“Someday you may read in the newspaper that Chuck Smith has died. Don’t you believe it! Accurate reporting would say ‘Chuck Smith moved!’ Out of an old, worn-out tent and into a new glorious body like Jesus has. No more groaning, no more pain, no more suffering. Just perfect fellowship with the Lord forever.” -Chuck Smith
This week beloved Pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel, Chuck Smith, was promoted to glory as the Lord ended his two-year battle with lung cancer. Originally ordained in the Foursquare denomination, Pastor Chuck began his ministry in 1965 by starting a non-denominational church in Costa Mesa, California, with just 25 people. Pastor Chuck focused on teaching the word of God, and the Lord blessed his efforts. Calvary Chapel welcomed a generation of hippies and surfers and became a focal point of the “Jesus movement.” Under a big circus tent, the Holy Spirit worked through outdoor concerts to present the gospel message to hundreds of long-haired, bead-wearing young people, and they responded in droves. A new style of contemporary Christian music emerged, and many of these musicians and bands flourished into ministries of their own.
Later, millions of people were blessed by Calvary Chapel’s radio ministry. Pastor Chuck’s familiar calm and slow, steady speech was a source of comfort for those looking for hope. His firm confidence in the love of God and steadfast proclamation of the gospel influenced thousands of people to make life-altering decisions for Christ. Through his leadership and encouragement, hundreds of young men were called into the ministry, many of them like Greg Laurie, establishing new Calvary Chapel churches. It is so amazing how God touches one life to minister to others who go on to minister to even more.
There have been several public tributes this week, and reading how one man influenced the lives of so many people has been a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit to work within the body of Christ. My sister and I attended Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa for a time in college, and were blessed by the Bible teaching of Pastor Chuck. But even before that, our family had a connection with his. My grandmother was good friends with Chuck’s mother, and my mom’s brother reportedly sang in a quartet with Chuck at Angeles Temple in Los Angeles. Being part of the Foursquare Church, he also taught at Cedar Crest, a Foursquare-owed camp in the Big Bear area, when my aunt and uncle were camp counselors. My mom also attended camp there, as did my sister and I, in junior high and high school.
On occasion, Grandma would join us for church at Calvary Chapel. After the service, she’d always clog up the reception line, talking Pastor Chuck’s ear off, about his mother and about my uncle! With his effervescent smile, he’d patiently listen and in his slow personable tone, receive her company with the love and affection of family.
His home-going has been surprisingly poignant to me, and had me teary-eyed all day on Thursday. I think perhaps it has refreshed the pain I feel about the loss of my own loved ones. My aunt and uncle as well as my grandma and my mom are all in heaven now. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were among the throng of people waiting to welcome Pastor Chuck home when he arrived. It seems that with every year that goes by, within the body of Christ, there are more of us there, and less of us here. And with each one who is called home, there is a sadness for their loss, and yet an increased longing to be home ourselves. The older I get, the more I understand the torn feeling Paul had.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Philippians 1:21-24, NIV
This week, I’ve really been missing those in my family who’ve gone on ahead. The only thing that makes it bearable is the assurance that this separation will be temporary. God promises that our loved ones who died in Christ, are safe in his care and that a reunion with them is forthcoming.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. I Thessalonians 4:13-18, NIV
In the program of my mom’s memorial service, we included a short allegorical story that describes the temporary separation between Christians on earth and Christians in heaven.
For believers, our journey to heaven is like traveling to a beautiful tropical paradise where we are all scheduled to go, but have flights on different days. While some have already gone ahead, others are just about ready to leave.
We take our loved one to the airport and say our farewells, sad that we will be separated for a time, but so excited for them, knowing that they will soon be laughing and eating and enjoying paradise with those already there. We are happy for them and anticipate the day when it is our turn to go.
We watch them get on the plane and we wave through the terminal window as their plane taxis and finally takes off. The plane becomes smaller and smaller against the sky, until we cannot see it anymore. She’s at last on her way and we say “There she goes.”
Just then, those in paradise see her plane approaching. With joyous excitement, they rush out to meet her. “There she is, there she is! Here she comes!” She is finally home.
In his book Heaven, author Randy Alcorn describes the reunion that awaits us.
Our parting is not the end of our relationship, only an interruption. We have not “lost” them, because we know where they are. They are experiencing the joy of Christ’s presence in a place so wonderful that Christ called it Paradise. And one day, we’re told, in a magnificent reunion, they and we will be with the Lord forever. -Randy Alcorn
Pastor Chuck experienced his wonderful reunion this week when the Lord took him home. But on earth, he will be sorely missed until we join him. Today Pastor Greg Laurie shared an interview with Pastor Chuck, he recorded just weeks ago. When asked what he’d like his final sermon to focus on, Pastor Chuck, in his personable and understated manner, responded,” John 3:16. It is the Gospel message in a nut-shell.” And that it is.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16, NIV
On the journey toward Home,