On Saturday I was to photograph a small wedding that was to take place at the Congregational church in the center of town. It was a beautiful building with a sanctuary that was nearly 200 years old. The stained-glass windows threw beautiful light around and I made it a point to visit the sanctuary at several different times during the day to figure out the best lighting and best angles. It was there I ran into Dr. Sage.
He happened to be in the sanctuary with the pastor as I arrived for my final survey the day before the wedding. The pastor introduced me and as I shook his hand, much like Mrs. Chung, his brightness was apparent even around my glasses. Dr. Sage was taller than me, with white hair and beard framing a ruddy face and sparkly blue eyes. He was dressed in a corduroy shirt and blue jeans with a pouch strapped to his belt and a wad of papers in his shirt pocket. A stained green cap rested on the pew where he’d been sitting. We chatted for a few minutes, and I found out he owned a farm on the outskirts of town and that he’d spent many years overseas, telling people about Jesus. This intrigued me and I wanted to question him more, but one look at the pastor told me that this was not the time or the place, so I quickly completed my survey.
But before I left, I took off my glasses to get a better look at the two men there. The pastor was puny, almost a child, with stick-like arms and legs and a light around him that was barely a glow. Dr. Sage on the other hand was as impressive as Mrs. Chung, perhaps even more so: he was tall and bright with broad shoulders; his weathered features had smoothed into the striking, firm face of a man in the prime of his life, his beard and hair now a rich golden-brown. He also was armored, though his armor reminded me more of the pictures of Roman legionnaires I’d seen: his helmet had the stiff neck shield jutting out the back, the heavy face guards and even a green brush that arched over the dome from one ear to another. His breastplate was made up of overlapping metal strips, very flexible, but very protective. His shield, while still of crystal, was also larger than Mrs. Chung’s, his belt thicker with long tassels that fell to his knees. His foot-long sword was in his hand as he spoke and he was gently touching the pastor with it, bringing forth shallow cuts that flashed with light. His shoes were hobnailed, tied tightly above his ankles. His armor was obviously scarred from many battles, though each dent and cut was worked in gold, bright badges of his courage and constancy for Christ. In that instant I knew: this is a man to get to know; this is a man who can help me with my gift. While this was not the time to approach him, I knew where to find him and ask him I would.
As it was, I only needed to wait until the following day, for Dr. Sage was one of the guests at the wedding. I was very busy for much of the day, taking the photos the happy couple had requested. They’d asked for more candid pictures rather than formal ones, so I was in and among the wedding guests for the whole reception. Dr. Sage was also always speaking with one person or another and glimpses from under and around my lenses showed him burning brightly in a dingy crowd, often using his sword to prick one of those he was talking to. I wondered what that symbolized. It was something I decided I would ask him.
As the party progressed, I providentially found myself at the punch bowl getting a much-needed drink when Dr. Sage walked up, alone for the first time.
“Dr. Sage,” I said, extending my hand.
“Well, hello,” he said, looking me up and down for a long moment. “Right, you’re the photographer. We met yesterday, didn’t we?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “I’m Sam.”
“Good to see you again, Sam,” he laughed, picking up one of the plastic cups of water. “Are you getting any good pictures?” I responded affirmatively and we briefly chatted about cameras and photography. I was amazed at how much he knew, and he admitted he dabbled in it himself.
“I’m definitely not as good as you are,” he pointed out, “but God has given me a good eye.”
“Well, about that,” I hedged, my hands suddenly sweaty as I tried to figure out how to express the desire that had dawned the day before. “I … I would like to learn from you.” His eyebrows went up.
“No, sir.” My stomach was now squirming. “About Jesus; about living for Him. You see, I’ve only just become a Christian and I’m trying to figure this out….” I didn’t know how to go on but didn’t need to. Dr. Sage smiled warmly.
“I’d be glad to help you,” he laughed. “The Lord and I were talking about you this morning, though I didn’t realize this is what he meant.” He patted me on the shoulder. “Why don’t you come down to the farm on Monday, say for lunch? My wife is a great cook. We can talk better then.” Said and done. The weekend flew by. I actually avoided church that Sunday, choosing rather to find a sermon on the internet, but the words of the megachurch pastor that I listened to felt stale and lifeless. I cannot see the reality behind recorded images, but I guessed that this man was not the spiritual giant his web site made him out to be; either that or I had just picked a bad sermon to start with. Regardless, I was itching for the following day so I could meet with Dr. Sage.
The meeting could not have been better. I kept quiet about my gift initially, but Dr. Sage evidenced an insight that I had never experienced in anyone else.
“I can see that God has given you a special gift, Sam,” he told me. “I don’t know what it is, but you are called to do something more for Him. I want to help equip you for that.” I was flabbergasted. This was exactly what I was looking for! I quickly explained the way I normally saw things and this time it was easier than with either Mrs. Chung or my parents. Dr. Sage was skeptical at first, but when I explained the poking and prodding with the sword, he suddenly smiled.
“You know, I was quoting Scripture right at that moment,” he said in wonder. “You really can see these things! That truly is a gift and a powerful one. But you must use it wisely.” I asked him about the armor, and he reached for his Bible.
“The armor of God is found in Ephesians 6:10-18,” he explained, flipping open the tiny worn volume. “There we read, ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.’” (NIV84) He looked up at me.
“I pray through this every morning, putting on the armor and preparing for the day.”
“But how does that work?” I wondered. “How do you do that practically?”
“Well, it really doesn’t take very long,” he replied. “I say something like this, ‘Lord today I want to be strong in you and in your power. I lay down my strength and take up yours to face the day.
“‘I put on the full armor so that I may stand against the devil’s schemes. Lord, show me his schemes so that when I face them, I can take the way out that you provide, not falling into sin and thus disgracing you.
“‘Help me to remember that my battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities of this dark world. Help me to remember that no person is my enemy. Teach me to love them as you do. Help me to stand firm today, Lord, even as I purpose to.
“‘I put on the belt of truth, remembering that in and of myself I am a sinner, unable to do anything to please you or save myself; but you have chosen me and saved me, cleansed me and seated me at the right hand of your Son in the heavenlies; You are the one who gives me value.
“‘I put on the breastplate of righteousness, a righteousness that comes from faith and not by works, making it clear that I am accepted in the Beloved and right with you.
“‘I sheathe my feet in the preparation the comes from the Gospel of peace. Help me to remind myself of the Gospel at all times and to step forward to share it with those who need it.
“‘I take up the shield of faith with which I can quench all the fiery darts of the enemy. Help me to raise it up, trusting You in and for all things, praising You, especially when I don’t feel like it or see the outcome.
“‘I put on the helmet of salvation for the transformation of my mind. In Your authority, I take captive every thought under the authority of Jesus Christ and bring them into obedience under Him.
“‘I take up the sword of the spirit, which is Your Word. Help me to use it wisely and circumspectly to help people to know You better. Give me wisdom as I pray, praying in line with your Spirit. Amen.’ Then I usually have my prayer time and pray for other people.”
That seemed fairly simple enough, but it was deeply profound to me at the same time. This was something I could do, and I said so.
“It seems easy enough, Sam,” Dr. Sage cautioned, “but the devil will do what he can to discourage you from it, because he knows that once you put on this armor regularly, he will no longer be able to defeat you as easily. Temptations increase and battles get more intense. But believe me, the spiritual growth that this discipline will bring into your life will be immense. It won’t come instantly or quickly, but it will come.”
We went through putting on the armor again, me repeating after him, and that ended our session for that day. We agreed to meet regularly for the time being and I left from there, nearly floating on air. I was so excited to see what I would look like when I looked in the mirror. However, I was sorely disappointed when I stepped in front of the full-length mirror on the door to my bedroom closet. All I saw was myself as everyone else did. That puzzled me greatly. Wouldn’t I see the shine and the brightness? Wouldn’t I be able to assess where I was at?
Mrs. Chung had an answer for me about that when I chatted with her over it the following afternoon.
“Our Lord never makes it easy for us, Sam,” she pointed out. “He told us in His Word that ‘without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him’ (Heb. 11:6 – KJV). Perhaps God does not allow you to see your own glory-self because He wants you to accept what He has done in you by faith. Believe that His promises are true, that you have put on the armor, and it will be so. You don’t need to see it to believe it.”
This was a little hard to swallow and I pushed against it some. Why couldn’t I see what I was? I grumbled to God about this for the next couple days, but as I read in the Bible, I finally came to see that I was merely being selfish. No one else could see what I did. They had to assess themselves without looking in the mirror. Why should I be any different? In accepting that truth came more of a freedom. I prayed through the armor each morning.