Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”
Instantly I felt my heart simultaneously sink and then soar. I thought of the sadness of his wife, his family and Christians around the globe who will miss him; and yet I also knew the great cry of his heart had been answered — he was present with the Lord. Pastor Chuck Smith, who pastored Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, that lead to an entire tribe of Calvary Chapel churches that would spring up the world over, was intrinsically connected to the storied “Jesus-movement” of the 70’s. He who faithfully and relentlessly exposited scriptures, pointed people to grace and trusted in the Holy Spirit has left the tent and gone Home.
I thought of how he was no longer in the tent of his body, a tent that had been afflicted by a stroke and then through a prolonged fight with cancer, and how he would never struggle or feel pain again. Like my daughter Lenya, he was in the Paradise of God, in Heaven. The house has got what the tent does not. He had run his race, fought the good fight, and there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness that waits for all who love His appearing.
Pastor Chuck is a hero of mine. There is no doubt that there would be no Fresh Life Church if it weren’t for him. He directly impacted those who impacted me, and through attending the Bible College he started I learned so much. As part of our curriculum we listened to hundreds and hundreds of his messages through the Bible. I thoroughly enjoyed it. His distinct, rich, warm voice and loving tone as he methodically worked his way from Genesis to Revelation, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse is permanently engrained in my heart. I still regularly listen to him teach, both on Fresh Life Radio and as I teach through books of the Bible myself. Just a couple months ago I spent several hours listening to him teach the entire book of Philippians in two monster-sermons in prep for the Rampart Series. Speaking of Fresh Life Radio, it was Pastor Chuck who gave us the radio station we operate in Billings, Montana. Which is a perfect snapshot of his generous heart.
I had the chance to say hello to him just a few months ago when I saw him in passing at a conference. It was brief but in his eyes I could see he was as strong as ever inwardly, but you could tell he was in pain and a shell of himself outwardly. Last summer, however, we were both backstage at a Harvest Crusade and I had the opportunity to sit down with him and tell him how thankful I am for him. I told him that what God is doing through Fresh Life is all fruit to his account — the thousands of decisions for Christ and all God has done. I will never forget when I was trying to decide whether I should stay in California or move to Montana and I went to see him in his office. As I communicated the options, I waited for him as the General to tell me where I should deploy to. He wouldn’t. Instead, he told me, “Both options are good Levi. People need Jesus everywhere.” I see his wisdom now. He refused to be Yoda. He knew I would put stock in his opinion and wanted me to discern the will of God myself.
I celebrate the tremendous life he lived and marvel at the impact one man committed to Jesus can make. Millions and millions of people experienced God’s love because of him. Much like the late Steve Jobs, who innovated in not just one but in multiple areas, God used Pastor Chuck to change the game on many different levels. He altered the landscape when it comes to Christian music by embracing modern worship and giving birth to Maranatha music, pioneered in church-planting, and disrupted ministry in general through his evangelistic approach that reached out to a counterculture while maintaining both doctrinal orthodoxy and an openness to the Holy Spirit (Ed Stetzer made the case on his blog that he altered the face of Protestant Christianity in America). I grieve that we will see his face no more on the earth but rejoice over what he is now experiencing and the way his life will continue to make waves and ripples for many, many, many years to come and on into eternity.