So many words have been printed, published and proclaimed to honor Pastor Chuck. My tribute seems hardly worth disseminating when others with greater eloquence or experience have expressed so many memories.
My first significant conversation with Pastor Chuck occurred more than thirty years ago. I was a new believer, who had been following Jesus about eleven months. I taught a home Bible study with about 45 people in attendance. I had started reading through the Bible in Genesis, and when I got to James 3:1, and the warning that those who teach will be judged more strictly, I was panicked. I called the church and asked to speak to Pastor Chuck, and although I’d never met him, he graciously came on the line.
I explained my situation—that I’d never gone to Bible college or seminary and there were all these people coming to my house, and how I’d just read James 3:1, and … In the midst of my discourse, Pastor Chuck started to laugh, and walk me off the ledge. He encouraged me to participate in the School of Ministry (SoM) at CCCM. I explained that I was an attorney and although I had a pretty flexible schedule, there would be court appearances where I’d have to miss class. Pastor Chuck told me that he would ask Pastor Carl be gracious and work with me. That was the first hand-upthat I received from Pastor Chuck.
When Pastor Chuck was teaching through the Book of Acts at SoM, he reserved time towards the end of class to answer questions. One student asked, “Pastor Chuck, what do you do when Sunday comes and you’re not prepared?” Chuck simply closed his Bible, and walked out of class. I never asked him about it, but I presume that he was offended that someone would think that he ever came to his calling as a Bible teacher unprepared for God’s noble work. That was another hand-up. In thirty-plus years of teaching, I’ve made sure to be diligent to be prepared.
Pastor Chuck had a tendency to walk down the center aisle to greet congregants as they were leaving the services. One day, an elderly looking woman, perhaps in her 80s, approached. I was next to Pastor Chuck when I heard him excitedly shout, “Lois!” I later learned that when Chuck was a boy, Lois was his Sunday School teacher in Ventura, California. It was another remarkable hand-up. I purposed to remember the people who influenced me for Jesus, and remember the people I was privileged to serve for Jesus.
Pastor Chuck gave me opportunities to teach at the School of the Bible at CCCM, opportunities to serve, and his ear (attention). He encouraged me to plant a Calvary Chapel in Camarillo, California and prayed for my wife and I and our infant son, commissioning us. Being vertically challenged, he towered over me, but I remember him looking down and his broad grin. There are three great smiles in the universe, the Mona Lisa, the Cheshire Cat, and Chuck Smith. That was another hand-up, he encouraged me, empowered me and helped me to believe that God could use me—not because I was an attorney, but because He had counted me worthy.
Seven years after the church in Camarillo was planted, we had an opportunity to purchase a two-acre parcel of land. In the city where I serve, open land is rare and expensive. There has only been one Protestant church built from the ground up in the last twenty-five years. That one church is yet another example of a hand-up from Pastor Chuck.
Our fledgling church had no way to qualify for a loan even with my willingness to use our home as collateral. I reached out to Chuck to explain the situation, and the opportunity, and he graciously approached the CCCM Board about giving us a hand-up, not a handout, to help us to qualify. We were able to get the loan and quickly remove CCCM’s involvement in their gracious assistance to us.
As the blueprints and construction drawings were developed, Pastor Chuck invited me to share them with him. There in his office at CCCM, he opened the voluminous pages. He had clearly done this countless times before. And like so many abilities, he clearly had a knack and knew what he was doing. I recall that he affirmed the design, and words to the effect that we had done good. But what really stood out to me was Pastor Chuck asking about our proximity to the fields. In our community, there is fertile open agriculture space between the city and the ocean. It is generally a lovely verdant space, but when broccoli or cauliflower are harvested the odor can be noticeable. Chuck had grown-up nearby in Ventura, California and was very familiar with the phenomenon. He wanted to give me a hand-up so that I would be careful how the campus was designed.
When the building was finished, Pastor Chuck agreed to come and speak at the dedication service. I got to make some opening remarks, and encouraged people to open their Bibles to the Book of Jeremiah (people had printed Bibles in those days rather than their phone or tablet). Chuck was in the front row sitting with my wife, Karen. Chuck had heard me refer to my wife as, “The godliest woman that I know.” That evening, Karen didn’t have her Bible, so our pastor leaned over and said, “Can I share my Bible with the godliest woman Bruce knows?” My wife’s face was crimson, but it was just another hand-up.
As I reflect, I had a very comfortable life in Orange County. I had ample opportunities to teach, serve, and was being used by God. I never aspired to be a pastor, but when it was obvious that it is what God had called me to be and do, I left my career to embrace my calling. As I reflect, the single most influential human being in that process is Pastor Chuck. I have no regrets in my decision, and love what I get to do in God’s kingdom. So, in gratitude for what Pastor Chuck has done for me, I’m submitting these words as a tribute to him, his memory, his incredible legacy, and the very tiny part I play in it.