Osteen preaches message of hope

December 4, 2008 /*Joel Osteen*/'s enthusiasm and positive attitude are only parts of the reason his television broadcast is the most watched inspirational program in the country.

The main reason he's been able to take his message to more than 100 million households throughout the U.S. is that people believe he's authentic.

Before his father died in 1999, he had preached only one time, but says he knew he had to step up and pastor the church.

"I was very nervous. I still get nervous some today, but those first three or four years, especially the first six months, my heart would beat so fast," Osteen said.

But he says he understands why his message is so appealing to so many.

"There's so much negativity coming at us today. You look around in the world, there's a lot things that can bring us down. I think people are drawn to a message of hope. When they hear somebody telling them there are good days up ahead and that they can overcome an obstacle, that they can live better, I think that just resonates on the inside, that's just who God made us to be, to continue to grow," Osteen said.

Three years ago his /*Lakewood Church*/ in Houston moved to a facility that seats 16,000, the former Compaq Center, home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Like President-Elect Obama, he has appealed to people looking for change in traditional, organized religion and he has raised millions of dollars; his ministry brings in $36-million a year in mailed-in donations alone.

"We bring in a total of about $80-million; probably half of that money goes out to television broadcasts, helping people overseas…we just find that people are drawn to a message that they like and when it helps them, it's easy to support it," Osteen said.

His critics have called attention to that fact that he's a college drop-out, and never attended a theological seminary.

"I'm for seminary and education, obviously, but in my case, it just wasn't the plan God had for me," Osteen said.

Some complain that he talks too infrequently about God and the scriptures.

"My gift is to encourage people and to make the scriptures relevant to today…It's one thing to read a verse, but how do you forgive, how do you keep a good attitude when the economy's not good, and things like that, so I feel I'm talking about issues where the rubber meets the road," Osteen said.

And what about those who claim he preaches a prosperity gospel?

"I think God rewards obedience; I don't know that he always rewards it in material things, so to me prosperity is having good relationships, having peace, and having joy," Osteen said.

To help his followers and others achieve that, Osteen offers his best message: "To stay hopeful, to stay positive, and to find something to be grateful for."

Joel Osteen's entire family is involved in his ministry,his wife, /*Victoria Osteen*/, has written her first book, "Love Your Life." She'll have a book-signing Friday, Dec. 5th at Noon, at the Barnes and Noble at 18th and Walnut Streets.

Then Friday night at 7:30, it's Joel Osteen's "Night of Hope" at the /*Wachovia Center*/.

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