Perhaps you’ve seen him as you were flipping channels — a youthful, soft-spoken evangelical minister holding a huge auditorium full of congregants spellbound. At age 47, Pastor Joel Osteen has written two best-selling books; runs the world’s largest television ministry, reaching into 200 million homes across the globe each week; and leads Lakewood Church in Houston, the nation’s largest, with a weekly attendance of 47,000. And Pastor Osteen never preached a single sermon until the week before his father’s unexpected death 11 years ago.
These days, Osteen travels the country, filling stadiums with his message of hope and spiritual self-help. On Saturday night, Osteen and his wife, Victoria, will be preaching to an audience expected to number 40,000 at Dodger Stadium, at an event called ‘A Night of Hope.’ Last week, I sat down with Pastor Osteen in a suite in Dodger Stadium overlooking the soon-to-be-filled seats. As a rabbi, I know we Jews have a lot to learn from someone who has successfully brought so many back to their faith.
This is an edited transcript.
Rabbi Naomi Levy: I watched an interview you did with Larry King. I was so amazed when you said Jews can indeed go to heaven, and then I saw that you later took heat for it, and you rephrased yourself. Is it wrong to believe that people who don’t believe in Jesus have a place with God and have a place in heaven?
Pastor Joel Osteen: Sure. You know, to me it’s up to every person. I mean, what the Scripture teaches is that Jesus came so that we could have salvation through him.
NL: Your Scripture.
JO: Yeah, that’s true. So that’s why I don’t judge anybody else. ... You know, I don’t believe in telling one group who can and can’t go to heaven. I believe that’s up to God.
NL: So do you think it’s possible that our God, the God of the universe, might have an equal plan for all good people?
JO: I believe that any of that is possible.
NL: I saw another video where you spoke about how you’ve stopped eating pork, and I’m curious if you’ve taken on other aspects of being kosher.
JO: I just see that in the Scripture as well. I don’t always follow it 100 percent. But I appreciate the Jewish tradition and what’s in the Scripture, what it says about it.
NL: How do you respond to the person who says, ‘I’ve prayed, and it’s done me no good. I hear what you’re saying about what God can do for a person, and if you pray, look how this person was healed. But my child died, and I prayed with all my heart.’?
JO: You know, I try to encourage people to believe for the best, but that God will always give you the strength to make it through and faith is all about trust. ... Yesterday I prayed for a family. They had a little girl that had cancer and she’s in a wheelchair. You know, our prayer is that she’s going to live every day that God’s planned out for her. I hope it’s until she’s 90 years old. I don’t know if it will be, but I also pray that God gives these parents strength, and they get to that place of trust to say, ‘OK, God, I believe you’re in control of my life, that you have a plan for my little girl and a plan for my life.’ I think when you come back to that place of trust to believe that there’s something bigger than yourself, that’s what gives you the faith and strength to move on.
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