I had lunch with Franklin Graham a few weeks ago. . . . All right, there were about 500 other people at the lunch. . . . Okay, yes, Franklin was sitting at a table on the other side of the room from me. . . .No, it’s true I couldn’t actually see him, so I don’t know for sure that he did indeed eat lunch. But I’m pretty sure that he did, and so did I. Therefore, Franklin Graham and I had lunch together a few weeks ago.
Okay, so now that I’ve gotten the fine points out-of-the-way, let me remind you of why I was at lunch with Franklin Graham and, yes, 500 or so other people. We were all there to learn more about the Three Rivers Festival of Hope that Franklin Graham in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will be conducting in Pittsburgh at the Consol Center in August of this year. And I’m very excited about the blessing that this festival will be for the Pittsburgh area and for Venice Church.
This is an exciting event for several reasons. First, and above all other reasons, people are destined for an eternity separated from God in hell unless they hear the good news and respond in faith. In “The Essentials of our Faith” (from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church), we read this,
Being estranged from God and condemned by our sinfulness, our salvation is wholly dependent upon the work of God’s free grace. God credits His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justifies them in His sight. Only such as are born of the Holy Spirit and receive Jesus Christ become children of God and heirs of eternal life.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Franklin Graham are being used very fruitfully by God to bring many to faith in Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. It is and should be exciting to all of God people to know that in August 2014 there will a great harvest of souls for the kingdom of God in Pittsburgh.
But a harvest of souls is by no means the only benefit of this festival that should cause excitement among God’s people in the Pittsburgh area. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is expert in preparing an area and its churches for an evangelistic event. And it is that preparation that equips churches to step up to new levels of effectiveness and fruitfulness in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
That excites me a lot. I really look forward to seeing Venice Church grow in effectiveness and fruitfulness in the work of outreach and evangelism. I believe our involvement in the Three Rivers Festival of Hope will be enormously helpful to us in that regard.
One part of that process involves learning about the essential truths of the Christian faith and life. The Festival of Hope preparation program will be providing a very effective and time-tested tool for helping Christians become more confident in their knowledge of those essential truths. They call it their “Christian Life and Witness” course.
It will be offered a multiple locations around the Pittsburgh area on multiple dates during the weeks between April 21 and May 10. It is a three session course. Each week during that three-week period one of the sessions will be offered. Each week you can choose a night and a location to attend. It doesn’t have to be the same night or the same location each week. So, that flexibility should make it possible for the busiest person to complete the three sessions.
Attending the course is something that every one of Venice Church’s people should do, though for now I’ve set a goal of getting 50% of you to attend the classes. If we achieve that goal, I believe we will see a measurable increase in the spiritual vitality and confidence of our church’s life and outreach into our community. Attending the classes does not commit you to any role or involvement with the Festival of Hope. So, don’t be afraid that by going to the classes, you will then have to serve as a counselor or usher or something else at the festival. You can attend the classes and yet have no involvement with the festival. So, right now, put a note on your calendar to hold some evenings free during those weeks between April 21 and May 10. Look for the schedule and location of the Christian Life and Witness Course later in this newsletter.
Beyond learning about our faith, the festival preparations will also bring some other things into the life of Pittsburgh area church that will bear rich fruit into the future. One of those other benefits will be helping God to work some key principles of Christian witness down into the deep places of our hearts. I want to share one of those key principles that I heard at the Involvement seminar that Meg and I attended recently. There the leader from the BGEA pointed out an obvious truth that most North American churches seem to have forgotten. “Without sowing, there will be no reaping. If we do not sow the seed, we will have no crop to harvest.”
It’s a bit embarrassing just how thoroughly most American church-people have forgotten this basic principle. But we have. We sit in our churches, cozy and comfortable, and we wait, expecting somehow that new believers will just sort of wander in through our doors all on their own. And they almost never do. Then we wonder why. Picture a farmer sitting in his barn, wondering when that ripe corn is going to start walking itself in and climbing into the bins. He’s going to wait a long time.
But the essential principle of sowing and reaping is so obvious. If we do not go out and sow the gospel into our communities actively, boldly, vigorously, we will see no harvest of new believers. And the result is that our churches grow older and older and smaller and smaller, and our culture and community become more and more pagan. We really shouldn’t be surprised.
We need to have this essential principle worked deep down into our hearts. God will bless our sowing. He will cause the seeds of the gospel to sprout and grow. But he wants us to be his co-workers in this. He wants us to sow the gospel lovingly, winsomely, authentically from the fountain of true faith in our own hearts. And he promises to bless our witness by causing faith to sprout up on people’s hearts when we do it. When you bear true witness to what God has done in your life by telling others about it, God promises to bless that witness by causing some who hear to respond with faith in their own hearts. If you do it, you will see it. I promise you. It is true.
So, if we internalize such essential principles as sowing and reaping, they will in time become deeply ingrained habits of life. The result will be that long after the Festival of Hope and come and gone, we will still see its effects in our ministry of outreach, because we will have developed the habit of sowing, the habit of inviting people to come, to come and meet Jesus. That’s what the apostle Philip did, and because he did, the apostle Nathanael come to faith in Jesus. That’s what the apostle Andrew did, and because he did, his brother, the apostle Peter, came to faith in Jesus.
There are people in your life who are spiritual lost and starving. They need for you to invite them to meet Jesus. If we do this, God will use us to bring in a great harvest of faith at Venice Church and throughout our community. How about being part of that?
©2014 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.