My Memories of Pastor Chuck Smith—Part 2
By Sharon Fischer
Sharon and Hal Fischer were among the original members of the first Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa, CA, nearly 55 years ago. She published a book in 2014 entitled I Remember…The Birth of Calvary Chapel. This article, the second of a two-part series, briefly recounts her memories of Chuck Smith as her senior pastor. Please check out yesterday’s post at calvarymagazine.org to read Part 1. Today, October 3, is the seventh anniversary of Pastor Chuck’s passing.
Celebrating 25 Years
On the night of December 2, 1990, a joyous tribute to Pastor Chuck and Kay was held to celebrate their 25th anniversary of pastoring at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (CCCM). Several thousand people came together, and many pastors reminisced about the wonderful work that God had been doing through the ministry. Some even roasted Chuck in a good-natured way about his idiosyncrasies. Don McClure talked about Chuck’s competitive nature when playing tennis: He played until he won the match, which once made him extremely late for a board meeting. Other pastors attending were Mike MacIntosh, Greg Laurie, Jon Courson, Skip Heitzig, Jeff Johnson, Steve Mays, Raul Ries, Dave Rolph, and Romaine. The Jesus-Movement-era band Love Song gathered to play “Little Country Church” (their original hit from 1972) and then broke out in a fun-filled rap song with special lyrics for the occasion. Our daughter Terri Ann Fischer read an original poem of her memories of Calvary Chapel and Pastor Chuck. He had been her first pastor since she was 9 years old.
Pastor Chuck concluded the evening by introducing his family. He then recounted how God had orchestrated his first 18 years in the ministry [before Calvary Chapel], preparing him to lead Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. He urged us that God’s work in the past did not give a person permission to “rest on our laurels,” but to instruct us for the present and future service to God. He added, “We take our hats off to the past and our jackets off for the future work God has for us.” It was an amazing evening to reflect, fellowship, and celebrate all that God had done in those 25 years.
Hal and Sharon Fischer (author of this article) with Pastor Chuck Smith. They were among Chuck’s original members in the early days of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. This was their last photo taken with Chuck. Pastor Chuck joked that this was indeed “an illustration of a rose between two thorns.”
No Fear in the New Millenium
According to the notation in my Bible, Pastor Chuck had led us through the entire Bible for the seventh time since 1965. On October 17, 1999, we began again in Genesis for the eighth time.
We were approaching the year 2000, and the anticipation for months had been ominously looming over us. Fears of “Y2K” set the nerves of many people on edge. Would the new Millennium change or confuse the computers and the internet on which we had learned to depend? Would it affect the electrical grid, the food supply?
Yet the December church board meeting minutes did not reflect one iota of concern. At the general membership meeting of CCCM, Pastor Chuck shared only the good news of what God had done during the past year. Calvary Chapel under the leadership of our pastor entered the new Millennium filled with gratitude for what God had done the past 34 years. The much-feared collapse never came, and the problems that resulted from the change were barely a blip on the radar.
Our phone began ringing before sunrise on December 27, 2009. One call after another informed us that Pastor Chuck had suffered a stroke during the night. Hal dressed quickly and navigated the early morning traffic from Yorba Linda to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. As he approached the room, he saw Chuck’s daughter Cheryl and her husband Brian standing at the door. Hesitating, he asked if anyone besides the family would be permitted to see Chuck. Cheryl quickly responded, “You are family!”
Hal entered the room to find Chuck Jr., who had spent the night, and the patient, Pastor Chuck, sitting in chairs at the side of the bed. Hal did most of the talking, expressing his concern over what had happened. They reminisced over their many memories from the past 44 years. Reaching out with his hand, Hal asked if he could pray with Chuck; his old friend put his hand on Hal’s as they bowed their heads together in prayer.
God was not finished with Pastor Chuck. Within weeks, he stood before an amazed congregation and spoke at three Sunday morning services. Then, much to everyone’s surprise—and I might add, concern—he packed his bags and left with Love Song, touring Southern California beginning in April 2010. Within a couple of months, they had covered the West Coast. Then he was on the road again with the group travelling the East Coast.
A few months later, in December 2010, Chuck underwent a successful back surgery. Once again, he was on the job before anyone would have imagined it possible.
Another surgery followed on June 20, 2011, this time for a knee replacement. He surprised everyone by showing up at the July 4th celebration held outside at Charis Field.
Barely six months later, on Sunday, New Year’s Day, 2012, as Hal and I entered church, we were greeted by our friend and CCCM board member, Rob Yardley. He forewarned us that Chuck would be announcing that he had lung cancer. We took our seats in stunned disbelief at the devastating news. I wept as I waited for the service to start. My mind wandered back over the past 46 years from the time when God first brought this pastor to our little chapel on Church Street in Costa Mesa.
As soon as Pastor Chuck spoke, my tears stopped. He began by telling the congregation that he was at peace with the fact that his life was in God’s hands. He had such peace as he spoke that it resonated through the church like a calming balm. In relief, I thought, Chuck’s ministry is not over. It was such a relief to hear how content he was. Pastor Chuck’s daughter Janette Manderson faithfully kept us informed about his journey to recovery: On January 5, the biopsy confirmed lung cancer. On January 16, his treatments began. On January 21, he was praising God with joy in the midst of the storm. The week of January 22, he started chemotherapy on Tuesday yet went to work that day and for the rest of the week. And so on.
When Easter Sunday morning arrived, Hal and I had a prearranged meeting with Chuck in his office after the morning services. We walked in to see a crowd of children seated on the floor casually chatting and waiting for their grandpa. Chuck ushered us into a private sitting room. We couldn’t believe how strong he was after delivering the fourth message of the day—three indoor services plus an early sunrise service. And he had one more study to teach in Ezekiel that night. I stepped between Hal and Chuck to pose for a picture. Though tired from a morning that would have exhausted a much younger man, Chuck exhibited a radiant smile through severely chapped lips. His eyes still had that sparkle as he quipped, “A rose between two thorns.” I will always cherish this picture, the first and last one taken of the three of us together.
Chuck’s stewardship of his time and energy had always been a great example and inspiration, especially to those of us who were in the autumn or winter of our lives. He had never just drifted through life. He always lived on the cutting edge, growing older in the grace and strength God had so kindly given him—whether it was behind the pulpit or with a pick and shovel in hand. Through Chuck’s example as he journeyed through cancer, he modeled complete trust in God, living out what he taught us over the years. I witnessed the truth he had so often taught us: We do not have to be afraid of what the future holds because we know who holds the future.
Pastor Chuck said, “The strength from God finds its perfect outworking in our own weakness. We are mere earthen jars and probably cracked a bit. Our outer man is indeed perishing. But as God affirmed to Paul, there is great advantage in waning vigor—for the Lord’s strength is actually magnified in our own lack of it.” He then quoted the Apostle Paul: And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
On Sunday morning, September 29, 2013, because of Hal’s illness, we were watching the third service at home on our widescreen TV. It gave a bigger-than-life view of this man whom God had brought into our lives so many years prior—this man who was once athletic, strong in body and will, who led our little congregation on the ride of our lives, teaching us the Bible as we had never been taught before.
As he slowly approached the podium, the congregation stood, clapping and whistling. Looking out, he smiled. “Thank you, what a joy, what a blessing, to gather with you again today.” From our vantage point, it was easy to see the oxygen tube in his nose. It was painful to watch the once strong, vibrant man we knew now bravely struggling, halting as he spoke with the determination to leave us with the message on his heart: “Be Strong in the Faith.” He taught from Romans 4 on Abraham’s great faith in God: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform (Romans 4:20-21, KJV).
With his final preached words, he ended his sermon: “Just hang on, because God is faithful, and He will keep His promise.” Then he prayed, “Father, we do thank You that we can put our trust and confidence in You, knowing, Lord, that that which You have promised, You are able also to perform. And so Lord, may we just put our faith, our confidence, our trust, in You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
And just like all the other services Pastor Chuck had preached before, he sang the final benediction to the congregation. It would be the last time, with the men joining him, and the women singing the refrain: The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: the LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace (Numbers 6:24-26).
The call came at 4:56 a.m. on Thursday morning, October 3, 2013: Our pastor of 48 years had slipped into eternity. This man whose beautiful smile had first appeared before our congregation of 50 people in 1965 was now in heaven. He was seeing, face to face, our Jesus whom he had so faithfully taught us to know and love. Pastor Chuck had passed the mantle down to the next generation of pastors, missionaries, teachers, and parishioners—a strong legacy to fall back on, the knowledge of the Bible as never before taught in the last two centuries.
I would also like to add: As Pastor Chuck said on the celebration of his 25th anniversary with Calvary Chapel, I believe he would say again, “Let’s take our hats off to the past and put on our jackets for the future work God has for us.” I also knew Pastor Chuck well enough to know that he would likely say, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”
Sharon and Hal Fischer were among the original members of the first Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa nearly 55 years ago. She published a book in 2014 entitled I Remember…The Birth of Calvary Chapel. The book can be purchased on Amazon. This article briefly recounts her memories of Chuck Smith as her senior pastor. This is the second part of a two-part series. Part 1 ran yesterday, October 2.
Go to calvarymagazine.org to read Part 1 of this series.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.