Luis Palau, spiritual spitfire

One wonders, at times, when Luis Palau actually breathes. As he talks, his words spill out — cogent, clear thoughts, not ramblings — but he’s so full of spiritual energy and excitement that when he begins to tell stories he can’t seem to stop.

In terms of personal style, think Hubert Humphrey with a very subtle Spanish accent and high on Jesus.

His language is peppered with “God-willing.” As in, we’ll have a festival in the Twin Cities — “God-willing” — or he’ll be going to London to meet with some financial backers for the Spain 2005 festival — “God-willing.”

The only person who can calm him down is Pat Scofield, his loving wife of 43 years. He proudly says she keeps him humble.

Palau spends his life in his faith. He carries a small leather-bound copy of the New Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, with him at all times. He begins each day with exercise and prayer.

He often uses the “One Year Bible” in both English and Spanish. “It keeps you creative. I vary it. Last year and this year I’m doing the ‘One Year New Testament.’ It’s shorter, and then you can meditate on each passage more.

“To me, it’s like talking to the Lord — listening rather than talking. Every line of reading turns into a prayer.”

Palau was raised in the traditional Catholic faith of his native Argentina, and then Episcopalian. His father, who died when Luis was 10, was a born-again Christian.

When Palau was 12 and at a Christian camp in Argentina, a counselor asked him: If he died tomorrow, would he be going to heaven or hell?

Hell, I guess, Luis replied. So he and the minister sat on a log in the light rain, and Luis prayed to accept Jesus into his heart. He has been full of the faith ever since.

“It’s what keeps me going,” he said. “I don’t think about where my energy comes from. It’s spending time with the Lord – the goals that are fabulous. It’s not the day-to-day grinding details, but the major goals of your life. You’re leading people to eternal life. There can’t be anything more motivating.”

When Palau greets people, he looks them in the eye, holds out a firm handshake, or hug. He sometimes stumbles on a name (even his grandchildren’s at times), but he never forgets a face – including the details of previous conversations with that person, no matter how long ago they met.

“I often say to kids, when you’ve led someone to Christ it just gets in your blood and it’s an adrenaline, a spiritual adrenaline, you know. I’ve led this person to eternal life. They’ll always be in heaven. Making money is fun, I’m sure, but this is much more fun.”

Just what is sin?

Palau, 69, is an evangelical with conservative views. However, he is first and foremost, he’ll tell you, an evangelist. He wants to get his message out to everyone, so he tries to be clear about what he believes without offending anyone.

He is clear about sin. It’s anything that separates you from the love of God. He would include a list of modern issues in that category, but, as he says often, he doesn’t talk in terms of issues.

He tells stories. For example, he often tells of a young woman who called into his television show one day, crying because she had had an abortion and now she worried that she wouldn’t get into heaven. He told her that if she truly repented she would receive the unconditional love of God.

In the midst of the casinos of Reno, Nev., he shook his head at what he considered the lost time and desolate lives of those spending “their Social Security checks” at the slot machines. But he doesn’t preach directly about the sin of gambling. Nor does he talk directly about same-sex marriage or the death penalty. He prefers instead to stick with his core message – to get eternal life a person must accept Jesus into his or her heart.

“Yes, it’s safe to say I don’t talk about issues,” he said. “I talk about it in a different way. I’m an evangelist. I’m a great defender of the church. But as an evangelist, I reach out to people in all situations, all backgrounds, across all political spectrums, positions. I want to draw them to Christ.”

At another time, he said, “The thought is because you’ve committed one particular sin doesn’t make you less accessible to the grace of God.”

He recognizes, however, that “it’s a theological debate.” Several fundamentalists have attacked Palau, saying he’s not clear enough about what is “sin.”

He rejects their criticisms. “Anyone who says I don’t deal with sin isn’t listening. They just want to hear certain code words. I’m out there proclaiming the good news, and I think that’s why so many surrender to Jesus Christ; they see he really loves them. People say, ‘I know what my sins are, but I’m not about to tell anybody.’ I’m not out there to change laws. That’s somebody else’s job.”

Faith and marriage

Palau tells everyone how he met his wife. He was a student at a Bible college in Oregon and had begun to think that he would be a bachelor all his life. “All the thousands of good-looking girls and I thought I was going to be single.” Then along came Scofield. “We were both praying to find the right person. We became friends, and four sons and nine grandchildren later we’re having a ball, and we owe it all to Jesus Christ.”

At the Reno festival, he tells the thousands of young people, “It’s when you’re thinking of marriage that you need Jesus Christ so badly. There’s an enemy named Satan. Satan says do whatever you want. Don’t listen to that voice. The Bible says God is love. You say, ‘Luis, I’d love to marry the right girl, but where can I find her?’ Come running to Jesus Christ, and let him take over your life. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Palau has a “ton” of favorite Bible passages. “When I sign a Bible I generally write Galatians 2:20. It touches on the cross, dying with Christ and that Jesus lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live in the love of God. It revolutionized my daily walk to know that Christ lives in me. I used to think it was figurative, he doesn’t really come in, but then I realized about age 35 he actually does come in. He lives in me.”

For women, he often signs Proverbs 31:30, which says that the woman who fears God is to be praised.

Meaning of communion

Because he’s on the road so much, Palau doesn’t get to his home church in Portland more than a few times each year. “It’s about 2,000 people – middle-of-the-road evangelical. It proclaims the Lord and has communion every Sunday. I like communion every Sunday. I was brought up with it. It has the effect of making you think about the cross again, what happened, and helps you to confess your sins that you can think of at the moment so you can take communion with a clean conscience.”

Palau wants everyone to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, he says. He’s quite clear about it. “Anyone who hears about Jesus Christ and repents and believes and surrenders, they’re guaranteed heaven.”

Then he smiles and says, “But wait. I haven’t finished.”

His study of the Bible tells him that those who have not had a chance to know Jesus, but who fear God and do what is acceptable to God, will get into heaven, too.

“Like Abraham. He didn’t know Jesus, but he believed God and he is counted a righteous man. God calls him his friend.”

But a modern-day person?

“If a person clearly hears the good news of Jesus Christ so he can make a reasonable decision and formally turns it down, he is condemning himself. It’s biblical. I’d be a heretic to teach anything else. Once you hear about it, you have a terrible responsibility. You’re either going to bow and say, ‘You’re my savior. I see you, I believe you, I’ll follow you,’ or, ‘Thank you very much. I’m not interested. I’ll keep going my own way’ and you wake up in hell one day. That’s as close as I can put it. Some people may not see eye to eye on that. But to me, it’s the only thing that gives me peace.”

Earlier in his life he would have asked the question that Abraham asked: “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?”

Palau says now, “Of course he will. I’m not worried. The essence of this is totally biblical. It doesn’t contradict the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, but honors those who never got a chance to hear about it. The Lord looks upon the heart. An honest, sincere, repentant, broken person who never heard of Jesus Christ? Of course, God would take him. The Lord does speak to people who have a hungry heart.”

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