Evangelist Luis Palau points music, sports heavenward
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Some of the most raucous nightclubs in Nashville, Tenn., can be found in four city blocks along the Cumberland River, but those streets were home of another kind of party during the May 19-20 weekend -– a celebration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
More than 90,000 people crowded into the streets surrounding Nashville's Riverfront Park for the Luis Palau Festival featuring music, extreme sports and the simple presentation of the Gospel by international evangelist Luis Palau.
More than 100 of the 300-plus Middle Tennessee churches that helped sponsor the festival were Baptist, event organizers said.
"The point of this festival is not the music and the sports or anything else; it is to get all of you ready to go to heaven when God calls you," Palau said on Sunday evening.
Palau, speaking from the event's main stage, began his message by talking about award-winning musician Jeremy Camp's wife, who passed away just a few months into their marriage. Using that story to contemplate heaven, Palau clearly and deliberately shared the Gospel message, telling the festival-goers that they could never earn God's approval on their own.
"You see, none of us would get into heaven -– not the nicest grandma or mom or dad -– if it wasn't for the blood of Jesus that he gave on the cross 2,000 years ago," Palau said.
At the end of his message, he extended an opportunity to respond to the Gospel message by raising their hands if they had made a decision for Christ. Then, church-trained counselors gave the new believers a copy of the Gospel of John and a small cross to mark the occasion. Each of these Gospel of John booklets used Lifeway's Holman Christian Standard Bible as its basis along with the new believer commentary included in Lifeway's new The Gift New Testaments.
In April the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association chose the Holman Christian Standard Bible as the official translation of its festivals, beginning with the Nashville event. Lifeway Christian Resources, one of the festival's official sponsors, set up a booth during the weekend where attendees could get more information about Lifeway products.
The new believers and those recommitting their lives to Christ filled out response cards that the Palau team could later use for follow-up with the individuals, including connecting them with local churches that participated in the festival.
Although Palau's Gospel presentation during the festival would have been familiar to anyone who had attended an evangelistic crusade in the past 50 years, his methods are unique. In the late 1990s, in an effort to reach a younger audience, Palau transitioned away from the crusade format of his mentor and friend, Billy Graham. Instead of a stadium event focused on an evangelistic sermon, Palau's team puts together two days of top-notch music and extreme sports with several Gospel presentations in the midst.
Known worldwide as "Music City," Nashville's festival included a diverse collection of some of the most recognizable names in Christian and secular music. LeeAnn Rimes, Steven Curtis Chapman, Craig Morgan, TobyMac and Jeremy Camp were among the featured performers ---sometimes giving as much as a 50-minute concert.
The musicians focused their attention on the young crowd, encouraging them to make decisions for Christ and to make an impact for Him in their communities.
"We were made to change this world," said BarlowGirl lead singer Alyssa Barlow. "We were made to tell people about God. We were made for something so great."
Festival organizers also used sports to get the attention of the young crowd. After Palau's message on Sunday evening, former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Chris Sanders was interviewed on stage about his relationship with Christ. Sanders compared his spiritual journey to one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, when the Titans came up one yard short of winning the Super Bowl in 2000.
"What I want to say to you today is that if we run God's plays, we won't fall a yard short," Sanders said. "I don't want to just call myself a Christian. I want to live according to what God says."
The free-flowing, yet carefully timed festival also featured "extreme" sports, such as bicycle, skateboarding and motorcycle stunts. Each "Living It" extreme sports show, produced by actor Stephen Baldwin and Palau's son, Kevin, ended with a Gospel presentation.
Bob Mortimer, a frequent guest at Luis Palau events, also shared his personal testimony. A double amputee since a car accident as a 21-year-old, he described how God turned his handicap around and has used it for His purposes.
"No matter how many times you have fallen, no matter how many cars you have wrecked, He loves you anyway and cares about you," Mortimer said. "Twenty-seven years ago I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I said, 'Jesus take my life.' With a simple prayer, like many of you prayed tonight, I became a whole man. I have no legs and only one arm, but I know what makes me whole isn't in my shoes, it is in my heart -– Jesus Christ."
The $2.25 million needed to produce the festival was raised entirely by local businesses, churches and individuals. None of the 90,000 festival attendees was asked to make a contribution and no collection was taken at the festival to recoup costs.
The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association has five more festivals planned this year -– including one in Cairo, Egypt in November. The next festival will be in Dallas, June 29-30.
For more information about the festivals sponsored by the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, visit www.palau.org.