Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
This movie is all about "heart," really: Secretariat’s persevering owner, Penny Chenery, perceives the horse’s potential and assembles a team who share the faith, skills and endurance to release this thoroughbred to run in his “impossible” destiny. Jockey Ron Turcotte is reported to have ridden his previous racehorse until its heart actually burst. Penny literally “bets the farm” on what's in her heart: at one point, faced with over $6 million in estate taxes, she refuses to sell the horse for $8 million because she believes Secretariat can do what hadn’t been done in 25 years (win the Triple Crown); he outruns her expectations and does things that haven't been done in 37 years since. I found another interesting “heart” fact in Wikipedia: at the end of Secretariat’s life, a necropsy revealed that his heart was about two-and-a-half times the size of an average horse’s heart.
My friends know that I can find spiritual lessons in just about anything – it’s true. So here are a few more things I noticed: the horse that threatens to beat Secretariat in each of the 3 Triple Crown races is called “Sham.” (Sham actually beats Secretariat in the race just before the Triple Crown, but it turns out Secretariat was sick that day with an abcessed tooth.) Sham looks like a significant threat, with lots of bullying words at press conferences from Sham’s owner; nonetheless, Penny and her team stay the course. In the first two races, Secretariat comes from behind to beat Sham by 2 ½ lengths each time; in the 3rd race, the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat breaks into his history-making run and wins by 31 lengths, while an exhausted Sham finishes last. Oh, and the music on the movie soundtrack during that race? Ha! (I’m not making this up): “O Happy Day” – you’ve heard the lyrics - “when Jesus washed my sins away!”
So what does all this mean to me? Not what the moviemakers intended, but what made me weep uncontrollably during that final scene? I think it has to do with something God put in my heart when I became His child – the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. God renewed my heart and took sin out of my way. That day, I reconnected with my Creator – Almighty God filled me with His Spirit and set me free to run with Him into eternity. This movie speaks to me about fulfilling our destiny in Christ – the things we are born to do, which look “impossible” to the world, because they are born of God. [John 1:12-13, 3:5-8]
Here's how St. Paul describes the reality I experienced that day - notice how thoroughly the powers that previously opposed and hindered me in life were vanquished at the Cross:
Contrary to many popular “inspirational” or religious teachings, the Cross of Jesus Christ is not irrelevant to “unleashing your potential,” “finding your true calling” or “fulfilling your destiny.” It is through Jesus Christ that God and His original purposes for humanity are revealed and restored:
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels - everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him. [Colossians 1:15-16 MSG]
Many Christian churches also fail – whether through ignorance or deception – to teach believers how to live fully, genuinely and purposefully in the grace of God. Jesus purchased more for us on the Cross than a free pass to heaven after a lifetime of stumbling and confusion here on earth!
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.[Colossians 2:8-10 NIV]
Although the fullness and freedom of the Holy Spirit rightfully belong to them in Christ, the faith of many worldly-minded Christians withers as their own efforts toward self-improvement fail due to the weakness of their flesh; some fall into discouragement or despair. Christians who look, think and act like the world tend to live unhappily entangled in compromises and secret shame; sin is not their true nature in Christ, but they are unable to extricate themselves on their own power.
Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ's death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? [Gal. 3:1-3 NLT]
Godly character and spiritual maturity are important; it takes a lot of wisdom to walk in the power of God's anointing without stumbling, and hopefully we all learned some things from Lakeland. And, in spite of the mistakes, I am very grateful for something I think those guys did right: they challenged us to rise up and be who we are in Christ. Those rough young ministers kicked the door down on "church as usual" where Christians only try to be “good people” in ways that don’t require Jesus at all. They reminded us that we are supernatural people, with a powerful destiny in Christ. And it was clear that there was a global hunger for the reality, power & presence of the living God.
So - if the powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t exempt us from stumbling - how do we live fully, genuinely and purposefully in the grace of God? Are we left to simply “try our best,” perhaps asking forgiveness over and over for the same sins? Or is there more to God’s grace than this?
As important as it is to “walk our talk,” human efforts alone tend toward either pride or pretense. It isn’t our “goodness” the world needs to see - it’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Colossians 1:27, italics mine] When Jesus said, “No one is good – except God alone” [Luke 18:19], He wasn’t making a hopeless statement; He was inviting a young man to surrender his life so completely that God could manifest His goodness through him. Walking in the fullness of our destiny requires the power of the Holy Spirit and enough brokenness and transparency that God’s glory shines through us. [Galatians 2:20].
Secretariat’s racing style, up until his break-out run at Belmont, was to start at the back of the pack and then come from behind. This speaks to me of humility. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” [Mark 10:31 NIV] Scripture says repeatedly, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, I Peter 5:5] I’d like to conclude with a few remarks about a man of God who walked in his destiny, anointed by God’s Spirit, with both humility and heart.
David knew what it was to “come from behind” - the youngest of 8 sons was left outdoors when the prophet Samuel came to anoint him king [1 Samuel 16]. He developed intimacy with God while tending his father’s sheep; confidence in his Creator propelled him past his brothers' mocking to defeat Goliath. Years of persecution in the wilderness prepared him to vanquish the enemies of Israel, where he reigned as king for 40 years. God’s anointing didn’t exempt David from moral failures either, but he knew the way back to God was “a broken and contrite heart.” [Ps 51:17] In Psalm 51, a repentant David asks the Holy Spirit to cleanse and re-create his innermost being - renewing and restoring joy and purity before God. In Acts 13:22, God Himself testifies of this man: “I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart, who will do everything I want him to do.”
Your true calling is found in Christ. The things you were created to do may or may not make the newspapers or the history books, but you will change world where you live as you let God's Spirit release you into your true identity as His child. To the rest of the world, and even to your own human understanding, it will look “impossible” because, apart from God, it is. You’ll need people with faith and skills to feed and train and help you be your best; but when you truly break free to run with all that God has put in your heart by His Spirit, you’ll leave that worldly “Sham” far behind in the dust. Your destiny is to reveal “Christ in you,” the glory of God in your life.
“I Am Free” - Song Lyrics by Jon Egan
Through You the blind will see / through You the mute will sing / through You the dead will rise / through You all hearts will praise / through You the darkness flees / through You my heart screams I am free
I am free to run / I am free to dance / I am free to live for You / I am free
Through You Your kingdom come / through You Your will be done / through You my heart will praise / through You I’m not afraid / through You, the price was paid / through You my heart screams I am free
I am free to run / I am free to dance / I am free to live for You / I am free
(1) Michael Gungor, “I Am Free” CD: Battle Cry: Worship from the Front Lines – I think of this version as the “national anthem” of revival (are we not a “holy nation” in Christ?)
(2) Roy Fields, “I Am Free” CD: In the Presence of Angels – 2008 studio release includes encouraging spoken exhortation. I like the name of Roy & Melanie’s ministry: “Run With Fire!”
(3) Photo below is from the movie, but YouTube link is the real Secretariat win at Belmont 1973