Recently my husband and I headed out for some dinner and conversation. On a “whim” we chose to go somewhere we’d never been before. It was a cool place – part bar, part restaurant.
A few minutes after we arrived and were seated, an older gentleman came in and sat a few seats away from my husband at the bar. We continued our conversation while the gentleman sat by himself.
Then, clear as day, I heard: “talk to him.” My husband heard it too, “talk to him.”
I fought it, but the message on my heart was insistent. “Talk to him.” Finally, my husband reached over and introduced himself to the man. He was receptive and mentioned that he was a former helicopter pilot for the Marines. We had a nice chat, but it didn’t seem important, yet. Then, the elder man’s son and daughter-in-law arrived. The son had waist-length, jet-black hair and wore shades indoors. The woman was dressed in a suit, but also had wild hair, piercings and tattoos. They sat next to us and we exchanged introductions.
I was born in Puerto Rico in a private clinic, because my mother was hiding her pregnancy. Shortly thereafter we moved New York City and my life of struggle truly began. At the age of 5, I was hit by a car and later molested. At 6, I was physically bullied to an inch of my life. My mother and stepfather sold drugs and neglected my sister and I, so we were shipped back to Puerto Rico to stay with my elderly grandparents, who already had custody of several of my cousins. Instead, we turned to the streets.
I caught my first case (I was arrested and prosecuted) at the age of 10. As a young teen, I’d already started having sex, smoking, drinking and doing drugs. I cursed God for abandoning me. After joining a gang and being arrested time after time, I became the most wanted fugitive of my town, and fled to the United States.
Satan had a grip on my heart and my downward spiral continued. I jumped back into gang life, drugs and guns. The arrests continued until I was facing 5 to 10 years in prison – when I was just 17 years old. In jail, a pastor brought me a Bible, telling me that all my life’s answers were inside. With anger and self-pity I challenged God to prove His love by providing me another chance at life, promising that if my prayer is answered, I would sing His praises for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’m not the only incarcerated person to try and make that deal.
Miraculously, a month later a judge granted me parole. I’m convinced it was God’s hand. On the outside my “old life” came calling right away, but I remembered my prison pastor’s words, “the moment you step outside of this place, that’s when you’ll discover if your decision for Christ is real.” God protected me in His own ways. When I was 21 years old, I started my walk with Jesus.
Now for HIS glory, I can say, I am a happily married man and the father of three wonderful kids. I have a good job, I am a teen pastor, a teacher of His word, a basketball coach, and I am involved in the I am Second movement here in NY. Take it from me, no one is beyond God’s redemption. While I do not deserve it, I happily accept His grace. My name is J.M. and “I am Second.”
What struggles do you face? Guess what – you’re not alone.
Newlyweds Sarah and Hugo attended Bible college together in Argentina. There, they learned of God’s love and character, growing closer to Him and to each other. With passion for the Lord and reaching others for Christ, the Liborio family became missionaries abroad in the Dominican Republic.
Hugo found the I am Second movement to be a powerful tool for sharing his faith and wore the wristband everyday. Though a young and healthy man, while home on leave he suffered an aneurysm during a pickup basketball game.
Unconscious and in critical condition, his wife fished out a simple black bracelet beneath the many hospital bands on Hugo’s wrist. In white writing was his lasting statement: “I am Second.” Wrought with grief Sarah thought,“maybe it was God speaking to me in a voice that I could be comforted by.” As her husband’s earthly body slipped away, she felt him reassure her, “If God needs my life… it’s O.K. because I am Second.”
The inside of Hugo’s wedding band is engraved with “I am Second.” Today Sarah shares what she calls “the I am Second night I had with Hugo.” Her loss becomes a legacy of gain as Jesus Christ is glorified and others are inspired to share, to connect – to become Second.
As she says, “No matter what the cost, I will serve God.”
In life, the One who is First gives purpose. In death, the One who is First gives comfort.
Sarah and Hugo’s story and his legacy of Second is celebrated in her book and website.
Philadelphia, PA recently launched a mini-I Am Second campaign in their city. Here is an amazing story of God’s transformational love in that community:
A member of our church began a Bible study at the factory where he worked as a chaplain. 29-year-old chef Steve from the café began attending regularly. Blake invited Steve to church for an I Am Second sermon series after they had walked together through the Bible for seven months.
Steve was going through a very ugly divorce due to his affair and other indiscretions. As he began attending church with Blake, the movie theater where the church meets became a good place for Steve and his wife to exchange their young daughter. They were distant and cold toward each other at that time. As the series continued, Jess began sitting through the service with Steve and their daughter. She brought divorce papers one Sunday and Steve signed them.
The next week the church showed the Scruggs video about a restored marriage after divorce and an affair. Steve and Jess both sensed their hearts changing. The divorce papers were already turned in, but they had failed to get them notarized so a new set of papers were given to Steve. After the sermon he told Jess that he would sign them after the 13 week sermon series ended. Each week they were moved by the videos and the sermons.
Finally, after meeting personally with the pastor for several weeks, Steve responded to the gospel and was saved. He was dramatically changed over the next few months and Jess noticed the changes. She also heard the gospel but has not yet responded.
Over the last eight months their marriage has been put back on a path to restoration. They now live together again and are in counseling. This couple was as good as divorced when God intervened and used the IA2 series to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Next week Steve is proposing again to his wife that they might renew their vows.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the review the I Am Second small group materials received over at SimpleChurch Journal. They have a great blog about living missionally and how the church can benefit from getting down to the basics.
Here are some excerpts:
They incorporate many of the principles that we have found key to starting healthy groups that can reach out to others to start new groups.
New believers are encouraged immediately to begin praying for their “village,” or sphere of influence, and to reach out with compassion towards them.
We appreciate the encouragement and are glad to be working toward the same goals. Be sure to share your experience with the I Am Second small group materials on their blog and here for that matter! What’s your experience been?
Jon was a long term project. His sister, Vicki, had been praying for him for 24 years. Around the first of January Jon saw the Colt McCoy I am Second commercial running on ESPN. He was out of town, but he went to his computer to check out www.iamsecond.com as soon as he got back home to Boise, Idaho on Jan 7th.
As Jon watched film after film, he was amazed how Jesus changed lives. Jon called Vicky, who lives way off in Atlanta, to see what she thought of the site. “It’s good, keep looking at it” she told him.
Jon spent 6 hours . . . yes, 6 hours . . . looking at videos. Then his heart could not hold back . . . he fell to his knees and talked to Jesus. Confessing. Worshipping. Putting his faith in He Who is First.
“Find an I am Second Group” caught Jon’s eye on iamsecond.com. As he clicked on the page, up popped a Google map right around his house. Jon didn’t know it, but that part of the website had gone live just 3 days before. But in God’s providence there already was a group registered near him. Probably not another one for 500 miles, but God had a group right there for Jon to find.
Jon connected with Jeremy, the group leader. Then tried out the group two days later. He loved it. “People there really are pumped about Jesus,” he told me on the phone.
Jon called Vicky to tell her the good news that he now believed in the Good News. Vicky’s joy overflowed to Mike R, one of her prayer partners. Mike R sent it on to Scott, one of our Board members who lives in Orlando. Scott knew I’d love the story, so he sent it on to me.
The rejoicing went from Boise to Atlanta to Orlando to Charlotte, where I was when I got Scott’s forward of Mike R’s forward of Vicky’s hallelujah email message. As I joined in the email celebration, Mike R asked where I am Second is headed next. When I responded that actually I was in Charlotte that very moment discussing launching there, Mike R mentioned that Apartment Life, the ministry he’s with, had just started work there.
A few hours later . . . I’m sitting across the table at a Starbucks in Charlotte talking to Nick, AL’s brand spanking new regional leader. Discussing how we might partner together. All because Jon trusted Christ in Boise a few days before.
The fingerprints of God . . . all over that whole thing. I can’t help but believe in a sovereign God who WILL accomplish His plans, and often in a way that only He gets the acclaim for pulling it off.
Also challenges me NOT to give up when praying for someone. For we never know when or how God will cause the spiritual dominoes to fall.
Here’s what Vicky told us later—
“I want to personally thank every person involved with this website for helping to bring my brother Jon to Christ. Jon and I were not raised together. We share an earthly father who struggled to give either of us what we needed emotionally. But now, after I have been praying for him since he was 15 years old – 24 1/2 years of prayers, God has drawn us together as children of the same heavenly father. A father who can love Jon in a way that he has never experienced before.
“The work that you are doing has such great eternal impact. My brother who was lost up until this day is now absolutely blown away by the love of Christ and his new life in him. And I have the privilege of sharing this with Jon and having new life breathed into my own spiritual walk – if DOES matter what we say, what we do, where we put our efforts, and how we nurture these over the years.”
People are looking for hope and change and God. Would you like to be there when they come looking? Register your group or ministry at http://iamsecond.com/join/.
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” – Paul
Wait a minute. “We loved you so much“… Now there’s a new way of looking at it (for me anyway). I always have this idea in my head that the love I show others comes directly from my love from God. My love from God compels me to share His love with others. I still wouldn’t say that’s wrong… but maybe it’s incomplete. Should it be my love for God and my love for others that brings me to the point of sharing the gospel? And not only the gospel—but my life as well. For Paul to share his life with someone, it meant he was spending time with them in community—living with them, eating with them, and serving with them. How often do we make that next step of truly investing not just a conversation, but authentic and substantial time with a person? We should be taking delight in these things out of our love for our neighbors. But fundamentally, do we love our neighbors? Think about those who we’re called to love. (This would be everyone—friend and foe alike). Do we truly love them? Now, if we love them, shouldn’t we invest in them both through sharing the gospel with them, and then by following up with them through quality time?
The challenge is pretty self evident here, but I’ll lay it out just in case. Examine your relationships. 1) Do you love your neighbors? 2) If you love them, are you showing them genuine love? 3) If you’re showing them genuine love, are you showing them Christ? 4) If you’re showing them Christ, are you continuing to love them by investing in them?
I of course am not suggesting that you beat anyone over the head with a Bible, but I think it’s important that we show an authentic compassion and love for people through actions and quality time so that the faith that we share doesn’t stand alone. Then we, like Paul, can show others our love.