(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, held a grand service for the first time in Hawaii, at the "Night of Hope" worship event on Friday, Feb. 3. During his visit to the state, Osteen was asked by local media to address accusations that he preaches a "watered-down" Gospel.
The Texas megachurch pastor had been spotted earlier in the week at the Pacific state wearing only his swim trunks, a hat and sunglasses, gathering a lot of media attention for his in-shape physique. An image of Osteen's abs was released by TMZ.com that made headlines and put the spotlight on the 48-year-old pastor's advocacy for healthy living and dieting.
At the Night of Hope event, however, Osteen talked on some serious issues in his first ever sermon at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.
"I think, for years, people have been pushed down by religion, and I don't say that disrespectfully, but they've been shown a God that you can't measure up to," the Texas pastor told the crowd, according to the Hawaii News Now.
"And so, my goal is to make God good and let them know, hey, I tell them all the time, God's smiling down on you right now. You're his child. He's got a great plan for your life. You can overcome mistakes, and to me, that draws people TO God," he continued, adding as the crowd cheered: "You are victors, not victims!"
Osteen also addressed some of his statements that homosexuality is a sin and accusations that his sermons only focus on receiving prosperity from God – which some critics interpret to mean money. The Lakewood Church pastor, and bestselling author, has been identified as one of America's wealthiest pastors.
"I don't go up there and talk about money. I talk about: God wants you to be blessed and have good relationships and be healthy. And I think the opposite is: some people want you to, think that you're supposed to be poor and broke and suffer to show that you're a Christian, and that's just not the way I read the Scripture. I think that God wants us to excel and be the best at what we can do and have happy families. You know, prosperity, to me, is more than money. It's health and good relationships … peace of mind," Osteen explained.
According to Hawaii News Now, he explained that he does not go out of his way to preach that homosexuality is a sin, and said that he would never judge anyone.
Regarding accusations that he preaches a "watered-down" version of Christianity that does not adequately cover the "fire-and-brimstone" rhetoric that other preachers sometimes focus on, the pastor explained:
"Our message is God is good. He's on your side and he wants you to live a blessed life. Part of message too is that even if you've made mistakes you can get to where God wants you to be."
"I think i do talk about the negative things and adversities but the Bible says it's the goodness of God that leads people to repent. I believe there's enough pushing people down. I like telling people you may have made mistakes, but God can forgive you," said Osteen.
The pastor's visit to Hawaii has been generating a lot of buzz in the state. KITV.com reported that hundreds came out to meet him at a book signing at Kahala Mall last week.
"Unbelievable. It means so much to me. He touched my heart," said Betty Anzalone on meeting Osteen.
"I'm so excited he just shook my hand. He's so loving and kind and I feel it generate out of him," added Barbara Schade.
The "Night of Hope" event tours various cities around the U.S., and is scheduled to go on for several more months. The event tour is led by Osteen and his wife, Victoria Osteen, who joins him on stage for many of his sermons.