“STARK” Trek: The Search For Iron Man (2 Chronicles 1:7-12, Eccl. 2:11)

If you have ever wished you could step into the red and gold armor-plated shoes of Iron Man, that time is near courtesy of the new Iron Man VR title coming soon to a virtual reality headset near you.  You may not get to enjoy the wealth, the socializing, and the… well, let’s just say OTHER infamous pursuits of the world’s greatest “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist”, but the opportunity to take on the armor-clad portion of Tony Stark’s personality has been something that I am sure most of us have longed to do ever since we first watched Tony take to the skies.  And while we don’t yet have a release date for this title, watching these new gameplay videos from developer Camouflaj has to put this game’s launch firmly on any Marvel fan’s radar.

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Sooooo… is it safe to talk about this yet?  I am hoping that since “Avengers:Endgame” has been released not once but TWICE into theaters (as well as had some critical plot points spoiled in the new Spider-man film) that we can now safely move about the cabin of Iron Man’s final flight.  This column will be FILLED with spoilers, so please stop what you are doing and immediately watch Endgame before continuing.  That’s also just good advice for life in general.  Are we all ready now?  Good… because the closure of the Iron Man arc may be the single most important story thread weaved in and out of Marvel’s magnum opus, and we are going to take some time to absorb and reflect on it, and with any luck learn a few things about ourselves as well.

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Let’s start with understanding just who Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man, truly is… or at least what he used to be.  By his own definition he was a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist and he DEFINITELY lived up to the billing in each of these areas.  When we first find Tony he is blissfully and willfully ignorant of not only the true source of his wealth, but of his destiny as well.  The enormous riches and social status he inherited as a legacy from his genius father unfortunately came with a bulls-eye squarely on his chest, and his enemies rapidly began leaping out of the woodwork to lay claim to what he possesses, but in their view he has not yet truly EARNED.  Tony, ever the one to somehow magically make oranges out of lemonade, took on each foe one by one and through their attacks he created and perfected his crowning achievement… the Iron Man armor.  His new mission in life as well as his heroic altar-ego was born within the crucible of his enemies’ wrath.

Now, before we go any further, there is an actual REAL WORLD inspiration for the fictional character of Tony Stark.  Surprised?  Shocked?  Constipated?  Mildly interested?  I hope at least the last one is true, because the original genius, billionaire playboy philanthropist was none other than…. wait for it… KING SOLOMON.  The richest, wisest, most powerful man to ever walk the earth.  But don’t take my word for it… check out HIS entrance onto the grand stage in 2 Chronicles…

2 Chronicles 1:7-11-12 On that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you? And Solomon said to God: “You have shown great mercy to David my father, and have made me king in his place. Now, O Lord God, let Your promise to David my father be established, for You have made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can judge this great people of Yours?”Then God said to Solomon: “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor have you asked long life—but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king— wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like.”

Richest man to ever live…wisest human to ever be born… more honor than anyone before or after him.  Genius, billionaire, philanthropist…  what are we missing here? Oh yeah…Solomon also lives up to Tony in his…ahem… less virtuous pursuits as well.  Solomon had SEVEN HUNDRED WIVES and an additional THREE HUNDRED concubines.  So… I think he has the playboy part of this nailed down.  So, we now have two very gifted men with the intention of using all of these incredible gifts provided to them to lead, protect, and govern those that they have a responsibility for. Let’s see where their paths take them…

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With his new power Tony began the transition from a man who only used his capabilities for his own selfish gratification to someone who felt compelled to help others.  There is only one fairly large problem… Tony was still not only his own worst enemy, but the general public’s as well.  Harsh criticism?  Let’s see… Tony, believing to be the only one capable of truly protecting the planet, takes it upon himself to create the “Ultron” entity.  Ultron was intended to be a “suit of armor around the world” but due to the flaws of his creator decides to destroy the planet instead.  The end result?  Tony inadvertently causes a great deal of death and pain until he finally solves this disaster of his own design with the help of his powerful friends.  Tony was so bent on doing things HIS way, even after the abject failure of the Ultron project, that he created the schism referred to as the “Civil War” which splintered the Avengers and left them weak enough to be manipulated and defeated by Thanos.

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Perhaps you see him as having his heart in the right place, but just a tad bit out of his league?   Solomon was also very much the same man, just several thousands of years prior.  He starts out well, exercising exceptional judgment with his people and as well as completing his father David’s passion project by building the temple of God in Jerusalem, a project which took seven years.  But then, sadly, we begin to see the priorities for Solomon shift as he decides to build a palace for himself as well… a project which took THIRTEEN YEARS.  He placed almost twice as much effort and time into erecting a monument for his glory as he did for the Living God.  And in 1 Kings 11 Solomon finally had his heart fully turned away from the righteous path he had originally set out on, building beautiful and impressive places of worship for his many wives to their idolatrous false gods.  Because of his foolish pride in thinking he could serve the Lord on his own terms (while disobeying Him), Solomon placed not only himself but his entire nation under the consequences of his sin.  The kingdom would be split in two following Solomon’s death and would never be the same again due to the folly of Solomon’s careless actions.

So we have two genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropists whose choices placed them on a path that divided their respective “kingdoms” and left them in a state of weakness.  Both had a myriad of good intentions, but their massive hubris got in the way and placed them and those who depended on them on the brink of disaster.  Fortunately, here is where their two paths diverge and we see how each informs us a little bit about ourselves as well.

I believe many, if not all of us, would LOVE to have just ONE of the gifts that God bestowed on Solomon, much less all of the incredible blessings that were showered on him.  And who WOULDN’T love to walk a mile in Tony Stark’s arc-reactor powered shoes.  One would think with all of this wisdom as well as the incredible advantages of a gifted family legacy would be a recipe for success.  Many times I know I have been guilty of believing that if only I had more money, a more advantaged birth, or have been gifted with a superior intellect or other physical gifts then my life would have turned out differently or better.  But both of these examples, fact or fiction, clearly demonstrate the reality that our environment is not responsible for who we become… it is our CHOICES of how we choose to use the gifts God has given us.  Whether these gifts seem large and visible or small and seemingly inconsequential, the truth is that the “size” of our God-given talents has no bearing on the path we take in life.  We are ultimately the architects of our own destiny or demise… and Tony and Solomon both take very different paths to their respective “Endgames”.

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Let’s start with our friend King Solomon.  In his final days he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, his final account of a life lived with every advantage.  All the wisdom, the money, the power, the women, the accomplishments… and here is where he ends up:

Eccl. 2:9-11 So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.

At the end of a life many would consider incredibly privileged and well-lived, Solomon realized he had missed the point in his life.   All his hard work, all his many gifts and accomplishments… but in the end he felt all of it was for nothing because he had no legacy in the end.  His kingdom would be inherited by his son, who would go on to make unwise choices and lose all he had worked so hard to gain, as would all of his progeny after him.

Eccl 2:18-20 Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.

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And this is where Tony Stark diverges from the path of the wisest man who has ever lived, realizing that the legacy he can leave through sacrificing himself would be more rewarding than anything he could gratify himself with.  In the finale of Avengers: Endgame Tony makes the ultimate sacrifice, one that he would have never made at the beginning of his journey.  His desire to leave a life and a legacy for his wife, his daughter, and all of the lives of those he finally had grown to love and appreciate more than his own selfish pursuits finally overrode his ego and ambition.  He saw his gifts for what they were intended to be… an opportunity to benefit others, not himself.  And with his final sacrifice he finally became the noble protector he had always envisioned himself to be, inspiring others to follow in his stead.

So now for us… you and I.  We may not have any of the gifts that Solomon or Tony were blessed with.  But every one of us were given unique gifts from God to use in this life for the benefit of others.  They may not seem as glamorous as we may have wanted, and they may not be the gifts we would have chosen if we could pick them from a list, but they are what we are meant to use in this life to benefit, inspire, and build others.  We are the caretakers of a calling that may reach many or few, but we don’t choose the location or size of our mission.  Only if, when, and how willingly we choose to complete it.

I want to encourage you today that no matter what gifts or blessings you have been given (or wish you had been given), you are armed with EVERYTHING you need to do what you have been placed on this earth to do.  And no matter what foolish decisions or mistakes you may have made, God has NOT changed His mind about you.  He gave you those gifts and your calling KNOWING every choice you would make in your life well in advance.  You are still on course to fulfill all He has placed before you, and your legacy will be cemented by what you do from this point forward, not what lies in your past.  Tony didn’t spend time looking back at his life wondering if he had wasted it… he chose to look forward and insure he completed his path no matter what the cost to himself.  He BECAME the suit of armor around the world that he thought he was supposed to build.  You WILL BE the tangible hands of God in someone’s story, and all of your gifts, great or small, are everything you need to be who you were born to be.  What would Iron Man do?

 Romans 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

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