I have described this town on the edge of the Smokey Mountains as "hick Vegas". It is basically a lighted/neoned strip of country mountain music, pancake houses, t-shirt shops, old timey photo stands, go carts, arcades, and entertainment venues/museums of the weird. And it also happens to hold one of the most incredible spiritual weekends in the country each year.
This last weekend, I was privileged to speak at the Tennessee Christian Teen Convention...over 5,500 students and their sponsors from at least ten different states that I met came for a weekend studying the pursuit of being a teen-ager after God's own heart (David was the model and the Scriptures I preached were from His experiences). Here's the deal...this convention is so big, it is essentially two 2,800 attendee conventions. This means that I preached four sermons two times each. These guys really know how to move large numbers of kids...so I preached at around 7:20 on Friday night and then they moved the kids out and more kids in and I was preaching around 10:20 to another group of kids! This happened again Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday morning! It was crazy and my voice is shot...but it was a great spiritual time! Especially as I offered an invitation Saturday night after preaching from Psalm 51 where hundreds (literally) came foward to make decisions (some repenting from sin and others giving their lives to Jesus for the first time!). Very cool.
Two things to say: 1. Thanks to Drew Moore for preaching and for the people of Eastview (the elders especially) giving me time away to preach to others from time to time. 2. I have many great memories in Gatlinburg. Hick Vegas has been a very formative part of my life! I honeymooned in Hick Vegas. I visited here when I was a kid with my parents (it was more hick and less Vegas back then). I have spoken at the TCTC four times now (the others were 1996, 1997, and 2006) and I have brought at least ten groups (youth groups, college age ministries, and leadership teams) to this town for retreats). It has been a great place..plus it's not far from some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Saturday afternoon in between sessions, I hiked about 2 miles into the nothingness of these mountains and spent some great time with God by a stream...awesome. If you ever get to Hick Vegas...eat at the Pancake Pantry (accept no substitutes and try the Buckwheat pancakes) and buy some civil war memorabalia and take a hike...you'll like it.... but don't stay here long, you'll start speaking the local dialect...banjo!