WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Megastar Pastor Rick Warren slipped into the conference hall unnoticed Tuesday night, comfortably mingling with the hundreds of pastors gathered, before stepping on stage to deliver a sermon that reminded the audience why Warren is one of the most popular pastors in the world.
In his sermon entitled “Growing Spiritually,” Warren recounted the runaway success of his book The Purpose Driven Life – the best-selling book in history behind the Bible – to the audience gathered at the 19th annual National Conference on Preaching. The sermon was based on the story in Exodus 4 about the scene where God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground and it transforms into a snake.
“That question, ‘What is in your hand?’ is one of the most important questions in life. What is in your hand?” Warren asked his audience, citing God’s question to Moses in Exodus 4:2.
God tells Moses to throw the staff in his hand on the ground and “something that was dead comes alive,” Warren emphasized. The pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California then made two points: God never does miracles to show off and God never asks questions that he does not already know the answer. God asks questions for our benefit, said Warren.
He went on to explain the significance of the staff which represented Moses’ identity as a shepherd; symbolized his income because wealth was tied to livestock back in those days; and symbolized his influence – Moses used the staff to pull or push his sheep.
“‘Lay it down and it will come alive, but Moses every time you pick it up it’s going to die,’” said Warren. “That simple little experience was the turning point in the history of the world.”
After that scene in the Bible, it was never again referred to as Moses’ staff but always called the Rod of God. The Rod of God was used to part the Red Sea, to turn the Nile River into blood, to perform miracles in front of pharaoh and to make water come out of a rock.
“It was just a simple stick. There was nothing magical about it, but once Moses surrendered it to God, it became the Rod of God,” Warren noted. “Pastors, what is in your hands?” the speaker challenged.
Warren then shifted gear and started talking about the success of The Purpose Driven Life and how he dealt with the fame and fortune that followed. He had to ask himself what has God put in his hands – tens of millions of dollars and enormous attention.
“If I wanted to after the book came out I could have bought an island and retire and have people serve me little drinks with umbrellas the rest of my life,” Warren joked. “But when you write a book and the first sentence of the book is, ‘It’s not about you,’ then you kind of figure the money is not for you and the fame is not for you,” he said drawing laughter.
Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, after prayer decided to not change their lives “one bit” even though they now had millions of dollars at their disposal. He said he still drives an eight-year-old Ford truck, lives in the same house before he wrote the book, and wears a watch from Target.
In addition, he stopped receiving salary from Saddleback Church in 2002 – the year the book was released; repaid all the salary he ever received from the church; set up foundations; pays for all his own travel expenses; and practices reverse tithing – where he gives 90 percent of his income and lives on 10 percent.
“I don’t want anybody doubting why I do what I do,” Warren explained. “I know with this book God has put me under the spotlight and I didn’t want anyone doubting why I do what I do,” he said, noting his main goal in life is to simply save one more soul.
The best-selling author said it was easy to resolve the money that God had put in his hands – simply give it away, but the influence was trickier to deal with. But after reading in Psalm 72 about King Solomon asking God to make him more influential so he could help the needy and oppressed, Warren understood that his fame was meant to be used to help the voiceless.
So following that model, Warren and Kay advocate for the poor and oppressed by sometimes speaking to politicians and businessmen, or by mobilizing the church to help the weak and poor, especially children orphaned by AIDS.
“What is in your hand? What is your identity? What is your income? What is your influence?” Warren concluded. “If you will take it and give it to Jesus he will make it come alive. He will do things in your life you would never imagine,” promised the renowned Christian pastor.
Warren spoke at the conference right after stepping off a flight from Kenya, which was one of his stops during a 12-day trip to Africa. There, he met with church, business, and political leaders. The three-day 19th annual National Conference on Preaching concluded Wednesday.