Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, delivered his first Sunday sermon following the devastating floods last week stemming from Hurricane Harvey, and a week of harsh criticism over his church's response.
Lakewood's decision to not immediately open the doors of the 16,000-seat church to flood victims sparked much-publicized criticism throughout social media, and Osteen opened his sermon by setting the facts straight.
"There's been so much misinformation about the church last week, I wanted to clarify a few things," he began, prompting a standing ovation from the congregation.
"This building flooded back in 2001, when the [Houston] Rockets were still playing basketball here," Osteen pointed out.
"There was over five feet of water in this lower bowl area. Knowing that, when we took possession, we installed large flood gates all around the building. Last Sunday morning, during all the rain, the waters came within a foot or two of breaching the walls and flooding the building once again."
The pastor explained that without those gates, "we wouldn't be in here today."
"The water started to recede late Sunday, maybe into Monday, and we felt it was safe to start taking people in on Tuesday. If we had opened the building earlier, and someone was injured, or perhaps it flooded and people lost their lives, it would be a whole different story," he argued.
"I am at peace at taking the heat for being precautious, but I don't want to take the heat for being foolish."
Later on in his message, Osteen said his "reputation is in God's hands," and declared that he firmly believes that Lakewood did the right thing.
Don Iloff, a Lakewood spokesperson and Osteen's brother-in-law, told The Christian Post last week that the church is housing over 400 people in the wake of the floods.
"We probably went over 400. I am using 400 as a round number. We probably went up to 420 and at some point you will have some people leave. But, the city may end up bringing more," Iloff told CP at the time.
He added that by Tuesday morning, busloads of people seeking shelter were transported and offloaded at Lakewood.
Osteen stated in his Sunday sermon that it is easy for people to "make judgments from a distance."
"Some people who don't know the facts, and don't want to know the facts, will continue to try and stir things up. They would love to discredit the ministry, and lessen our voice; but they are not that strong, the forces that are for us are greater than the forces that are against us."
Osteen said that the recent attacks are not just aimed at him, but for "all that we stand for; for faith, for hope, for love. Jesus even said 'when the world hates you, remember, it hated me first,'" he reminded the congregation.
The Lakewood pastor said that the proper response is not to get wound up on social media against all the critics, but to offer a Christian message of love.
"We bless those who don't like us, we do good to those who talk bad about us; we understand they cannot keep us from our destiny."
Osteen also encouraged his congregation, saying, "God never promised we would reach our destination without a battle and without disappointments and without things we don't understand.
"Scripture says you will go through the flood but you will not drown."