- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2012

Joel Osteen, the youthful megachurch pastor with a bright smile and slick style, performed at least one miracle while he was in Washington this weekend: selling out Nationals Park.

Thunderous applause and cheers welcomed Mr. Osteen and his wife Victoria during their America’s Night of Hope, a praise event that was pushed back to Sunday by the previous night’s rain.

Wearing a navy suit and his dark hair gelled back, Mr. Osteen greeted the more than 40,000 attendees with a “God bless you” and observation that “you look like victors, not victims,” before launching into a nearly three-hour ministry that included songs, stories and spiritual life advice.

“God’s plan for your life is so much bigger than your own,” Mr. Osteen said as Mrs. Osteen stood beside him, grasping his hand. “You’re not working under people, you’re working under God. Keep being your best and God will get you to where you’re supposed to be.”

Mr. Osteen and his wife are native Texans and the parents of two teenagers.

The 49-year-old took over Lakewood Church in 1999 after his father, founder and leader of the church John Osteen, died of a heart attack.

Mr. Osteen touched on a range of positive messages of faith, reminding his large audience that God “is a God of people who have rough pasts, have screwed up,” and not to be discouraged by what yesterday brought or what today could bring.

“You’ve got to get back in the game. Don’t sit on the sidelines,” Mr. Osteen said. “Here’s my question to you: What’s your excuse? Get a fresh start. Every day is a gift from God. I encourage you to take the limits off God.”

Today, the Lakewood Church is based out of the 16,000-seat former Compaq Center, where the NBA’s Houston Rockets once played. More than 45,000 people attend one of five nondenominational services each week. Millions of people tune in to watch his televised ministries.

As she waited in the sun for Mr. Osteen to take the stage, Deborah Christian said she used to read the books written by Mr. Osteen’s father. Her son Brandon, 25, was a fan of the younger Osteen as well.

“I’ve been following him since 2007, when I graduated high school,” Mr. Christian said. “His message is hopeful and appeals to everyday life and my walk with Christ.”

Mr. Osteen has written more than a dozen books, been named one of Barbara Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People” and in 2006 he was named the “Most Influential Christian” by readers of the Church Report magazine.

Despite his popularity, Mr. Osteen has been criticized for his lighthearted teachings.

During an interview with reporters prior to the event, he acknowledged that while his father stuck more to “Scripture line by line,” his gift “is to encourage people.”

“I feel like my gift is to take a situation about everyday life and bring Scripture into that.”

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