I was a seventh grader searching the school library shelves. Television had not yet come to our neighborhood, and video games were so far into the future they hadn’t even made it into science fiction yet. Reading was still a pretty exciting thing to do.
My search that day led me to a volume that would set my course psychologically: Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive thinking.” The book is a classic for positive thinkers. I wish I could say I haven’t had a negative thought since reading the book. I can say positive thinking has served me much better over the years than the negative thinking of a fundamentalist preacher I once heard say, “Peale is appalling and the Apostle Paul is appealing.” This is clever but so telling of his fondness of negativity.
Well, Peale got old and passed from the scene. The next prophet of positive preaching was the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. His book “Moving Ahead With Possibility Thinking” earned him a place of honor among positive thinkers. It reaffirmed in my mind the attitudes I had acquired from Peale. And yes, I did one time attend a Sunday service in the Crystal Cathedral. However, Schuller too is aging and probably spends most of his time now singing “Nearer My God To Thee,” or “Lord I’m Coming Home.”
The positive thinking torch has now been picked up by a young upstart, Joel Osteen, of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas. At age 68, I no longer need my positive attitude reaffirmed. I have a lifetime of experience to affirm it for me, so I haven’t read anything by Osteen, though I do have a recent experience to share with you.
My wife, Pearl, and I drove to Houston recently to visit our son, his wife, and the grandkids. Greg wanted to take us to Lakewood Church. Being a positive thinker, I was positive I wanted to go, so we loaded the family in the car and arrived at the church as thousands of others were doing the same.
The church building began life as a stadium for an NBA team and I’m guessing it seats 20 or 30 thousand. The entryways and main floor were crowded, but we found our way to seats in the second level. As I looked up in the balconies, there were people seated here and there, but by the time the meeting started, those seats too were full, all the way up to the top of the nose bleed sections.
I began to look closely at the people and one would be hard pressed to find a more diverse gathering. There were Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and Whites. Not just a token smattering of each, but hundreds. I have watched segments of services of this church on television, but my capacity for televangelism is pretty limited, so I have never viewed an entire Lakewood Church service. I didn’t know what to expect, but one could feel drama and excitement in the air.
As Osteen ascended the platform, a rhythmic clapping started up, rising to a crescendo until he spoke. I assumed this was their traditional way of launching the service. Osteen opened the meeting and turned it over to his music man/worship leader and praise band. I believe the music man was black. There was about 30 minutes of singing of contemporary Christian music with an occasional oldie thrown in for people like myself. It was what one of my traditionalist friends calls “rock and roll church.” And the place did rock.
Both Peale and Schuller were ministers of the staid Reformed Church of America, and their services reflected the solemn traditions of their upbringing. Osteen however, follows in the footsteps of his father, a Southern Baptist preacher turned Charismatic, and the church exudes charisma. Osteen assumed leadership of the church when his father died, even though he had only preached one sermon in his life at the time.
People pretty much did what they were comfortable with, whatever seemed like appropriate worship to them: stand, sit, shout, clap, praise, wave hands. A stadium seemed like an appropriate venue, though I assume the motivations were different than when basketball fans did the same.
Osteen did not preach that morning, but rather the honors went to Bishop T.D. Jakes, a black preacher of a Pentecostal, mega-church in Dallas. I have seen segments of Jake’s preaching on television. He is a classic Pentecostal, black preacher. Like Osteen, though, he too does not dwell on negative, guilt rising preaching. He laces his sermons with lots of common sense and practical living And, this particular morning, he was in fine form.
With that visit to Lakewood Church, I can now add one more positive experience to a long list of such experiences.