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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chuck Smith: Mentor and Model Recovering Well From Two ’Mini-Strokes’

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

COSTA MESA, CA (ANS) -- It’s not often a person has the opportunity to know, work with, and glean from an historical figure from the halls of Christianity.

Pastor Chuck Smith speaking recently at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa

I always wonder what people around St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and C.S. Lewis thought of their mentor and friend. True, many have left memoirs for us to read -- but I’m most curious about the day-to-day interactions.

Were these men talkative, clumsy, shy, kind, or forceful? Were they fun-loving, serious, or downright clueless? You get the point. There is a profound difference between just reading about a person and knowing and experiencing that person on a daily basis.

For those mentioned above, we’ll need to wait to talk with them in God’s new creation. Then we can understand a little of who they are —- and were —- as people and children of God.

Yet there is a generation of men and women with us today who already stand firm in the corridors of Christianity.

I am one of the fortunate individuals who had the opportunity to know and work with one such person: Chuck Smith who has now reached the grand age of 82.
 

Chuck in the 1960’s

Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel Movement and one of the key figureheads of the Jesus Movement, has touched the hearts and lives of countless of people in his six decades of ministry.

Not to mention his influence upon the fabric of Christian culture: from the 2,000 plus Calvary Chapel churches spanning the globe to the praise-and-worship phenomena initiated in the 1960’s. His impact looms large in the halls of modern Christian history.

Sadly, however, Pastor Chuck had a brief setback, suffering a couple of what were described as “mini-strokes” at his home on December 27, 2009.

I was blessed to have worked side-by-side with Pastor Chuck for almost eight years, covering numerous fields: education, publishing, radio, and television.

Not only was I able to glean from his words, thoughts, answers, and actions, on a weekly basis, but I was also able to watch him in a variety of situations: answering questions on a radio program we hosted together, cooperating with him on books, brainstorming and praying with him through tough educational situations. And, most special of all, to watch his interaction with other human beings.

Let me say at the offset: Pastor Chuck is a true gentleman. He is a man who understands God’s grace and the need for people to experience that grace in the love of Christ.

My first knowledge of Pastor Chuck came when I was in high school in Northern California. One night while flipping through channels on TV, I came upon this smiling, balding fellow talking about God’s love in front of a planter (I came to find out that it was the planter in front of the church office). I sat and listened, thinking to myself, “This is much different from those ‘other’ Christian broadcasts.”

But I didn’t pursue his ministry very much afterwards.

Chuck Smith baptizing at Pirates Cove, California, where thousands of new converts have been baptized over the years

It wasn’t until I began attending a Calvary Chapel -- while going to college in the central valley of California -- that I put the two together. The fellow I saw a few years back was the same guy whose books I saw in the Calvary Chapel bookstore.

I decided to read one of the books: Why Grace Changes Everything. Needless to say, I was greatly moved by his insights and conclusions about God’s grace toward His people.

I began to read more.

While I was doing this reading and investigation into Calvary Chapel, I graduated from college and began working in the field of Christian education. But after five years of working at a particular school, I felt it was time to move on. I began to look around at different schools, Calvary Chapel schools included.

It just so happened that a friend of mine, Jarrett Petero, was attending the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California.

He mentioned my name to Brian Brodersen, Chuck’s son-in-law, and also to Chuck Smith. Before I knew it, I was heading down to Costa Mesa in Orange County to meet with the two men.

My interview with Chuck was something I will never forget.

Instead of asking me about my degrees, experience, and goals, he was more interested in ministering to me (we had lost one of our children, Riley, a few months earlier). He quoted Scripture and shared his story of losing his brother and father in an airplane accident.

After finding out that I was a musician, he began talking to me about music. And in one of the greatest memories I have, he took out a small harmonica from his desk and began playing a tune, his eyes beaming with delight. Our interview lasted an hour. We spoke very little of school.

My initial ministry at Calvary of Costa Mesa was to oversee the extension Bible College. Later, I moved on to become the Superintendent of Schools, overseeing the K-12 program.

Through all the common issues and problems that occur at schools, I found Chuck always interested and concerned about “the next generation.” Chuck has always had a heart for the youth.

My next step in the journey with Pastor Chuck arose when I was invited to host the radio broadcast, “To Every Man an Answer”, later renamed, “Pastor’s Perspective”. Brian Brodersen felt that I could help keep the program moving and I ended up hosting the broadcast for several years.

Chuck in the 1970’s

It was during this time that I really got to know Chuck: how he approached people, how he ministered to them, and the answers he gave to an assortment of questions. It was here that I came to recognize his insight, care, and energy in providing answers to people: always pointing them to the Bible and God’s grace.

I was amazed as I watched him recite -- from memory -- passage after passage of Scripture, seldom looking at a Bible, but culling from his amazing memory his years of reading, memorization, and teaching.

I marveled.

I also got a first hand taste of his physical strength. Though I had heard about his years of working alongside the men and women at Calvary Chapel, building, restoring, and caring for the various facilities, it wasn’t until after one of the radio broadcasts that Chuck called me over to a group of waiting custodians.

They were looking up at a seven-foot door, wondering why it wasn’t closing. Chuck said, “Come over here for a second, Brian.” I inched over. He swooped me up in his arms, held me a foot off the ground, and asked me to feel around the top of the door.

I was 6” 1’ and 175 pounds. Chuck was 78 years young at that time.

I can go on and on with a host of stories, personal thoughts, and insights: the books we worked on, the stories he told me, and the lessons I learned from him. And maybe one day I will.

But for now, I am pleased that Chuck is recovering well from his strokes.

According to a mutual friend, Kathy Gilbert (one of the early “Jesus People”), “Chuck is doing great! Getting stronger every day.”

And Kathy, knowing Chuck, adds, “And now we are praying he is wise in his work choices...the doctors want him to take it easy...do you think that is easy for Chuck?” (I could picture the smile on her face when she wrote this).

Let me say that it won’t be. Chuck is hard to slow down. But I can’t wait to see what God shows him throughout his recovery.

Even if Chuck does slow down, it’s safe to say that he stands as an inspiration for many. He is a model of ministry for thousands. He is friend, mentor, and “father figure” for hundreds of pastors, missionaries, and public figures throughout the world.

So, on behalf of the millions you’ve touched, Pastor Chuck, get some rest. We can’t wait to see you walk up to the pulpit at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and say, “Turn with me in your Bible…”


Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at www.briannixon.com

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