Dr. Rickey Cotton

Kindness: A Key Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5 : 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness [emphasis is mine], goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

For relationships to succeed long term—at least as the New Testament describes success—kindness is essential. It is a partner with humility. Kindness means to be tender, gentle, sensitive, loving, compassionate. I think we should view it as a skill that we practice in regard to others. It is not merely a nice feeling or sweet intention. A skill involves what we actually do and the manner with which we do it. Kindness is an antidote to self-centeredness, projection, ambition, and aggressiveness. To be kind requires self-knowledge and self-restraint. We have to be able to “see,” be aware, in order to recognize both others and ourselves, to love both others and ourselves. It then requires skill to respond first to the other person and not first to ourselves. We are able to set aside ourselves in order to focus on others and respond to them where they are, where they are coming from. Our response is based fundamentally on compassion. Of course justice plays a role, but in the Christian life love is greater than justice. I Corinthians 13 says that love is the greatest.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Ears of the Heart

I King 9:11-13: Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper [emphasis is mine]. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

To hear God we must slow down, be present, be aware. The NIV translation quoted above says God was not present in the dramatic and obvious but rather in “a gentle whisper.” The NRSV translates these words as “a sound of sheer silence.” Developing this kinds of spiritual awareness takes humility and practice over time. We must spend time with the Lord and practice being in his presence, learning to hear him with spiritual ears and tender hearts. So part of our spiritual practices must involve practice just being with God, communing with his Spirit, listening with the ears of the heart. Only in this way can we learn to hear him in gentle whispers and even in the sound of sheer silence.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Tender, Humble Love for One Another

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Philippians 4:1-- “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”

When we think of the Apostle Paul, we may think only of his forceful, brilliant, intricate pronouncements. But I think it is important that we first think of his tender, humble love for God—and for God’s people. We don’t want to forget these words of his: “…my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for…” (Philippians 4:1 ). We need to make it a priority to cultivate this kind of tender, humble love among us, for one another. If we don’t, we could be very successful, very efficient in worship planning or Christian education, but have failed on the main thing. In Revelation 2 , Jesus said this to the impressive church of Ephesus, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” May our lives be marked by a tender, humble love where we often say to one another, “My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for.”

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Ordinary Time Is Not Ordinary

John 10:10 : “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We are now in Ordinary Time according to the Church calendar. Ordinary Time occurs outside of special Church seasons, like Easter or Advent, in which specific aspects of the mystery of Christ are celebrated. But Ordinary Time is far from “ordinary.” All time is God’s time. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar declares that the days of Ordinary Time "are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects." That’s pretty exciting. But it’s even more exciting that all time is God’s, and it’s in the dynamics of everyday life, with its challenges as well as satisfactions, that we are to come to consistently experience and manifest God’s presence and action. The promise of God is that we can. The calling of God is that this be our practice.


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Dr. Rickey Cotton

The Trinity, All the Fullness of God

II Cor. 13:14: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God andthe fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

Trinity Sunday is June 11 in 2017. The Trinity warrants some thoughtful, caring meditation. Not primarily logical analysis, but primarily deeply spiritual, deeply loving attention—being fully present, open, and surrendered to both the Unity and the Trinity of God in love.  The medieval classic The Cloud of Unknowing says that God cannot be thought but that he can be known by love. In John 17 , Jesus prayed that we could be one with him and the Father the way that he is one with Father. If Jesus prayed this oneness for us, surely we should make experiencing it a priority. God desires to bring us into the midst of the loving unity of the Trinity. Obviously we need the Holy Spirit in pursuing the fullness of God, all that Trinity Sunday celebrates. I long for God’s fullness for all of us.  Another great prayer on our behalf is found Ephensians 3. In vs. 19, Paul prays “that you [i.e, you and I] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Let us seek for Paul’s prayer to be “fulfilled” in us.


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Dr. Rickey Cotton

The Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 :  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

When you just focus on just it alone, separate from the other Beatitudes, this beatitude is startling. Of course this is true for all the Beatitudes. So often we simply read all of them together as a package and don’t make ourselves fully present and open to them individually. In this short reflection, let’s be present and open to this one by itself, slowing down and fully engaging it. It is a striking statement: “The pure in heart...shall see God.” Wow, what a promise! And what a challenge! I don’t think this just refers to when we are in heaven. I think this beatitude calls for us to be wholly, completely, singly, fully connected to God now. In our lives now, to not be divided, fragmented, partial in our relating to him. In doing this, it is vital that we don’t seek to see God with our natural eyes or merely natural reasoning, nor that we strive with our own strength. Instead we surrender to God’s grace and seek to see him with the eyes of our hearts, by love. That’s why our hearts must be pure. For as Jesus said, “The pure in heart...shall see God.” This is the calling, this is the direction, the heart of our spiritual lives.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

The Promise of Easter

The Promise of Easter, 2 Key Verses: (1) Colossians 3 : “1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (2) Romans 7 : “24…Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We know that Easter is the celebration of Jesus being raised from the dead. But we should also remember that it is the celebration of our new life, too, of our resurrection, for we have been raised with Christ, as Col. 3 says. By embracing Jesus, we have died to our old self-involved, ego-dominated ways of living—and been delivered from living according to our own strength and our own understanding. The struggle between the old self and the new self is a repeated theme throughout the New Testament. The old self is self-centered and self-oriented. But the resurrection of Jesus provides us with a new self, one centered in God, not in our ego. Receiving our resurrection self is simple; it just costs everything. We surrender all that we are and all that we have. Then we can declare along with Romans 7:25 , “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

The Call of Lent

The Call of Lent, 2 Key Verses: (1) Luke 9:24 (ESV): “24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (2) Galatians 6:15 (CEV): “15 It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. All that matters is that you are a new person.”

The Call of Lent is a call to transformation, to continue on and go deeper in the process of becoming a new person. If we aren’t careful, we can miss the essence of the Lenten call. Instead of responding to God in the depths of our spirit and surrendering to him at the core of our being, we can think only of external activities. External activities are good, enriching, stabilizing; they are a very important part of the Christian life. But if we want the most important gift God has for us in Lent, we will need to spend time opening our inner being to his deep cleansing and healing work even as we are faithful to our external practices and responsibilities. This kind of work has been called Divine Therapy. It engages our unconscious motivations and reaction patterns. These are aspects of our old self, our flesh. But as Gal. 6:15 (CEV) declares, “All that matters is that you are a new person,” what the ESV translation calls “a new creation.”

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Who We Really Are

I Peter 2 (ESV): “9…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

This scripture proclaims our great privilege: to be the People of God. This is our primary identity, who we really are. And this identity is a secure one, a blessed one. In this translation, the ESV, we are called sojourners and exiles in this world; another translation calls us aliens and strangers (NASB). So while we want to incarnate faithfully and fully in our present situations, we need to remember these situations are not ultimate or final. Our true home is the Kingdom of God, and our true self, “our inner self is being renewed day by day,” as the Apostle Paul said in II Cor. 4:16 (ESV). My prayer is that we more and more seek God and be who we really are, not by own strength and effort, for God said, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit" (Zech. 4:6 , ESV).

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

"Let it be to me": Welcoming God

Luke 1:34  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God….” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

As I reflect over the Christmas season we have just celebrated, I am especiallymoved by Mary’s words in response to the angel’s announcement that she would conceive and give birth to the Christ child. Though she couldn’t understand how this could possibly be, she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” I long for this attitude of welcoming the will of God, not merely surrendering passively, but instead actively welcoming. What a great model and inspiration for us. As we begin this New Year, I pray that all of us will more and more be able to let go of our own way of understanding and instead more and more to have faith like Mary, to welcome God’s presence and action and let things be unto us according to God’s will in and through our lives.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Our Calling, God Has Called Us

Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV): 1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The heart of these three verses, Ephesians 4:1-3 , addresses our calling. And they emphasize our living in a way that is worthy of that calling. God himself has called us personally. What does this mean? A sense of calling is a strong sense of the presence and action of God in the depths of our spirits. It is more than feelings; it is a commitment, an orientation of our whole lives. It is yielding to the experience of being shaped and directed by God for the sake of our love of God and our service to others.

A sense of calling will help sustain us in the ups and downs of life and help us make sense of both the delights and the disappointments life brings. It provides an organizing and stabilizing center. Daily life in God is still daily life, and it will certainly involve times of inspiration and affirmation, but it will also involve frustrations and trials—yes, even that great bane of life: boredom. But knowing that we are called by God, developing a deep sense of the presence and action of God, will provide us with a deep sense of how exciting and dynamic the spiritual journey is. And we have the amazing assurance that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Roman 8:28).

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Faith is Primary, Faith is Central

Faith, 3 Key Verses: (1) Ephesians 3:16 (ESV): “…may…you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith….” (2) Romans 14:23 (ESV): “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (3) 1 Cor. 2 (ESV): “…my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom…so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

These scriptures tells us that faith is key, that faith is primary, central, of first importance. Faith is the means to everything else in the spiritual life. As Ephesians 3 says above, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. So then it is essential that we understand and practice our faith. It’s vital that we remember that faith is first a relationship with God, and that relationship is primarily one of trust, surrender, intimacy, and open-ness to him. To grow in faith requires practice. We must exercise our faith; we must practice yielding to God in the moment-by-moment unfolding of our lives. Though it may sound hard, really it only requires that we trust him, yield to him. This is his promise: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29 ESV).

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Withdraw and Pray

Luke 5:16 : “16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Bob Johnson and I recently felt led to draw apart from our busy everyday lives to seek God. We had the privilege of doing a six day, mostly-silent prayer retreat at an Episcopal monastery earlier this month. A lot of our people don’t know there are Episcopal monasteries, but Bob and I can assure you that there are, and that the Episcopal monks at St. Gregory’s Abbey (Michigan) are very serious about the prayer life they feel called to. Their first prayer session is at 4:00 a.m., and there are six more throughout the day, plus daily Eucharist, and a 30-minute meditation period. The last prayer session is at 7:45 p.m.

It was a truly special time for Bob and me in multiple ways. In one way, a strong way, it was hard to leave the monastery and the monks. Though we had not spoken with them much at all, mostly keeping silence as they do, we felt we had connected deeply with them in the Spirit through the prayer sessions, daily Eucharist, and daily meditation period. As we left the monastery, we felt strengthened in our desire to follow Jesus in often withdrawing to pray and simply be with God.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

That All May Be One

John 17:20-21 : "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

This is a startling section of scripture. I wonder how often we think about what it really means and ask what the practical implications are. Sadly it seems we often already have our ideas about God and the Christian life, and that what the Bible actually says or the way God actually operates doesn’t practically alter our preconceptions.

It matters where we think God is and what our position in regard to him actually is. This scripture states as fact that we are to be in God as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father and that we are to be one as they are. It’s what Jesus prayed for. If we love God and are serious about that love, we need to seek to make it a reality in our lives, to actualize it. Not in our own strength or time, but by cooperating with God’s presence and action in our lives. It’s a process, I think, a journey. But God is serious about it. And if we are serious about it, it will make a dramatic difference in the way we relate to God and to one another. We will seek to more and more love like God and actually live in and live as expressions of him. May this become more and more a reality in all our lives.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9 : "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Peacemakers are not much honored in contemporary American society. In our time we too often honor assertiveness or even aggressiveness. But there is a tension, I think, involved in being a Christian, a certain paradox that we are called to live out. The words of Jesus have to matter to us. We need to struggle to understand and implement them. It isn’t fully clear to me how to be a peacemaker in our time. These days it seems to me that we might say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be shot at by both sides.” But this isn’t how Jesus saw it. He said, “…for they will be called children of God.” I want this—to be recognizable as a child of God. And I bet you do, too. So let’s try to help one another understand how Jesus wants us to be peacemakers in our time. And help one another find the strength and courage to do it, so that we too may be called children of God.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Our New Self in God

Colossians 3:8-11 : But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

 Paul speaks in these verses of the old self and the new self. Some contemporary spiritual writers use the terms false self and true self to address this issue—which makes a good point. Ephesians 4:22 speaks of the old self having deceitful desires, so, yes, it is false, it is deceiving, it is misleading. But to the degree that we abide in Christ we are free of this old self, this false self, with its misleading desires and all the confusion and pain it brings. Achieving this freedom to be our new self, our true self, is not a quick or easy process; it takes time and much spiritual experience to learn to live in communion with the Spirit, to be able to abide in Christ. But it is our calling—our promise—and as we persevere, we together experience more and more the reality that truly, as Paul declares, “Christ is all, and is in all.”

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Centered in God, Not in Ourselves

To grow in the freedom to fully love God and others requires growing in the capacity to “de-center” from our selves and “re-center” in God. It is a death and re-birth experience. The successful practice of this approach frees us from the domination of our individual ego and enables us to awaken to a sense of the self rooted in God through Jesus Christ. This new sense of self does not result from the abolishment of our former humanity but rather its transformation and fulfillment. The goal is what the Apostle Paul meant when he declared, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20 ).

Thus while life in the Spirit is deeply personal, it is not individualistic. Spiritual practices like deep prayer and sacrificial service enable us to de-center, to yield to and persevere in God in the face of pain, disappointment, confusion, and disorientation. They provide structure and support for being radically open to the Spirit and the Spirit’s formative work in us in an ongoing and consistent way, one that must be rooted primarily in faith. Without faith, we are trapped in our separate, limited selves—centered in our own limited, self-referential understanding. But by laying that aside and trusting God by faith, we are open and present to God and the divine action in and through us.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

The New Commandment

John 13:34 —“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The Golden Rule seems hard enough. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s a difficult challenge. In fact, early in his ministry Jesus said it was like the greatest commandment, the one about loving God with all our being. But in John 13 , late in his ministry, Jesus gives a new commandment in regard to love. No longer are his followers to love their neighbors as themselves. Now they have to love like Jesus did. To love like God does. That is, to love others more than you love yourself, to love them to your own hurt, even at the expense of your own life. Let us pray for ourselves and one another that we will more and more develop the maturity and skill to love in this way, to love like Jesus. It’s our calling.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Live in the Spirit

Roman 8:4-9:Walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you….

This scripture speaks of our great calling to “live in the Spirit.” But to learn how to effectively live in the Spirit is a long-term process, a spiritual journey. We are given the Spirit in a moment, but to live in accordance with the Spirit must be learned over time. Our primary teacher is the Holy Spirit himself; for him to teach us we must spend regular time simply being in his presence, surrendered and open. This requires practicing silence and solitude, seeking the Giver just for himself and not his gifts. Over the course of church history this has often been called Contemplative Prayer or Contemplation. What these words really mean is to “rest in the Spirit” or to “be in the presence of the Spirit.” By simply being in the presence of the Lord, resting in him, we become more and more like him.

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Dr. Rickey Cotton

Remaining in Christ, Abiding in Christ

John 15:4 : “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” The “remaining” Jesus speaks of in this passage is translated in the King James version as “abiding.” I believe it refers to living in and from the Spirit of Jesus. Other ways of thinking of it are as “communing” with the Spirit or “resting” in the Spirit even in the midst of action. Mystics have described it as the contemplative state as opposed to contemplative prayer. The point is a ongoing state of connection and responsiveness to Jesus. It requires a transformation of consciousness, a change in our awareness so that we are able to have a sense of God’s presence and move in step with him as reality develops and unfolds moment by moment. In this way we can fully be his witness and his instrument. Developing this kind of intimacy with God is a long-term process, a journey. Humility and a tender spirit are essential. Developing this kind of relationship with the Lord is my prayer for us all.

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