of Frederich Buechner, is to “listen to your life.” When we truly contemplate our unique history, experience, personality and mix of strengths, God begins to make our vocation clearer over time.

Are there practical steps a person might take to discern their calling?

Meeting with a spiritual director is an immediate practical step that can help a person discern the voice of God. Participating in a spiritual gifts test alongside a personality profile may also be helpful.

Is calling just limited to church work?

Emphatically, no! As we celebrate the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation, we must re-energize Luther’s call for “the priesthood of all believers.” There is a “traditional” call for ministry. Others, however, have been called to serve and bring the Kingdom to the marketplace.

For instance, there are marketplace leaders from the business world in our Masters in Ministry program. They learn how to use their business acumen to minister through a 9-to-5 context

Why should we care about the idea of calling and vocation?

Younger generations especially want to get involved in living out their faith in the public sphere, not just the private. Christian vocation is the unique theological category that can help an individual to embrace this path holistically.

Which books or essays might you recommend delving into this topic further?

A few that have meant a lot to me are Terry Cross, Answering the Call in the Spirit, and The New Reformation by Greg Ogden. However, one need only look to the literature of the Reformation and the Ignatian exercises to discern much!

How does Richmont’s Masters of Arts in Ministry or Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Direction prepare students to live/workout their calling?

The Masters in Ministry truly prepares individuals either for vocational ministry in a local church or Christian nonprofit, or leads to a Doctorate of Ministry for those already practicing. The Masters in Spiritual Formation and Direction prepares students to help future clients or church members to discern their own callings.

The Masters in Ministry and the Masters in Spiritual Formation and Direction bring clarity to your call to help others. Contact Richmont today and begin your journey.

Three Emotionally Healthy Ways to Navigate Relationships

Relationships are tricky. Feelings can be complicated.

Arguments and emotional turmoil can be the result of miscommunication and a lack of self-awareness. A lack of connectedness with oneself and others is often to blame.

Dr. Tyler Rogers is an assistant professor of counseling at Richmont Graduate University. He has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education from the University of Mississippi where he explored, “The relationships between advocacy competency, adult attachment styles, climate and comfort in training, and social empathy.”

In short, he is a relational expert.

But it does not take an expert to know that relationships can be tough. Friendships, romances, and family ties, all can be sources of both exceptional joy and great discomfort.

Many times, outside factors can cause waves in relationships. Other times, it’s our internal responses that cause the turmoil. We cannot control the external factors, but we can choose how we respond. “Volatility is common in relationships, and often it’s because we don’t know how to accurately and honestly express ourselves,” Dr. Rogers said.

Dr. Rogers has three, “very simple, yet very difficult to execute” tips for navigating and fostering emotionally healthy relationships.

Define

Feelings are universal. Regardless of religion, race, and culture, every person on earth has felt happy, sad, shame, anger, joy, fear, and confusion. “The universal language of feelings allows people to connect and empathize with each other,” Dr. Rogers said.

To connect well with others, you first have to know how you feel. We often give an array of reasons why we’re angry without just stating that we are angry. This is more accusatory than honest. Conversations are volatile from the get-go.

The first step to resolving conflict is to dig into the core of the issue. This process begins with self-examination. One cannot explain how the something or someone made them feel until they take time to explore their feelings and then define them.

“For healthy relationships, you first need to learn your feelings,” Dr. Rogers said. “Define how you are feeling in a given moment. Be aware of what you are feeling first before you explain the inducing factors to someone else.”

It sounds easy, but this takes practice. Our feelings can become lost over the static of our busy lives. It’s not until we sit, dig through and examine how we feel are we able to accurately communicate. “Otherwise, it’s like shooting from the hip,” Dr. Rogers said.

Communicate

“Be able and willing to tell the truth,” Dr. Rogers said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to sugar coat this: I am really angry.’ Expressing how you feel is the second way to own it. By doing so, you take responsibility for your feelings.”

People might tell you to “not sweat the small stuff.” So we often try to hide what we feel. God is an emotional being, we are made in his image. We neglect our humanity when we brush our pain under the rug.

“Feelings are not a choice,” Dr. Rogers said. “They are more visceral. What you do with content and knowledge are choices. Who you vote for and how you arrange your Fantasy Football lineup are choices. Feelings are the basic things that happen in all of us. You respect your value when you take ownership of the way you feel. This allows you to be seen by others as who you are without hiding behind morals, religion or extraneous circumstances.”

Have the courage to tell others how you are feeling. Be honest. Be truthful. Don’t minimize your feelings.

Communicating exactly what you feel allows you to connect with one another. It becomes a shared experience. Transparency cultivates intimacy and empathy. Even if someone does not agree, the door is opened for them to know you better. Respect is the desired outcome.

Listen

“Do to others, as you would have them do to you,” is called the Golden Rule. We desire to be heard when we share our inner thoughts. This sentiment goes both ways. Others, too, want to feel heard.

“Be available and listen,” Dr. Rogers said. “It takes practice to learn how to listen while not being defensive or minimizing. Someone might be angry at you, but you can still listen while knowing that it is not because you necessarily did anything wrong. Expectations might have been miscommunicated. By listening without becoming defensive or minimizing, you open the door to connect better and find a solution.”

Listening gives you the opportunity to win the heart of people, not necessarily the argument. Which is more important to you?

Feelings are complex. Understanding what we feel can be murky. We create bridges for authentic conversations and emotionally healthy relationships when we define how we feel and communicate honestly.

Dr. Rogers teaches The Personal Spiritual Life of the Counselor and Healthy Family Functioning. Sit in on one of Dr. Rogers’ classes. Contact us or RSVP for Preview Day.

Campus Visit Schedule

We’re headed to your campus! Meet our admissions counselors and discover how you can make a positive impact on people through our Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degrees. Richmont students begin practicing immediately upon graduation.

Begin your graduate school journey. Find your college and schedule a 15-minute one-on-one with one of our admission counselors. We look forward to meeting you!

FIND YOUR SCHOOL and MAKE YOUR APPOINTMENT

Calvin College on 10/18/17. Meet Elizabeth

University of Georgia on 10/18/17. Meet Claire

Berry College on 10/24/17. Meet Claire

Kennesaw State University on 10/24/17. Meet Claire