I rob banks because that is where the money is.
Not any more. Just ask the unknown persons who cracked the safe at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church either Sunday, or early Monday morning. They walked away with $200,000 in cash, $400,000 in checks, and an unspecified number of envelopes containing hand written credit card numbers and expiration dates. It is a haul worthy of not only Sutton, but the gang who robbed the Brinks joint in Boston 64 years ago.
Various news reports tell us the amount taken was given to Osteen's Houston, TX church by his congregation during last Saturday's and Sunday's services. That's right, Brother Osteen took in $600,000 plus in only two days. Hey, that old time religion is a really great gig if you know how to work it right.
Although sources vary a little in their numbers, most agree Osteen's sermons are televised in 100 countries and 40,000 to 43,000 people a week show up in person at Lakewood Church. To put that into perspective there are 25,000 or so Episcopalians in the entire state of Oklahoma.
Obviously one of the first questions that comes to mind is, what in God's name does Osteen and his organization do with such a massive cash flow? For one, he has a huge building to finance. In 2003 he bought the Compaq Center in Houston. It is the former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets. In fifteen months his operation spent $105 million to renovate the facility and expand the seating capacity. Wikipedia says the opening night crowd for his first sermon in the place was over 55,000 enthusiastic fans. In addition there are missions to places like the Dominican Republic, India, El Salvador, and Israel to pay for. There are other things reported by the internet media, such as out reach ministries to unwed mothers, homeless persons, drug addicts and the like, although nothing on the church's web site mentions any of them.
Quite frankly, at first blush, it is easy to lump Osteen in with all the other cold blooded con men who pull television scams under the ruse of Christianity--guys like Jim Bakker, James Robison, Jimmy Swaggart, and the most grotesque grifter of them all, Benny Hinn.
But, in truth, it would be unfair to do so. Unlike the usual suspects, his family's only brush with scandal came when his wife, Victoria was sued by a flight attendant for assault. It was dismissed by a jury in less than three hours. He has broken bread with Barack Obama, of whom he says, "..in my heart I know he is a Christian."
According to Wikipedia's bio, he will not openly preach against homosexuality, although when pressed he states he is against same sex marriage and believes the, "homosexual lifestyle can be cured through God, as can any sin, or addiction." He avoids sermons about abortions and other social issues. Wikipedia also says he refuses to harp on money, because of, "the reputation of tele-evangelists." The same article maintains he stays away from talking about hell, sin, and the devil because he prefers to focus on the positive aspects of God's love. His church web site even has advice on how to maintain a healthy diet that would fit right in with what Michelle Obama tells school kids on a regular basis.
If you browse web sites and blogs which condemn Joel Osteen, you'll find the vast majority are composed by fire breathing, on the edge, types who claim Obama is a Socialist Muslim and the whole country is going to hell because of gays, communists and anyone else who doesn't believe like they do. A few of them go so far as to accuse him of heresy, which for some of us is a charge, at least from people like them, that's a badge of honor.
Still, it isn't easy for many people to be comfortable with someone who seems so completely wrapped up into not only saving souls, but accumulating huge amounts of cash. The incident with his wife happened on a Continental flight going from Houston to Vail while they were lounging in first class. Victoria's initial complaint was about about some sort of stain either on her seat, or chair arm.
In addition, a look at his church web site today turned up an ad, among many others, which offers believers the delivery of a package called, "God's Promises for You." Included are tracts like, "God's Promises for Your Every Need--Promise Cards--Healing is Yours-- Healed of Cancer--and, as a special gift, two tumblers." The blurb went on to say, "This brand new collection of resources will help you experience the wonderful promises of God for your life. You'll be blessed by God's Word and the inspiration and encouragement of Joel." There you have it--God and Joel Osteen--it is a duo the likes of which the world hasn't seen in 2,000 plus years.
The whole set comes with a minimum "donation" of $90.
Lakewood Church officials assured their congregation the money stolen was covered by insurance and it is currently working with the carrier to make sure the theft was only a minor blip in the good work of the Lord. Osteen's facebook page told them, "Have faith that everything will work out in God's perfect timing. Trust in God and enter into his rest. No thieves are going to stop this Mega Church."
Obviously not. An outfit such as this will recoup their money in an amazing amount of time. The recovery will be to them, God's will.
To the rest of us, it will be due to years of premiums payed out to an insurance company, not to mention the deep pockets of the congregation,
Yes, we all interpret things differently. Some see the Divine while others have visions of an actuary beating his head against a wall because he made the wrong bet.
It is, in the end, a mystery which will linger in the news for a few days. When it is done it will prove to be a crude exercise and everyone will yawn because the people who pulled it off will probably blow their entire take on either a long shot at a craps table in Vegas, or some high class hookers in overpriced hotel rooms. The whole heist will have nothing to do with religion, or insulting Christianity. It will, however, have everything to do with the money in the safe--and their ability to break into it.
Unfortunately, that is what happens when the Lord's and Joel Osteen's payroll is collected in cash.
sic vita est