THE BRANCH

Matt.3:23 – So he settled his family in the village of Nazareth, fulfilling the prophecy that he would be known as the “Branch”.

Jer.23:5 – Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The plan of God is quite amazing. His plan was unfolding in plain day in front of everyone but blind eyes could not see His glorious plan. His beloved Son was spoken of throughout scripture as the righteous branch. He was raised in the town Nazareth or branch in Galilee. (Not to mention He is also the Bread of Life born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread). His work of redemption for our individual lives is like that. His plans have been right under our noses all our lives. We could never see until the day when He opened our eyes and His glorious light poured in. We are His branches, connected to the vine so that we can bear fruit for His glory. Here are some thoughts from the Passion Notes on this beautiful word, Nazareth.

“The Hebrew Scriptures give us a wonderful truth about the Branch (Sprout) of the Lord that would come and establish righteousness. The word for “branch” or sprout is netzer, the root word from which Nazareth, Nazarene, and Nazarite come. The teaching of the Branch of the Lord is a concept taught throughout the Bible, from the Tree of Life, to the seven branches of the Lampstand, to Jesus the Vine calling us his branches. Jesus is a Scion, a Branch that can be transplanted and grafted into a human life. Another variant form of this amazing word netzer can be translated “keeper, watchman, one who keeps secrets, guardian, one who keeps watch.” All of these words are true of Jesus, the Branch who was raised in the village of the Branch (Nazareth). Additionally, the Aramaic word for Nazareth means “heir of a powerful family” or “victorious one.” So it is entirely possible to translate this “he will be called the Victorious Branch (of Nazareth).”

Today God’s mysterious plans are unfolding all around us. Just as when this child was being raised in the insignificant town Nazareth, no one dreamed He would change the world. Today His branches are beginning to bare fruit all over the world. His glorious day is about to be revealed in the whole earth.

“YOU ARE RAVING MAD!”

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS

“As Paul thus made his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You are raving mad, Paul; and great learning is driving you mad.” Acts 26:24

I’m sure it has happened to you at some point, you were sharing your faith and you were rudely interrupted with a bunch of name calling. Congratulations my friend, You have just been inducted into the “raving mad” club. Keep speaking up my friend and don’t be disobedient to your heavenly vision, for someone needs to hear it. The prophets of the Old Testament were stigmatized; people were against them: “Wherefore came this mad fellow unto thee”. 2 Ki. 9:11. When Christ was on earth, everything he did drove the religious mad. Acts 4:13 says, “they were ordinary men with no special training in the scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” The apostles, who were fishermen, were despised because they had no learning; Paul; a university-man and a Pharisee, is despised as having too much learning, more learning than did him good. The New Translation says in Hebrews 11: 38,“They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.” Paul was compelled to share his heavenly vision to the “powers that be”. His life was revolutionized, he saw into the unseen while those of the earth only saw the seen. Matthew Henry said of Festus, “Much learning hath made thee mad, thou hast cracked thy brains with studying. This he speaks, not so much in anger, as in scorn and contempt. He did not understand what Paul said; it was above his capacity, it was all a riddle to him, and therefore he imputes it all to a heated imagination.”

There is so much mystery involved in redemption! Paul was once one who used to swear and curse, killing Christians, and is now talking of the heavenly vision! All it takes is one moment for the dear ear to open. Who will hear the voice of wisdom calling in the streets?! Can we undo the riddle to mankind? Would to God we could open the portal to let others see what we see, feel what we feel! We cannot reason men into eternity but we can certainly share “the heavenly vision” but you will be treated like you are “raving mad”.

BEFORE TIME BEGAN

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Gal. 1:15,16 ¶ But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…

Have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord created all things and that time itself is part of the Creation? Living inside of that realm of time and space we cannot comprehend the timelessness of God and His plans. Paul said in Ephesians that God knew him (knew him intimately) from eternity. It’s more than knowing about you or decisions you will make, He has known us from before time. Our salvation is the moment that His grace breaks in on us and we begin to taste His great love for ourselves. From that moment He begins to reveal Christ to us and in us. Luther describes this phenomenon in his comments on today’s verse.

“Paul is saying, “When I was not yet born God ordained me to be an apostle, and in due time confirmed my apostleship before the world. Every gift, be it small or great, spiritual or temporal, and every good thing I should ever do, God has ordained while I was yet in my mother’s womb where I could neither think nor perform any good thing. After I was born God supported me. Heaping mercy upon mercy, He freely forgave my sins, replenishing me with His grace to enable me to learn what great things are ours in Christ. To crown it all, He called me to preach the Gospel to others. Did God call me on account of my holy life? Or on account of my pharisaical religion? Or on account of my prayers, fastings, and works? Never. Well, then, it is certain God did not call me on account of my blasphemies, persecutions, oppressions. What prompted Him to call me? His grace alone.”
Luther grasped this Pauline revelation in his own life. As Christ was revealed in him and to him his message began to go out and penetrate the darkness of the religious world of the sixteenth century. In the same way the grace of God captures us and begins to flow out of us to touch the dark world that we live in. Have you seen it yet? The Lord has known you from your mother’s womb and even before. Meditate on His love for you, as it breaks in upon you the light of His grace will touch your world through your actions and words.

FORTY

Psa. 40:5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God,

your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

yet they are more than can be told.

God’s plan is astounding! He had His plans in place for redemption long before we fell into sin. Redemption predates eternity by a length of time called eternity. Christ was slain as a sacrifice for fallen man before He created the universe with a word. Not only did He have plans for the fallen race, He also had thoughts and plans for you and me. We were also known by God from eternity. These kinds of thoughts are too high for us, they are as endless as His love. As Jonathan Edwards often said, His love is like an ocean without a bottom and without shores. Here is how Charles Spurgeon described this verse in his timeless commentary called the Treasury of David.

“Creation, providence, and redemption, teem with wonders as the sea with life. Our special attention is called by this passage to the marvels which cluster around the cross and flash from it. The accomplished redemption achieves many ends, and compasses a variety of designs; the outgoings of the atonement are not to be reckoned up, the influences of the cross reach further than the beams of the sun. Wonders of grace beyond all enumeration take their rise from the cross; adoption, pardon, justification, and a long chain of godlike miracles of love proceed from it. Note that our Lord here speaks of the Lord as “my God.” The man Christ Jesus claimed for himself and us a covenant relationship with Jehovah. Let our interest in our God be ever to us our peculiar treasure. And thy thoughts which are toward us. The divine thoughts march with the divine acts, for it is not according the God’s wisdom to act without deliberation and counsel. All the divine thoughts are good and gracious towards his elect. God’s thoughts of love are very many, very wonderful, very practical! Muse on them, dear reader; no sweeter subject ever occupied your mind.”

Maybe your life feels unimportant. Possibly you feel like you are drifting through life like a boat loosed from its moorings. Draw near to God. Open up His book. Before you know it His thoughts will come streaming into your life. He has plans for you. What kinds of plans? Things that are far above anything that you can ask or even think.

KNOWN BY GOD

Gal. 4:8-9 ¶ But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?

This passage touches upon the very mystery of our salvation and God’s eternal calling upon our lives. Paul is talking about his own personal testimony, the testimony of Jesus. Just like Jeremiah’s calling from his mother’s womb, Paul says he was “known” by God before he was born. This is more than God knowing about Paul and his decisions in life, this is about The Lord knowing Paul intimately from his mother’s womb. Paul is saying we were “known” intimately by God before we were born. Before we made choices, before we were sinners, before everything we were known by God. What did Paul do to earn his Damascus Road encounter? Nothing, it was all God, it was Him unveiling His plan. Here is how Matthew Henry describes this powerful verse.

“He calls upon them to consider the happy change that was made in them by the preaching of the gospel among them. Now they had known God (they were brought to the knowledge of the true God and of his Son Jesus Christ, whereby they were recovered out of the ignorance and bondage under which they before lay) or rather were known of God; this happy change in their state, whereby they were turned from idols to the living God, and through Christ had received the adoption of sons, was not owing to themselves, but to him; it was the effect of his free and rich grace towards them, and as such they ought to account it; and therefore hereby they were laid under the greater obligation to adhere to the liberty wherewith he had made them free. Note, All our acquaintance with God begins with him; we know him, because we are known of him.”

This passage describes the very heart of the gospel. The church in Galatia had been listening to false teachers trying to trap them back into some form of legalism. Paul was telling them that God’s plan for their lives was in place before there was a law of Moses. That God had “known” them before they were born and before they had lived their lives of debauchery and godlessness. God’s plan and His love was bigger than their sin. Actually their sinful behavior became another opportunity for The Lord to magnify His grace.
This is where your story comes in. What did you do to merit your salvation? Just say it, absolutely nothing. Is it possible you were also known by God before time began? Absolutely! You have always been part of His plan, not an afterthought but always in His thoughts. Your salvation, like Paul’s, came in the fullness of time.

SOWING IN TEARS

Psa. 126:5-6 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

Everyone likes harvest time. Celebration, abundance; what’s not to like? It’s the sowing thing that we tend to balk at. Early mornings, late nights and only promises and hope of the harvest to come. The psalmist paints a beautiful picture of the Christian life, sowing in tears. Often times we sow in prayer for years before the harvest appears. Our circumstances cry out, “it will never happen, The Lord will not answer your prayer”. The enemy whispers ” He answers others but He has passed you by”. Even our friends words weigh on us “I don’t know how you keep going on”, or even better, “come on, don’t be so religious, come hang out with us”. But you have heard the promise of The Lord, in your heart you know sorrow will give way to the joy of harvest, it is only a matter of time. Here are some thoughts on this passage from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David.

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Hence, present distress must not be viewed as if it would last for ever; it is not the end, by any means, but only a means to the end. Sorrow is our sowing, rejoicing shall be our reaping. If there were no sowing in tears there would be no reaping in joy. If we were never captives we could never lead our captivity captive. Our mouth had never been filled with holy laughter if it had not been first filled with the bitterness of grief. We must sow: we may have to sow in the wet weather of sorrow; but we shall reap, and reap in the bright summer season of joy. Let us keep to the work of this present sowing time, and find strength in the promise which is here so positively given us. Here is one of the Lord’s shalls and wills; it is freely given both to workers, waiters, and weepers, and they may rest assured that it will not fail: “in due season they shall reap.”

Don’t you get it, your season of sorrow will only make the harvest more sweet. God is never mocked, every seed has no choice but to respond in God’s season of harvest.
One of the most unusual seasons of harvest came for us during the aftermath of Katrina. In the midst of incredible sorrow from all of the loss and the unceasing labor of sowing during the recovery, we saw the most amazing harvest, it was beyond imagination. We saw thousands of people helped physically, thousands of people encouraged spiritually as well as receiving provision. We started two new churches and a rehabilitation center called Mary’s Song. It would have been easy to miss the harvest, we had great excuses to stop sowing in tears. Maybe you have been sowing for awhile, don’t give up. The depth of sorrow and the length of the seed time will give way to shouts of joy in harvest.

SPIRITUAL SECRETS

SPIRITUAL SECRETS!

Merry Monday by Parris Bailey-

“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13

I would like to think that we all are on an ever increasing spiritual journey. Some Christians find themselves shipwrecked over an offense, heartbreak, or just because they were enticed by the things of this world. But for others, I pray that everyday becomes one step closer in your love walk with the Lord. I have a few books that I regard as my personal treasures. One of them is “HUDSON’S TAYLOR’S SPIRITUAL SECRET”. This book is special because first of all it was the first biography I read as a young Christian at 16. After reading Hudson’s story it became Frank’s and my passion that we would embark to China to live there, instead we embarked to New Orleans! HA! Twenty years later in ’94, I found myself again reading his life’s story, but this time I understood his spiritual secret. Now that I am older I find myself “thankful” that he has taught me to “count it all joy” when the bottom falls out of my life. Let’s read Hudson’s spin on his hardships,
“What, can Jesus meet my need? Yes, and more than meet it. No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings-Jesus can meet all, all, and more than meet. He not only promises me rest-ah, how welcome that would be, were it all, and what an all that one word embraces! He not only promises me drink to alleviate my thirst. No, better than that! ‘He who trusts Me in this matter, out of him shall flow’….”
Taylor lived in China during a horrible time in history and was able to “live by faith”, and start the CHINA INLAND MISSION where hundreds if not thousands of missionaries were able to pour into China before the communist takeover. But it cost him everything.
He lost children and lastly he lost his wife, let’s read what he wrote to his mother: “From my inmost soul I delight in the knowledge that God does or permits all things, and causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him. He saw that it was good to take her-good indeed for her, and in His love he took her painlessly-and not less good for me who now must toil and suffer alone, yet not alone, for God is nearer to me than ever. When I think of my loss, my heart, nigh to breaking, rises to thankfulness to Him who has spared her such sorrow and made her so unspeakably happy. My tears are more tears of joy than grief. But most of all I joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ-in His works, His ways, His providence, Himself.”
I pray that before you find yourself shipwrecked that you realize God has a beautiful plan!

THE EARTH IS YOURS

THE EARTH IS YOURS

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.
Ps.24:1,2

Recently, Parris and I went kayaking in Florida at St. Joseph’s State Park (I never knew Joseph had a park in Florida). We had a great time there and were caught off guard by the surprising beauty that we observed. I guess someday we will stop being surprised, He has left His mark on everything, as David said, “the earth is the Lord’s”. From the moment we slipped into the inlet, the dance of God’s creatures began in the clear waters below us. From the stingrays gliding effortlessly across the bottom, to the strange gathering of the horseshoe crabs, to the over abundance of the hermits, it was as if they were all competing for our attention. Then there was the schooling minnows like dark clouds in the water, to the mackerels jumping and dancing for joy. It seemed like creation was calling out to their glorious Creator.
Michael Gungor has a song, “The Earth Is Yours”, that glorifies this aspect of God’s beauty. Enjoy his lyrics.

Your voice it thunders
The oaks start twisting
The forest sounds with cedars breaking
The waters see You and start their writhing
From the depths a song is rising
Now it’s rising from the ground
Holy, holy, holy, holy Lord
The earth is Yours and singing
Your voice it thunders
The ground is shaking
The mighty mountains
Now are trembling
Creation sees You
And starts composing
The fields and trees
They start rejoicing
And now it’s rising from the ground
Now it’s rising from the ground
Hear us crying out

Make a conscience effort to observe God in His creation today, He is calling out to us in everything we observe. As you observe the dance of creation, don’t be surprised when you see that your life has been part of the dance all along. Sometimes, things in our life can be quite painful and often hard to understand; disappointments, heartbreak, set backs, and unrealized expectations are all part of the dance. The victory comes when we see His hand in it all. Joseph’s “dance” led him from a pit to a prison, from false accusation to a palace. Part of his dance was painful, but God was in it all. He was purposely leading Joseph throughout his life, Joseph’s destiny was sure even though it was hidden for years. Maybe St. Joseph is a good name for that park after all, He is the Lord of the dance whether it is with the horseshoe crabs or with the prison guards, He is orchestrating it all.