I came to Christ in 1973 at a Young Life group while my dad was stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. I had one of those Pauline conversions where I heard the literal voice of God call my name. I came back the next week and told the Young Life leader what happened to me and he said… you’ve been born again. I asked what should I do now and he simply said… read the Bible and ask God to teach you and He will. I didn’t go to church because he didn’t tell me to go to church. Those years were sweet. The fellowship with Jesus was so precious. I learned to believe the Bible at face value as God taught me personally from His Word.
When my dad was stationed in Quantico, VA. we started attending churches sporadically. However, one thing I quickly learned is the church didn’t really believe the Bible. I heard pastor after pastor tell me that not all the Bible applied today. Some of it was only for the times of the Bible. God didn’t do miracles today. God didn’t heal today. We have doctors now. I heard all kinds of things and it confused me.
By this time our family moved to Vista, California. One day I stumbled on a radio station that played this guy called Chuck Smith. He came on at 5 pm. I timed my breaks at Burger King to listen to Pastor Chuck. He was the first pastor I heard that said, the Bible is all true. You can believe it the way it is written. God does miracles today. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. I found out his church was in Costa Mesa (about an hour from Vista). My friends and I would drive up for the Saturday night concerts. Shortly after that, we learned of a Christian Bookstore opening in Vista, California named Loaves and Fishes owned by Chuck and Iva Eason. They learned I played guitar and invited me to “lead worship” at a Bible study they were teaching. They gave me Praise 1 to 4 and two songbooks… Rejoice in Jesus Always and Praise. I loved these songs… they were so alive. I showed up and a month later that Bible Study became Vista Calvary Chapel and I became the first worship leader.
I would spend hours listening to Pastor Chuck tapes. I was especially impacted by the series on the Holy Spirit. The series through Romans, Ephesians. I wrote Chuck and he wrote me back and gave me a list of books that would help me grow in my knowledge of the word. Thankfully, working at a Christian Bookstore allowed me to get all these books at an incredible discount!!! Pastor Chuck’s grasp of the scriptures formed my theology. I had no idea during these early days that I would eventually go on to become the worship leader, an assistant pastor with Pastor Chuck.
Also during these times I had a punk rock band called The Philadelphia Band and we worked with the Ministry Resource Center with Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. It was the R&D department for Maranatha! Music giving all of us young musicians an opportunity to serve the Lord in music ministry. I had no idea that I would work for Maranatha! Music as the A&R and Marketing Director. It was during this time that I personally met and became friends with many of the early innovators of worship music such as Tommy Coomes from Love Song, Kelly Willard, Stan Endicott (choir master extraordinaire), Chuck Fromm (Pastor Chuck’s nephew), Dan & Jamie Owens Collins (innovator of the Praise Band sound)… too many to mention. I had an incredible opportunity to discover up close the incredible stories behind the Jesus Movement from the people who lived it.
I think I should also mention that when I was 17, Lonnie Frisbee prayed for me. It changed my life. Lonnie was the reason that so many hippies came to be at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Lonnie was anointed by the Holy Spirit with power and I also had the privilege of being his worship leader when he came down to minister in San Diego.
As the worship leader at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, it’s amazing to me to note that the songs that Pastor Chuck told me were the favorites were the songs from Praise 1 to 4. I was initially brought on staff to start the School of Worship. I had given my original vision for a school of worship to Brian Nixon while I was on staff at Calvary Laguna and told him you should do this at Costa Mesa. I had no idea that I would be asked later to come and launch the school. While there I was asked to oversee the newly built studio, which led to the relaunch of Calvary Chapel Music. All of these ministries are still going today.
The one thing I decided to do while on staff at Costa Mesa is to really take the opportunity to learn from Pastor Chuck… a man that God used tremendously around the world. Several things come to mind. Grace… Pastor Chuck is the most gracious and trusting person I know. He gave people chances that I never would have. He restored people that I’m sorry to say that I judged. He saw God’s plan in people. He believed in people and more importantly trusted the Holy Spirit in people. Worship… Pastor Chuck is a worshipper. Today I’m sure he is the loudest voice in heaven. I would listen to him speak about the modern songs, the styles of worship, the way people sang… and I realized he was speaking from a different place than I. He was speaking from the place of one who had been there when the Presence of God was so thick in the room as thousands of people were being drawn to the Lord. He saw the real and he was allergic to anything that wasn’t real. Faith… Pastor Chuck trusted God. He believed that Calvary Chapel was God’s work and he was a spectator. He trusted that if God was in something, He would provide for it and insure it’s success. It couldn’t fail if God was in it. Authentic… Chuck was a man of few words, but he was a man who spoke. I remember the calls I got when I did something that wasn’t what he liked. I dreaded and loved those calls. I loved the calls because I loved knowing what I needed to do. I dreaded the calls because I never liked disappointed Chuck. Led By The Spirit… Chuck was supernaturally natural. He wasn’t weird or spookey about following Jesus. God would naturally lead Chuck. I remember the meeting I was in when I gave Pastor Chuck my vision to relaunch Calvary Chapel Music. I was talking about what I saw and out of no where I heard this very loud… YES!!! I guess Chuck liked my idea. He gave me a budget and the green light to do the ministry. I walked out and Jon Courson said… I don’t know if you realize what just happened. What just happened never happens. That was the Lord. Punctual… Pastor Chuck had a satellite watch that was tied into NASA. He would stand in the back and even though prayers for the service were being offered at 20 seconds to Chuck would start moving… which meant I needed to be in place with the band, ready to go in 20 seconds. I never missed a beat. Calvary Time was On Time to the second. Innovator… Pastor Chuck changed the way we do church. He introduced modern worship. He popularized the simple verse by verse teaching of God’s Word. He was a friend to Israel. He was the first multi-site pastor with video overflow rooms. He was an early adopter of internet technology, mass media, radio. Rarely in history comes a man who impacts multiple generations and Pastor Chuck is that man. I’m honored to know him and serve with him in the service of our Lord.
There are so many stories I have, along with many others. In my meetings with Pastor Chuck, he liked to be called Chuck. I never called him Papa Chuck. He wasn’t my father figure, but he did point me to my heavenly father on many occasions. He didn’t want to be responsible for my life, he wanted my life to be rooted and grounded in my faith in Jesus. He prayed for me and told me to GO FOR IT when I met him with the dream of starting Calvary Chapel San Clemente. To most he was a great Bible teacher, a plumb line for truth. To me, he was my pastor and the man who inspired me to walk with Jesus since I was 16. I have mixed emotions at the news of his death. I’m sad that I will never see him preach on this side of heaven. I knew this year’s Pastor’s Conference would be the last conference he would have with his pastors. It felt like an extended good bye. I am grateful for Pastor Chuck’s influence. I also know Pastor Chuck would want me to keep my hand to the plow. To stay faithful to the call of God as God’s man in San Clemente. He wouldn’t even want me to refer to myself as Chuck’s Pastor, he wanted me to be God’s man. Today is a day to celebrate… to move forward… to faithfully continue preaching God’s Word… to show up for work and to keep my hand to the plow. Maranatha! Jesus is coming soon. Let’s get busy.
This how Pastor Chuck would have wanted to be remembered…