I had two hours free in San Francisco before meeting friends for dinner, and I thought I should go to the Tenderloin.
The neighborhood is known for its open air drug deals, prostitutes, government subsidized SRO's (single resident occupancy units) where many of the residence are sick or dying.
I would have been easier to check-in to my hotel early and freshen up before dinner, but this "random" Facebook moment popped up on my phone:
Okay God, I hear ya, and I took the 5th Street exit, made my way to 6th and Howard, and pulled into the first spot I could find.
Thank God I saw a woman passed out on the curb with half her body laying in my spot before I ran her over; I found another place to park.
I walked the block, through the pot smoke, past hooting and hollering clusters of men and women. People leaned against buildings to avoid falling over, heaps of dirty flesh lay on the ground in various states of undress. I rubbed my shoulder to discover that I had been crapped on by a bird perched on the building above me.
For most people The Tenderloin can be overwhelming. It feels dangerous because, frankly, it is. People high on drugs, desperate and dying, in a fragile mental state are all around.
The environment itself bears witness to the darkness that rules the day. Look around and see used condoms, beat up hookers loitering outside sex shops, human feces in the corner, bodies gaunt from years of drug abuse.
I decided to pray with people and give whatever money I had. But when I tried to enter a "hotel" I had been to several times I learned that the residents were all evicted as it was being converted into an SRO. Okay, God, why do you have me here, I asked?
A group of Christians came out of another hotel and we exchanged stories of the darkness in the area and ways we've fought it and have ministered to people.
I walked the block and saw a woman who was being held upright by her friend. Every time he tried to leave her, she would collapse to the ground. He kept saying, "I don't know you." She was totally out of it, he kept holding her up. They propped up against one of many demonic murals in the area, which looked as if it wanted to devour the young life.
You can see the two off to the left in this photo.
Here's another awful mural. It shocks me that this is a city, a society, so calloused to the reality of spiritual darkness and oppression that they would allow this as their public art. There are literally scores more packed with skulls, demons, death--satan has clearly marked his domain here.
Up ahead I saw a pair of legs jutting across the sidewalk.
I didn't plan to stop and talk to this guy. But as I stepped around him, I looked into his eyes, and he in mine.
There was a sparkle of life.
He asked for a cigarette, I don't smoke I said. We bantered back and forth, I asked for his name, he said it was Lance. I shook his hand, crouched next to him, and asked him to tell me his story.
As he began, I drew out more details with questions. Deeper we went into his life, he'd served in the Gulf war, was a track star, then I learned about the source of his pain, the blow from which he has never recovered.
He was in a car accident and his wife and daughter were killed. The only survivor, Lance blamed himself; he could have told them to go slower to avoid hitting black ice. He blubbered with tears and snot as I held him close.
Lance went through the windshield, and has had seizures ever since. He lost his family home, their car, his job, pain killers don't work anymore, only a constant supply of alcohol to numb the pain. He wants to die, I fought back and told him he's awesome, I spoke life to him. Then I asked him if he wanted to say anything to the world, he said yes, this is what he said.
Lance said he never learned in school how to deal with death like this.
At one point, as he looked at my phone, he said he hadn't seen his own reflection in a long time. He called me an angel that came from out of nowhere. I repeated my advice to him, talk to God, read his Bible, go to Cityteam. Then I left.
I ran into a guy I know from Cityteam, an addiction recovery program, but had relapsed. He commented about living in the Tenderloin, he said it was the darkest area he's ever been in. He said the spirit of death and Satan is everywhere, like Legion demons from Luke Chapter 8 waiting to sweep into the next person. Without God, he remarked, nobody out here has a chance.
We talked about how with God, there is no fear in the Tenderloin. It didn't even occur to me to be afraid. I gave him a hug and blessed him in the fight for his life.
I made my way to ritzy Nob Hill for dinner, parked my car, and wasn't shocked to see skulls and cross bones all over the place. San Francisco has invited Satan and his beasts with open arms, socioeconomic status makes no difference.
This is a dark city in need of God, I'm certain of it now more than ever. The darkness is not confined to the Tenderloin--not even close--here's what greets you entering a swanky apartment building.
Lord help San Francisco.
In the spirit of victory of Jesus, who overcame the world and death, the same victory that enables me and anyone who knows Jesus to walk into the darkness with no fear, I leave you with this.
WARNING: This post contains graphic content.
I'm starting to see the plastic skeleton's, sheet ghosts, and other goblin paraphernalia hanging around town. This reminds me of the time I met a demon possessed woman on the street of San Francisco with a couple guys from Google and their friends.
What?! A demon? Are they real?
Yes. They are. I could rattle off Bible verses that talk about it but I'll leave that up to you and instead recount what I saw.
Here's how it went down: A guy I met said he wanted to bring his Google colleagues into the City to serve the poor. At the time, I was working for a ministry called Cityteam with an operation in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood know for open air drug deals, passed out people, emergency sirens, sex in the corners, people defecating right before you, even some convulsing as if possessed by something...
Here's a short (and sanitized) video I created after the day's events. I think it gives you a taste of what we were up to.
What you don't see in this video is our encounter with a demon possessed woman. I was leading the group down the street when I turned around to see that the other five had fallen behind. Sitting on the curb there beside me was a woman I had seen drinking hours ago, and not wanting to deal with someone inebriated I avoided eye contact.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw that she had on a super dirty scarf, while in my hand I clutched a clean new one. I decided to offer it to her and so asked her what her name was. Rather than answer she offered to perform a sex act on me for a nickle. As I worked up a response, somewhat shocked, the rest of the group caught up.
Now with a larger audience her offers became more vulgar. Another guy and I began to say to her repeatedly that she didn't have to do this. We told her that there was hope for her. She ignored us except for one moment when her look changed to pure innocence and she asked, "Is there?"
But then her head snapped back and she began gyrating on the sidewalk. We asked her if we could pray for her, she ignored us. We kept asking, then again in a break from her profanity she looked up to us and said, "please pray for me."
As soon as we began to pray, she leaped to her feet and ran right into the street and barely missed being hit by a car. We were all a bit stunned but continued on our mission to give away hundreds of hand made scarves, hats, and blankets.
While our interaction with this woman was the most stark example of the torment a demon possessed woman has, literally talking out of two sides of her face each with a distinct look and language, it wasn't the only. Throughout the day, we encountered others that were oppressed, shackled by death and addiction, clearly in a dark place.
Some we met had a different disposition, they beamed with hope, joy, and love. They invited us into their homes, tiny rooms no bigger than 8' x 10'. Despite their circumstances, though, they seemed to literally emit light.
Here's the video where the group talks about what they experienced that day, including our encounter with the demon possessed woman.
In closing, realize that there is another spiritual dimension on this planet, and that demons exist. They seek to confuse, divide, kill and destroy wherever possible. Often they work subtle angles killing slowly over time.
The Bible lays all this out very clearly, and when you understand the power and authority of Jesus Christ there's nothing to worry about. With Jesus there is guaranteed victory over demons and death altogether!
Just by uttering the name Jesus you can send a demon running. Though, I encourage you not to keep the name above all names in your back pocket like a "Get Out of Jail FREE" card should you face a demon. I encourage you to get to know who Jesus is by picking up a Bible. If you get lost or have questions, set up a phone call with me via my connection page.
This Halloween, as many decorate their homes with fake spirits of the dark sort, since I know first hand that there are plenty of real demon's in the world, I think I'll decorate with pumpkins.
When I was first coming into my faith, a guy told me to look up Francis Chan's YouTube videos. The first one I found (just below) had me watching his videos late into the night, very impacted by what he was saying, his emphasis on the profound meaning of Scripture often overlooked, and his sense of urgency.
When I moved to California, I learned that Francis lived in San Francisco, and it wasn't too long before I had a chance to hear him preach in person at a youth event. I realized then that what strikes me most about Francis is his urgency, the man does not want to waste a minute on this Earth. That, and a fear of the Lord, has driven this man deep into his faith, and his teachings have literally changed me as a person.
In November 2013, at the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend, Francis was set to speak again. I was eager to hear what he was going to say to a few hundred business guys packed into the opulent Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Francis looked to be under duress during his talk, he gazed to Heaven, at one point he knelt on the ground in prayer before the men. Here is what he said.
After this talk, I was struck silent. I walked back to my hotel room, not wanting to listen to another speaker or talk to anyone, I just wanted to get on the ground before God in prayer. I wanted to repent that I just keep doing things on my own terms, not surrendering to God the way I know he is calling me to do. As I walked to my room, coming from the other direction was my roommate, Charlie.
Charlie and I entered the room one after the other, and I don't recall that we spoke a single word to each other. We put our things down, he in his separate room, me in mine. We soon realized we were both about to be on the floor in prayer, and so we joined each other. We called out to God and our prayers sounded similar. We prayed for maybe forty five minutes or so.
As we got up, we recognized there was a reason we were connected through this group, that we were sharing a room, that we both came back to pray. We offered to each other that while we are friends, we really only know about 70% of each other, at best. We agreed that we didn't want to leave this conference, and make nominal changes for a few weeks or months, to return to the same old way of doing things.
We made a commitment right then and there that we would work hard to get to know each other. And, more importantly, we would call each other every day or two to hold each other accountable to reading Scripture and to getting before God in prayer.
Over a year later, Charlie and I still talk a couple times a week at the minimum, pray together, reveal our struggles as much as anything, and encourage each other through life. There are times when we'd rather not reach out for all kinds of reasons, sometimes we are even annoyed at each other, but we both know that our relationship serves a higher purpose, that investing in the other isn't just about us, its about drawing closer to God, and glorifying Him. I think its fairly rare to have these kinds of real relationships among men, but I think when the Holy Spirit moves men get connected in a very strong way in relationships that bear great fruits.
I digressed there a bit into my personal story, rather than about Francis Chan and why he is "Getting It Done." Most recently, I had a chance to have dinner with Francis with about a dozen other guys. We were eager to hear what he's been up to with his "Crazy Love" project in the Bayview section of San Francisco. In a nutshell, Francis decided to start living church with a core group of brothers and sisters that are known by their love and their unity first, and then multiply from there.
He shared over dinner how they had multiplied a couple of times already, he told stories about how Christ's love is being expressed, and the way that everyday men and women are being raised up to teach and make disciples. In fact, Francis says he seldom preaches, since everyone is willing and able to preach and share together.
The question that came to my mind, which I asked Francis, is this, "Are the people who are coming into the church poor?" Francis said that they are. And then the follow-up question, "Can it work among the rich?" This is the million dollar question (ok, pun intended). So many of the disciple making movements that I hear about that have the characteristics of the early church we read about in Acts, people loving and caring for each other and being united, well, it mostly seems to happen among the poor.
This lead to Francis talking about a project he feels led to, a partnership with a larger church in Silicon Valley called Abundant Life. The elders at Abundant approached him about going "all in" for the kind of love and unity Francis is seeking with Crazy Love. And so, Francis has an opportunity to try "it" on a larger scale, he's come on as an elder and is preaching there periodically. Needless to say, I'm going to be praying for his effort and keeping an eye on the progress for sure. Here is a sermon Francis gave at Abundant Life called "Giving God Our Best."
In closing, I just heard Francis talk, again at the New Canaan Society Conference in San Francisco. And while a good deal of his talk was directed at the men and movement of NCS, his boldness in speaking the truth, in only desiring to please God was evident. And, his message about defining the God we serve from Revelation Chapter 4 has already vastly changed the way I pray. As soon as the video is available, I'll post it here online.
Don't stop Francis, fly far as on the wings of eagles brother!
Through the Legends group in Menlo Park, I learned about a tragedy where a young man named Ben was shot in the head in San Francisco at a Halloween party. It turns out that Ben was friends with a colleague of one of the guys in the prayer group. Actually he was friends with a colleague of the host of the group, and that colleague, knowing that there was a group of men who came to pray in the office Tuesday mornings, asked the group to pray for Ben, who was in deep trouble.
I got a text while at the New Canaan Society weekend retreat in San Francisco, just a day or two after the shooting, that invited a group of guys to go to the hospital to pray for Ben. A car picked us up and off we went to pray for a young man none of us knew personally. On the way to the hospital we received a text from the colleague that Ben's condition had worsened, there was some kind of infection so that he was put into a unit we could not enter. The best we could do was pray in the hotel lobby.
And so we entered the hospital, got as close to Ben as we could in the Intensive Care Unit, and we began to pray. Pastor Shodankeh Johnson was with us--a powerful man of prayer I wrote about here--and he led us in prayer. We had prayed for five or ten minutes when a few young adults walked by us. I can't recall how the exchange happened, but we learned that among the group were the siblings and a close friend of Ben. We shared that we were praying for him, and they said they might be able to come back later to have us go in to see him.
We prayed maybe ten minutes more, and then we left and went back to the retreat. Then the amazing reports began to trickle in...
First, an email from the colleague that said,
"Great report. The initially diagnosed "highly contagious bacterial infection" somehow"came up negative" today."
Then, a few days later, a note:
"a good report re Ben this afternoon. Fluid in the lungs receding. Doctors are optimistic on his prognosis!!!"
A week or so passed, and another note:
"Thank you so much for your prayers and support!"
I am so happy right now I am literally crying. Ben is now awake and is able to move around. His voice is faint (given all the tubes he has had for the last several weeks) but he is able to comprehend and keep conversation! The power of prayers.
I cannot express how thankful, happy, and relieved I am. I have so much to be thankful for this thanksgiving.
Please pass on my thanks to your prayer group and the priest that went to the hospital.
Then, we received an update that the press was beginning to cover this miracle:
Check out the links below. It's not only us who are declaring this a miracle! Local news is also reporting on Ben's recovery.