They say Joel Osteen fans are cotton candy Christians. They’re Christians of convenience, tender-footed and child-like dupes.
One critic calls Osteen a self-worshiping narcissist. But the critics simply don’t get it.
The Osteens have marshaled their ministry, their charisma, the legacy of their family church to magnify a message so many of us hold dear. The inspirational stories of people he has met, or received letters from, magnify the stories of real people in so many of our lives.
In my life, for instance, I have been encouraged by one of my uncles who became an effective drug counselor and life coach after a lifetime of desperation (criminal behavior). I have cheered for one of my friends who unexpectedly became a congressional chief of staff in her 60s. These kinds of personal triumphs inspire me. I wholly appreciate the Osteens sharing similar stories with their audience of more than 10 million each week.
I love this message — my own intermittent skepticism aside. I had purchased a couple of the 40,000-plus tickets sold for the Nationals Park event that was initially scheduled for Saturday, April 28. I was halfway to the stadium when I received the e-mail that it was postponed because of inclement weather.
All day I had considered whether it was worth standing in the cold and rain to hear this minister who has delivered the same message each week since I began watching his Sunday morning broadcast about 10 years ago. I had decided it was. It was worth braving the elements to stand with a charismatic spokesman — and tens of thousands of people in the stands — who believes in a message of redemption, forgiveness, second chances.
I felt a little disappointed when the “Night of Hope” was postponed. It seemed to prove the critics right. I requested a refund when the event was postponed because my plans to spend Sunday afternoon with my sisters and mother took priority. But I set the DVR to record the broadcast of the event later Sunday night, and I enjoyed the experience, using the “rewind” button frequently.
“I want to talk to you tonight about how God’s destiny for your life will come to pass,” Osteen said to the crowd gathered under sunny skies at the stadium Sunday. “The Scripture says, ‘The Lord has a purpose for your life.’ Then it asks a question, ‘Who will annul it?’ God is saying, ‘Who can stop my plan?’ Friends, God’s plan cannot be stopped by a bad break, a sickness, by somebody walking out on you. All the forces of darkness cannot keep you from your destiny. Sometimes we think because we’ve made too many mistakes, and we’re not where we want to be in life, surely, we’ve stopped God’s plan. ... You may have made mistakes, but that’s not surprising to God. Why don’t you shake off the guilt and move forward?”
Osteen referenced Hebrews, Jeremiah and other books of the Bible throughout his cheerful sermon. His wife offered prescriptions for restoring and maintaining strong marriages. Mother Osteen, Dodie Osteen, told of her recovery from what doctors had diagnosed as terminal cancer. Doctors predicted she had just a few weeks to live. Thirty-one years later she joins her son on a national platform to give others hope. Her other son, Paul Osteen, an Arkansas doctor who volunteers in Kenya four to five months a year, shared stories of individuals helped and healed. Even two of the Osteen children performed as part of the music ministry.
I will enjoy the three-hour broadcast again and again. I appreciate the cheerleading — and sometimes I need it. “Right now, God is working behind the scenes, arranging things in your favor. He’s making a way when you don’t see a way. You don’t have to live worried, stressed out, trying to force everything to happen. All you’ve got to do is keep God in first place,” Joel cheered from the Nationals’ stadium where at least one former football star and a couple of Washington lawmakers were spotted.
Hearing him, I was reminded that my late paternal grandmother used to tell me this often – and my maternal grandparents still do. How nice it is to see this message broadcast from my home town. “Honor Him with your life, and you will come into these destiny moments.”
In case you missed the Joel and Victoria Osteen “Night of Hope” at Washington National’s Park, there’s another chance to witness it. Set your DVR for May 16, 2 p.m., channel TBN.
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a Washington Post blogger. She is also author of Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam (Harper) and Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam (Simon and Schuster). Follow her on Twitter @Sonsyrea.
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