In High School I knew one person well who had a dream in High School and was motivated enough to achieve that dream pretty much in the way he imagined it. His name is Josh Sundquist. I went to Middle School, High School, and College with Josh. And while we were not best friends I know him well enough that I admire his motivation in achieving his dreams. When Josh was nine years old he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. The doctors gave him a 50% chance of survival. Josh spent a year in chemotherapy and at age ten his left leg was amputated. At the age of thirteen Josh was declared cured of cancer and he took up ski racing three years later. Josh trained for the next six years and in 2006 he was named to the U.S Paralympic team to compete in Turino Italy. Today Josh represents the United States by playing for the U.S Amputee Soccer team. When Josh isn’t competing in sports he makes a living as a motivational speaker, comedian, and author. He is popular in the motivational speaking circuit. He is particular popular with youth.
In one 2010 appearance before the youth organization Future Farmers of America, which on youtube has around 80,000 views, Josh tells one of his favorite motivational and comedic stories, the story of a night of cow tipping in High School that went wrong. As Josh points out in the video sometimes when you grow up in a small town, like Harrisonburg Virginia, there isn’t anything to do, so you are tempted as a teenager to make less than wise decisions. As Josh tells it one night he and he of his friends were driving around Harrisonburg in Josh’s card and they were bored looking for something to do. One of his friends declared that he had the best idea ever, that being that they should go cow tipping, which is the practice of pushing over cows as they sleep, since cows sleep standing up. Josh and his friends were not really from farming families so they didn’t really know where to find a cow. So they went outside of town and just started walking around in a grassy field. Finally, they see a cow, illuminated in the moonlight on the top of a hill. So Josh and his friends begin to sneak up behind the cow. They get about ten feet away from the cow and apparently the cow hears them because it turns around to face them. When Josh sees the cow one question runs through his mind, “why does this cow have horns?” The cow was in fact not a cow. The cow was in fact a bull. As Josh points out in his talk you would think this situation would not go well for Josh. This bull has four times as many legs as Josh and that puts him at a big disadvantage. Josh knows that he probably can’t outrun the bull with his one leg and two arm crutches. But then Josh realizes that he doesn’t have to outrun the bull. He just has to outrun one of the three friends that he is with. In the youtube video Josh demonstrates what running with his arm crutches looks like. And to be honest he is probably at least as fast if not faster than most of can run on two legs, at least for a short distance. Josh recalls running across the field, and jumping over the fence. When he looked back he realized he had beaten all three of his two legged friends to the car.
Certainly many of us would be motivated to improve our running ability if we were being threatened by a bull. But in our journey of faith I think it is harder to find bulls to get us motivated. In our journey of faith I don’t think it is an uncommon experience to find our motivation waxing and waning as we pursue our goal, the upward call of Christ Jesus. The journey of faith isn’t as much like down hill skiing, where all we need to do is go with gravity and avoid obstacles, as it is like trying to catch the wind on a sailing ship, or trying to rise on currents of hot air like how an eagles soar in the sky. But sometimes it is hard to continue on rising in the journey of faith when we face downward winds. Sometimes it feels like we are flapping our wings to gain two feet only to be pushed down and loose three. Maybe to soar we need to know what the jet stream looks like so we can navigate towards it. Maybe we need to know the goal of our Christian motivation.
The Good News: When we understand our goal is resurrection we will be motivated to press in to find ourselves in Christ. To understand this we have to understand two things.
- That our goal is resurrection
- To prepare for the resurrection we need to find ourselves in Christ.
First, we see that our ultimate goal as believers is the resurrection of the dead.
Paul tells us in Philippians chapter two that “to live is Christ and to die is again”. Paul says even if he dies in prison that is okay because he will immediately go to be with Christ in heaven or what the scripture also calls paradise. But in our chapter today Paul tells us, “ But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Scripture has always taught that there are two stages to the afterlife. The first when we go to rest in peace with Christ when we die. The second when we return with Christ, Christ gives us glorified bodies, and we reign and rule and work with Christ so we don’t labor in vain.
All of us our given a certain amount of spiritual life in this life but it is limited. Our mortal bodies are much a remote controlled car that runs on a battery. Eventually it will run out of energy. We are disconnected from the source of our life, we have rebelled against God. But he has loved us so much that he wants to connect us with the source of eternal life, Jesus Christ. Our mortal bodies are like a remote controlled car that will run out of energy but the resurrected body is more like the solar powered plane that circumnavigated the globe in 2015-2016. That plane flew 26,000 miles without refueling because it was being powered by a natural fusion reactor known as the sun. If you go outside you can feel the sun’s heat from billions of miles away. And if you are a red head you avoid the sun since you get sun burn really easily.
But God’s power, God’s glory, is so much greater than the sun. One day the sun will run out of fuel. But one day God’s glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. And if we want to stand in the Glory of the Lord we are going to need Sonblock. We are going to need to stand in Christ’s righteousness and not our own righteousness
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians the good news is because of the resurrection we don’t labor in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Because of the resurrection we won’t get another chance to do the same thing, but we will get another chance to learn from our mistakes. Whether we win our lose, if we serve the Lord in faith, hope, and love, one day God will redeem our work in His new Kingdom, even if no one sees, and we don’t labor in vain. And for me that is the good news of the resurrection.
Our goal is resurrection. We pursue Christ because we are getting ready for the glorified body he is going to give up. We got to get ready to trade in our old bodies to drive the Cadillac of the resurrected body that Jesus is going to give us. Getting ready for glorification is what we call sanctification.
Often theologians define sanctification as becoming more like Jesus. I am not sure I would define sanctification in that way because Jesus is a really high bar, no matter how hard I try, I am always going to fail in meeting that bar. And when I think I am becoming like Jesus, that breeds pride in me, and I become less and less like Jesus the more I try to become like Jesus.
Instead of trying to become like Christ I think Paul says we need to find ourselves in Christ. Paul tells us we need to find ourselves in Christ. I think Paul defines sanctification in Colossians 3:3, “ For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” What I think this says that there is a part of who we truly are that is hidden in Christ. Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. And part of the work of pressing in to our calling in Jesus Christ is discovering the ourselves as Jesus knows us. Because person he shows us is more real than any reflection we may see in the mirror.
Last week we talked about crumby or emotionally unhealthy spirituality. But Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, also describes sanctification, the process we go through to find ourselves hidden in Christ. Scazzero defines six stages of faith.
First comes a life changing awareness of our need for God. May it be in a moment or over a lifetime we come to agree with Paul that we want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, we have heard God calling us to know and love His Son Jesus as our savior and our Lord.
Second, comes Discipleship. This involves learning about Christ, learning what it means to be a Christian, and becoming part of a Christian community.
Third, comes the Active Life. This is when we decide to get involved in the life of the church. We decide it isn’t enough for others to serve us in the name of God. We realize that we too must serve others in the name of God.
Fourth, comes the Wall. Whether we are running from a bull or running from our past, this is the stage in the marathon, when our spiritual muscles burn, the motivation just seeps out of us, and we just don’t know if we will be able to take another step. St. John of the cross called this the Dark Night of the Soul. This stage is characterized by a lot of inward reflection and a crisis of faith
Fifth, is the journey outward. We begin again to do things for God. But now we do so more from a place of peace, security, and clarity.
Sixth, is transformed into love. We find that love begins to flow through us more easily. We see difficult people differently. We see ourselves differently. We come to understand what it means to know the Love of God as a Father. We come to embrace our identity as Sons and Daughters of God.
When we hit the wall how long will it take for God to get us through it ? Scazzero doesn’t give a specific amount of time. In my own life I have spent years passing through the Dark Night of the Soul. But eventually I did get through it by God’s grace. Scazzero says on the other side of the wall our lives are characterized by 1. A greater level of brokenness 2. A greater appreciation for mystery. 3 A deeper ability to wait on God. 4. And a greater detachment.
Scazzero notes that detachment is key to learning the secret of being content in all circumstances. To quote Scazzero, “The critical issue on the journey with God is not “Am I Happy” but “Am I free? Am I growing in the freedom God gave me?” Scazzero goes on to say this, “ We are to live our lives as the rest of the world- marrying, experiencing sorrow and joy, buying things and using them- but always with awareness that these things in themselves are not our lives. We are to be marked by eternity, free from the dominating power of things.”
Paul speaks of detachment in another way when he tells the Philippians their citizenship is in heaven. This would have meant a lot to the church at Philippi. Philippi was founded as a Roman Colony after Emperor Caesar Augustus conquered Macedonia, what is modern day Greece, in 42 B.C. As a reward for his troops the emperor gave them land and full citizenship in Philippi. While they were thousands of miles away from Rome, they were a colony, a representation of Rome to all around them. So what Paul is telling the Philippians is that their church is a colony of heaven. As the city of Philippi was supposed to show Macedonia what Rome was like the church at Philippi was supposed to show Philippi what heaven is like. The Colony at Philippi was to keep things in good and decent order until the Roman Emperor visited. Likewise, we are to keep things in good and decent order until Jesus returns, transforming those believers who are alive, and giving those of us in paradise new bodies. What I think being a citizen of heaven on earth means is that everything we do matters but we can’t hold on to anything we create or anything we love because it doesn’t belong to us. Everything we have, all those we love, belong to God, they are on loan to us. We are not here to find ourselves. We are here to find ourselves in Christ. To put it another way we are fearfully and wonderfully made but the world doesn’t revolve around us. It revolves around Jesus.
Josh Sundquist is a great Christian, a great guy, and a great motivational speaker. I have lost touch with him, but when I knew him I saw that he was the real deal as far as motivational speakers go. But the speech I remember the most wasn’t the cow tipping disaster, or his other popular speeches. It wasn’t even one of his planned speeches. Instead, it was a question and answer session he held after one of his speeches. It was at William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was sometime between 2006-2009. Josh had finished up with the Para Olympics and graduated college. I was getting my seminary degree at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. I heard that Josh would be speaking at William & Mary so I decided to drive down to see him. I don’t remember exactly what he spoke on but I do remember one question in the question and answer session. One of the students asked Josh a question I will always remember. Basically he asked if he could go back in time, knowing that he would become a successful motivational speaker, knowing the good that would come out of losing his leg, and he had a choice, would he choose to lose leg? Josh responded to the student something like, “ that’s a really good question.” He thought about it and replied something along the lines of, “no I would want my leg back.”
We have to confess as Christians that all things work together for good for those who love God and ordained unto his purposes (Romans 8:28). We must also confess as Josh confessed that we want it back. We want back what we have lost. We want our health back, that we want another try, we want justice. And the good news of the resurrection is we will get it back and then some. The good news of the resurrection is we will stand with Christ to reign in glory. The good news of the resurrection is the glory of the Lord will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea. And I don’t know about you but that is what I call motivation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.