“Hi, I’m Kayla, and I was once a Joel Osteen hater.” What sounds like something I should stand up and say at a Christian support group is part of my story. My parents were avid Lakewood T.V. viewers, so I remember clearly hearing his distinct Texas twang of an accent coming out of the living room every Sunday morning for more than five years.
“You are the head and not the tail. You are victorious in Christ! This is going to be the best week of your life – no, the best year yet!”
You can hear it too can’t you? He’s just so happy – and smiley – and positive. It’s kind of hard to take in all the sunshine when things are falling apart on the other side of the screen. “His gospel is just rainbows and butterflies. It’s not the real thing,” I would say parading through the house. “I don’t see how you watch him. Makes sense he has so many people in his church. They’re just there to feel good about themselves!” Thankfully, my opinion couldn’t have been more wrong. At the beginning of the year, my husband and I took a weekend to go see Lakewood with our own eyes. We knew our previous opinions and had read multiple articles against the Osteen’s ministry, as well as other big name T.V. speakers deemed of heresy. What sparked our interest were the comments of a Louisiana pastor who secretly visited Lakewood on a Wednesday night to see how services were. His words – “The Holy Spirit was there, and it blew all my expectations.” Naturally, we were intrigued to check things out too.
Take some time to soak in what we experienced.
- From the moment we walked through the entrance, the friendliest and most attentive door greeters welcomed us. They asked us where we were from and how our trip to Houston was going. They were kind and genuinely interested in our visit.
- As we looked around, several bins lined the hallways – one sitting around every corner. These bins were not for trash, but rather for donations. Lakewood consistently takes up different items to donate to local organizations in the community. That particular time the rally was for toiletry items toward homeless shelters.
- Passing up the bookstore, I was approached by a woman holding something familiar to me: small crackers and grape juice. She asked if I wanted to join in communion with the group of people in the side room. Who were these special people crammed into a prayer room? People who had just started a relationship with Jesus at the end of the first service. Looking inside, the group was clearly overjoyed as they each took communion for the first time as a believer.
- Not having the time to stop (but really wanting to stay), we walked into the auditorium to find seating. Not one – not two – but three volunteers rushed up to seat us. When worship began and the rows became full, everyone immediately lifted their hands and began worshipping God! No cheerleading had to happen – no encouragement from the worship team to press in. It was the most natural thing I have ever seen in a service.
- During the last worship song, Israel Houghton called up the prayer team. He said they were specifically praying for healing in people’s bodies. I watched and wept as the prayer team members laid their hands on the sick. I intently watched, and I saw people healed.
- Before going into the message, Victoria Osteen came out and prayed over all the marriages in the church. As a churchgoer my entire life, this was the first time I’ve had this happen — for someone to care enough and pray for my marriage, aside from wedding and anniversary days.
- Joel gave one of the most compelling messages I’ve heard that was practical and easy to understand. His altar call was the same. In an older but modern stadium full of 40,000+ people, he asked for those who wanted to accept Christ to stand up while everyone else stayed seated. It sounded similar to how I imagine heaven will sound one day. Crowds erupted with shouts, high-fives, jumps and cheers when the people stood up. Strangers gave hugs to those standing and congratulated them on their new step of faith. These responders were soon ushered out to a party in honor of their new relationship with Jesus.
And me? Well, all I could do is sit in my seat and cry. Cry because of God’s goodness. Cry because of the ministry happening around me. Cry because of my past sin. Cry because of my wrongness for so many years. Cry because there was so much now to share.