By Mark Ellis
One week after the dramatic disclosure he has lung cancer, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement preached at three morning services and taught the evening Bible study on Jeremiah.
Pastor Chuck – who will turn 85 later this month – appeared to have the strength and vigor of Caleb when he led the church in song as the service opened. The choice of hymn #2, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” seemed particularly appropriate.
The glow of heaven was upon his face as his voice boomed, “For I know what e’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.” Dressed in a dark suit and a burgundy tie, he radiated joy and assurance in the face of the dreaded ‘C-word’ that so many fear.
Indeed, he never mentioned his health at all, as he preached about “An Everlasting Love,” from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13. At the top of his message, he urged the congregation to pray for the church’s missionaries, active in 56 countries around the world.
Pastor Chuck recounted the fact that his father used corporal punishment on him as a child, something he didn’t like at the time. “My dad applied psychology to the right places, with the right materials,” he noted. Years later, he realized his father’s discipline was rooted in love.
“God chastens us to protect us from dangerous activities and things that could even destroy us,” he said. “I have seen the chastening hand of God on my life. I know He wouldn’t let me go on in practices that could harm me.”
In a considerable portion of his message, he gave an account of the early beginnings of his life as a pastor, before his involvement with Calvary Chapel. At first, he earned $20 a week at a small church in Corona, California and held a job at a market to make ends meet.
“On the first Sunday in Corona we had 57 people attend. After two years, I was really defeated. The church went from 57 to 22 and six were from my own family.”
“It was a downhill kind of experience,” he said.
Then he had an opportunity to pastor a church in Huntington Beach, where he and his family lived close to the beach and “the surf was perfect,” he recalled. “The church was growing and we were blessed.”
A few years later, he moved to a larger church in Los Serranos, near Corona, even though he was reluctant to leave Huntington Beach.
A home Bible study at John Ezell’s house in Corona began to overflow with people after Pastor Chuck’s messages were broadcast on a local radio station. Even he was surprised one evening when he arrived to find the neighborhood jammed with cars and people spilling out the front door of Ezell’s home.
“It was exciting to see God working through this Bible study,” he said.
Later, the Corona Christian Center began under Pastor Chuck’s leadership, and was growing when he got the call about an opening at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.
Initially, his wife Kay was reluctant. “It doesn’t make sense to leave a growing church,” she told him. But shortly after that, she met him at the door with tears in her eyes. God had moved powerfully to change the disposition of her heart.
“The Lord has been speaking to me,” she said. “You are the pastor and the Lord told me not to stand in the way.”
It could be argued that their move to Costa Mesa in 1965 changed the face of church history in Southern California and throughout the world. “We came down here and it’s a thrill to see how God has worked,” he said. “What you see is a sovereign work of God.”
While everything looks clear in retrospect, at the time he could not fully grasp the way God was moving within the circumstances. “We went through times of doubt, not understanding what God was doing,” he noted.
“The Lord was tying things together, putting together all the pieces so we could experience this wonderful, thrilling ministry at Calvary Chapel.”
Pastor Chuck observed that children’s storybooks often conclude with, “They lived happily ever after.”
“God has a beautiful end to your story,” he encouraged. “When we walk with God we will live happily ever after.”
“He loves us with an everlasting love,” he said. “You don’t see the whole picture, but be not weary in doing well. He will draw you into His path with loving kindness.”
He closed his message with a reference to the opening hymn. “Whatever befalls me, Jesus doeth all things well.”