Academic All-State, Valedictorian of a 6A High School in Yukon, Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe Award winner, Sunbelt All-American, All-State Catcher, and finally on June 2, 2002, The Daily Oklahoman named Justin Sullivan the Baseball Player of the Year for the entire state of Oklahoma. This all-star catcher with a batting average of .492 and a grade point average of 4.2 reached the pinnacle of success in athletics, academics and life as a teenager. Justin was one of those young men who experienced great success both on and off the baseball field. He was born into a godly family who imparted a strong legacy of faith. He was a tremendous student. He was a leader at Yukon High School. He was a pillar in the student ministry at Council Road Baptist Church. Equally important, he was an athlete who understood that God had not only given him influence but also a platform to communicate his faith in Christ.
On Sunday, June 2, 2002, Justin was experiencing the pinnacle of success that resulted in many opportunities at his fingertips. As he went to bed that evening, Justin was praying for God’s direction with several incredible life-altering paths. He was trying to decide whether to go to college on a baseball scholarship at Rice University, Yale University, or the University of Oklahoma. At the same time, he was being considered by the Chicago White Sox organization for the 2002 Major League Draft. It was certain that Chicago would draft Justin but it was yet to be determined exactly how high he would be selected in the upcoming draft. In spite of struggling with these incredible opportunities, Justin knew that God was faithful. He knew God’s word and wisdom would guide him through the next move in his life. As a follower of Jesus Christ, Justin’s confidence was neither unfounded nor incorrect. His Christian faith led him to believe that God would be present in every moment to faithfully work out every detail. It was this belief that brought him and all those around him confidence to face the “curve ball” life would throw the following day.
On June 3, 2002, one day after being named Oklahoma’s Baseball Player of the Year and six days before the 2002 Major League Draft, Justin Sullivan, his family, his church and his community experienced a tragedy that rocked them to their core and tested their belief in God’s divine purposes of life and death. At approximately 12:45 p.m. Justin Sullivan, this rising baseball star, was driving home from work. All of a sudden, the back wheels of an eastbound semi-truck broke off the trailer, crossed the center median of Interstate 44 in the middle of Oklahoma City, striking Justin’s westbound vehicle, killing him and injuring his friends. Three months to the day following his eighteenth birthday, a freak car accident took the life of this stellar Christian athlete. In a matter of seconds, his life on this earth was over. A family was devastated, a church was in crisis, and a community sought answers.
There is a prevailing belief in Christian circles that really needs to be corrected. Many people believe that following Jesus will result in health, wealth, and prosperity. Of course, following Christ and His plan for your life, is not only the best thing you can do, it is also the greatest adventure you will ever take. However, following Christ does not always lead to health, wealth, and prosperity. Following Christ on this side of eternity is often a road that produces difficulty, challenge, and at times even persecution. When it comes to the false teaching of prosperity, Jesus prepared us for the opposite.
John 16:33 says…
"33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
The Spirit of God also inspired Paul to help Timothy prepare for a life of service to the Lord. Paul said in II Timothy 1:8-9
"8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,"
I will never forget the moment Justin died. It was a sad day in my life that shook my faith in the Lord to the core. As I take time to reflect over my life and experience since June 3, 2002, the Lord has not kept me from heartache, difficulty and challenge. I have faced many over the years. However, the miracle of following Christ is this: He has been faithful to walk me through every heartache, difficulty, and challenge I faced. Because of His presence and His help, I can honestly say, God has been faithful every step of the way.
I remember preparing to preach Justin’s funeral service. I said out loud to the Lord: “God, I do not understand what you are doing? Please speak to me and help me know what to say when I get up to speak at Justin’s funeral service.”
A few minutes after praying that prayer, I opened up the journal that Juliann Sullivan gave to Justin six months prior to his death. Justin wrote:
“There will come a day when we will all see God face to face. This is when we will understand things fully. When God’s asks me to believe something that’s beyond belief, I decide if I will trust my five senses or have enough sense to believe in Him.”
Justin Sullivan 3/19/02
Today, you may be facing a difficult time especially as the Christmas season approaches. Can I simply remind you that God will be faithful to you in any and every circumstance? Today, don’t just trust your five senses. Have enough sense to believe in Him. God knows there will be times we find it difficult to understand His hand. Those are the moments when we choose to trust His heart. Remember today that God sees you. Christ will sustain you. The Holy Spirit has come to help you.
Turn to Him today and trust Him with all that is going on in your life.