Refugio Perez walked out of the Gainesville High School gym Friday night with a big smile on his face. No, he didn’t just slam the winning shot in a game of championship hoops or dance with the cutest girl in his class.
Perez—a father in his early 30s—was one of over a thousand people who packed the gymnasium in Gainesville, Texas, to hear the Word of God shared by Will Graham and music from Rend Collective Experiment and The Afters.
An overflow crowd watched on a big screen in the adjacent auditorium.
Although Perez accepted Jesus as his Savior 12 years ago, tonight’s message stirred a desire in his heart to recommit his life to Christ. Over the past decade, his faith gradually weakened in the face of life’s struggles.
“But when I heard Will talk about how Jesus healed the blind beggar,” said Perez, “I realized I wanted to trust God to heal my dad who has been in the hospital for the past two months. And I have things inside of me that I need help with.”
Perez was referring to the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10:46-52, and the story of Bartimaeus that Graham used to point the audience to Christ.
“Bartimaeus had an encounter with Jesus who was on his way to Jericho,” said Graham. “God knew about this man before the foundation of the world. And some of you have a divine appointment with God; He wants to work in your heart tonight. He can give you a whole new beginning, a new life.”
In speaking to a crowd that likely had some familiarity with Christianity and may even attend church currently, Graham posed questions designed to show the real need of the heart—to show how a relationship with Jesus is not the same thing as religion.
“Why are you here tonight?” he asked. “Are you curious? Do you think you are missing out on something? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Are you so depressed you are thinking about suicide?”
Bartemaeus cried out for mercy, said Graham. “We all need to cry out for mercy. Sin will tell us we are OK – ‘Oh you’ve been baptized. You gave money. You go to church. You are fine.’
“Sin has destroyed our spiritual perception, but God is calling you tonight. If you were the only person alive on this earth, God loves you so much he would still send his son Jesus to die in your place.”
When Jesus touches your life, you will never be the same, Graham added. “There will still be problems in life and you will still sin. But you will have a joy that never leaves you.”
Jigs of Joy
Joyful hearts were evident at the start of the evening as Rend Collective Experiment took the stage. On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day—which leader Gareth Gilkeson joked is more of an American holiday—the band’s Irish-flavored songs elicited a few jigs in the aisles, while their worship set prompted raised arms and teary eyes.
Beginning as a movement of 20-somethings wondering how to make sense of life, God and community, Rend Collective Experiment is a nod to the Book of Joel in the Bible, which says to “rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Shifting from Ireland back to Texas, The Afters, from nearby Dallas, took the stage next and delivered a powerful set of their popular hits mixed with emotionally charged testimony by lead singer Josh Havens.
Sharing stories about his father’s death, his brother’s victory over meth addiction, and a car accident that almost cost him his wife and children, Havens told the audience how much Christ loves each of us and that there is no shame in coming to Him—or back to Him.
Refugio Perez would agree: “Tonight was amazing. It feels so good to return to Jesus. You never know—today could be the day when He comes again. You might never have another chance to repent.”
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