(Photo: The Christian Post)
Ocean Grove, N.J. – Will Graham preached about God's purpose in life to thousands of youth Saturday at the Great Auditorium, reaching a new generation with the same Christ-filled message his grandfather Billy Graham is known for.
Standing on the same stage that his legendary grandfather spoke from over half a century ago at the same age, the 36-year-old evangelist challenged a crowd of 5,500, comprised of mainly students, to not live a life defined by a job title but by a God-given purpose.
"What's the purpose? You were created for a relationship. God created you in order to have a relationship just with you," said Graham on Saturday, the second day of the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration Event in Ocean Grove, N.J.
Graham, the oldest son of Franklin Graham, went on to explain man's separation from God by sin and that the only way to restore that relationship is by accepting Jesus as an atonement. All the methods people use to get to God – from philosphy, education to religion – can never help man "get to God," he pointed out.
"That's why tonight I'm not asking you to join a religion. Tonight, I'm asking you to come to Jesus Christ. Because religion is trying to make your way perfect, to get to God, but we can never do it," said Graham.
While the North Carolina native has often been compared to his "granddaddy" for having a similar build, speaking with a Southern accent and sharing mannerisms, Graham looked comfortable in his own skin as he delivered a message in converse sneakers and occasionally joking with the audience.
Toward the end of his message, Graham gave a visual illustration of how a person can only realize his purpose by coming to Jesus. Taking out a pen, he asked the audience, "What's the purpose of a pen?" To which the crowd replied, "To write with." He then laid the pen on a blank piece of paper, demonstrating that while the pen had purpose, it was unused. At the urging of voices in the audience, Graham finally picked up the pen and signed his name on the paper.
"The only way a pen can fulfill its purpose in life is when it's in its master's hand," said Graham to a chorus of affirming "Amens" and cheers.
"Many of you here tonight are like that pen sitting on that paper ... You are meant for so much more but you're not experiencing what you are meant for because you have not surrendered your life to Jesus Christ."
Over 300 people responded to the invitation to receive Christ Saturday night, with 62 percent new decisions. While the venue was filled with many youths, people of all ages and walks of life came forward during the invitation.
Ronan Flores, 32, who attends Calvary Assembly of God in Union, N.J., said he is already a Christian but was moved by Graham's message to rededicate his faith.
"I know I am saved but it's to reignite the flame. Sometimes I backslide and I go through my emotions. When you get an invitation like that, I want to feel it. I want to be inspired to have him in my heart again and in my walk. I don't want to stray away from him again," Flores told The Christian Post.
Brenda Spedaliere, one of the Celebration counselors, said she prayed with a 53-year-old woman.
"She just wanted to rededicate her life to the Lord. She does attend a church but she's been going sporadically and wanted to pray for rededication of her life."
On Friday, around 200 of the 3,000 attendants came forward for prayer, with 75 percent first-time decisions reported.
Everyone who came forward during the invitations received a package with a CD, Gospel of John and response card.
Speaking to The Christian Post, Graham called the responses to the invitation a "blessing" and highlighted teamwork that made the event possible. An association of more than 265 churches representing 25 denominations hosted the three-day event in partnership with The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
"The churches have been doing all the work and preparing all the soil. I think God's just starting to allow the fruit to pop up and we're seeing it here and there," said Will Graham, the third generation Graham to preach the Gospel under the BGEA banner.
The Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration event concludes Sunday.