Joel & Victoria Osteen's Night of Hope and a Week of Community Service in Washington DC
by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
If I haven't already stated it before, let me say so now: I am totally in awe of Joel and Victoria Osteen, and have been for at least 10 of the 13 years he's been minister of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. So when I received a communique back in November that he would be bringing hundreds of volunteer youth,called the Generation of Hope, to Washington, DC for a week of community service, culminating in his signature Night of Hope, I made up my mind to be there. As far as I know, he's the first spiritual leader (notice I did not say religious) to do something of this magnitude.
Of course the fact that Lakewood Church, which holds 16,000 people, is literally packed for their Saturday evening service, as well as for the three Sunday services, coupled with the millions, including yours truly, who watch him live online every Sunday (www.joelosteenministries.com/watchonline 9:30AM, 12:00 & 1:45 PM, EST), expanded by the repeats on YouTube and Lightsource.com, means that I am not alone in my admiration.
Joel Osteen is known world wide for his message of hope, faith, prosperity, fulfillment, redemption and resurrection. He opens all of his “sermons” with a humorous tidbit to break the ice and get the audience in a positive, receptive mode. He uses a combination of life experience homilies, humor and scripture to drive home his point that through God all things are possible; to stay in faith, stop talking how big your problems are, and talk about how big God is; to supersize your desires, believe for an Ephesian 3:20 Decade of Prosperity; and use forgiveness as your first line of defense when things appear to go wrong. Listening to his message sets my day for the positive as opposed to expecting the negative; and walking around with a cloud over my head and a chip on my shoulder.
His message, to me, is a combination of Biblical studies, Will Rogers, Ernest Holmes, Rev. Ike, and other saints and sages, rolled into one. His commonsense approach to living your faith has turned many a life around, and buoyed up those whose lives appeared to be in the toilet. Focus on the good you want to see, not just the challenges you are facing, which is another way of accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative. Osteen's encouraging message is to “stay in faith” for those who think they're not “worthy” of blessing, or guilty of some permanent "sin" (something that orthodox, organized religion has brainwashed so many into believing). Osteen, rather, teaches that we are all children of the most High God, and that God is not mad at anyone; God is in love with you.
Pastor Osteen's wife Victoria is as much a messenger of faith as he is. They are indeed married partners, who walk their talk. Even the most cynical person has melted after hearing her message. They are the power couple of New Thought spirituality. Their message overarches many denominations, appealing to those who do not necessarily adhere to organized religion (such as yours truly), while appealing to those who do.
So on Friday, April 27, I hopped the Chinese Bus for DC,hoping to have an opportunity to interview the great minister. However, on the original date for the Night of Hope, Saturday, April 28, you might say that God and Mother Nature had other plans. DC weather that day went from cold to bitter cold mid-day, to rainy, wet and cold, by the afternoon, necessitating the postponement of the event from 7:00pm that Saturday to 4:00pm that Sunday, April 29th. The dangers of water on the electronics on the outdoor stage made it too hazardous to continue. So the Night of Hope morphed into an Afternoon of Faith.
It had been conjectured that there might be a reduction of audience as the result of the last minute change in schedule. However, the Osteen “faithful” were not to be deterred, and the Washington Nationals Stadium quickly filled to overflowing by 4:00.
Osteen's message: You're an overcomer; you're a victor, not a victim, you are the head and not the tail, appeals to people of all stripes, nationalities, races, age levels, and circumstances. And it was definitely evident that Osteen and his family – including his brother, Paul, a physician, who travels to Kenya East Africa four months of the year, and has been doing so for quite some time; and his mother, Dodie Osteen, who is a 40-year cancer survivor -- live their faith, and walk their talk.
Seated in a special section of the stadium were the Generation of Hope youth who traveled to DC as volunteers to paint homes, clean up trash, read to children, and other community service tasks. They wore their signature red t-shirts emblazoned in bold white letters: “I AM THE SOLUTION”
The Night of Hope program opened with his praise and worship team of Da'dra Crawford Greathouse, Steve Crawford, and Cindy Cruz Ratcliffe, who sang many of praise and worship leader, Israel Houghton's classic songs (Houghton was on tour elsewhere). Such Lakewood favorites as “I Know Who I Am”, “I Am a Friend of God,” “I'm Still Standing”, among others, had the audience on their feet and singing along with them. Guest choir members from a variety of local churches, wearing purple and black, added texture to the service.
After opening with his signature affirmation: “This is my Bible; I can do what it says I can do...I will never be the same, in Jesus' name, Amen!” Osteen began one of his many stories of faith that have given so many hope to move forward (also the title of a favorite song “Moving Forward” - Israel Houghton), and not get stuck in negative thinking.
His message throughout was one of perseverance and redemption: “There are many who are sitting on the sidelines thinking that time has passed for them, and that it's too late. I urge you to get back in the game. It's not too late. You might say, 'but Joel, I've got too many flaws; I got too many weaknesses; I've done too many wrong things.' You got to get back in the game. No mistake you've made is too much for God. You're not supposed to be sitting on the sidelines. Get a fresh new vision today. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made, and you will see God do amazing things. I once did a sermon about some of the great men of the Bible: Joseph was a cheat; Jacob had an affair; Paul was a murderer; Noah got drunk; Jonah ran from God; Miriam was a gossip, Mary was a worrier; Thomas was a doubter; Gideon was insecure; Sarah was impatient; Elijah was moody; Moses stuttered; and Lazarus was dead. But they all got second chances. So what's your excuse?”
Dodie Osteen, the matriarch of the family who survived metastatic liver cancer spoke of how she studied all the scriptures in the Bible that pointed to her healing – she has now been cancer free for 31 years, and looks young and fit at age 79. Her advice, read and meditate scriptural messages everyday, and “like American Express, Don't leave home without it!” She also advised those who were facing life threatening diseases to not give up faith or hope, and to get treatment everywhere you can, and ask Jesus to guide you to the right doctors and the right medication and the right help. “I also made a list of all the people I had offended and wrote a letter to each and every one of them asking them for forgiveness. When I asked them to forgive me, I felt clean inside – all the way down.”
The message hit home with a lot of the audience, including yours truly. We, who consider ourselves modern and sophisticated have probably not considered how serious carrying a grudge around affects our health and well being.
Victoria Osteen, the other half of the dynamic husband and wife duo, delivered a message on the importance of love and respect as the underpinnings of a successful marriage. Stating it was more important to agree to disagree, without being disagreeable, and that no couple ever sees thinks or feels the same thing or the same way all the time. It's unrealistic to expect that, because no two human beings are ever going to agree 100% of the time. “It is more important to understand and respect your spouse for their unique characteristics, and accept that you have more to unite you than to divide you.” It was a message well received by the audience. The Osteens recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in April, and have a son and a daughter who are both in their teens.
Osteen credits his wife with his success in stepping into the role of principle minister after his father “went to be with the Lord” thirteen years ago. “She saw in me what I didn't see in myself,” he stated. It is as important at times for someone to have faith in you when you don't have faith in your own abilities. Someone to call forth the greatness in you that you may not be aware that you have. Osteen had worked behind the scenes producing the television ministry for his father. His wife constantly told him that he would be a great minister like his father. He stated that when he told her that he could never get up and preach before a crowd, she would respond, “Just preach to them the way you preach to me.” While this always gets a laugh from the audience, it is a clear message of how words of encouragement can make the difference between success and failure. And how couples can support each other even when there appears to be a lack of opportunity.
Dr. Paul Osteen, the eldest of the family, has been traveling to a hospital in Kenya for nearly 10 years, to assist families who have little access to proper medical treatment. He told of a young lady who had suffered from a massive tumor in her leg that made it impossible for her to walk. It had grown to such a massive level that her leg had to be amputated. She was fit with a prosthetic leg and was healing and totally ambulatory, able to be with her family and friends as a result. They also provide medical training so that their work can continue.
Osteen's message is that “you don't have to beg for anything from God. You can say God, I receive your blessing, I receive your love; I receive your favor. Be like a big sponge and say God I'm going to soak up your goodness today. I'm going to talk you into having a blessed year. I'm going to talk you into having a favor-filled year.You would not be alive unless God had another victory in front of you. God would not let you breathe unless you were all done; some of you think you have made too many mistakes, or that you're too old, or that you don't have enough talent; You would not be drawing breath unless God had something big for you in your future. Somebody needs what you have. Somebody needs your love; somebody needs your encouragement. Somebody needs your gifts. Make up your mind inside that you're not going to go home the same way you came in. Don't focus on what's wrong; thank God for what's right. Don't focus on what you don't have; thank God for what you do have. You have to look back and thank God for how far you've come.”
Osteen, in closing, encouraged the audience to affiliate with a local Bible-based church in order to continue to shore up the message they had received at the Stadium. He acknowledged that he was happy to have such a large following on television, but it was equally important to be involved with a community church that offered a faith based program.
After the two hour program had ended, it was nearly an hour and a half before the entire crowd dispersed, with many remaining to express their gratitude to Joel and Victoria. The amazing thing was to watch him as he moved through the people. Several audience members noted how patient, pleasant and unassuming he was. There is a genuine sincerity about him that sets him apart from many of the so-called televangelists.
In many of his past services he's had such guests as the Rev. T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, among others, who have served as guest speakers, because of their equally over arching message of faith, belief, redemption, trust, and forgiveness.
Joel and Victoria Osteen have been guests of President and First Lady Obama at the Whitehouse, as well, because of their message of hope and encouragement to a jaundiced world, struggling to get back on its feet after a major economic downturn, and the effects of massive foreclosures, and unemployment. What rang true to them was his message to stay in faith and to expect unprecedented favor.
Osteen has appeared on many talk shows during the course of his ministry, and has been consistent in his message – from Larry King Live to Oprah Winfrey – and this consistency has endeared him to the many who likewise read his books, tune into his Sunday broadcasts, and turn out for his Night of Hope. He will not allow his belief to be swayed by world opinion, cynicism, popularity or special favors and dispensation. It is this unswerving conviction that has made him so well liked – Loved – nationally and internationally. It's what catapulted him from a church of approximately 4000, to a converted sports arena that holds 16,000.
There are many among us who disparage his message, who are so cynical that they focus on the minute issues and miss the over arching message. No matter by what name you call him, there is only one God, the Living Spirit Almighty, and we are all individualizations of Him.
As an African American, and one who has come through some real challenges, his is one of the main messages that's have kept me centered, focused, and alive. Because of his inspirational messages “I'm Still Standing.” Of course, no one has all the answers, and it's up to each of us to apply what we learn to our own circumstances in life. Osteen is part of a greater picture, that we are each divine in our own way, but we have the responsibility of accepting and tapping into that divinity. I encourage you to check him out online, on TV, on YouTube. Balance the Continuously Negative News (CNN) with the good news.
Rev. Joel Osteen, Ernest Holmes and Rev. Ike are the reason I always end my writing by saying to you all: "Stay Blessed"
Stay Blessed &