Steve Coder

The forest fires surrounded us and we all realized we may not make it out alive.

Every life has a timeline of experience. Every spiritual life has a timeline of experience. When the two converge, a stamp or a “brand,” if you will, is forever burned onto that point on the line by the hand of God, Himself. Heated in fires of both Heaven and earth, He faithfully branded our hearts and lives with an experience that has forever changed us. We are thankful to be here to tell the story.

We travelled to Washington State last week to pray for the ending of the forest fires that are raging throughout the region. God sent us on the promise that He would send the abundance of heavy rain. In faith, we set out trusting He would send the rain little knowing that we would also go through the fire. Each day, we earnestly prayed and believed that God would direct our steps because we desired to be at the right place at the right time to pray. He was faithful to lead us in big and little ways and we gave Him all the glory.

IMG_4512As we were completing our day on Wednesday, September 2, driving back to the place we were lodging, the GPS led us down a 7.1m country dirt road. We were thrilled! En route to the state highway that would lead us home, we thought this was simply a shortcut, a scenic road God gave us so that we could enjoy His creation. It was spectacular! Sunset over the mountains, cool breeze, canyon between mountains in view… It could not have been any more beautiful! When the GPS told us to turn and go 6.7mi further on the dirt road, we simply continued to take in the beauty.

As we travelled on, heading toward HWY 20 East, the route we were being instructed to go down turned into an extremely narrow, more remote dirt road. Not familiar with any part of the country, and certainly not familiar with the dirt road we were on, we trusted the GPS. Crossing cattle gap after cattle gap, there were no signs or indicators anywhere on the road or GPS that suggested danger. After all, this route was the fastest from point A to point B. We were tired from the day and happy to get back as quick as possible.

In that area, (as with almost the areas we had been in,) there was no cell signal at all. Unusually, one of our phones retained its GPS function. We were past the scenic part of the road and it had now become completely dark. As the car was very low on gas, we were hoping to merge onto HWY 20 soon and refuel. Thirty minutes of dirt roads had more than fulfilled our off-road enjoyment.

Silence fell on all of us. Everyone was thinking what no one said out loud, “This is the forest that is on fire.”
As we rounded a turn, we saw a sign that said, “Entering Okanogan National Forest.” Silence fell on all of us. Everyone was thinking what no one said out loud, “This is the forest that is on fire.”

The Okanogan Complex, as it is called, is currently the largest wildfire burning in the United States and it is the largest in the history of Washington State. It has claimed over 1,300 structures and is the focus point of most concern. We realized that the smoke we had seen in the distance was the very smoke we were now smelling and seeing.

But, we were at a point of no return.
We suddenly found ourselves in what seemed to be an impossible situation. We had the known variables of no cell signal, very low gas, a GPS route that told us to keep going and the darkness and isolation of the road. The unknown variable was what lay ahead. But, we were at a point of no return. The narrow road had become full of sand pits and big rocks, trees were strewn on either side, and sometimes on parts of the road. Our standard size rental car was having quite a time as the road continued to ascend. To stop and turn around meant the very real possibility of running out of gas or getting stuck in a sand pit – and there was no way to call for help should either of those occur.

As we continued weighing all of these things out, we saw a tree on fire right on the edge of the road. It didn’t just have glowing embers around it. This majestic tree with a 6 to 8 foot base was engulfed in flames. But our only option was to keep going…

Our only option was to keep going…

In a matter of just a few minutes, we were surrounded by fire. They weren’t in the distance; they were literally up to the edges of the road and throughout the forest. The road was very curvy so there was no way to see farther down the road. Around the next curve, we didn’t know if there would be trees across the road, a wall of fire, or a sandpit that would stall the car. Smoke inhalation was also of great concern. The smoke was thick enough that the “recycle air” feature was blowing smoke through the car. We knew that the smoke could be deadly even before the flames came.

Those were moments of reckoning. Have I done all I could do? Was I faithful to the call? Am I totally ready to meet Jesus face to face?
It didn’t have to be stated – we all knew we were in grave danger. There were quiet whispers of “Jesus” as we each wrestled fear. All of life was homing in on these moments as the possibility of going into eternity was as real and probable as the air we were breathing. Those were moments of reckoning. Have I done all I could do? Was I faithful to the call? Am I totally ready to meet Jesus face to face? How long will it take them to find us if we burn to death out here? The prayers you think you’ll never pray were flooding out of our hearts. “Dear Jesus… take care of my family in my absence. Watch over my wife and children after I’m gone. See all who are in the flock through to Glory.” Without doubt, we knew this was a matter of life and death.

We knew that we needed to call 911 for help as soon as any kind of signal became available. The signal wasn’t coming, but we were dialing anyway. We hit such a large rock at one point, we were sure the car was terribly damaged underneath.

We continued on for what seemed like an eternity, whispering prayers and preparing for the unthinkable. Miraculously, that one GPS kept working! After about 30 minutes in the thick of fires, we pulled out into an open road and behind a big sign. When we got out of the car to see what it said, we saw two words, “Road Closed.” We had been driving down a road that had been closed off on one end because it led right to the middle of the forest fire.

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It was only then that the realization that we would live hit us all. ”Hallelujah!” and “Thank you, Jesus!” It didn’t seem adequate but we kept declaring it! We were going to live another day!

Fire is such a dichotomy. It is both beautiful and frightful. It is comforting and terrifying. On the other side of the “Road Closed” sign, we realized that we had been in a “grand and awful time.” All of our outside resources were cut off and we knew that we must trust with abandonment.

Jesus is the “Consuming Fire” and is calling us to join Him in the flames.
Those moments were forever branded into our spirits and into the timelines of our lives. Never again will we pray, “Jesus, send the fire,” in the same way. Those moments were so sacred; we knew it was not an accident that brought us through the fire. Jesus led us through the fire, and in His mercy, He brought us out of it. Jesus is the “Consuming Fire” and is calling us to join Him in the flames. We truly are “living sacrifices” and He desires every part of our being. We must not crawl off the altar until all our worldly flesh has been consumed.

For there to be a branding, there must first be a flame.

For there to be a branding, there must first be a flame.

His ways are past finding out. How do you praise God for taking you through valley of the shadow for 30 minutes? How do you thank Him for keeping you in His hand right in the middle of life and death danger? For us, it was a lesson in the Kingdom that Jesus Christ forever branded in our hearts. “Trails” and “trials” are often one and the same. In God’s hands, they are often indistinguishable. At some point, the trail of God is going to take each of us through fiery trials. The question is: Did those fiery trials leave the brand of Jesus upon our hearts?

For there to be a branding, there must first be a flame. Think it not strange, dear friends, when you find yourself in a fiery trial. Jesus is with you through the fire, and if you are willing, He will brand your heart as His own.

Friends?
When Not To Call Down Fire

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