Thursday, July 28, 2011

Choose Your Seat

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  —Luke 14:7-11

This is one of those dangerous passages of scripture that can be hard to apply to our lives properly. Jesus is challenging us to be more humble so that we can be exalted in God's eyes, which is definitely good, but I say this is dangerous because it raises the question of motive.

It can be really hard to tell if you're actually being humble or not. There's no humility in putting yourself down just to reap rewards, but there's also no humility in putting yourself down just for the sake of putting yourself down. Confused? I guess what I'm trying to say is that there should be only one reason for humility: to glorify God. (Arguably, that should be the only reason we do anything!)

When Jesus sees these guys pushing and shoving and running to get good seats at the table, he doesn't just see their actions, he sees their hearts. He knows their motivation is to exalt themselves. My fear is that, after reading his advice to them, "the humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled," I will fall into a bad habit of humbling myself with the goal of being exalted later on. This is really not what He's encouraging here, because to strive for personal exaltation is the very opposite of humility! Rather, He's telling us not this parable to remind us that we should be humble, because there's far more grace in humility than there is in humiliation, and humiliation tends to come from being knocked off our high horse ;)

Would you rather be humble and potentially get moved up to a better seat, or think highly of yourself and probably get told to fly coach?

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 Commandments of Leadership

I took a "Leadership" class in my last year of high school, and one of our first assignments was to write up a list of what we would consider 10 important rules for leaders to follow. My answers were adapted to fit with the context of the course (public school, etc) but were massively driven by the Gospel and by my personal experiences in youth & children's ministries leading up to that point. I just came across the assignment and thought it'd be interesting to do a post about them. Below are my "Ten Commandments of Leadership"- the italics are things that I added just now while putting it up on this blog, and the rest is what I had originally written years ago...

These are in no particular order of importance, because I think they're all super important and it's up to the leader in question to decide which is most important to them at any given time. That's crazy talk, obviously the most important one is the First and Great Commandment, which is probably something I unconsciously realized at the time, as I wrote it first on the list!

  1. Love your neighbour- I personally think this is important for leadership because if a leader can’t get along with his team or another leader, that’s going to cause a lot of problems. Also, and arguably more importantly, because God commands it, but whatever, right?
  2. Know your stuff- Don’t try to lead an activity unless you know what it involves. We’ve all seen how hard it is to get up and improvise a warm-up in front of the class, so that’s the kind of thing that’s best to avoid when you have the option. Never get up in front of everyone expecting the words to just come out- they usually won’t. Unless you're really good at improv. I think I definitely agree that preparedness is a good quality, though I'd have to say there are some times where it's really good to expect the unexpected, and the ability to improvise a game at the last minute or put together a worship set on short notice is a really useful one to have.
  3. Be prepared- See number 2. If you have time to check your facebook, brush your hair or call your significant other, you have time to prepare your work. I think I was probably copping out with this one and just repeating number 2. Probably the difference was that #2 was about being mentally prepared and #3 was about physical preparation (having all props, media etc ready to go)
  4. Present yourself- I’m not saying you have to look clean (though that’s a good idea unless you have a good excuse), but don’t go up in front of a group of people, mumbling and not looking at the people in the audience. Use your leadership voice- Diaphragm, people, diaphragm! I guess this one does kind of go without saying. It's not super important for a leader to look drop-dead gorgeous all the time or like a TV host, but it's always good to be presentable. Even though in an ideal world people would look past the exterior, there's something about a good physical appearance that tends to command respect and draw attention, both of which are good things for a leader to have.
  5. Teamwork and communication- Do it. Way to go, high-school-senior-Tom, thanks for elaborating on that thought. You were probably busy talking to cute girls and got distracted, didn't you? That's okay, we all do.
  6. Honesty is the best policy- Don’t lie to people. Don’t make excuses for yourself. If you didn’t do something, just be honest about it. Being able to admit your mistakes is a good character trait. I think this one's pretty important. 1 John 1:5-10 says that if we aren't living in the light (and in the truth!) then we can't have fellowship with the Lord. So this is important to keep in mind. You don't need to tell everyone everything, but you do need to be accountable, especially to the people above you, and not keep things in the dark.
  7. Humility- Don’t let your title of “leader” get to your head. There’s a difference between being proud and being prideful. One means you’re happy to do the things that you do, the other means you place yourself above someone else because of them. Can you guess which one’s okay? While I think I may have been a little vague about that one, I think I got the point across. It's super important to be humble about the gifts that God has given you- after all, they're gifts, so you really can't take credit for them even if you want to! But you can definitely appreciate them and make the most of them! The only thing worse than being prideful is having false humility- putting yourself down and dismissing your giftings.
  8. Enjoy yourself- This is a big one. A leader should always show that they love their team and their job, because their attitude is the energy that fuels the team! I totally stole that quote from somewhere, but it’s true and a good principal to live by! You should try to enjoy everything you’re doing in life. Also, it’s my belief that teaching/leading is a job people should only have if they enjoy it, so of course it’s essential for my list. But don't fake it! If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you don't have to sulk all the time, but you shouldn't put on a big dopey smile just to convince people you're happy. Be real about your emotions, people respect leaders who are in touch with their feelings but also aren't controlled by them.
  9. Be professional- Don’t swear at your team, or insult them or let your personal problems affect the way you lead. That’s not to say you can’t have problems or be open about them, but you shouldn’t let them affect you to the point where your teaching suffers. And if you have problems, you should be praying through them, repenting and turning away from whatever is causing them. I actually am not really sure why high-school-senior-Tom called this one "be professional," because there's a lot more to professionalism than emotional attitude, and vice versa.
  10. Always look for strong character in your team- See how they live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are great qualities and traits that everyone should try to have. It’s good to point these things out to them as well. A strong character makes a better person down the line. Yes! Seek to love, forgive, encourage and rebuke your fellow leaders with an attitude of grace and constant love! If you see someone struggling, help them with their troubles, and if you see someone growing in one area, encourage that and support it whatever way you can!
Not too shabby for something I probably wrote in twenty minutes the night before the due date, eh? I would go back in time and pat myself on the back, but I have to go make dinner. Greek salad and breaded chicken breasts tonight <3

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Confession

Hey internet,

Nothing scandalous is about to appear on my blog, so don't worry.

This post is just to confess that I've been struggling with an addiction for the last little while, and it's something I'm going to be actively working through over the next little while, and probably posting about regularly.

I'm a greaseaholic. I eat way too much fast food and just generally greasy stuff. I've been getting pretty bad heartburn recently, and realized that I should probably start eating healthier foods now to save myself the trouble of a couple of heart attacks later on in life.

So my first step is to stop eating at McDonald's. I might take advantage of their $1 drinks for the rest of the summer though.

My next step is going to involve some kind of actual attention being paid to my diet, but I'm easing myself into this, so calorie-counting and stuff won't happen until at least August.

This will be a bit of a journey, because I really love my greasy food, but I know my heart and arteries don't. Here goes!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Testimony

Whaaat? Two posts in the same night? Crazy! I should really be sleeping.

So today somebody asked me about my testimony and I thought it would be cool to post this up here for any readers (do I even have readers? who knows). Anyways here it is, complete with tons of cute pictures of me as a child and stuff! Yay!

I was born in Montreal, QC in September of '93. Believe it or not, I'm that young. Before I was conscious of anything, we moved to Vancouver, BC. I was born to a single mother after my dad ran off, and my mom, at the time fairly dependent on her parents, moved there to be closer to them, and probably for work or something. My earliest memories are from when I was three or four, watching Veggie Tales in the morning before pre-school. Let me just say this- my mom is totally not a Christian, so it's hilarious looking back at how God had His hand on me from a really young age. I would always go to a friend's house in the mornings before pre-school while mom went off to do her photography job or work at the toy store, I forget at this point. Anyways, I would go to his house pretty early, and he'd always be sleeping, so his mom would sit me down in front of the TV to watch Veggie Tales. To this day I'm not sure if they were Christian or if there was just nothing else on at 6 AM on a weekday for kids to watch.

One day, when I was about to turn 6, my mom announced to me that we were moving again. I didn't think much of it, because we had moved a few times in the last five years. But then she told me we were moving to the other side of the country. You can imagine I wasn't thrilled with the idea, because it's so hard to make new friends when you're six? Seems silly to me, but at the time it was a big deal. We moved a week or two after my sixth birthday party- mom made me the coolest cake, shaped like a castle and with little plastic knights and stuff. What a boss! I'm gonna remind her that I love her when she wakes up. If I'm awake. Maybe I'll just email her.

So we arrived in Montreal, and moved into a sketchy little apartment on Regent and DeMaisonneuve, in NDG. There were roaches and grandma was living with us. My grandparents haven't lived together in a long time, but they're still best friends- she was just too much of a financial burden for him or something, not totally clear about the story. Anyways. Grandma was living with us, I was having nightmares about wolves, the apartment had roaches, it was not a great situation, but it was temporary until mom found something better. I started going to school at Willingdon Elementary School and on my first day (or at least the first day I can remember), I was stuck outside of the schoolyard in the rain (they hadn't opened the gate yet) and ended up chatting with a guy who would change my life forever. His name was Mat, and he was in my grade 1 class, and lived a block away from where we ended up moving (closer to the school, in a nicer place, where we lived until about a year and a half ago!). More importantly, he was a Christian.

He wasn't my best friend at the time, and actually we haven't really hung out in the last couple of years, but he definitely had a huge impact on my life and I wouldn't be where I am today if God hadn't used him to lead me to Him! Pretty cool to think that He uses 6-year-olds in that way! So this next part of the story is a little jumbled up in my own memories and the stories I've been told, but it went something like this: That summer, my mom was still looking for a camp to send me to, but we were poor and couldn't afford most of them. So we went to the pool one afternoon and I bumped into him there! He was with his day camp, Inspiritus Ministries Christian Creative Arts Camp, and I ended up swimming with him and his camp buddies for awhile, while my mom talked to one of the camp directors. I've been told that the conversation went something like this:

Mom: So what kind of camp are you guys running?
Karim: It's a Christian arts camp.
Mom: I will never send my son to a camp like that!

And two weeks later, because it was cheap and Mat's mom had encouraged my mom to go for it, there I was at Inspiritus. A name I'll never forget, because I spent the next bunch of summers there.

After a few years there as a camper, I still didn't really understand what I was hearing all the time. I mean, definitely I knew what they were talking about- Jesus, etc- but none of it really had any meaning for me. I was more focused on the cute girls and the friendships I had built with the guys there (some of whom are still good friends of mine today!) but definitely the seeds were being planted. One year, one of the camp directors asked me and Mat if we wanted to be Junior Counsellors, because she thought we were mature enough to handle it. We jumped at it. It was a cool opportunity to get some awesome job experience. Little did we realize how hard it would be, because it was more than just a day camp, it was a ministry. You don't hear tons of stories of guys being saved while doing God's work! But here's one such story :)
The first summer was super hard- all the older girls, who were my classmates at school, hated that I was a leader, and rebelled against me. It was stressful, lots of work, and I felt useless because I didn't know anything about God or the Bible or any of the stuff I was supposed to know about. Feeling useless in a leadership position sucks, and I was ready to give up on God and camp forever. But then, on the last day of camp, one of my campers (now a good friend of mine!) came up and thanked me for being his counsellor. That was when it hit me: What I was doing made a difference, and for some reason, even though I didn't believe in Him, I felt God calling me back the next year. And the year after. And many years after.

                                             Even into my long-haired teenage years!

It wasn't until 2006-2007 school year that I started to really think about what it meant to be a Christian, and how I wanted to do that. I sucked at it, and barely made an effort. But I believed it. And I went back that summer, after a three week trip to Hungary where nobody spoke English and I was more or less miserable half the time, trying eagerly to go back to work at camp. But they had changed locations without telling me, so I waited, day after day, for them to show up in the morning, and they never did. Then I got a call from a friend's sister, telling me they had moved to a building a block away. Derp. I walked in and it was chaos- apparently they had been praying for a miracle because it was a tough start to the summer. Coming in late like that, suddenly I felt like I belonged and was making a big difference. I got to really fully experience God that summer in so many amazing ways, working with people who are now my close friends, and ministering to kids who are now part of my youth group! I saw that those guys had a different love of God than I had, and I wanted what they had because it was rad, so I pursued it, went to youth group with them, and ended up going to church with them and falling in love with Jesus in new ways! I decided to give my life to God in 2008 and was baptised that June.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Acts and the Body of Christ

Hey Internet,

So I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be the Body of Christ for the last little while. We touched on it a little at our retreat a couple weeks ago, and I thought I would share a little bit of that session on here.

Community is a super important thing for us to have in our Christian walk. First let me just say that community goes beyond just friendships, and, while I hate to use Christianese, steps more into the fellowship aspect of our lives. The biggest difference between a group of friends and a community is that a community requires intentionality in relationships, like a family, while a group of friends is, well, just that, a group of people who already get along and don't need to work at it. I really like to use the early church in Acts as an example of a community.

"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teachings and to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe, and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."- Acts 2:42-47

So these guys had a pretty tight connection going on- they spent all their time studying the gospel, taking communion together, praying together, sharing meals with eachother, etc. It says that they "had all things in common"- this should be understood as "all possessions/belongings in common" and not all personality traits, they were definitely individuals! This is just trying to express how much they shared, as they shared everything, as people had need. This is a beautiful picture of what a body of believers should look like, doing life together and not being stingy with one another.

What a community should offer is accountability, support and encouragement. It should be a place of comfort where people can share what they're going through and ask for prayer and support, and where people are constantly encouraging one another in their walk with Christ. These things all make it much easier to follow the callings God has put on your life- if you've got somebody you're accountable to who is regularly checking in with you and praying for you and supporting you in the good and bad times, you're much better off than if you're on your own. Think about the Body of Christ as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12. If parts of the Body aren't taken care of, or are separated and left alone, it's seriously detrimental to their ability to perform the tasks they're supposed to perform. This is why it's so important to have other Christians you're close to who you can share with and be accountable to. A group who are constantly ministering to and receiving from one another in an atmosphere of love and vulnerability.

/end rant (for now?)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Emmaus Youth Group Leaders' Dinner 2011

Last week, we all went out for dinner to celebrate a great year working with the Youth. Thanks to all of you who made it possible! This was a fantastic season for the group, and it's got a lot to do with the team (some of whom couldn't make it to dinner, sadly). Going into this next season, I'm praying that our team will be as tight as it was in 2010-2011!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Ephesians 5: The Reason I'm Still Single

A quick note: Some of my blog posts may be edited after their original publishing, especially but not exclusively in the case of those dealing with Scripture, as my opinions and insights may change or expand overtime.

So people ask me all the time, "Tom, you're an averagely attractive, moderately-talented guy with a decent personality, how come you're not in a relationship?" (I'm also humble!) Well, okay, maybe I don't get asked that question all that often, but it has come up in conversation a few times. When you work with younger people than yourself you'll often get asked that kind of stuff, depending on what they themselves are going through at the time.

My answer usually goes something like this: Because I'm not ready yet for the incredible call God puts on husbands, and I want to make my relationship with Christ successful before I try to do the same with a woman.

In Ephesians, we see some instruction for married couples, and that's what I'm talking about tonight.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

So that verse that I put in bold there (crazy font-changing up in here!) is sort of the basis for my current position. This is a passage that's really easy for a person to just kind of overlook while reading. The general message of it is never lost (Love your spouse, etc) but have you ever stopped and really thought about what the words in verse 25 mean? "Love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"? That's a really huge calling! Are you in a place where you feel like you're ready to make that commitment to someone? It's not even a matter of committing to monogamous relationship (though sadly many of our generation have issues with that part as well), it's a matter of committing to such a self-sacrificial kind of love as the one we're all called to!

We are called to take up their cross, to constantly reaffirm them in the Word, to feed and care for them and to do all of this in a way that glorifies the Lord. That's an amazing call that I am excited to take on one day, but right now I need to spend more time allowing Christ to take up my cross, reaffirming myself in the Word, and building a financial situation where I can feed and care for others and not have to mooch off my parents. I want to be in a place where I feel I can make that commitment and follow the call God has placed on me.

Fun story, the first time I rambled about this late at night, I was explaining to a friend of mine and cited Eph. 5:25 as "Husbands, love your bridge as Christ loved the Church." Aren't typos just the best?

Good night internet.

Friday, July 01, 2011


Mad world, looks like I've finally joined the blogosphere.

I used to be horribly opposed to the idea of blogging. I also used to be horribly opposed to Twitter. But now I'm using both. Things change I guess. The thing that really acted as a catalyst for me changing my mind about social networking was really just noticing the potential these kinds of sites have for spreading the word about God's Kingdom. So many people are out there just writing about themselves- what they did that day, who their favorite celebrities are, their problems with their significant others- and that's totally okay, because who doesn't like to talk about themselves from time to time! But I'd like to think that it's also possible to write about Someone a little bit more important as well. So I tweet (and now blog!) about Kingdom life, the Gospel, everything amazing that's going on in my life because of my relationship with the Lord and the eternal blessings (and struggles) that come with it!

Of course, I also just write about myself sometimes, because I often feel more capable of being clever about things that don't really matter that much. So hopefully I can strike up a balance between useful insights and fun content and just plain silly day-to-day thoughts.

So, join me as I continue to step out of my comfort zone and into the world of social networking! I might eventually say something that you'll find useful, or at least amusing.

God bless,

Tom Zalatnai, reluctant social networker.