November 2018: The fire is consuming the equivalent of 10 Costco warehouses per minute. 14,000 homes are destroyed along with over 6,000 other structures. 88 people die.
Paradise, California is reduced to ashes.
Months later, thousands of the people of Paradise are still waiting in temporary housing in surrounding cities. Experts say this town cannot be rebuilt.
Then God began to speak to us. He told us to get ready to go to Paradise. Honestly, I did not want to go. To begin with, I had no idea if anyone was still in Paradise. What about water and electricity? And how could we ever get a fire permit for a tent in Paradise?
Then I felt a strange relief. We could never go to Paradise unless we were invited. I was off the hook. That is until a few days later when Miriam—a prominent resident of Paradise—called us to ask us to bring the tent. Now we had to proceed, not knowing how it could work out.
I must skip ahead to the point of this blog. Beauty for Ashes was the theme that overshadowed us as we labored to make this miracle happen in Paradise. Through Miriam’s prayers and efforts, we got the tent site and the permit.
Then I had lunch with 40 Christian leaders from the Paradise area. They erased any doubt I had about Paradise being rebuilt. There was a holy resolve in the room. The date was set for Living Proof Paradise. Then the next miracle happened.
God has gathered an army of love to bring hope and comfort.
Right now, many people feel a great expectation for these upcoming nights in Paradise.
What is the gift that we bring to this city of ashes? I was at a loss to answer that question. Then it struck me: EZRA WENT IN FIRST. Before the city of Jerusalem could be physically rebuilt by Nehemiah, God sent in a team to rebuild the people. That’s it! We are partnering with God and with many believers to lay a spiritual foundation before the physical one is laid.
Then I realized what the Word of God meant by Beauty for Ashes. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes…
After Jesus quoted these verses, He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” –Luke 4:21 Beauty for Ashes is an integral part of the Gospel. I believe that it speaks of a literal trade. “Give me your ashes in exchange for my beauty.”
This means the world to me because of the single greatest fear I had about this tent meeting. I didn’t want to be trite, offensive or rude. I could never say to these people, “I know how you feel.” You and I may never know how they feel. To lose everything. To have nights of unimaginable horror. To lose loved ones.
But God is not sending us in there to give intellectual or philosophical remedies. Jesus just wants them to feel His presence in the tent. It is not for us to carry the burden of what these people need. They need peace that passes understanding. They need healing from the Great Physician.
There were people in the audience facing untold misery when Jesus said those famous words. He knew that His Gospel could set them free.
We go to Paradise to set up a tent. We are praying and working hard. But the gift we bring is not just water, food, and clothing. It is something money can never buy. It is something that comes to stay—for eternity. We provide the tent. God will provide His presence…and that my friend is a healing agent far beyond our intellect.