One Saturday morning I was to meet and greet some pastor from California. It was, I believe, early 2002. I'd never heard of him or of his church, something called Saddleback. He seemed like a nice guy and so did his wife and the couple of friends with him. I walked him through the place dispensing the little bits of history that you pick up just by being there: The West Wing was built, in part, so that Teddy Roosevelt's staff could escape the terror of his children; the White House Situation Room is down that hall; that series of paintings by Norman Rockwell depict people waiting to the see the President; Steven Spielberg gave that painting to the White House during the Clinton Administration; that is Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize. This is the Oval Office.
There was a remarkable lack of pretension to the pastor. He kept saying, "Cool!" with all the enthusiasm everyone who saw the place really felt but was usually afraid to say. He asked questions and was genuinely excited to be there. He was fun to be around.
I asked him what he did. He told me a bit about his church, but never mentioned that it had upwards of 50,000 members. He was most excited about something called pastors.com, where he helped other pastors from around the country--and world--prepare their sermons. He mentioned a book he'd written called "The Purpose-Driven Church." Then he handed me his card, gave me a big bear hug goodbye and went off with his friends.
As I drove home, I didn't feel like I'd had some amazing encounter with a spectacularly holy or exceptional person. I felt like I'd met a great pastor who seemed comfortable with himself and confident of his place in God's world.
Some months later Rick Warren's next book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," appeared on my desk. He thought I might like it. I picked it up, flipped through a few pages and set it down. It seemed like a nice little book... nothing more.
But in February of 2003, a former colleague and I decided to go through its 40 days of readings one day at a time, emailing our thoughts back and forth. As I began to go through the pages, I rolled my eyes at a syrupy-sweet poem by another writer that began, "You are who you are for a reason. You're part of an intricate plan. You're a precious and perfect unique design, called God's special woman or man."
As we took this journey together, we must have gotten caught up in the same thing that PDL's other 25 million readers have experienced. I think we experienced that God is doing some remarkable something through Rick Warren.
During the last week of our exchange - about Day 33 or so, where Warren discussed the power of serving others rather than our own desires --I wrote this to my friend: "Maybe it is comfort with uncertainty that God wants from us. He doesn't tell us the rest of our lives so that we can learn to be content with the journey. This may be a race that we're in, but it is a race where God wants us to focus on the journey as well as the destination. He will reveal to us in time -- not predictably, not methodically, but just in the nick of time... and maybe he does all of that so that we can learn to simply rest content in him."
A week later I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, two and a half years later, finding those forgotten words in an old email folder is an awesome reminder that God is at work in our lives when we take the time to listen to him. Life's uncertainties aren't easy, but I understand that in the nick of time God will show me what's going on. In the meantime, I trust him enough to rest content in him. That, I think, is the great purpose in life that Rick Warren knows very well.