Day: April 27, 2013

Iron Man – The Learning Curve

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superheroes

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

Tecumseh

I love superheroes.
My mom once told of the times I’d go out into the yard with a bath towel tied around my neck and would “fly” around the yard. And when I was a kid I read comic books about superheroes, watched TV shows and cartoons and went to the movies to watch them battle for truth, justice and the American way. In fact, I still do.

So, when a new movie comes out that retells one of those stories, I often buy a ticket, some popcorn, and sit down to enjoy myself.
This past month, there was a movie about a superhero in the theatres. Does anybody know who it was about? That’s right: Iron Man II. And ever since the release of the first of these two movies, I saw some Biblical themes that I wanted to explore for a sermon series.

For those of you not familiar with the “story” about Iron Man, it was a comic book series started by Stan Lee for Marvel Comics back in the 60’s. It was the story of a technological genius who’d been making weapons for the military but who began to realize that some of his weapons were being sold to bad guys.

Iron man’s suit wasn’t made of iron, but the image of an iron suit symbolized the virtual invulnerability of this hero to bullets, rockets and bombs big enough to level New York City. In his suit, Iron Man could fly, generate beams of energy and shoot his own array of bullets and rockets at the bad guys.

But, as with all movies about superheroes, one of the fun things is to watch how they go through the process of learning about their powers. There’s a learning curve they have go through to reach their full potential.

(Video of Iron Man I where he learns to use his suit. We began the presentation about an hour into the movie, where “Stark” suits up for his first flight, and ends where he crashes through 3 floors of his home onto one of his prized vehicles. It last about 3 or 4 minutes).

In Scripture, God uses Iron for a number of images. And amongst those images are the ideas that iron represents strength and endurance. As in our passage this morning:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

When we became Christians God placed within us the power of iron. Romans 8:11 tells us “… the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you”
The power the Spirit of God revealed when it raised Jesus from the dead is the very same power that lies inside of each of us who belong to Christ. God’s Spirit has placed iron in our souls. And that Spirit gives us the ability to be strong and endure many of the difficulties of life.

But Proverbs 27:17 implies that (even as God’s people) we don’t start out that way. We don’t automatically begin our walk with Christ knowing exactly how to utilize the power His Spirit places within us. We have a learning curve that we need to go thru…
… so that we can be sharpened
… so that we can be honed
… so that we can have all the qualities of iron we need in our lives.

So how do we do that?
How do we take that quality of iron God has placed inside us and make it all that it can be?

Proverbs 27 says that as iron sharpens iron… SO ONE MAN SHARPENS ANOTHER
As Christians we need someone to help us grow in our faith

And God teaches that to us from the outset of our Christianity.

In the Great Commission Jesus commands us to “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-20

Even when we become Christians, God set things up so that we would need another Christian there to guide us through the beginnings of our faith.

ILLUS: Our Southern Gospel Quartet took part in a gospel sing in another part of the state and we headlined for an excellent professional group from Ohio. This group did an excellent job of involving the audience in their singing and then they took a break. The lead singer began to talk to them about salvation and he asked them to all close their eyes and bow their heads and he asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to become Christians. One man raised his hand. The singer then informed the man that he should “ask Jesus into His heart” and led him in a “sinner’s prayer.” It was all very well done and very moving.
But there was one problem with all that.
There’s no sinner’s prayer in the Bible. Nowhere in God’s Word is anyone ever told to “ask Jesus into your heart.” It’s just not there.
I know it’s a popular thing to do in religious circles, and it has some significant advantages (for one thing, it’s easy and simple in its appeal). But if it’s not what the early church did, then there’s a problem here. And I can think of one grave disadvantage this sinner’s prayer has.

How many people does it take to “ask Jesus into your heart” (not biblical by the way)
JUST ONE = the pray-er.
How many people does it take to be baptized?
TWO – one to baptize, one to BE baptized.

The unbiblical practice of praying the prayer of salvation presumes converts will always have somebody there to teach them. But that doesn’t always happen! People who are led to believe praying to receive Jesus is Biblical often do so in their cars and homes where there is no Christian there to disciple them.
By contrast – the Biblical practice of baptism requires that the new Christian have someone else there with them – the person who baptizes them. And that person who baptizes them is expected by Christ to take responsibility for them & to teach them the basics of the faith. That’s what we’re taught in the Great Commission.

But even after baptism, God involves us with one another. That’s why Christ established the church. Ephesians 5:25-27 says it this way
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Jesus died for the church.
Jesus died to establish the body of believers you belong to.
Part of the reason He went to the cross was create an atmosphere where we could sharpen the iron in those who worship with us.

So, it’s not true that you can be just as good a Christian without going to church
You can’t simply say “Well, I’m there in Spirit… but I don’t have to be there in body and soul. ILLUS: It’s kind of like the true story of an incident that took place at a University. This university had a policy that if the professor was 10 minutes late for class… it was cancelled. But one day a professor put his hat on his desk and then went to the faculty room. He apparently lost track of time and when he arrived back at the class he was 10 minutes late and found it room empty.
He was furious.
When the class next met, he informed his students “When my hat is here, I’m here!”
His class learned their lesson well. The following day, the professor arrived at 9 a.m. and he was met by the sight of 25 hats on the desks – but no students. (Albert I. Raizman, Reader’s Digest 1/05 p. 54)

Their hats were there!
They were there in spirit… but not in body.
But they weren’t really in class.
They weren’t behaving as true students should.
They weren’t going to learn anything… because THEY WEREN’T there.

AND – as Christians – we’re not going to gain anything if we’re not together with the church!

So we need to BE in church. But even that’s not enough.
Have you ever known of a student who goes to class and doesn’t learn anything?
Of course you have. And similarly, a Christian can be in a church building but not get anything out of worship. That’s because Jesus designed the church to be a place…
… NOT where we GET something out of it
… but where PUT something into it.

Heb 10:24-25 instructs us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

You see – the purpose of church is to sharpen the iron that God has placed within us.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
That means that your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ NEED you.

The Bible repeatedly drives home the fact that we need to BE THERE for each other.
· 1Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “… encourage one another and build each other up…”
· Romans 15:1 says “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”
· Romans 12:15 says we should “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
· And Galatians 6:1-2 says “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”

We need to be there for each other, because we NEED each other.
We’ll never attain the fullness of Christ until we understand that significant fact.

Years ago, when I read the King James Version of 2 Corinthians 3:18 I gained an interesting insight: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Glory to glory.
When I first read that verse an image came into my mind. I visualized a person on a staircase, climbing up into God’s presence… glory unto glory. Every step they took was an accomplishment. Every step they took brought them up higher… closer to God.

But that image also told me something about our responsibilities to each other.
· Some people are a several steps up the staircase.
· Some are on the first step or two.

Unfortunately there are those who look down on those on the lower steps and they wonder why all those other folks aren’t as spiritual as they are, or attend Sunday School as often as they do, or understand how to tithe like they do.

But that’s not how God wants us to look at other in the church. If others are lower down on the staircase than you are… your job is to help them up the stairs. God expects you and I to reach down and take them by the hand and encourage them. To urge them on to greater deeds of love and good works. God expects us to sharpen each other… to bring out the quality of iron that God has placed inside us.

In fact, this is so important to God… that’s He’s watching.
Hebrews 6:10 tells us “God… will not forget … the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

God’s watching… He takes this seriously
Back when He made a covenant with Abraham, He told him “I will bless those who bless you… and I will curse those who curse you.”

He was telling Abraham “I’m watching. I’m paying attention if others treat you well, or if they don’t.

And in the New Testament, God repeated this promise
In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
What’s that mean? = I will bless those who bless My people

In 2 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul writes “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.”
What’s that mean? = I will curse those who curse you

And that’s easy to understand.
If you are nice to my kids… I’m inclined to be nice to you
But if you hurt one of my kids… you better look out!

Now that brings me to my last point. God expects us to be nice to each other, to build each other up. But that’s not always easy to do.
As one person said: “It’s easy to be an angel when nobody is ruffling your feathers.

It’s easy to be kind to other Christians when they’re doing things I agree with. When they’re not offending me. When they haven’t sinned against me… etc, etc.

But Jesus has a couple of rules about that

1. What if I’ve sinned against a brother/sister? What should I do? (go to them)
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Don’t even bother trying to offer a gift to God if your brother/ sister in Christ has been offended by you. Go make it right.

Now, what if a brother/sister sins against me?
What if they tick me off?
What does Jesus say I have to do?

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
You are to GO to them.
Not to argue with them/or beat them over the head with your Bible.
Your objective should be to win them over.

So, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve sinned against them – or they’ve sinned against you – YOU have to go to them and get things right.
WHY?
Because God wants us to sharpen each other… He wants us to help each other.

Now… how many of you agree with Jesus on this? (ask for a show of hands).
I’m glad you do.
But it’s one thing to SAY you agree with Jesus, it’s quite another to commit yourself to obeying Him in matters such as this. So what I’m going to ask you to do today is to make a vow before God. A vow is a very serious thing, and God will hold you accountable if you break it.
The vow I’m asking you to make today is that if another Christian offends you (preacher, elders, Sunday School teachers, fellow Christians of any stripe) that you will go to them and try to make it right. You’ll be vowing not to talk about them behind their backs or to convince others of how badly this person has mistreated you. You will go to them and try to win them over.
If you’re willing to make this vow today, I ask you to stand up where you are.
Make the heros confession and join the team that never will die, but live eternally.

Resilience

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Empower A Felon
Empower A Felon

You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

Elizabeth Edwards

Have you heard the tale of the aloe plant,
Away in the sunny clime?
By humble growth of a hundred years
It reaches its blooming time;
And then a wondrous bud at its crown
Breaks into a thousand flowers;
This floral queen, in its blooming seen,
Is the pride of the tropical bowers,
But the flower to the plant is sacrifice,
For it blooms but once, and it dies.

Have you further heard of the aloe plant,
That grows in the sunny clime;
How every one of its thousand flowers,
As they drop in the blooming time,
Is an infant plant that fastens its roots
In the place where it falls on the ground,
And as fast as they drop from the dying stem,
Grow lively and lovely all ’round?
By dying, it liveth a thousandfold
In the young that spring from the death of the old.

Have you heard the tale of the pelican,
The Arabs’ Gimel el Bahr,
That lives in the African solitudes,
Where the birds that live lonely are?
Have you heard how it loves its tender young,
And cares and toils for their good,
It brings them water from mountains far,
And fishes the seas for their food.
In famine it feeds them–what love can devise!
The blood of its bosom–and, feeding them, dies.

Have you heard this tale–the best of them all–
The tale of the Holy and True,
He dies, but His life, in unfold souls
Lives on in the world anew;
His seed prevails, and is filling the earth,
As stars fill the sky above.
He taught us to yield up the love of life,
For the sake of the life of love.
His death is our life, His loss is our gain;
The joy for the tear, the peace for the pain.

Philippians 3:8

New International Version (NIV)
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

Light is always costly and comes at the expense of that which produces it. An unlit candle does not shine, for burning must come before the light. And we can be of little use to others with-out a cost to ourselves. Burning suggest suffering, and we try to avoid pain.

We tend to feel we are doing the greatest good in the world when we are strong and fit for active duty and when our hearts and hands are busy with kind acts of service. Therefore when we set aside to suffer, when we are sick, when we are consumed with pain, and when all our activities have been stopped, we feel we are no longer of any use and are accomplishing nothing.

Yes if we will be patient and submissive, it is almost certain we will be a greater blessing to the world around us during our time of suffering and pain than we were when we thought we were doing our greatest work. Then we are burning, and shinning brightly as a result of the fire. The glory of tomorrow is rooted in the drudgery of today.

Many people want the glory without the cross, and the shinning light without the burning fire, but crucifixion comes before coronation.

Felony Disenfranchisement: A Holdover from the Jim Crow Era

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From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. Here is a sampling of laws from various states.

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Nurses: No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed. Alabama

Buses: All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races. Alabama

Railroads: The conductor of each passenger train is authorized and required to assign each passenger to the car or the division of the car, when it is divided by a partition, designated for the race to which such passenger belongs. Alabama

Restaurants: It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment. Alabama

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Pool and Billiard Rooms: It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards. Alabama

Toilet Facilities, Male: Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities. Alabama

Intermarriage: The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay, or Hindu shall be null and void. Arizona

Intermarriage: All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited. Florida

Cohabitation: Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve (12) months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred ($500.00) dollars. Florida

Education: The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately. Florida

It was the biggest suppression of voting rights in our country’s history since Jim Crow. And the thread of race runs from the beginning to the end of my book.

Sidney Blumenthal

Last week, the Delaware State legislature approved a constitutional amendment to all but remove the last Jim Crow-era voter suppression law from its books.

The amendment, passed at the urging of the Delaware NAACP, allows people with nonviolent felony convictions to vote after their release from prison. This is a major victory for voting rights and a strike against the practice of “felony disenfranchisement.” But it is also a major step forward for a nation still struggling to heal old racial wounds.

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Felony disenfranchisement has direct roots in the Jim Crow Era. In the late 19th century, states above and below the Mason-Dixon Line began to find new and creative ways to keep black voters away from the polls. Banning people with felony convictions was one of the solutions.

For example, in 1901 the Commonwealth of Virginia had 147,000 black voters on the rolls. But many lawmakers saw this growing political block as a threat. At that year’s Constitutional Convention, they hatched a plan to disenfranchise African Americans through a combination of black codes and felony disenfranchisement. One legislator said on the record that the plan would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor.”

Ninety years later, Kemba Smith-Pradia was an undergraduate student at Hampton University. She got involved with the wrong crowd and found herself behind bars as an accessory to a nonviolent drug offense. President Clinton granted Kemba executive clemency in 2000, six years into her 24-year sentence. She went on to become a college graduate, law student, mother and foundation president — but until 2012, when her rights were finally restored, not a voter.

Kemba’s story is just one example of how the legacy of the 1901 Convention lives on. In today’s Virginia, 350,000 people are still disenfranchised by the 1901 law, and many of them are African Americans. Nationwide, 48 states allow some form of felony disenfranchisement, and one out of every 13 voting-age African Americans is affected. In four states — Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Florida — disenfranchisement can be permanent.

When Virginia introduced felony disenfranchisement in 1901, they also expanded the list of felony crimes. By raising the penalty for a number of minor offenses, they planned to lock African Americans in the prison system — and out of the political system. A century later, our drug laws have the same amplifying effect. African Americans are far more likely to be arrested for minor drug crimes, and therefore more likely to have their vote taken away.

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The good news is that Delaware and other states are beginning to turn the tide. In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell has sped up the review process for those who have finished the terms of their sentence. So far he has restored the votes of more than 4,000 citizens. And Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who callously eliminated automatic restoration of voting rights early in his term, is now taking steps toward restoring those rights.

These are certainly steps in the right direction, but there is more work to do. Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Florida still allow permanent disenfranchisement, and 44 other states permit some level of felony disenfranchisement.

You can learn about the law in your state at http://www.restorethevotes.org. If you or someone in your community is affected, you can use that information to educate your family, your community and your elected officials about why this is an important issue.

Felony disenfranchisement is an affront to our democracy. Millions of people like Kemba Smith-Pradia — parents, workers, and community leaders — pay taxes, raise families and contribute to society. But they cannot fully participate in our democracy.

If poll taxes, literacy tests, and gumball-counting tests could be outlawed because of their racist intent, then felony disenfranchisement laws from the same era should be overturned today.

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