I Almost Killed a Man

Clarion Alley, very much cleaned and renovated
Clarion Alley, Mission District

In 1987 I was working full-time with S.O.S. Ministries in San Francisco, California.

I was living in a  community with other team members in the Mission District on Sycamore St. Everything was rather gritty. (Some would say it was ‘loathsome or gross,’ but that seems unkind.)

Wine bottles were mixed with the decor of fresh graffiti and were then blended with the acrid smell of urine, puke, and feces. When it got hot, it got really bad. It could make your eyes water.

“Amelia’s”, the biggest lesbian “rock-n-roll” bar west of the Mississippi was just a few doors down.

A gay thrift store was next to it. Living next to us were heroin addicts; when they overdosed they would start retching in the common “light-well” that we shared with them. The “puking” could get pretty violent, and you had to turn up the radio just to block it out. And we prayed for them.

I had the misfortune (?) of having the front room on the first floor overlooking the street. Nights would bring out all the crazies, the junkies, the girls fighting and throwing bottles at each other. I heard everything. Cursing and yelling and screaming.

God had given me a front-row seat to all the nastiness and pain.

The house we lived in was smack in the middle of what the San Francisco Chronicle called “San Francisco’s Meanest Street.” I think there were some close runners-up to us though. But living on Sycamore had its share of memorable moments.

I was driving the ministry truck back from outreach at Powell and Market (the “cable car turn around.”) We had had a great outreach, almost four hours. It’s a perfect locale, with the subway and the tourists and the street performers. The truck was loaded with sound equipment, and I was taking it back to the S.O.S. house, where we stored it (under lock and key, of course.)

There was that alley directly behind our house. Our garage was located there.

Clarion Alley was the classic inner-city alley. It was very rough and nasty, and if you did venture out you needed to be “prayed up.” It is also the city’s largest bathroom. It seemed the urine smell tried very hard to cancel out the stench of the feces. It was very ripe. (I had also gotten stabbed with a used heroin needle while I was cleaning– but that is another story.)

I was driving along, very happy to be headed home.

It had been a very long day, and I was tired. I turned from Mission St. into Clarion Alley. It was cold and dark. I was thinking about a cup of hot tea. Now Clarion is only a block long. The street was filled with garbage, and as I tooled along there was a big roll of carpeting laying pretty much crossways on the pavement.

I was tired. My first thought was just to drive over it.

I think I might even accelerated the truck. All of a sudden I had the strong urge to stop. I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the cab. Cautiously, I knelt down for a closer look. Rolled up inside was a wino trying to sleep. I’m sure in his mind, the carpeting was a cozy “godsend,” a safe place that was a warm and dry place hidden from “bad people.”

And I came just inches from killing him.

God intervenes to protect our lives probably much more than we realize. Each person has been created in His image. He loves everyone– as if we were the only one.

“We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.”

Psalm 33:20, NLT

SOS Ministries has reorganized but still is true to the vision it had when I served with them. Website: SOS Ministries. It is the premier place to develop a gift of evangelism and worship. 
SOS Ministries is an inter-denominational, evangelical, street ministry in San Francisco.  Its special mission is to reach the people of the San Francisco Bay Area and to train Christians and churches in evangelism helping them reach their own communities for Jesus. Come help share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of San Francisco.
SOS organizes three “Church on the Street” outreaches each month in San Francisco or Berkeley on Saturday afternoon. Local churches bring their worship group and conduct a church service in a downtown park. They also witness three times a month in San Francisco on Friday night.

Outreaches are subject to change. Call (510) 282-5629 to confirm outreaches or for more information. E-Mail: mail@sosmin.com.

Mailing Address:
SOS Ministries
P.O. Box 27358
Oakland, CA, 94602

 

God’s Hospital–the Church Collects Sinners

The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson.  This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
Author of many books, and his great translation of the Bible, titled “The Message” is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the English language. 
Additionally, he has recently focused on the pastor, and on the many issues, a pastor might face.  He understands being a servant of the Gospel and the Church. 
I encourage you to read his stuff.  

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“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does.  Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that.  Insiders see it much differently.”

“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.” 

“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised.  It is similar with sinners outside the church.”

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 Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:

  • “All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
  • “When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. “
  • “When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
  • “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
More Eugene Peterson Quotes…
 
 
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Dancing With Bruises

ballerina stretching
Photo by Beto Franklin on Pexels.com

Sometimes it seems like bruises are part of life’s gift package to us.

Dancers are some of the most talented people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. But by choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain.

Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some live with chronic tendonitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion, but they still choose to dance.

Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers must operate with an iron will and an elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance the way they do. They have painfully blended the two.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” They would rather dance in pain, than not dance at all.

I once heard someone describe depression as having a mental bruise. I think I might understand. 

As one prone to depression, I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for weeks at a time. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt lost and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed again.

My sense of being totally lost in sad, dark thoughts was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering, and it is often a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. The dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. I don’t think Satan has the spiritual “voltage.”

I refuse to hide my mental bruises from those who share my pain. I will make the choice to dance. I’m bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, and “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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Memories That Shame Us

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 

Genesis 3:6-10, ESV

There is a good chance that some of your memories are pretty awful.

When we get looking back we can see shameful, dark things.  Some of us carry things that are profoundly evil, and they go with us wherever we go. It’s no secret that guilt and mental illness travel hand in hand, for they are brothers. They have tormented us for a terribly long time. They are like playground bullies who have no fear– they only have hatred for us.

I’m quite convinced that the only way to move on is to have Jesus Christ fully cleanse you, and that includes your dark humiliations.  The human tendency is for concealment. We take considerable effort to conceal and cloak our past lives. (Both Adam and Eve understood personal shame.)

I remember back when my dad discovered that one of our dogs had killed a chicken.  He took that dead chicken and wired it around that dog’s neck. That dog wore that chicken for weeks.  It was awful, and it began to putrefy. The smell was terrible.  I can still see that dog, staggering and tongue lolling out and slobbering.  My dad said it was the only cure for a “chicken killer.”  The dog would get very sick, attached to this rotting carcass.  It was a sobering lesson for a boy to see.

Somehow, that is what our past disgrace has done to us.  

Sure we have moments when we can almost forget.  But, for the most part, it is just a temporary reprieve.  We slide back and rediscover the pain; it’s just waiting for us.   The cost of our mental health is staggering.  

Many of us are driven by a mad movement toward drugs and alcohol.  We are compelled to escape the pain, and for a little while it seems to work. (This is called “co-morbidity.” Which is ‘fancy talk’ for a dual problem.)

It’s like filling a bucket with corrosive acid.  It will eat its way out.

Most of us would quickly trade this mental pain, this misery;  for a physical one. Something shameful that was done 20 or 30 or 50 years ago continues its destructive work.  Our conscience will not allow us to dispose of our self-disgust in this easy, cavalier manner.  We need a ‘hazmat’ crew to help us clean up mentally and spiritually.

You have to forgive yourself.  

You must, or you will destroy yourself and those closest to you as well!

Often we believe these things are simply moldy walls; they seem to just need a coat of paint. Our problem is that it will only cover for a short time.  After 20-30 layers are applied, we realize this isn’t really the answer. Nothing we can do is ever enough.  We must have Jesus– we must!

“God doesn’t want us to punish ourselves to erase our guilt. He punished his Son to cancel our guilt. God will not build His kingdom on our pain because He is building it on His mercy.”

-Bryan Chapell

Full repentance is critical. Don’t scuff off this first step.  The blood of Jesus isn’t some nicety. It is foundational for salvation. We are to, by faith, start the obedience. Our blistering sin and guilt are absorbed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.


“When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!”

2 Corinthians 5:17, LB

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