Best-selling author and Pastor Rick Warren shared on Friday that his dad, Pastor Jimmy Warren, who would have celebrated his 95th birthday this week, helped shape his destiny with his final, dying words.
In a Facebook post that also included a photo of Warren at 4-years-old helping his dad construct a church, the founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, stated that to understand why he does everything that he does, one needs to know the story of his father’s church planting ministry and final days while dying from cancer.
Read Pastor Warren’s inspiring testimony below:
If my father was still alive, this week he would have celebrated his 95 birthday. Dad was my first mentor and the most influential man in my life -even shaping my destiny with his final, dying words. If you want to understand why I do everything I do, you need to know this story:
My father was a church planter and pastor for over fifty years, serving mostly in small, rural churches. He was an average preacher, but a great carpenter, and, more important, he was a man with a mission. Dad’s favorite activity was taking teams of volunteers around the world to build church buildings in villages devastated by poverty or disaster. In his lifetime, dad built over 150 churches. In the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of Kurds were dying of thirst in refugee camps in northern Iraq, my father led the teams that dug the water wells saving their lives.
Even after he got cancer in old age, my dad’s spirit for serving God by serving others was undaunted. Just months before he died, he told me “Son, I think I’ve got one more church to build inside of me.” He was already suffering the effects of chemo and radiation but I said, “Well dad, you’ve always been a risktaker. And if you want to die with your boots on, serving the Lord, rather than sitting at home in an easy chair I guess that’s OK with me. Where do you want to build your final church building?” “Siberia,” he said, and off he went. One of my most treasured photos of my father shows him, in his 80s… with cancer.. on his knees on the roof of a small Siberian church, hammer in hand, nailing down roof shingles during a heavy winter snow storm. That was my dad. He believed the local church is the Hope of the World.
In the final week of my dad’s life, his cancer kept him awake in a semi-conscious state nearly twenty-four hours a day. In this dream-like state, he’d talk out loud about what he was dreaming. Sitting by his bedside that week, I learned a lot about my dad by just listening to his dreams. He never talked about the books he’d read, the movies he’d seen, or the war he’d been in. Instead, he dreamed aloud about building churches, reliving one building project after another.
The night before my father died, my wife, my niece, and I were in his bedroom by his side. Dad suddenly became very agitated and tried to get out of bed. Of course, he was too weak to get up so kay insisted he lay back down. But he kept persisting in trying to get out of bed. Finally, Kay in exasperation said “Jimmy, you CANNOT get up! You are dying. We will get you whatever you need. What are you trying to do?”
My dad replied, “I’ve got to save one more for Jesus! I’ve got to save one more for Jesus! One more for Jesus! One more for Jesus” He began to repeat that phrase over and over and over. It is no exaggeration to say that during the next hour, he repeated the phrase probably a hundred times: “Got to save one more for Jesus!”
As I sat by his bed with tears flowing down my cheeks, I bowed my head to thank God for the legacy of my father’s compassionate faith. While my head was bowed, my dad reached out and placed his frail hand on my head and said, as if commissioning me with a sacred calling, “Reach one more for Jesus! Reach one more for Jesus!” It was a holy moment and I knew what I was supposed to do the rest of my life, regardless of problems, illnesses, conflicts, critics, attacks, delays, difficulties, or any other barriers.
Now, if you are going to reach one more for Jesus, you must, like Jesus did, spend time loving, serving, and befriending those who don’t know him yet. You cannot hang out only with people like you. Jesus spent so much time with “the wrong crowd” that it drove the religious crowd and legalists crazy. They mocked Jesus, calling him “the friend of sinners.” They considered that label a put-down but to Jesus it was badge of honor. I want to be like Jesus. And if religious people fail to understand, or criticize me for being friends with skeptics and atheists, straights and gay people, Muslims and Mormons, conservatives and liberals – then so be it. All I want to do it “Reach one more for Jesus.” God has never made a person he doesn’t love. God has never made a person Jesus didn’t die for. God has never made a person he didn’t create for His purposes. God has never made a person he doesn’t want in heaven!
My definition of “Reaching one more for Jesus” is this: You build a bridge of love between your heart and theirs, then you let Jesus walk across. You cannot bring enemies to Jesus. They must become your friends first. Before people trust Jesus they want to know if YOU can be trusted.
So, if people don’t understand why I often I speak to groups hostile to Jesus, and hang-out with people who oppose what I believe, so be it. If I am accused of being too-soft, too hard, to naive, too shallow, or too heretical because I build bridges to people who don’t know Jesus yet, it’s a small price to pay. I’m going to have a lot of friends in heaven because “reaching one more” mattered more than arguing with those who spend their time criticizing rather than evangelizing.
I will warn you: You’ll never reach many with the Good News until you let go of your fear of disapproval and guilt by association. Jesus cared about souls, not politics, and he was never politically correct.
I intend for “Reach one more for Jesus” to be the theme of the rest of my life. I invite you to consider it for your life, too, because nothing will make a greater difference for eternity. If you want to be used by God, you must care about what God cares about most: the redemption of the people he made. God wants his lost children found! Nothing matters more to God. The Cross proves it.
Is anyone going to be in heaven because you cared enough to cross a barrier and shared the love of Jesus with someone not a part of your little tribe? Go reach one more for Jesus.