For my birthday one of my Scottish friends gave me the book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen. The title is intriguing, and from what I have read so far, the book is fascinating. When those surrounding Boris Yeltsin looked for a successor they found Vladimir Putin. They knew very little about him, but their thinking was that as he appeared to be devoid of personality and personal interests, the “man without a face” could be molded into their own image. As we now know, they could not have been more wrong! Within a relatively short time Putin virtually silenced any opposition and rose to be the most powerful man in Russia.

Clearly all was not what it seemed. An individual who appeared to be “without a face,” and therefore easily manipulated and used by others, turned out to be vastly different. Putin’s influence continues to rise on the world stage. Now we know what his face really looks like!

The title of the book made me reflect that everything in life is not as it first appears. We meet people who “on the face of it” appear to be friendly, kind, and honest. Then as we grow to know them, their true face is revealed. They are unmasked! Rather than being authentic, they are regarded by others as hypocrites. First impressions are not always accurate.

The concept of hypocrisy comes from the world of the theater. A hypocrite was someone who wore a mask: pretending to be someone or something other than they really were. I suppose all of us wear masks sometimes, but such masks are disastrous to having meaningful relationships. Jesus gave some of His most scathing denunciations to religious leaders whom he described as hypocrites. Outwardly these leaders appeared to be very spiritual (they looked good), but inwardly they were proud and corrupt (they were hollow men).

As we listen to politicians seeking our vote, we realize all of them present a certain “face.” But are they wearing a mask? What do they really believe? Who is the real person behind “the face?” What are their true values? Will they use the privilege of leading the country in a self-serving way or for the benefit of others? Is their talk about their faith in God genuine or are we being manipulated for our votes?

At Calvary Church our mission is “being and making authentic followers of Jesus Christ.” We use the word “authentic” as we don’t want to be phony or hypocritical or judgmental of others while hiding our own failings and failures. What about you? Are you wearing a mask? Is your “face” authentic or are you playing a part? It is so easy to point the finger at others and expose their failures and flaws, and yet be blind to our own.

Those of us who seek to be authentic followers of Jesus must keep our eyes on Jesus, listen to Him as we read Scripture, and not be defensive when those who know us gently remind us of areas where we are beginning to wear a mask. So be real. Wear your true face, and keep away from all masks!

John Munro

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