Our God is truly amazing!!! After our flurry of activities in Scotland, we were able to take a kind of chill week to relax and get into the rhythm of things here in Newcastle. It was a short train ride from Stirling to Scotland, but it was incredibly beautiful along the way. We have been completely welcomed into the family of God at St. Luke’s, and I have gotten to connect with many friends from last year. The vicar here Robert, has commented several times that he hopes we stay for a really long time. We will see what happens, but at the very least, we know that we can be close to friends and family over the holidays, which is always a blessing.
We have the privilege of staying with Paul, a friend I met from last year, who has a unique perspective on things. He was not raised in the church and did not have the most pleasant of lives growing up. However, Jesus found him and brought him to St. Luke’s just like he brought us here. He is one of the most honest people I know. He talks about how he feels and openly admits when he is wrong. That is not something that is found today, an open transparency.
As we were walking our customary 45 minutes to the church last week, we began to talk about the people here in Newcastle. For those who do not know, Newcastle was rated the third in most popular European nightlife destinations only beaten out by London and Berlin and 7th in the world category. In other words, Newcastle is a huge party city. The funny thing is that for the “normal” person, being out in the daytime, you may never know this. However, the nighttime, especially weekends, is when the craziness begins.
As Paul and I began to talk, we discussed the different masks that people choose to put on and how it is evident here. He mentioned how a lot of his friends all looked nice and began to dress in the same stylish manner and how they would give other people a hard time. I remarked how that had never been a big deal to me. It was easy to see how some people have so many faces that they put on for other people, they may not even know who they are any more, or perhaps they do not like who they really are so they use masks to fit in. We suggested some of the false faces people put on, one for work and school, one for friends and partying, one for church, one for looking good and one for relaxing… There are an infinity of masks that people will put on and there are a plethora of reasons why they may put these on. I think it comes down to one basic reason. Fear! We are often afraid to let people know who we really are. Will they like us? Will they judge us? Will they hurt us? Will they accept us? Will they be open with us or give us a cold mask of superiority?
I have found that some of the best masks can be found in the church. We like to present ourselves perfect, even though we all know that we are not. We dress nice, act our best, and are on our best behavior. Often, those who have not come to Christ yet, come in hurting and see all these perfect plastic people and decide they can never be a part of this perfection. Sometimes, our masks are so good we almost begin to believe them. Outsiders coming in would never believe that the church is made up of hurting broken people and so they often do not feel welcome there. We are afraid that others will judge us and who we really are if we let them know we are broken. Why is this, because we judge the imperfections in others. I know for me, this was one of the sins I struggled with for so long. I could look at someone and see myself as better than them even though I was struggling with my own stuff. God led me through a place where I did a lot of work with young people in the prison system and people of all walks of life and this helped me to learn to be real, honest and transparent.
I want to encourage you to be yourself. Be real, honest and transparent. The church should be where we get together as transparent people and reveal Christ shining through all of our situations and failings. People should feel more welcome in the church than anywhere else in the world. We show the love of Christ to all who are caught up in the ways of the world, because we too were ones such as this. And even now, when we know the Truth, we do not follow Him as we should. We fail! How much more can we expect those who do not know the Truth to walk like they do? You are accepted by God who will never hurt you. You are free to be yourself. I am not perfect at this, but I am learning more and more how to be my own strange self.
Final story – Yesterday, we went out to celebrate our three month anniversary (you would be celebrating too if you were me and had such an awesome wife!!!). We decided to see a movie, and as we were buying tickets, I was having fun being myself. The guy asked me if I was a student or had anything that would discount the tickets. I was just messing with him and said “No, we are foreigners though. That should be worth something. Or you could give me the redhead discount.” He also happened to be a Ginger so I guess he thought it was funny or something. Anyway, I realized that after I had bought the tickets, he had given us a student discount, which was actually quite a big one. I had not actually been trying to get a discount, but was just being myself and got blessed.
Just remember, God made you. He accepts you, no matter how strange you might be (believe me, I know from experience). He loves you and will never leave you alone or love you less. Who else’s opinion matters?
Jeremiah, Man on Fire!!!