LENT 101

This year, I’ve been thinking about Lent approx 500% as much as I usually do. Between leading worship at church, speaking on Lent at the February Crossroads, and writing a parody about it, Lent has been pretty solidly in focus for me the past few weeks. So, when Alex asked me to write a post sort of introducing the season (albeit a few weeks late) I was pretty stoked to do it! Displaying Lent sign.png Lent is a beautiful season in the church calendar that takes place in the 46 days leading up to Easter. Most people think of it as 40 days, which is also sort of true? It’s a bit of a grey area- since Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter, it ought to be counted as 46 days, but there’s a lot more significance behind the number 40 (which we’ll get into in a minute) so some people either start it six days later or take Sundays as a sort of “cheat day”- regardless of how you choose to observe it, it’s really a lovely opportunity to refocus ourselves toward Christ intentionally for a while, and is an excellent preparation for Easter. Let’s get this 40/46 issue out of the way. The reason we think of it as 40 days is because the number 40 shows up a bunch of times in the Bible, and always in situations that fit pretty well with the themes of Lent. 40 days and 40 nights of rain, 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus’ 40 days of temptation, the list goes on. The number 40 signifies the fulfilment of promises, which is exactly what Easter is. Christ returning from the dead is a fulfilment of God’s promise of salvation, so we spend 40 days preparing to celebrate that. Now, most people think of Lent just as that 40 day period where you give something up and then complain about it, and usually cave and start doing it again after the first couple weeks. If we treat Lent only as a time to give something up, we miss a lot of the actual significance of it. While fasting IS a major part of the season, there should also be a heavy focus on prayer and almsgiving. When we talk about prayer in a Lenten context, we’re talking about intentionally spending time with God asking Him to renew our spirits and fill us with His love, especially in the areas that we feel empty due to our fasting. Fasting without prayer is like quitting smoking because your friend hates the smell, and then proceeding to never hang out with that friend again– it’s a nice gesture but it misses out on the relationship that’s supposed to be built up out of it! When we add almsgiving into the mix, things get really rad. Almsgiving is (helpfully) defined as “the giving of alms” or (more helpfully) as “giving of our resources to those more in need”– so the ideal Lent is one where we give something up, spend time in prayer, and then use the money we save by fasting and the renewed faith & hope we get through prayer in order to bless someone else. Fasting + Prayer + Almsgiving = LENT, basically. I pray that this Lenten season you will feel closer to God, empowered to fast alongside Him and renewed in His spirit. As we prepare for the celebration of His resurrection at Easter, let us focus on the Hope that we find in Him, and in the knowledge of His promise. Blessings, Tom Zalatnai

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#countdowntocamp! What Does Camp Mean to Tom Zalatnai?

I’m Tom, and I’m a Workaholic.

This post goes out to all the people who are still on the fence about coming to camp this Summer. Whether it’s because of work, or school, or just sort of wanting to stay home and play video games, I totally get it. There’s a lot of stuff we want (or in some cases need) to get done during the Summer, and not nearly enough Summer to do all of it. You get like 6 to 8 weeks off school and think, “Oh great, now I have time to do all those things I haven’t had time for all year!” Maybe you make a list. Maybe you check it twice. Maybe you go out and give your CV to a literal thousand places in the hopes that someone will hire you- and maybe they do. You’re finally making money, so you can finally go for lunch with your friends or go see a movie or buy an organ because #yolo, right?

Or maybe you spend the whole Summer “looking for a job” and end up spending a lot of time with friends, building those relationships, and that’s great. Or maybe you build your relationship with your Wii U (does anyone even own a Wii U? Smash Bros doesn’t come out for another five months…)

Or maybe if you’re like me, you work like a madman, logging as many hours as you possibly can at the office every day, then going home and editing YouTube videos for several hours each night. Your weekends are packed with productive things, meetings, recording sessions, video shoots, and of course the ever-important socializing!

It can get super overwhelming, trying to cram all the things into your Summer that you’re hoping to get done. And so when someone comes to you in Mid-July trying to convince you that you should take a week off from all of that work, and go to a camp where you won’t have internet all week, your first instinct is probably “Haha, yeah, I’ll consider it.”

I have a lot of trouble with this- I get super stressed out about the idea that I’m going to be essentially cut off for a week, and have to take a break from all the projects I’m working on. I struggle with feeling like things won’t continue to function while I’m away, like if I take a vacation I’ll come back to find everything in sackcloth and ashes.

For me, camp is an escape from those feelings. It took me a couple years of having a friend bugging me about going to camp before I was convinced. I spent a long time telling myself I couldn’t go to camp for various reasons, until eventually I realized that I should do it, if not for the amazing experience, then at least for the break from routine. When you spend too much time working on stuff, doing the same things over and over, and don’t intentionally take some Sabbath time, you’re going to have a harder life than you need to have. Camp is an amazing opportunity to rest.

Anyways, I’m already over my word limit (sorry Alex!) so I’m going to leave you with this scripture to meditate on, as it’s one I come back to every time I feel anxious about taking time to rest from my work.

Do Not Be Anxious

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Heavenly Father, I pray that for anyone among us who is hesitant to come to camp because of work or projects or anxiety, that You would give us peace in our hearts and lift our spirits, for Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. Grant us peace so we may soak in Your rest this Summer.

In Jesus’ name,

Tom

How Much is Too Much?

NOTE: If you are at all concerned that the things that you watch, listen to, and read might have some profound effect on your heart, soul, and mind, you should probably stop reading this and go listen to the new Beyonce album on repeat for four straight hours.

THAT WAS A JOKE PLEASE DON’T LEAVE.

So I’ll be the first to admit that I watch a lot of TV. I also listen to a lot of music and play a lot of video games. I even read sometimes. Crazy, right? That joke up there about listening to Beyonce for four straight hours? Yeah that was a true story, it happened to me a couple days ago. She’s just so great.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of Christians talk about “safe media consumption” over the years, and have never been totally sure what to think about that. On the one hand, there is definitely value in being careful about what you watch or read or listen to. The human mind is easily impressed upon and the things we let near it will likely stay with us for a long time. On the other hand, I think it’s definitely possible to be “too safe” and to lose out on a lot of cool stuff at the same time. THAT SAID, there are definite dangers involved in media consumption, especially when said media deals with mature subject matter like sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll violence. When we watch stuff like that, we need to be questioning it, or else we can become desensitized to it, and that can have a serious impact on our relationships with God and with eachother.

The music we listen to gets stuck in our heads. When that happens, most of the time we’re constantly repeating a phrase or lyric over and over. Case in point, I’ve had “Pretty Hurts” stuck in my head for the past 2 days. I don’t even know all the lyrics. Super frustrating.

And then there’s TV. I watch countless hours of television and movies every week. Don’t even get me started on how much time I spend on YouTube. My goodness. There’s so many great shows out there and all of them are so richly written and often culturally significant. Who doesn’t love to sit around talking to their friends about last night’s episode of Glee? (Do people still watch Glee?)

Video games and books are a whole other story. See what I did there, puns. The stories that we read and, in the case of gaming, take part in, are such a great escape, and give us a chance to be a part of a world that’s usually totally different from our own.

Alright it’s time to get real. All of these things are great, for sure. Music, TV, Video Games, Books, all of it is super fun and often a really enriching experience. But do we need that? Do we need an escape from our real lives? Do we need to be constantly entertained and stimulated? And what happens to our faith lives when our focus is too heavily on Beyonce or Pokemon or Game of Thrones?

I’m just going to say this right here in the middle, in a bold, italicized font, and repeat it a couple of times with a catchy beat, so that everyone gets this point before we move on:

God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything. God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything. God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything. God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything. God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything. God should be first and foremost in our lives, and be at the centre of everything.

The Crosswords bible study has been happening on the first Sunday of each month since this past Fall, and just finished working through Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is ripe with thoughts about how we should live our lives as Christians, loving one another and being a light of God’s love and grace in the world. I’m bringing this up because, now that Ephesians is over, the next few months of the study will be talking about the media, about how much is too much, and about whether or not there are some things we just shouldn’t have in our lives. It’s gonna be rad, people will probably argue, and you’ll probably come away with it with even more questions. But that’s kind of the point.

Folks, I think the “safest” way to consume any form of media is with a grain of salt. Watch what you want. Listen to what you want. But don’t believe everything you see or hear or read. Don’t watch stuff that makes you uncomfortable. If the show you’re watching is full of violence and nudity and profanity, and you feel like watching those things is going to damage you in some way, that’s totally fair. It’s also totally fair if you don’t feel that way. You should know yourself well enough to know where you stand on stuff like that. And if you don’t, you should think about it more. You should ask questions and figure that out. Personally, I never watch shows that have tons of sex and violence in them. If there’s a scene here and there, I’ll deal with it, but for the most part, I avoid shows like that for the simple reason that I just don’t enjoy them that much. But that’s not to say they’re not enjoyable. I mean, if shows don’t have characters bursting out into song or tons of meta-humor, I’m just not that into them. But that’s just me.

So how much is too much? Is there a point where you should stop watching something? Is there a point where you should stop listening to something? Probably. But I firmly believe that that’s something each person needs to figure out on an individual basis. No two people are wired the same way, no two people will respond to things the same way. That said, I think there’s a HUGE value in talking to people about these things, having thoughtful discussions about them, and trying to understand each other and, most importantly, to understand ourselves.

Stay golden,

Tom

So Your Fiancée is Pregnant with the Son of God?

READ THIS FIRST: Matthew 1:18-25

Wow. Is it just me, or is Joseph a total pro?

We know that Mary had to be super brave and faithful in order to take on the task of bearing the Son of God unto the world. God chose an amazing young woman who He knew would be right for the job. But it’s pretty easy to forget about her husband in all this. After all, he didn’t have to give birth to the baby. But let’s take a second to look at just what was going through Joe’s head when he found out his betrothed was with child.

In the passage above, it says that he was “faithful to the law”- meaning he didn’t want to divorce her once they had already been wed and consummated their marriage. It also says he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace, and intended to divorce her quietly. Back in Mary and Joseph’s day, it would have probably been the easiest thing for him to call off the wedding. He could have gone ahead and accused her of adultery, left her on her own and moved on with his life. And, as far as I can tell, this is probably what he was thinking of doing. And rightfully so- even today, in a much less traditional society than theirs, finding out that your fiancée is pregnant with a baby that you definitely didn’t conceive is grounds for a pretty messy break-up. So Joe could have totally just said “Look, I’m done with this, the wedding’s off.”

But he doesn’t do it.

I mean, he definitely considers it. But that same night, an angel appears to him in a dream, telling him to have faith, and know that Mary is faithful and the baby belongs to God.

Whoa.

That’s pretty heavy. Joseph wakes up in the morning and does what the angel says and takes Mary as his wife. Just like that. He is so faithful that He trusts this dream and is willing to risk it all for God and for Mary. He knows that people will talk about them. He knows that they’ll speculate and spread rumors and wonder where the baby came from and assume the worst. But he trusts God, and he trusts Mary, and he knows that this is what he has to do, because it’s aligned with the scriptures.

Joseph is amazing.

God knew that it had to be Mary who bore His son. And He knew that it had to be Joseph who raised Him. I think the thing that impresses me the most about this passage is that last verse. “He did not consummate their marriage until Mary had given birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” Now THAT’s faith.

 

So here’s my challenge to you! If you feel like God has been calling you to practice incredible faith recently, follow Joe’s example and do it! That’s it, just be more radical in your faith 🙂

Cheers,

Tom

What Are We Waiting For?

Sorry if that was misleading. This post is not about bacon.
Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about the season of Advent!

The church calendar is a confusing thing. It has different seasons from the ones we’re used to seeing, with lengths that vary from season to season, as opposed to your standard 3 month periods. They’re determined not by the tides or the change in weather, but by holidays and the important observances that lead up to and follow them.

Any good Christian kid knows that the two biggest holidays we observe are Easter and Christmas. These holidays are awesome because we get to spend time with family and friends, eat delicious food, and party it up. They’re both preceded by cool seasons of waiting and reflection! And in the case of the latter, we get cool gifts as well! It’s an opportunity to show everyone that you love them and care about them, and to celebrate the birth of a pretty cool dude. Christmas is simultaneously a beautiful winter feast for family and friends, and a birthday party for Jesus. And, spoiler alert, Jesus gives the BEST goodie-bags to his party guests.

So if Christmas is the party, what’s Advent? I’m glad you asked! Advent is the month-long season of waiting and preparation before Christmas. It’s a four week period where we set up for the party! Like anything big, we need time to set up the decorations, bake all the things, buy people the perfect gifts, and, most importantly, prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord. (Also, it’s a time where we can’t say “Hallelujah” in our worship and liturgy, so save that for Christmas!!)

Wait, what? But Tom! I thought Jesus already came? Well, you’re not wrong! He did come, but He also promised He’d come again! So, while the Advent season is a good time to prepare for our celebration of Christ’s first coming, it’s ALSO a good time to prepare for His return!

When Jesus came the first time, He rocked the world. That’s why we celebrate Christmas. All the gifts and food and baked goods are just a part of that celebration, but they’re not the reason we celebrate. We celebrate because Jesus came. And we celebrate because He’s coming again. And I think it’s safe to say that when He does come again, it’s going to be totally rad.

This Advent season, I want you to spend the next month really reflecting on what Jesus’ birth means for you and for all of us, and on how amazing and exciting it is that He’s coming back! He’s not done! How amazing is that?

So I leave you with this: We know Jesus is coming back. We also know that could happen ten seconds after I post this blog, three days from now, or in another hundred years. So, without getting focused on the when, we should be constantly preparing our hearts for His return. If you knew that He was coming back tomorrow, what would you do to prepare? And, since we literally have no way of knowing WHEN he’s coming back, why aren’t you doing it now? Boom. Challenged.

Stay radical,
Tom

Keep Scrubbing

Hey y’all!

It’s September! But you knew that already. Most of you are probably starting school (if you haven’t already!) and getting ready to get back into the flow of things. You’re seeing friends you haven’t seen in months, you don’t have to think about your clothes anymore, and you’re already being spoiled with three day weekends! As for me, I work full time in online retail, so even though I’m not going back to school, my life is still getting a whoooole lot busier. I’m writing this on Labor Day, when most normal people have the day off work. As for me, well, back-to-school sort of marks the beginning of the Sales Blitzkrieg that lasts from now until New Year’s. Our number of orders doubles, which means so does my workload and my wallet. On the other hand, my sleep suffers and my gaming time decreases drastically. But that’s okay, because it lets me feel some sort of connection to you as you start the busier season of your lives! 🙂

At camp this summer, we talked about “breaking the cycle”- this idea that it’s really easy for us to come to camp, feel super tight with J-money, then go home and get back to our old, sinful ways. We ALSO talked about how by the grace of God we can break that cycle and stay focused on Jesus all year round!

With school starting up again, most of you are probably at least medium-worried about falling back into your sinful habits because that’s just what school does for you. It distracts you from Jesus. But it shouldn’t have to. The reason it’s so easy to be a Christian at camp isn’t because it’s not school, it’s because it’s camp. It’s a Christian community where we encourage and share and pray for one another, and that makes it really easy to stay focused on God. School isn’t like that. Most of the time, you’re spending a lot of time with people who don’t know Jesus the way people at camp do. if you’re lucky, you’ve got a couple of close friends who do, but even then, it’s tough to stay focused on Him if the people around you are focused on grades, or partying, or sports, or Super Smash Bros., or One Direction, or whatever else kids these days are into.

You’re probably at least medium-worried that even though you feel so much closer to God now than you did before camp, you might not be able to stop yourself when sin comes back into the picture. Well, you’re not alone. Did you notice that the song we sang most at camp was Brokenness Aside, a song about how we’re sinners, but God makes us beautiful? That wasn’t a coincidence, it was a reminder. God knows that we’re going to slip up. He knows that even though we love Him, it’s hard to resist temptation, especially when we’ve gotten into a habit of succumbing to it. But He also loves us infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, and uses our brokenness to make beautiful, beautiful things.

Just now, I was erasing a bunch of hilarious drawings from the whiteboard in my livingroom, so that my housemates and I could make a sign-up chart to decide who makes dinner which nights, and a score-chart for a silly game we’re playing that involves a plastic severed foot and sneaking around in the middle of the night. Yeah, we’re a bunch of dorks. You know you love it.

This is what happens when 7 nerdy christians share a whiteboard.
This is what happens when 7 nerdy Christian 20-somethings share a whiteboard.

As I was scrubbing the stubble-faced, sunglasses-wearing Toad-squid from the board, I was realizing that the lines that had been drawn the earliest took a lot more scrubbing to get rid of. I also realized that the thicker, darker lines, which presumably were drawn on with more force, took about ten times as much scrubbing to remove. Fascinatingly, even at the end of all that, when from far away, the board looks totally clean, from close up, I can still see the outlines of everything we’ve written and drawn in the last two months. The board is clean enough to add new, fun stuff onto, but the old stuff is still sort of there.

Don't ask about the severed feet. Seriously.
Don’t ask about the severed feet. Seriously.

Sometimes it takes us a long time to scrub sin out of our lives. Sometimes lines are thicker, or older, and take a bit of extra work to get rid of. Sometimes even when things are way, way cleaner, and the problems are gone, the scars are still there. But God sees us scrubbing, and loves that, because He wants to take our brokenness aside and make it beautiful. And those scars can live on as a reminder of what was before, so that we’ve got a cool story to tell people about what used to be there, and the better stuff that’s there now.

So start scrubbing! Even if it’s hard, even if it looks like it’s not working, just scrub, and trust that Jesus’ precious blood will wash away the rest.

You’re beautiful. Don’t forget it. See you at Crossroads on the 15th!

In Christ,
Tom