It was 3 A.M. in Switzerland as a car made its way down the winding mountain road from Villars past the homes of sleeping people. Suddenly the driver saw an orange glow in the sky, and he soon realized that it was caused by flames in a chalet, a wooden building in the typical Swiss style with a wide overhanging roof. “Fire!” he announced to the village of Huemoz in the only way he could, by keeping his hand constantly on the automobile horn.

Betty pushed up on her elbows to look out the window, wondering why all the rude noise was being made. Immediately her eyes caught the orange glow and the flames only a few hundred feet away. “Jane, wake up! The chapel is on fire!” Jane quickly telephoned the local fire brigade. By that time others had seen the awful fact that the chapel was in flames, and L’Abri students, helpers, and workers were getting all the fire extinguishers out and running down the hill to try to put out the fire. The village church bells began to ring, calling everyone to help.

While all this was going on, it was early evening in Dallas, Texas, and my husband and I were at the last session of the last of the eighteen seminars showing the film How Should We Then Live. Dr. Schaeffer ended that seminar with a lecture not only vividly reviewing the failure of humanism and the tragic history of the last two decades but making clear the hopelessness of the future as we speed toward an authoritarian society and arbitrary absolutes. He gave the only alternative to this dark expectation as the return to God’s biblical absolutes, the truth revealed through the Scriptures and through Christ. His call to the many thousands gathered there, to be ready and willing not only to hear and understand the will of the Lord but to do something about it, was given during that hour with a power that could only be described as the power of the Holy Spirit. The response was tremendous, something that could be felt, as well as observed, as a reality of resolve before the Lord.

There is a hidden battle going on in the heavenlies, but sometimes it breaks through as if a curtain were drawn back for a brief moment. When we returned to our hotel that last night in Dallas to make arrangements to leave the next morning for the funeral of my father, the phone rang. “We just had a call from Switzerland saying that the chapel has burned. It’s not completely destroyed but badly damaged. It was a little after five A.M. there, and they have just finished putting out the fire.”

Two kinds of fire—destructive fire and the long-prayed-for “tongues of fire to preach thy Word”—taking place at the same hour. Coincidence? Satan doesn’t let any of us battle against his successes without trying to throw crippling discouragement at us in return, in one way or another. Demonic attacks can come through seemingly ordinary human weaknesses. Hot ashes, thoughtlessly but without any wrong intent put in a cupboard, can be fanned into flames to turn the beauty of walls, windows, piano, and organ into ashes. Who has won? The story hasn’t ended yet, but let us go for comfort where comfort is to be found.

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“To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn … to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isa. 61:2, 3). Satan’s work has always been to take beauty and turn it into ashes, spiritually, intellectually, and physically, and to turn joy into mourning. The comfort God gives us as he tells us of the return of Jesus is to reassure us that finally the process will be reversed, and he will give us beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. The day is coming when the victory will be complete.

However, God also illustrates over and over again, and will continue to do so until Jesus returns, that he is all powerful, and that he can take what Satan meant for harm to God’s people and turn it into the very reverse. God is able to bring out of blackened walls and piles of ashes beauty, that his people may be called “trees of righteousness” and also that he might be glorified.

Come to Haggai 2:3–9: “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? Yet now … be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts.… My spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. For thus saith the LORD of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.”

“Oh,” you say, “you are taking things out of context.” But this is the kind of God we have. This is an example of what he is able to do for his children. He is all powerful, and there is victory after victory in the continuous battle, and will be, until that final moment of victory when Satan himself is to be cast into the lake of fire. We are to be comforted and encouraged, and are to go up to our mountain and start gathering wood to rebuild, whatever form the rebuilding is to take.

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The other kind of fire was included in Jesus’ last words to his disciples and to us, just before he went up into heaven: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:1–3).

Tongues of fire portrayed the first coming of the Holy Spirit to give people the ability to speak languages their hearers could understand. The truth was given in an understandable form and with the power of the Holy Spirit. The power available to us today is the power of the same Holy Spirit. The power given is for a purpose, that men and women might hear truth in language they can understand, not only linguistically but intellectually and culturally.

Beauty from ashes is one kind of victory God gives, but also power and purpose as a result of the fire of the Holy Spirit burning unhindered for moments of time in history. The battle will continue, but “enduring to the end” means getting up out of one ash heap after another and asking for God’s help to rebuild something of beauty to his glory and by his power, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

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