Friday, April 30, 2010

Link: This is worth your time

I read this post a few minutes ago. It is written by a man with a severely disabled son. You can't help but hear his pain, but yet you also see his faith and joy. He does not deal with easy questions, and he does not come to any quick or shallow answers. He rests on the revelation of God's grace and his character. This is worth you time.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to Really Screw Things Up at Work

Phil: I believe all religions contain truth, and therefore any religion followed well is good.
Jim: I believe salvation can be found through Christ alone.
Phil: Isn't it just great that we believe things?!
Jim:... err.. I, uh,
Phil: Well, I gotta get back to work!

A friend of mine had a conversation very similar to this. When words like belief and truth have been taken from their original Christian meanings we are often at a loss when trying to communicate the truth of the gospel. How can Phil believe "A" and Jim, "not-A" and everything be hunky-dory? Yet, so often we come across people who don't understand that belief and truth is not something soft you can put on like a sweater, but rather it is a rock that you will either build upon or be crushed against.

A Quick Primer on Truth

The Medievals said that truth was the extent to which a description matched its objective reality. So, when I say that I am typing on a black laptop, anyone who could see me now would see that this description matches the objective reality of my body actually sitting and typing on the black laptop.  This is true. If I said I was typing on a purple laptop there is no way in which we could make this mesh with the physical reality. This would be untrue.

No one, not even Phil, would disagree with the above paragraph. They can hold on to this description of truth and yet simultaneously hold that anything personal does not require a physical reality. Restated: 'The laptop is black' and 'the buddha is good' are believed by many to be two different kinds of truth. The first one requires a corresponding physical reality and the second does not. In fact, the second statement only requires a feeling or an internal disposition to validate it.

Christianity requires a corresponding objective reality to all truth-claims.

To prove this rather outrageous claim (according the the world at large) I will cite the following passages: Gen. 1, and John 1:1-5.

Genesis states that creation was spoken into existense. God spoke "let there be light." and there was. John says that there was the pre-existent Word of God that created all things. This Word is then shown to be Jesus. Later, Jesus says that those that have seen him have seen the Father, and again he is the Truth. Not that he speaks truthfully, although he does, but he is the embodiement of truth.

Our definition of truth is God. Our definition of Beauty is God. Our definition of Perfect is God. All of these abstracts that the post-modern likes to base in his or her own subjective opinion (those "truths" that lack an objective reality) are intended to be placed in the objective person and character of God.

When we speak of belief and truth we need to ensure that we define our terms. I find it is easier to do this with an actual text of scripture sitting there on the table. When your coworker says "all roads lead to heaven," you can point him to the passage where Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but by me." Unlike sharing your "beliefs," which is so typical of the squishy share-athon that is our modern public discourse, texts are difficult to push around.

So live your day in the light of the objective truth of Jesus Christ. Remember you are not free to base your reality in your subjective personally experience. Our reality, our truth rests in the objective person of Jesus and his disclosure of the Father.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Interview with Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels - Two REAL-LIFE Authors!

This has been a weird week for posting. Yesterday was the MP3 giveaway (which goes till the end of the week) and today I interview two real-life authors, who've actually... written books. Crazy huh? I guess I am starting to hob-nob with the cultural elite or something!

Without further ado, I'm just going to jump in and let them talk about who they are and what they're doing.

Zack Skrip: In a few sentences, tell me what your book is about and why you felt you needed to write it.

Zach Bartels: Kinda Christianity is about how to become emergent in all of its glorious, befauxhawked fullness. It actually came from a facebook status update I wrote one day: "Zachary Bartels has decided to become emergent. Any advice?" People were throwing out the usual tongue-in-cheek critiques, but my good buddy Ted kept firing pure satirical gold. And at one point, I just said, "Ted, you need to stop giving away the funny for free. You write the book; I'll do the illustrations." He decided this would be a good sort of test-run for Gut Check Press. It grew from there and we wrote it during a couple of sessions in the soon-to-be famous Pastor Zach's Basement..

Ted Kluck: Our book is a blatant, mean-spirited, heavy-handed, uncharitable, judgmental satire of Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity." Personally, I felt like I needed to write it because a.) McLaren's book was so bad and b.) I was completely bored/jaded with publishing and wanted to start my own company and design t-shirts. Mission accomplished.

How would you describe emergent theology, and what is its most distinguishing feature?

TK: I'll let Zach handle the nuts and bolts of the theology stuff, as he is our Company Chaplain...but personally I think it's most distinguishing feature is its unspeakable smugness. We wanted to parody it one more time before it completely became a parody of itself.

ZB: As we say in the book, emergent theology is a bit of a misnomer, since Kinda Christianity (like the old liberalism) is far more concerned with what I do than with what God has done (e.g. sent His only Son into the world to save us from our sins and all that boring stuff). But insofar as the emergent crowd is forced to "do theology," I'd sum it up in the words of Christopher Walken: "improvisation and crazy make-em-ups." And making stuff up is easy for emergent types, because they've pretty much downgraded all Scriptural propositional truth statements to sub-inspired status (especially the writings of that misogynistic Paul character), and instead build all their (non-)doctrine around narrative.

From that point of view, then, what does God have to say about…ummm, let's say, adultery? Your first instinct (flipping to Exodus 20) is dead wrong. Instead, look to the story of the woman caught in adultery. Throw in a term like "the relationally other," and you can double-talk your way out of a blanket prohibition on adultery with ease. Before you're done, Jesus is basically pro-adultery, as long as it's "loving," "tolerant," and "respectful." Or better yet, look to the story of Mary and Martha, make up a fun back story, wherein both were caught in adultery before coming to faith, and then build your theology off of that. It's all about twisting the story. If you get stuck, remember to emphatically accuse your opponents of reading the text through a Western, Platonic lens. Tell them that you reject this approach and then read the text though a Postmodern, hipster, yellow submarine, anything-goes type lens. If that fails, you need to buy our book. In fact, it might be safer to buy several copies. Do it now.

Who are you guys? What makes you uniquely qualified to author this book? How long have you been studying 'Kinda Christians?'

TK: Who are we? I am on the fringes of the Young Reformed Hotshot movement because I authored a couple of books with Kevin DeYoung, who is a bona fide Young Reformed Hotshot. One of the books was called "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be." It was way more serious than Kinda Christianity. It was also longer. I am also the only Young Reformed Hotshot who has also written books about Mike Tyson and Arena Football.

ZB: Well, Ted's a famous author who has written two massively popular, award-winning books on the emergent church. I'm a pastor whose work is featured every single month in a distinguished church newsletter. Seriously, though, I've been studying this movement as long as it's been around. In its early days, I was drawn to and found the stuff Dan Kimball was writing to be quite compelling. Of course, back then, no one could have predicted that, in 2010, a book like An Emergent Manifesto of Hope or A New Kind of Christianity would be par for the emergent course. It was just about reclaiming mystery and returning to "ancient/future" worship and that kind of thing.
Having researched two books on the topic, Ted can probably be called an expert. I wouldn't call myself an expert on the subject, but I'm informed enough that Michael Wittmer sent me each chapter of Don't Stop Believing as he wrote it, for my feedback—even listed me first in the acknowledgments (take that, Gary Meadors!). Ultimately, I'd point back to a corny old sermon illustration…bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit money, not by handling a lot of fakes, but by becoming so overly familiar with the real thing that the counterfeits jump right out at them. I'm just a guy who has loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ and obsessed over it to the point where the fakes are easy to spot and expose. And I hate seeing my brothers and sisters falling for funny money.

How does this book help the overall conversation? - Will this help people move forward and see McLaren/Bell/Miller for what they are?

TK: It won't help the overall conversation at all. In fact, it will probably either make people mad at us or make them laugh. Or both. But hopefully just make them laugh. That's the only goal for this particular book.

ZB: We're actually hoping to contribute zilch to the conversation (and we say as much in the preface). Well, maybe a few laughs. Every conversation needs laughs, right? Really, we don't expect that many people will have their minds changed by anything at this point, much less a little comedic book like ours. The emergent/orthodox split has reached the point where both sides just fall in line, load their talking points into their muskets, and fire. If someone really wants to read a thoughtful piece that "contributes to the conversation," though, they need to get a hold of Ted's books Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church (co-written with friend of the K-D Empire and ever-rising YRR star, Kevin DeYoung). Our book is just for yucks. Our hope is that emergent Christians will find it funny too. After all, the ability to laugh at ourselves is what separates us from the lower primates. Seriously, gorillas have, like, zero sense of humor.

McLaren states everyone who doesn't agree with him is living in fear of reprisals from the monolithic conservative evangelical movement. Are evangelicals so terrifying that you felt compelled to write this book in order to protect your families?

ZB: Yes.

TK: Evangelicals are sometimes terrifying, but not because of this. Thinking in particular of most of their t-shirts, music, and the Left Behind/Facing The Giants type-movies. That said, I'm a monolithic conservative evangelical myself.

Why didn't you name your book Adversus Ermergentus I think it has a way-cooler ring to it....but that's just me.

ZB: Are you implying that there is a more clever term/title than "Kinda Christianity?" If so, you're just embarrassing yourself. I actually came up with it while working on the "coffee shop illustration" (you can see it here) and knew at once that I had gold on my hands… It was even more epic than when I coined the term The Calvinati.

TK: Your title sucks (just kidding, sort of:) No seriously, we went with Kinda Christianity because it was so similar to McLaren's title, and we think it captures the emergent theological perspective perfectly.

Once again, I learn that an Irenaeus joke, no matter how witty and well-placed, will always fall flat! Moving on... To many, the emergent church is merely a movement that is seeking to meet unbelievers where they are at, use smells and bells without being sacramental, and be relevant to the greater culture. Are these bad things?

ZB: Yeah, for the most part, I think they are, but these are comparatively venial sins. Contrary to some in "our camp," I don't have a big problem with relevance for the sake of grabbing attention, as long as we then use that attention to preach the Gospel. If someone wants to light some candles, fire up some U2 Videos, and "do church" on sofas, I'm sure the heck not going to break fellowship or even try and correct them—as long as the preaching of the Word and the sacraments are ultimately at the center of what they do..

Is this all they (the emergents) are doing?

ZB: Not anymore. I've got friends who pastor ├╝ber-hip-slash-relevant churches and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I think they have stopped short in following the emergent movement to its current manifestation. At this point, rejecting the substitutionary atonement, questioning the reliability of Scripture, and engaging in outright New Age mysticism is not uncommon at many of these churches (I mean "gatherings.").

What should be the Christian response?

ZB: They should all buy our book.

Ha. Ok, sounds good. Ted, do you have anything to add?

TK: The smells and bells have gotten pretty ridiculous. For an example, click here: This parodies emergent better than we ever could, except that it's serious.

How long until we can expect Kinda Christians: for Women/Children/Singles/etc?

ZB: Do we look like complete sellouts to you? I mean, honestly, I'm a bit offended. (read: next fall).

TK: Up Next: The Five Love Languages of Kinda Christianity. Kinda Christianity Action Figures. Kinda Christianity: The Movie.


Well thank you guys for doing this little interview! I had a lot of fun with it and I hope this has been helpful to my readers, many of whom have likely never really looked at what the Emergent Church really is or what it leads to. If any of you readers have further questions feel free to ask them in the comments, and maybe I can persuade these guys to check back here a couple of times and provide a little follow-up.

*UPDATE* Check out Frank Turk's Forward here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

10 Reasons Why you should Download this FREE MUSIC!!

1.    Because PageCXVI is really really good!
2.    It's free. No, no, I mean, like you don't have to pay any money for it and they don't send you junk mail, kinda free.
3.    They make the old hymns come alive; it's worship that you connect with musically as well as lyrically.
4.    It's free and you can't go wrong with free, that is unless you are looking at heart surgery. I try to stay away from anyone offering free heart surgery.
5.    Their rendition of In Christ Alone is what I had going through my head when I chose that song to be played at my son's funeral.
6.    It only costs $0.99 and I'll even through in a $0.99 coupon (FREE)!
7.    Solid Christian artists need to be supported. One way you can do that is to download their first album (did I mention it was free??) and tell everyone you know how much you like it. Then, they'll want to download the album too (for, like, NO money!).
8.    They have a new album coming out at the end of the week and they need to free up server space!
9.    If you download their new album you can listen to it while you follow them on Twitter @PageCXVI
10. Because we need to worship God rightly, and I believe these songs properly present a sovereign God and our dependence on him. Sadly, the old hymns have fallen out of use. When bands go through and re-charge them a little bit the church is given a precious gift: Excellent music with doctrinal clarity.

Please use the email function below and pass this post on to your Pastors, Sunday School Teachers, Church Gardner, and religious Mother In-Law so that they can take advantage of this too. PageCXVI are really good people who give away so much of their music, so let's take a second and support them by downloading their first album.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Vince Vaughn has to say About Marriage

I just watched Couples Retreat. At the outset, I will say that there were plenty of very funny (if not appropriate) spots in the film, but overall, the movie fell flat. The intention of a movie is not to periodically entertain, but to bring you along as it weaves a story. This is like those people who say "Yeah, Dumb and Dumber made me laugh, but overall I didn't like it" (yes, there really are people like this, and I pray for them). So, while I will agree that there are areas where Vince Vaughn's story struck the comedic chord he was aiming for, I can still say it left me totally cold at the end.

Four couples make the trip to an island paradise called Eden. It is in Eden, where they will re-create their marriage. Of course, it is lost on no-one that it was precisely in Eden where the first marriage was created.

The island is made up of two parts, East and West. Eden West is where the married couples go to rejuvenate their relationships through the aid of a demanding schedule requiring them to learn "couples skills" amidst decidedly unhelpful yoga sessions and swimming lessons.

The stress of their itinerary takes its toll, and all of the couples start fighting with their respective.... partner (have to be inclusive here). One of the partners goes missing, and... it must be... they went to Eden East!

Eden East is the hedonistic singles side, where all they do is drink, dance, and have sex. As the whole troupe voyages over to the forbidden side of the island, they, like Odysseus, are all tempted by the nymphs of Eden East (be they male or female).

Of course, this is where the "redemption" occurs. Most of the spouses are tempted by the writhing flesh of Eden East, but once confronted by all of the free-fruit (and maybe taking a few quick bites), they realize what they really want: someone to go to Applebees with (translation: a partner to share even the most mundane parts of their life).

The proverb of the whole film was summed up when one of the characters' "inner animal" is revealed to be a Honey Bee, who "eats the sweet nectar of many different flowers, but always comes home." Wow. That's gotta make a spouse proud: Oh Gee, that's great, he always comes home.

Couples Retreat and the many other recent films dealing with marriage can only deal with what they believe to be the highest calling for marriage: compatibility. In order for the many couples to realize that the spouse they had was the one they really wanted was to sample the goods and spend some time on "Singles Island."

The Bible tells us that our marriage is about so much more than compatibility. Our marriage is an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church. We learn how to live in genuine community through the trials and difficulties of marriage. There is a leader and there is someone who needs to submit to that leader. In the case of my marriage, my wife's role is to submit to me, but in the case of the church, I am to submit to the elders. I am to give myself to my wife like Jesus did to the church -- even giving up his own life.

Marriage is an act of sacrifice and submission, not of playing the field until you find the partner with whom you work best. Marriage is one of the hardest things we do in this life, but it is also one of the most beautiful, for in it we enact the beauty of a loving God who condescended to us, sacrificed himself, and saved us.

P.S. if you insist on watching it, know that my favorite part is when Vince Vaughn is chasing Jason Bateman with the handgun. I almost died.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Calvin said About Suffering

I wrote about the use of our suffering yesterday, and then I went home and listened to Sam Storms' message from the 2009 Desiring God conference where he described Calvin's take on it. Calvin said it much better than I did.

On August 5, 1563 Calvin wrote a letter to the wife of one of the Reformation leaders in France. She was experiencing physical illness and he wrote to her, "They [our physical afflictions] should serve us as medicine to purge us from worldly affections and remove what is superfluous in us. And since they are to us the messengers of death, we ought to learn to have one foot raised to take our departure when it shall please God."

I read that a few weeks ago and I began to ask myself, "Do I live with one foot raised in expectation of seeing my Savior face to face?"
-- Sam Storms. Read more.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Being the Spectacle

After you read this, check out my follow-up post here.

We hide our weaknesses. If someone sees our pain, our doubt, our fear they may think poorly of us. We hide our weaknesses because we can't stand the fact that we are still weak. Our arrogance commands that we keep up the facade of our digital persona. Everything revolves around us.

Paul was fighting off the false apostles in Corinth with some old school, down-and-dirty sarcasm. They fashioned themselves as religious philosophers, who baited their lessons with all the sweet and delicious trappings of men. 'Look how well we speak. Our membership numbers speak of our great wisdom and to the truthfulness of our words.' Paul turns what it means to be an apostle on its head. He says that he is being made into a spectacle of death.

The super apostles marketed their business well. They had everything a good speaker would want: Street cred through letters of introduction, a host of followers, excellent speaking skills. Paul was starving, in prison, getting beat up, shipwrecked.

All this to say, Paul didn't hide his lowly position. He didn't hide the fact that, to the world, he looked like the most unlucky man alive. Paul got it. It wasn't about him. Trials taught Paul that it was when he was most unattractive that Christ was made most attractive in him.

Let your pain and suffering strip away your arrogance and self-centeredness. If this life really is temporary, then live your faith like you mean it. Fight the desire to hide from people. Build those uncomfortable relationships. Share the heartache and pain of real life. But most importantly, show the world that in spite of all this, there is a hope that they cannot fathom because the faith you have is real. Isn't it?

Anyone want to share how Christ was seen more clearly in their lives because of their weakness?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Don't be a Cupcake

This is the passage I read for my quiet time this morning. It is from 1 Peter 1:

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Our response to such a salvation as ours is to prepare [our] minds for action. We prepare when we are sober-minded, which is opposite of being tossed to-and-fro amidst the waves of distraction and the swells of lust that permeate our culture. Peter continues his request by stating you are not to be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance. The world is a cupcake tin and you are dough. The most natural thing is to come out of the oven a cupcake. We are called to live lives that do not reflect the world, but rather the holiness of God.

I'll stop here for a minute, because everything preceding is leading up to this incredible point. It is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." The World will form and change you. Movies are not a passive experience. The mall is not a passive experience. They shape the way you look and think. The change is imperceptible at first, but small changes add up.

We are so easily conformed because we are not used to holding ourselves to the standards of a Holy God, rather it is easier to be "just a bit better than that guy." Your standard is perfect. The holiness that you are called to is wholly pure.

Of course it is easy to say "Well Zack, you aren't perfect and never will be, how does this matter?" Our perfection will not be met on this side of eternity (Phil 3), but we strive on, not out of an attempt to keep a rule, but out of the overflow of our thankfulness and love for all that has been done for us. We conform ourselves not to this world, but out of love for our savior and redeemer, we run the race of holiness. It is a race run out of love.

Finally we come to the question, how is all of this "holiness keeping" joy? Peter tells us to set our hope on this. This seems more like drudgery than hope.

Imagine you are standing before the most holy God. He is so Holy, so Just, and so Righteous. How does your life match up? We stand without excuse. We are utterly condemned, but for His Son, who was crushed on our behalf. You are standing before the judge who should condemn you with death, but he spares you, and condemns his Son instead. It is joy because you can be in the presence of God! It is hope because you have the ability to be in relationship with the only Person who will ever fulfill. You are given the opportunity to serve the King of Kings!

The HOLY GOD OF THE UNIVERSE has crushed his Son with your sinfulness so that He can have a relationship with you. How blessed are you? What will your response be?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Biblical Leadership in the Home: Patience for a Change

This post is short, but it took me over two years to learn it.

There is a book for small business owners called Ready, Fire, Aim! I have not personally read the book, but reviews have informed me that it encourages small businesses to emphasize action. Do something! it screams. If it works, great. Keep doing it. If not, well, fire again and then we'll adjust our aim.

Unintentionally, I tried to apply this principle to my family, to my small group, to my church. I wanted to encourage my wife to read her bible more, so I started leaving little encouraging "assignments." Read 1 Peter 1 it would say, and then we would talk about it later. My wonderful wife would read the passage and be more than happy to talk to me about it, but if the assignments stopped there was a good chance she would not keep methodically going through 1 Peter.

My initial thought was, "Well, that didn't take." I would then search the internet and try something else. Maybe it would be family devotions after dinner. No, that was kind of awkward. Study guide? Nah.

Of course, this could be about something completely different. Maybe your family is struggling with sticking to the budget or watching too much TV (is there such a thing?!). As I try to lead at home I just hope and pray that whatever change I need to lead through will just happen. I want change/leadership to be convenient.

This is why the Ready, Fire, Aim! approach is so natural. If I fire and it doesn't work, I must need to re-aim. This equates effective leadership with instant results.

I have since learned that consistency is far more important than instant results. Your wife is not a marketplace. Your home cannot be trended by market-analysis. Biblical Leadership does not mind being slightly awkward because it is not trying to be comfortable. Instead it is trying to be faithful. Sure, family devotions may be a little bit strange the first few times, and the kids may even roll their eyes, but you are responsible to love them and shepherd them like Christ loves and leads the church. Do not undermine your leadership by consistently changing your approach as you seek quick feedback. Your faithfulness and consistency will pay off, because what is important to you will become important for your family.

Biblical leadership in the home recognizes that it is God that causes change (Eph 3:16-17), not your methods or techniques. Prayerfully determine what is necessary and then be faithful in your application. Stick to it. Sanctification is never easy and does not happen over night.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Storybook Outside

The weather here was eccentric. It was raining, then snowing, then beautiful sun was everywhere, then over-cast, then downright cold. This all happened in a matter of a couple hours.

My wife wrote a beautiful journal entry today calling the quickly changing weather pages of a storybook. This story was punctuated by the presence of a red-breasted Robin. She smiled and thought about showing our son all of the different seasons through our large window—all at once! But of course as soon as the thought occurred, it died.

I read the entry and I wanted to cry. I so want to see my son. I so want to watch my wife play with him. As we mull over questions regarding what-to-do-now, I can’t help but struggle with the way things should have been.

Should. That presumes so much.

1 Peter 4:19 states: Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. What phrase is God’s will attached to? Is it God’s will to entrust our souls? Is it God’s will to do good? Yes, on both counts, but that is not the meaning. It is God’s will for us to go through suffering.

In Wayne Grudem’s commentary, he responds to our natural revulsion by stating: “While this may at first seem harsh (for it implies that at times it is God’s will that we suffer), upon reflection no better comfort in suffering can be found than this: it is God’s good and perfect will. For therein lies the knowledge that there is a limit to the suffering, both in its intensity and in its duration, a limit set and maintained by the God who is our creator, our saviour, our sustainer, our Father (1 Peter: Tyndale, 191f, emphasis mine).

What God can I go to if something this tragic happened out of His purview? Who is my God if my suffering is a mere accident? He’s not a Father then, merely a stronger older brother. Not a Father with a plan and a purpose, just a slightly more powerful and experienced guardian.

It hurts. I long to hold my son. There are moments of desperation where I want to stand before God and question his judgment. But here is the second rub: we are to entrust our souls to a faithful Creator. The souls tell us that this physical life will be marked by problems that the spiritual future will gladly miss. Our faithful Creator reminds us that not only is he worthy of our trust, but he is our beginning and our end. It was his power that brought us here, He opens and closes the womb. He gave us our little Athan, and He continues to hold him now.

In the midst of distraction, depression, and just the plain, old, and ordinary, my focus must be on doing good. Moral purity in the midst of trials is what the Christian is called to. For in fact, suffering is limited. There is an end to your story, and it is in the presence of your faithful Creator.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Prayer: Against Distractions

Father, as I am distracted by all of the trivalities I am told are so important, I ask that you help keep at the one thing that is truly so: walking in a way that brings glory to you.