In 1980, Rick Warren started his church with a time-tested formula used by thousands of up-and-coming Baptist pastors. He moved to a Sunbelt city, opened a Bible study in his condo and taught baby boomer suburbanites how to connect with God.

But Warren didn't turn out to be just any baby-boomer minister. Today he heads Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest congregations in the country with weekend attendance of about 50,000. He counsels power brokers from Hollywood to Wall Street to Capitol Hill. Warren is also one of the best-selling American authors of all time because of "The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?" (Zondervan, 2002). The book has sold more than 20 million copies since it was published in October 2002. In the last few years, Warren has broadened his ministry to include the homeless in America, AIDS orphans in Africa, and many others.

In part one of a two-part interview, Beliefnet Editor David Kuo talks with Warren about "the Jesus thing to do" and his surprising relationship with God.

Let’s start with hope. What gives you the most hope every day?

What gives me the most hope every day is God’s grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God.

You mentioned that nothing is a surprise to God. But what surprises you about God?

Rick Warren on God
What surprises me most about God is that the creator of the universe should want a relationship with me. It is mind-boggling to me that the Almighty power created everything I see; the Bible says that God created the entire universe just so he could create this galaxy just so he could create earth so he could create human beings so he could create a family. God wanted a family. And that family - the church - is going to outlast everything else and he wants me to be a part of it.

Once you really grasp that, you’ll never again have to deal with inferiority or insecurity. A lot of times we blame our problems - I talk to a lot of believers who say, “You know I just don’t love God enough.” And I say "No, that isn’t your problem. You just don’t understand how much He loves you." Because if you did you couldn’t help but love Him because you were made to be loved by God.

Rick Warren on God's love
God is love. He didn’t need us. But he wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing. God wasn’t lonely. God has always been in a love relationship with himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we were made simply so he could love us.

I remember when I was sick a couple of years ago I had to pray every day for the strength to receive the love of those around me. I found a line from [William] Blake that said we are here to learn to “endure the beams of love.” It is a staggering truth.

You have arguably sold more hardcover books than anyone apart from God. You have had your own health problems and so has your wife. You could pack things up, have a nice life, have a house in several cities in a private jet. But you are giving your life and everything you have to serve the poor. Why?

Rick Warren on changing priorities
Well, it is the Jesus thing to do. Living in the light of eternity changes your priorities. This is the warmup act. This is the get-ready stage. This is the dress rehearsal before the real act begins. The Bible is very clear that life on Earth is preparation for eternity.

"One day God is going to ask you two questions..."

God’s goal in life isn’t to make me comfortable. He isn’t interested in my comfort as he is in my character. This is the grow-up stage. The comfort, the joy, the relief from suffering and pain and all of that is going to come later in eternity, which we are going to enjoy for trillions of years.

Rick Warren on God's first question
One day we’re gonna stand before God and he is going to ask two questions. The first question is, "What did you do with my Son Jesus Christ?" Not "What religion were you?" Not what denomination, not what background, where did you go to church. We were created for a relationship, not a religion - not rituals, not rules, not regulations.

I hope that most people know the answer to that: that I have accepted God’s grace; I have accepted what Jesus Christ has done for me.

Rick Warren on God's second question
Then the second question is, I believe, "What did you do with what you were given?" A lot of people are going to have a hard time explaining to God why they chose their plan instead of His while they were here on earth. And God is going to say, “Do you really think I put you there on earth to live a selfish little clod of a life? No, I put you here to know and love me. That is called worship. Second, to love other people. That is called fellowship. Third, to learn to serve me. Now the only way you can serve God on earth is by serving others. And fourth, to grow up like him. You aren’t ever going to become a god but you can get God’s character in your life - his morals, his values, his ethics, his love, his compassion, the fruit of the spirit. The fifth thing, which you can’t do in heaven, is tell other people who don’t know that news yet.

Whether I have a day left or 50 years left, I’m going to make the most of what I’ve got for Jesus Christ today.

What family crisis led Warren and his wife to minister to Africa's poorest people? Read Part 2 of our interview with Rick Warren.

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