The first time I discovered Chuck Smith’s teaching, my wife and I were on our honeymoon. The pastor mentoring us as a couple invited us to a conference Chuck was to speak at. My first reaction was, “Thanks for the invite, but it’s our honeymoon.”
“I know,” he told me, “but it’s at Warm Beach Conference Center, which is already a fantastic place to be. Come on, you won’t regret it!”
He was right; this place was magic even for a couple of twenty-year-olds in love. It’s one of those places where Puget Sound folds into an estuary surrounded by endless evergreen forests and a farming community. And at the time, you could easily spot a bald eagle.
Chuck was already speaking by the time we got to the conference hall. Our friend saw us standing at the entrance. As we walked in, Chuck’s deep, rich voice and slow cadence instantly mesmerized us. He was speaking from Galatians 3, “Having begun in the Spirit…” a subject we’d hear more about as time went on. The message was enough to stop us in our tracks, and praise God, it spoke to us. But that day, we were still on our honeymoon and headed out as soon as he finished speaking.
Fast-forward a few years to the first time I truly listened to Chuck Smith; I was in a different place. We were in our first year on the mission field. We’d come to the stark realization that our high school French was sorely inadequate, but we were thankful for our friend who had tutored us before we left. This was before the World Wide Web changed our lives, back when we’d have to call our families in the US from a phone booth to avoid overspending on a long-distance call.
We lived in that isolated sound bubble where an entire culture and their dogs communicate in a language we couldn’t understand. During those days, the pastor who hosted us, seeing its profound spiritual effect on us, began feeding us cassette tapes from the 5000 series. “You’ve never listened to Chuck Smith before?” he asked.
“No, but we heard him at a conference at Warm Beach.”
“You should start with this.”
We took a few tapes home. Genesis 1. Nothing too fancy, a white tape with a blue label printed everything we needed to know. Pressing play in our little apartment, that warm, deep voice filled the room. There was a dynamic I hadn’t heard for some time. The Spirit moved in my heart as he taught the Word. Yet the message wasn’t simplistic. Sure, he was speaking from what I imagined was the 1970s, but there was something pertinent about it. If I didn’t keep President Carter or the Iran Hostage situation in mind, I could see the applications to the late nineties I was living in. I was hooked.
Tape after tape, we couldn’t stop. Little did I realize that my Biblical theology was developing. He covered every book of the Bible, chapter by chapter; it entered my ears, transformed my heart, and infused into my worldview.
Eventually, we did learn French, and one day, I became a church planter myself. I met Chuck Smith at my first Pastor’s Conference at the Murrieta Conference Center. We were back in the US to take care of some visa issues. A pastor friend from Southern California invited me to the Conference.
“You’ve never been to Murrieta,” he asked.
“No, I’m from Seattle.”
“You have to come. You will come and stay with me.”
So I did.
One day, we were walking through the grounds. I was enjoying the perfectly manicured environment, the warm California sun, and the palm tree shade when a white golf cart passed us. I instantly recognized Chuck in the driver’s seat. He greeted my friend, who introduced me.
“You’re Mike Dente from Paris.”
I couldn’t believe it. He knew who I was. Then he said, we were praying for you! I was done. I couldn’t think how he knew who I was, but he seemed genuinely happy to meet me. But I was meeting my hero, who knew my name. That’s the day he became my favorite. It was also the day I realized a personal side of him that can’t be caught on tape. He didn’t just teach; he taught people. It was a profound lesson.
That’s why I was so happy to participate in this Tribute in memory of his life and legacy. Even though I didn’t know him well, I’m deeply thankful for him. His ministry kept me at my post when we were in a very fragile place. His teaching inspired me to seek the Lord to see if pastoring was in his divine plan for my life. His example gave me rich insight into serving and loving God’s people.