Yahweh, in Jeremiah 29:12-14 says “…when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD…” This Old Testament passage is reinforced in the New Testament by Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 7:7-8 where Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” In the Gospel According to John Jesus told the disciples “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything…” (John 14:26) The Epistle of James says, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly…” (James 4:2-3). In Ezekiel 36:24-27, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 37:14 Yahweh says. “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” In John 15, Jesus says that He is the Vine and His disciples are the branches who are to bear fruit, the fruit of true righteousness of keeping His commands.
This testimony begins with these Scripture quotes (just a subset of relevant ones) because it is out of my personal experience in searching for God according to these promises that Branches of the Cross has emerged. In studying and meditating on Scripture it became more and more clear that we are called to a higher level of obedience than commonly thought. Thus, I asked one main question of the Lord, “How can anyone actually live according to the Sermon on the Mount?” I did not experience any Christian I knew as actually exhibiting the kind of life I read about in those verses, even though some of the people were quite obviously deeply devoted to Jesus. Discovering the answer to that question became a major focus of my study and prayer. The first things I learned were the importance of prayer, obedience to God, repentance, and forgiveness. As I moved deeper into study and meditation these four keys, under the umbrella of surrender and submission, became the cornerstone of my spiritual life.
Along with Scripture, I read many books of famous and not yet famous authors. Some of the works would speak to me more than others, but I took valuable information from many of them. Three authors, C. S. Lewis, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard, emerged as “book mentors” for me. C. S. Lewis confirmed that we are called to “be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.” Richard Foster’s book “Prayer” provided expanded information on the topic of prayer, which helped me immerse more fully in Jesus, and his book “Celebration of Discipline” gave me valuable information on moods and methods of getting closer to Jesus. But, Dallas Willard’s book “The Divine Conspiracy” was the most powerful and influential book.
In “The Divine Conspiracy” Willard set out a very detailed explanation of the Sermon on the Mount, and followed up with the exposition that Jesus still teaches apprentices today, and will teach apprentices. The Bible is full of references to God teaching us—eighteen times in Psalm 119 alone—and two specific references, Isaiah 54:13 and John 6:45, say we all will be taught by the Lord. Everything in “Divine Conspiracy” resonated with me and conformed to my discoveries in Scripture. I was moved! I believed I could actually be taught directly by Jesus. I could be a Kingdom apprentice under His direct tutelage.
In the quiet of my prayer room I asked Jesus to accept me as an apprentice and I believe He did accepted me. Right away I began to notice many changes within me. Things I used to like, such as dirty jokes and sexy movie scenes, I found disgusting, especially when the jokes poked fun at someone. I used to routinely use “bad language” but stopped doing so altogether. I listed more than a page of such character changes in my prayer journal one evening.
Some time passed after this, during which I maintained my prayer and study disciplines. Then, again on my knees in my prayer room, I went through a short period of cathartic, heart-wrenching repentance and forgiveness and cleansing prayer, after which I fervently asked Jesus to make it possible for me to live according to His words and will. I was full of tears crying to and begging Jesus to help me know what it means to live like He wants us to live. Jesus answered that prayer in one miraculous instant. When I rose from my knees and wiped my eyes I knew Jesus had transformed me. Sin became repulsive to me. I was different, and have been ever since. There are no more white lies; no more calling people names; no more lusting in any way; no more anger; no more retaliation or envy. We are supposed to live according to the rules Jesus laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, and only Jesus can enable us to do that. In my experience, I submitted to Jesus as much as I could and He did the rest, for which I am eternally grateful. No human being can make these changes by him or her self.
Shortly after this I had a profound vision with the words “Branches of the Cross”. In the vision the Cross of Christ was in the foreground. Behind it were many smaller crosses spread all over the countryside, connected to the Cross of Christ by vine-like strands. I made a drawing of the vision in my prayer journal right away so that it would be clearly preserved.
One of my study topics was the cost of discipleship, along with the meaning of dying to self, taking up one’s cross daily, and following Jesus. In the process of drawing the above image, the words “Branches of the Cross” seemed to fit the vision perfectly. And, since I had been freshly preoccupied with discipleship even then, I added the words at that time, "discipleship ministry."
I made a drawing of this on the whiteboard in my office so that I could look at it and meditate on it whenever I was led. The vision and words unsettled me at the time because, while it appeared a motionless picture, there was an active, action component or essence. It was as though the smaller crosses didn’t exist yet. I discussed it with a few people, including my Spiritual Director, and no one could shed any light on the vision’s meaning or relevance. Then I searched out the words “Branches of the Cross” in early Christian literature and the Scriptures.
I found one single reference in Christian Literature to "Branches of the Cross." It was in an epistle of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who wrote seven currently authenticated epistles. (Some reports posit that Ignatius was the child of Matthew 18:2 whom Jesus embraced as he taught the disciples.) Here is the full quote related to Branch of the Cross:
It was significant to me that the vision did not use the words “branches of the vine.” That would have had a different meaning and impact, as we must all stay in the vine. Rather, “branches of the cross” implied to me a network of people who crucify their worldly selves with Jesus. But there is more in the passage from Saint Ignatius. The words “planting of the Father” are significant because of the verse in John 6:45 referenced earlier. In it Jesus also says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” I know that I “learned” the Sermon on the Mount teaching from Jesus by His transformation of me. At the same time, it is abundantly obvious that most people do not hear and learn from God.
I have had multiple incredible experiences of Jesus, which is a joyful treasure beyond description. However, I have never felt that what Jesus did for me was only available to me. Rather, I feel a sense of duty to share this rediscovery, and out of this sense of duty the Branches ministry is emerging. I went through definable steps and begged Jesus for the gifts he gave me. Other people need to be made aware that the promises in Scripture are not just historical, but that they are still active in this age. The gifts God gives when we really ask are blessings beyond understanding. But while salvation only requires accepting the free gift, getting really close to God requires effort and authentic desire. And, there is a cost: Love of worldly treasure must be set aside in favor of Jesus, the most spectacular Treasure of all.