NEW YORK – Joel and Victoria Osteen received a warm reception from a group of loyal fans during their stop in New York City on Monday to promote their latest books.
The Lakewood Church pastors are best known for their inspirational messages of hope and God's goodness. Every week, the Houston-based megachurch attracts over 40,000 worshippers to it services, making it the nation's largest church.
Some have criticized the "smiling" preacher for watering down the Gospel with a "Christian lite" style, emphasizing more on positive, self-help messages than on sin and the cross of Jesus Christ.
But at the book signing at Borders in Columbus Circle, supporters waiting in line for Joel's first holiday book, The Christmas Spirit, and Victoria's newest children's book, Gifts From the Heart, say it's exactly the personal, relevant aspects of their messages that are helping them through tough times.
A Message of Hope
Maria Melendez said she was struggling last year when her mother passed away but listening to Pastor Joel helped her to look forward. She was especially encouraged by his visit on Monday which coincided with the first anniversary of her mom's passing.
"Every time he speaks, it touches me and helps me on something I'm going through," said Melendez, who brought a stack of his books to the signing.
Melendez, a Christian, said Osteen is also helping to change the mind of her atheist boyfriend, Richard Murieh. The couple said they never miss watching the televised Lakewood Church services every Sunday.
"Other churches scare you into believing by talking about the end of the world but I like his Christian-lite style," said Murieh, who appreciates the preacher's relevant messages. "I've been an atheist for many years in my life but he's making me think twice about God."
Murieh noted, however, that he would like to see Osteen preach on more messages explaining man's purpose on earth.
One Osteen fan standing in line couldn't afford a book because she recently lost her job but still wanted to meet the Christian authors. Clairma Osson was moved to tears when she could get Victoria Osteen to sign a copy of Love Your Life – a book a fellow Osteen fan purchased for her.
"Their messages give me a warm feeling every time I listen," she said.
Victoria, meanwhile, took time to pray for Joyce Crisalli, the fan who had purchased the book for Osson, who had requested a prayer for her 17-year-old son.
Natacha Sonny said she attends a Catholic Church but listens to Joel Osteen every week online.
"Catholic services simply point to Scripture to be read but his messages are more realistic," said Sonny, who plans to read Gifts from the Heart to her 7-year-old daughter.
Christmas and Family Values
In The Christmas Spirit, released this month by Simon & Schuster, Joel Osteen shares stories about his childhood memories of Christmas and highlights the importance of creating good family memories especially during the holiday.
Osteen told The Christian Post on Monday that the biggest tradition he shares with his family "around Christmas time is just spending time together, everyone just getting together, not so much the gifts or the food but laughing together, talking together, have fun with the children."
The renowned preacher said he takes a cue from his late father on how to set priorities and balance the duties in his church and family.
"With a big church you can't do everything everybody wants you to do so we just make time for our children," said Osteen. "My father talked about how your first mission field is your own family so we try to invest in them, stay healthy, stay active together, we play together, we travel together we and that's the way we try to stay balanced."
His wife, Victoria, told The Christian Post that she created Gifts from the Heart with family reading and time together in mind. The latest in the Little Simon Inspiration Series, the children's book is about a brother and sister's imaginary journey to prepare a birthday party for a king and their discovery that the best gift is not bought with money but from the heart.
"This is my second book of a series of picture books," she said. "It has to do with family … so parents and children can sit down and communicate with one another."
A mother of two children, Victoria said reading brings families together and helps build a foundation for communication later in life. Her passion for children and families led her to launch a Literacy Program at Lakewood Church in June. She also teamed up with the First Books literacy initiative, which encourages reading by providing free books to underserved children.
"I've always loved reading to my children because it's such as a precious time of interaction and closeness," she said. "We should savor every moment with our children and reading is a wonderful way to do that."
On Tuesday, Joel and Victoria Osteen continued their book tour in New York with an appearance on ABC's "The View."