Praise 102.5 Featured Video

VIA: USA Today

When Rev. Rick Warren says “Urgent,” folks reach for their checkbooks — to the tune of $2.4 million and counting.

Warren sent out an “urgent” plea Wednesday for the nation’s sixth largest church to come up with more than $900,000 in 48 hours to meet a budget shortfall and allow the Saddleback Church to carry on service programs from Southern California to Africa.

It’s standard fare for a pastor to remind the holiday-swollen crowds in December of the financial needs and goals of the institution. But there’s little standard about Warren, 2009 religion newsmaker of the year on many year-end lists.

To no one’s surprise, the congregation came through big time, even as Warren took a clubbing in the national media for the “sky-is-falling” tone of his missive and his surprise that it made news. A spokesman for the church later said Warren also made clear that the ministry “never asks — or expects — outsiders to give.”

Saturday night, in the first round of weekend services, Warren announced more than $2.4 million rolled in through online offerings and envelopes delivered to the church’s Lake Forest campus, south of Los Angeles.

But the financial tally was not, by Warren’s sermon, “The Miracle” — the title of his sermon. No, he said, the miracle is the “radical generosity” shown this week.

I watched on the Saddleback Internet Campus as Warren gave his Bible-based,bullet-pointed talk on the deep, joyful and transformative power of giving even beyond what you thought was your ability to give. (See for yourself Sunday at 12:00, 3:15, 7:30 and 9:30 PM. All times Eastern)

Warren says he brought the budget woes to the wider congregation in trust that their habit of giving would come through: “I was not optimistic but I was hopeful,” he said, pointing out that hope is “not denying reality but believing God is greater than reality.

His talk was interspersed with letters he read from donors saying they stretched to give to the church they love, the place where they help others or came for help themselves.

“Unparalleled generosity is the norm here,” said Warren, whose congregation greeted the financial tally with cheers.

At the end, the pastor who blessed President Obama‘s inauguration on the Capitol steps nearly a year ago, bent his head and in a choked voice called for God to bless and protect the people throughout the decade to come.