WASHINGTON - "God has the power to meet your needs," Joel Osteen told some 19,000 people Friday night. "He not only has the power, He has the desire to meet your needs. He wants you to live this abundant life."
Osteen, pastor of one of the largest churches in the US whose messages are broadcast millions worldwide, preached his signature uplifting message at the Verizon Center in Washington DC during his "A Night of Hope" worship event.
His visit comes less than two months before the nation chooses its next president, but the popular Lakewood Church pastor did not come to the US capital to talk politics, let alone rally Christians behind a candidate.
"I try not to weigh in a lot on [politics]," Osteen told The Christian Post. The only political rallying he does is to make sure people vote and do their part. "I always encourage our congregation to search their own heart and vote what they feel God wants them to. I think if we do our part, God will put the right person in office."
Still undecided on his personal pick for the next White House leader, Osteen noted, "There's good and great things in both candidates (Barack Obama and John McCain). They're both great leaders."
He also commended Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, for hosting the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates at his church for a civil forum last month.
"It gave good insight into who they are," Osteen commented. "Nobody more qualified to do [the forum] than Rick Warren, so I think it was great."
Osteen, whose podcast messages consistently rank in the top 10 on iTunes, keeps politics out of his church. He does not preach on political issues; he also does not teach theological doctrine or try to explain every detail in the Bible.
That is not his calling, he says. And that has drawn critics.
"Just the fact that we're presenting hope, that we present the Gospel as good news, as God being good, some people think that ..." Osteen said as he paused to try to identify what he feels is most misunderstood about him. "I don't know if it's misunderstood. That's what I feel like my calling is.
"I'm just one part of what God wants us to do on the earth so I really feel that I'm running my race and maybe people don't necessarily see that," he continued.
Some pastors and theologians have criticised Osteen's failure to talk about sin, suffering and the message of the cross.
But the Lakewood megachurch pastor stresses, "I'm called to plant a seed of hope in people's hearts," as he wrote in his latest book, Become a Better You.
If congregants want to dig deeper into Scripture and learn core theological doctrines, Osteen says Lakewood Church offers classes during the week.
"I think, again, my gift is to help people to live out the Christian life because you can have a lot of knowledge but if you don't know how to forgive when people hurt you, have a good attitude, expect good things ... I feel like that's my main gifting," he told The Christian Post. "But I do believe we need to know what Jesus did when he died, what it all meant, and we have people that teach that."
Doing what he does best, Osteen reached out to thousands Friday, arming them with hope and positive thoughts.
"Sometimes in my own life when I'm having difficulties I like to just come back to the fact and just say to myself 'God, You created the whole universe ... God, I believe you can give me $4 for a gallon of gas, You can help me pay rent, heal my back.' See what I mean? I'm talking about keeping it all in perspective," he said to a roaring applause.
"I can't say that I understand it all but I can always come back to the fact that God is good."