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Underneath the Wrapping

At Christmas time, like many families, mine gathered together and for the first time, we had a baby in our midst. My brother and his wife are the proud parents of 11-month-old Madysen. She is a very curious and extremely happy little girl – in fact it is rare to see her unhappy. While we were exchanging gifts on Christmas morning, I had the privilege to help her open some of her gifts. She seemed far more interested in the shiny paper, the ribbons and bows than she was with the actual gifts.

As Hilary and I were driving home later that day, I began to recall the images of seeing the curiosity in Madysen’s face as she ripped packages apart. I began to wonder if she understood what was going on or when she would realize that the outside is just to cover up the surprise awaiting to be revealed.

Do we get caught up with the same distractions of the wrapping paper? In our journey, do the shiny ribbons and bows sidetrack us from the real gift inside? How often has God given us a gift and we have not taken the time to dig deeper to see the precious pearl that is really there?

We live, work and operate in a shopper society – everything is designed strategically to appeal to us; sales and promotions are planned to draw us in. On occasion, the Church has fallen into the same the pattern – designing outreaches to be appealing and attractive; courses or seminars with challenging topics or investing in the cosmetics of the building. Many would argue that we do these things to stay relevant with the times. But are we getting distracted with the coverings?

I’ve wondered what it would have looked like for Jesus and the apostles to gather to design or strategize on their campaign to reach people. I think we can lose sight of a great gift that the Church has to offer. Relationships, I think, are one of the hardest and yet most rewarding gifts we can have. When we are kids, our parents schedule play-dates for us to interact and meet new people – a few toys and a sandbox. In our programming and redecorating, we need to be conscious of relationships.

Many are familiar with Matt Redman’s song, “When The Music Fades”. This song came out of a season at his church where they had been caught in the wrapping paper. They spent a few Sunday gatherings without any music and with simple intercession, to be reminded of what this is all about. Out of this, the song birthed, as a reminder that when we tear the wrappings away, our relationship with Jesus is at the center.

When we understand that relationships are vitally important to Jesus, we begin to see that our relationships with people are important to Jesus as well. The people we work with, in the building next door and those at the table across the restaurant from us.

When we grow older, we begin to realize that the paper and ribbons are just a covering for the real gift on the inside – and we rip open the paper with excitement. With that same excitement we need to begin to rip open the coverings that prevent us from building those relationships. David MacFarlane would say that we need to, “cross the street”. I would add that we need to shake hands too, have a conversation – and get to know one another.

Jesus saw the opportunity to meet people and, through that, lives were transformed. Who is waiting to meet you?

Shawn Branch
Acting National Director
Threshold Ministries

This article was originally written for an Equipping Evangelists newsletter – January 2012.

being persistent

Deep sea fishing from a boat in the Gulf of Mexico

about a month ago, i started fishing.

fishing for mackerel.

i started by accident really.  it was the sunday afternoon of the labour day long weekend, we went down to new river beach for the afternoon.  hardly a person around because it was forecasted to be bad weather and we went down to the water for a bit.  i acted as ruth’s lifeguard, which in retrospect was a bad choice, because i hate being in the water over my head.  if she got into trouble, she would have been screwed – at the time though, it seemed like a good idea for me to guard while she swam in the bay of fundy.  while ruth was warming up after her swim, i had a nap on the beach leaning against hilary.

it was a nice afternoon.

ed came back to pick us up and brought us down to blacks harbour, he really wanted us to watch him fish.  [ed grew up in fishing communities in newfoundland.]  after he caught a few, he wanted the rest of us to experience the same joy of catching a fish.  it had been quite some time since i last fished – but for the record, i have fished before.  it was fun, we had some laughs and i think ed regretted bringing us down there – we weren’t quite as serious.

i’ve been back at least once, sometimes twice, a week since.

the last few times, the fish haven’t really been biting.  we’ve stood on the wharf for 3-4 hours each visit, just throwing the line, chatting, listening and being still.  my last visit, the borrowed fishing line that i was using broke.  i pretended like i knew how to fix it and put it back together.  still broke.  ed felt bad and wanted to leave because i couldn’t fish.  i wanted to stay.

it is so peaceful and relaxing, standing on some floating wood along the coast of the ocean. fishing and watching others fish.  because the mackerel season is basically over, we weren’t catching much.  we tried a few different places.  it gave me lots of time to think and wonder.  we started catching some harbour pollock, which aren’t very good (i’m told).  it was fun catching them, we were catching 3-5 at a time but releasing them.

it got me to thinking that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be persistent – castling the line, being patient and waiting.  when Jesus called simon, james and john, he met them after a long night of fishing and told them to go back out.  they were reluctant but went back out and fished again.  caught a boat load.  ed and i began talking about how hilarious our situation was and soon realized that its similar in ministry, you can throw the line – offer a program, meal, event, etc… and catch some results.  but it requires patience to catch what you’re hoping for – growth, a willing heart.

i want to go back fishing – i’m not sure by the water or on the streets.

Press Release from Work

Same Mission, New Brand

Threshold  Ministries

March 24, 2010 (Saint John NB) – Thankful for its 81 year history in Canada, the Church Army in Canada will be operating as Threshold Ministries as of May 1, 2010.  This name change comes after many years of discernment and discussion with staff and supporters.  It became clear that in this new millennium the historic name ‘Church Army’ created more barriers than bridges. The mandate for Threshold Ministries will continue to be “helping bring people, from all walks of life, into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and with His people.” Threshold represents for us a place of new beginnings both for our community of evangelist but more importantly for those who put their trust in Jesus as a result of our ministry. Threshold is the place of entrance into the Kingdom of God and a place of exit into the world in mission.

We have discovered over the years that key to any genuine evangelism is relationship building. An authentic love for people is crucial, just as Jesus loved people.  In order to have such opportunities, there can be no unnecessary walls or obstacles to relationships and opportunities to share our faith with others.  This ministry is meant to be focused on inviting others to know they are welcome, wanted, needed and loved by Jesus.  We do not exist for ourselves.  This is not a club.  There can be no wall between the message of Jesus and the people.

Over the course of the last number of years, we have tried to examine any ways we may have constructed or accepted barriers that are preventing people from hearing the message we long to share. It is has been a challenging soul-searching exercise. But it is essential to listen if we are truly serious about being effective in sharing our faith in the 21st century.

Our new name, Threshold Ministries, celebrates this mission journey with our Lord!  Our passion for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment remains paramount. We believe that the renaming will actually build bridges of opportunity for mission and evangelism.  To position ourselves to reach this culture we have agreed that now is the time for a 21st century name.

Globally, Church Army dates back to 1882 and began as a response to minister to those living in the slums of London UK.  The official work in Canada began in 1929 based, initially, in Toronto. Today the Church Army has provided the church with trained evangelists, a God-given calling, founded on the Scriptures.

summer 2009 ministry

the ‘official’ announcement went on monday about my summer 2009 ministry plans.camp medley sign

i’ll be taken a leave, of sorts (still doing some of my current work, at a distance), and serving as assistant director at camp medley.  i’ve spend a few weeks over the past two summers as chaplain – amazing to see the lives of so many be transformed by the gospel.

i’ve had a few meetings with the director, elizabeth harding.  so far, everything seems to be falling into place for the summer.  we have a great team, who i am looking forward to serving with, some new names for me and the camp.

i have no doubt that it will be busy and crazy – but i live for those moments.  especially when in the middle of chaos, you hear Father’s voice reminding you that he is in complete control and we just need to trust.  i am often humbled by the awe-some opportunity that people have when they work at the christian summer camp.  throughout the summer, we are given the opportunity each week to model the lifestyle that jesus demonstrated for us, to be an example of christian community (both shining and flawed) all while full of joy and excitement.  i have left the past two summers feeling physically exhausted but re-energized by the transformation of campers after sharing the good news of jesus wliz hardingith them.

i am looking forward with anticipation to serving with a great team and continuing to work with liz (shown at right) in planning for this opportunity.

if you’re in the maritimes, you might know of some kids or teens looking for a great week at camp.  check it out.

epicentre

epicentre.jpg

when i returned from newfoundland in november, i was told that i was volunteered to serve on the planning committee for saint john’s part in epicentre new brunswick.

epicentre is run by the billy graham evangelistic association and has taken place in a number of cities across canada already. they chose to focus on new brunswick next.

it appears to be a great outreach, focused on youth – equipping young christian leaders and providing opportunities for youth to encounter Jesus through a large event this summer.

the website just launched. check it out for more details and the schedule.