“Don’t make a sound. Come with me.”
Lost in a dream a mere instant before, the sight he now beheld commanded the attention of every fiber of Sam Porter’s being. With difficulty he swallowed the terror which rose, unbidden. Through the jumble of thoughts which rushed to mind at this unexpected appearance, what struck Sam the most was how extremely his visitor differed from portrayals in art or movies. The entity beside his bed bore no resemblance whatsoever to the chubby cherubs, frail females or well-intentioned but bumbling buffoons so often depicted. Sam now understood fully why, in scriptural encounters, angels often encouraged mortals with the words, “Fear not”.
This being gave no such admonition.
Entertaining not the slightest thought of disobedience Sam inquired in a whisper, “Where are we going?“
“There’s something you need to see.”
Sam’s bedroom faded, replaced in an instant by a birds-eye view of his small town. While most things looked just as he would expect, he found a strange, recurring theme. Flames burned brightly in the most unlikely of locations…within the core of people scattered here and there. Try as he might to find some commonality to the flames, the individuals in whom they appeared seemed to vary so widely he could make no sense of it all.
Sam dared another inquiry. “What do the flames mean?”
“You remember, I expect, your pastor’s sermon topic last week? Or at least its introduction before you and your friends began your weekly ritual of note passing?”
“Um…yeah. The Church. The Universal Church or Body of Believers, that is.” Sam remembered the topic well. Not due to his attentiveness to the message, but because it had become the subject of much hilarity in those notes as to who, in their estimation, would--or would not--be included in that group.
As comprehension began to dawn, Sam braved a direct look toward the angel. “No way! The flames burn in the members of the True Church?”
A silent, penetrating stare met Sam’s question.
Heart pounding, Sam’s gaze darted among those in whom the flames shone, searching desperately for reasons as to why this could not be so.
“Okay, look. There's Mr. Roberts with a flame. He’s an old grump! He lives next door. He yells and cusses, and isn’t ever nice to anybody! I don’t know how his daughter can stand to live there to help him. I’d just chuck him in a care center.”
“Mr. Roberts’ outbursts are caused by brain damage from his stroke. Fortunately for him, his daughter understands that.”
Deflated, but unwilling to concede, Sam tried again. “Okay, how about Jim? Everybody knows him. He lives in the worst part of town, and he’s usually drunk or high. Look! Isn’t he putting out a joint right now? Come on…you can’t tell me that he deserves that flame.”
“Oh, there is much to work through with Jim, that’s for sure. And we will. His flame is brand new. He just acquired it last night. And already this morning, new and flawed though he is, he has helped lead another soul to receive the fire. …Have you ever done so?”
Taken aback, but not yet willing to admit defeat, Sam ignored the question in favor of another approach. “But what about those who don’t have a flame? Like Dr. White. He’s a deacon at our church, and one of its most generous financial donors!”
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” *
Sam dropped his eyes. “And what of my heart? Do I have a flame?”
Again, Sam’s inquiry went unanswered, except by a piercing gaze.
Troubled, Sam fell silent. Head pounding, he closed his eyes and covered them with his palms, trying desperately to gather his thoughts.
“Sam! Time to get ready for church,” his Mom called.
With a start, Sam surveyed his surroundings and found himself once again in his room…alone. Everything appeared ordinary--yet at the same time, different. Had his experience last night actually occurred…or had it all been a dream? Sam suspected the answer to that question did not really matter.
Though a myriad of additional questions still crowded his mind, Sam knew a couple of things for certain. He would never again look at The Church in the same way. And…he had much to share with his friends this morning. --Though not through the passing of notes. Today he would be too busy listening to the message.
The reference to “Jim” who, as a baby Christian helped lead his first soul to the Lord while still smoking dope is true…based on his own testimony. (Although he’s quick to point out that the Lord did not take long to deliver him of his drug habit.)
* I Samuel 16:7b NIV
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