Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen has said his reputation is in "God's hands" after he came under fire not not immediately opening the doors of the 16,000-seat church to victims of Hurricane Harvey.
"There's been so much misinformation about the church last week, I wanted to clarify a few things," he began his sermon on Sunday, drawing a standing ovation from the congregation.
"This building flooded back in 2001, when the [Houston] Rockets were still playing basketball here," Osteen explained.
"There was over five feet of water in this lower bowl area. Knowing that, when we took possession, we installed large flood gates all around the building. Last Sunday morning, during all the rain, the waters came within a foot or two of breaching the walls and flooding the building once again."
Without those gates, Osteen said, "we wouldn't be in here today."
"The water started to recede late Sunday, maybe into Monday, and we felt it was safe to start taking people in on Tuesday. If we had opened the building earlier, and someone was injured, or perhaps it flooded and people lost their lives, it would be a whole different story," he argued.
"I am at peace at taking the heat for being precautious, but I don't want to take the heat for being foolish."
The megachurch pastor said his "reputation is in God's hands," and that regardless of what people say, Lakewood Church did exactly what it should have done - and it's easy for people to "make judgments from a distance."
"Some people who don't know the facts, and don't want to know the facts, will continue to try and stir things up. They would love to discredit the ministry, and lessen our voice; but they are not that strong, the forces that are for us are greater than the forces that are against us."
Ultimately, the attacks weren't just on Osteen, but on "all that we stand for; for faith, for hope, for love. Jesus even said 'when the world hates you, remember, it hated me first,'" he reminded the congregation.
The proper response, however, is to demonstrate Christian love to those who show hatred.
"We bless those who don't like us, we do good to those who talk bad about us; we understand they cannot keep us from our destiny," Osteen said. "God never promised we would reach our destination without a battle and without disappointments and without things we don't understand. Scripture says you will go through the flood but you will not drown."
As reported, the incident began when Osteen wrote on social media that he was praying for the safety of those affected by the flooding. A day later, he said the church was "inaccessible" due to "severe flooding."
The backlash on social media was swift, with several people re-posting images online refuting that Lakewood Church had been affected by Harvey. However, on Tuesday morning, the church opened its doors, housing hundreds of Hurricane Harvey victims and serving as a donation center for supplies.
Speaking to CBS, Osteen said that while Lakewood wasn't initially able to shelter victims, it still worked as a "distribution center" for the city.
"Our doors have always been open," he said. "We receive people even as soon as the water started receding. We worked with the city constantly. The city set up a shelter about four miles from here that can house 10,000 people, showers, dormitories, kitchens, security, all that. They didn't need us as a shelter at that point. They wanted us to be a distribution center."
Osteen admitted that the criticism "probably helped us to step up some things, to do it faster... maybe next time we would be a shelter before" the storm.
Hurricane Harvey hit near peak intensity in Texas on Aug. 25, affecting the Texas and Louisiana states in the US, and some areas in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guyana and more. At least 50 have been reported dead, while more than 30,000 were displaced from their homes in the US alone.