In Lubbock, Texas, on Wednesday night, it would have been easy to focus on everything that’s wrong with the world: the deadly shooting at Texas Tech just 48 hours earlier, the ongoing devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, and the political turmoil that has left the nation so divided.
But looking around at the crowd of more than 5,600, it was also easy to see God’s blessings: the new parents beaming as they swayed to the music with their baby girl, the chaplains with their arms around a woman who came to them for prayer, and—best of all—the throng of people who made their way down to the front to respond to Franklin Graham’s invitation to turn away from their sins and accept Jesus into their lives forever.
But before that joyful moment, there was a solemn time of prayer. Franklin asked the crowd to stand and pray for the family of Floyd East Jr., the police officer killed less than three miles away—allegedly by a 19-year-old student.
Many of the people in attendance for the first stop of Decision Texas: The Lone Star Tour with Franklin Graham had been close by when the shooting happened.
“I was getting in my car and I got a phone call from the university saying there was a shooter on campus,” said Allison White, a freshman at Texas Tech who came out to Mackenzie Park with three of her friends. “I was terrified. He [the student who has been charged with capital murder] actually lived in my dorm hallway, a few doors down.”
On Wednesday, the four friends decided to get off campus and head to the Decision Texas event after hearing about it on the radio. They were particularly interested in hearing the music from Crowder, but they all agreed the prayer-focused event—planned many months before Monday night’s tragedy—came to town at just the right time.
“People are asking questions they wouldn’t ask before,” said Claire McKissick, who’s a freshman at Tech.
“I think people are also looking for hope,” sophomore Sydney Goodson added. “It seems like everywhere you turn there’s darkness and tragedy.”
Franklin Graham began his message by talking about recent tragedies like shootings, hurricanes and wildfires. Then he turned the crowd’s attention to Jesus’ words in Luke chapter 13.
Jesus mentioned two tragedies his listeners would have been familiar with, including a deadly tower collapse.
“…those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5, ESV).
Jesus was rejecting a myth circulating throughout the population at that time—one that said people suffered specific tragedies because of their personal sinfulness.
Franklin Graham took the opportunity to speak to the tragedies in the news today. Does Hurricane Harvey mean the people of South Texas are more sinful than others? “No,” he said emphatically. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking to us through tragedy.
Franklin urged the people in the crowd to focus on Jesus’ bigger point—that we are all sinners, and unless we repent, we will die, too … not just physically, but spiritually as well.
“God is a just God,” Franklin said. “And there’s a penalty for sin. It’s death.”
But, he explained, there’s also a remedy. It’s faith in Jesus Christ. Faith that He is who He said He is—the Savior who died in our place to rescue us from our sins.
“I’m not here to talk about religion,” Franklin said. “I’m here to talk about faith.”
As he explained the Gospel message, step by step, Crowder took the stage and the opening notes of “How He Loves” began to play.
Just as his father Billy Graham did back in 1975 when he preached in Lubbock, Franklin gave an invitation to accept Christ right there on the spot. People began to stream forward as the rest of the crowd cheered. Little children bounded up front to the stage; an elderly couple with a walker took a little longer but made it to the same spot.
Together, the cluster of people prayed for Jesus to come into their hearts. Afterward, many took out their cellphones to text their decisions for Christ and receive follow-up materials from Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“Remember God loves you,” Franklin said just before turning the stage over to Crowder. “Don’t forget that He loves you.”
A night that began solemnly ended in celebration—not because the recent tragedies and suffering had gone away, but because God’s presence had allowed the people of Lubbock to experience joy in the midst of sorrow.