‘Hope’ springs 

As if being the pastor of America’s largest church isn’t enough to keep Joel Osteen busy, he is also a best-selling author and television personality. This week, he and his wife, Victoria, co-pastors of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, come to Oklahoma City.

“Many people who watch the television program don’t attend church,” Joel Osteen said. “This night gives them an opportunity to take a stand for their faith.”

Friday’s “Night of Hope” at Chesapeake Energy Arena is similar to an extended evangelical church service. Osteen said he will be preaching; his wife will talk about relationships; and his mother, Dodie, will discuss her bout with cancer.

“The evening is meant to lift people’s spirits,” said Osteen, 49. “It allows us to move forward from wherever we are.”

Osteen took over as pastor of Lakewood after his father, John, the church’s founding pastor, died in 1999. Under the younger Osteen’s leadership, Lakewood purchased and renovated the Compaq Center, former home of the Houston Rockets.

With no previous preaching experience, Joel Osteen was an unlikely choice to succeed his father.

“I was very nervous the first time I preached,” he said. “I had to hold onto the podium because I didn’t want anyone to see how badly my hands were shaking. Still, I felt like I was supposed to do it.”

In the years since, he has attracted huge audiences and built a loyal following.

But he has not been without critics.

Prominent evangelicals have labeled him a heretic or accused him of soft-pedaling his message by preaching the so-called prosperity gospel.

“I never liked the term ‘prosperity gospel,’” Osteen said. “There is only one gospel. Prosperity to me is part of that one gospel, and it means good relation ships, peace of mind, and many other things. When some people say it, they are talking only about money. The way I read the Bible, I believe we’re to be leaders, be examples, and be a blessing to other people.”

In addition to the “Night of Hope,” Osteen will sign copies of his new book, I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life, on Thursday at Mardel’s 4848 Northwest Expressway location.

He said he continues to feel surprised by the popularity of his ministry.

“I never thought people would come out like this,” he said. “I leave more inspired than the people who come. I just want them to know that God’s dream for them is bigger than their dreams for themselves.”

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