The Study of Beauty

One of my favourite places growing up was the Manchester Art Gallery. In there you’ll find a quote plastered on the wall in large print by the man who started it, Thomas Horsfall, saying:

 

“If we have a strong love of beauty, the most beautiful things we see become a part of ourselves.”

 

The quote comes from a paper called The Study of Beauty, where Horsfall talks about his ideas on the moral and educational role of art in society. The essence of his argument was this; seeing, experiencing and valuing beautiful things on the outside can make us more beautiful on the inside.

 

We live in a world where the ugly is easy to find and sometimes hard to tear your eyes away from. Sometimes we may not even want to, such is the state of our hearts. Proverbs 12:27 says:

 

“Whoever seeks good finds favour,

But evil comes to one who searches for it.”

 

Once, when I was coming out of a valley in my life, I decided to make a list of things that might bring me some enjoyment, a list of things to do that might lift my countenance. I thought about the time I visited Fyvie Castle. We were in the big hall where there’s a grand piano in front of big majestic window and a stranger sat down and started to play. I have absolutely no idea what the song was called. But as he played the notes I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t move an inch whilst the music washed over me. For a moment, I was captivated by something for the purest reason: because it was beautiful, and I could not help but stop and absorb that beauty until the moment had passed.

 

God makes beautiful things, and because we are made in His likeness, we need beauty in our lives. It is a very part of us and without it our lives can become a canvas full of grey scenes; a lost sailor in a coracle drifting between islands, surrounded by lonely rocks who give nothing and receive nothing. God brings light and beauty to the landscapes of our lives and we should pursue and chase such things without ever giving up.

Where Our Hope Is

Several times a day I take time to think about our Lord and what He has done for me, I often get to thinking about the cross, about what it means.

The cross is the symbol of our faith, it’s often found at the altar or head of a church building, on walls in people’s homes or even around the necks of many believers; but what does this symbol mean?

Around Easter time we often hear the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, how he went to the cross of his own choice, willingly enduring the pain, humiliation, flogging and punishment of a criminal whilst being completely innocent, the only sinless man to have ever lived; and often we get so focused on this part of the story we can overlook the most important aspect of this!

It is not in the death of Jesus that our hope lies, it is in his resurrection.

It is not in His ministry before he went to the cross, it is in the LIFE of Jesus after the cross.

You see the cross is EMPTY.

Jesus is no longer there.

Let’s put aside for a moment all of Jesus ministry, put aside everything He did before the cross, put aside the teachings and theology.  Instead pause for a few moments to think about this simple aspect.

Jesus Died

But He is not DEAD

If Jesus had gone to the cross and paid the price for sin, if Jesus had taken all the punishment owed to us and then stayed dead where would our hope lie?

He would still be dead, and we would still die too.

No, He rose again.

He didn’t just take our punishment, He then went on to conquer death so that we too could rise and be with Him, to give us a sure hope in a future we never had, in an eternal life with Him; to show us He loves us and wants us to be with Him.

This should be our focus.

Lately we have been going through a series on the Parables and are often thinking about discipleship, how to be one and the cost of discipleship to us.  To fully appreciate the cost of being a disciple, to fully understand how to be a disciple, we need to be eternity focused and not earthly focused.

Our pastor Vijay recently spoke briefly about the rich young ruler, this man was earthly focused, and his love for the earthly treasures he possessed had clouded his sight. In the eternal scheme of things this life is but a brief moment, if your sight and heart are focused on eternity then earthly treasures should not compare.  This is the challenge we all face as disciples as the world continually works against us, tempting us to shift our focus from eternity to this life, to move our hearts away from Jesus and on to earthly treasures.

But Jesus didn’t just rise and go away, He didn’t leave us to flounder along alone or try and follow in our own strength, No, He rose and gave us the Holy Spirit, He rose and gave us promises, He rose and gave us help and strength, He rose and gave us each other.

Let’s be clear about this, despite all our weaknesses and sins and failures, Jesus WANTS us, Jesus LOVES us, and WE need Him; that’s why He has done such an incredible thing when we ourselves cannot.

That is why Jesus came.  That is why Jesus Died.  And that is why Jesus rose again.

Set your sight and focus in the right place.  Set them on the Risen Jesus.

Luke 24:5-6 “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Jesus Rose!  The Cross is EMPTY!

A Citizen of Heaven

Doing immigration applications are not for faint of heart.

One needs to be diligent and detailed and having a little bit of OCD doesn’t hurt! However, I am none of those. That list writer and detailed OCD person is my new husband Keith and he’s there in Scotland!
I have had to sit and explain my life to people I will probably never meet or even speak to. They want to know everything good and bad. Our fate relies on the person who just so happens to get our application that day. We have one shot to get this right and it all depends on me! Yikes … that is a lot of pressure.
The more I read and re-read this application I am forced to see my life through a strangers eyes.
What I discovered about my life has been very sobering. One can see the times in my life that God was no where to be seen … so I thought.
The days of being a nursing student and having my son on a Thursday and in class the following Monday taking finals.
The times I worked two jobs because Christmas was close and even though we were not really a Santa type of family, my children needed something to open on Christmas day.
Church was always part of their upbringing but I didn’t value the time with God outside of that!
Then it hit me…. God provided everything we needed. I took so much for granted. Was that child like faith or was it just trying to pay Paul by robbing Peter?
Who knows but one thing I did notice. I was not alone. I began to see God’s hand in everything I did (or survived) but yet he remained faithful when I wasn’t! I began to see my awakening. Where my faith started to become my life and mountains were moved. I was fully invested in my Father and He in me. Then like a spear through my heart I got severe pneumonia and that was when Keith and I met in this group for alternative treatments for illnesses.  I had just been diagnosed and was told I had two years max without a double lung transplant. Five years with one. Well those of you who know me … haha.. know I wasn’t taking that to bed!! Nope .. not me! I wasn’t about to let that have any bearing on MY life.  I leaned into our God and I came off all oxygen and steriods and pain meds and the many seizure meds. Keith and I were just great friends then and he would talk to me and encourage me for hours.
God had much bigger plans for me than I had for myself!! All I had to do was get out of his way!!
I still hate the dumb immigration process but every time I get fearful he is faithful to remind me…. Be still and no that I am your God! Psalm 46:10

I belong to God

A short introduction
My name is Susan Webster. My husband Keith and I call PCF our church home. We were just married on April 7th 2018 in a beautiful garden setting in Arizona at sunset. The pastor performed a covenant wedding ceremony and we promised all of our days to God and one another. Perfect day!
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? And the actual wedding did go like that, however, behind the scenes there was a spiritual battle going on and we knew it! It started a couple months before we left Aberdeen to fly to my home in Arizona to get married. We sat one night after Vijay mentioned being grateful and really listed all God has done for us. I guess you could say we counted our blessings one by one. I know this sounds a little mental but I swear I could feel a change in the environment around me. I prayed a little longer that night.
The next days that followed were a jumbled emotional mess. We fought about stupid things and our stress level with immigration paper work to get my spousal visa, planning a wedding from the UK over video chat, even the death of a friend who did not know God and the humanist funeral that still haunts us. I kept hearing my momma say, “If the devils trying to get you child that means God has ya!”
I was on edge before we got on our flight anyway because it was 10 hours..and I didn’t feel good. By the time we arrived and in the car toward home I had lost my voice and had a raging chest infection…. oh wait it gets better … I had a severe seizure and injured my right foot. It was now twice the size of my other one…. I still needed to wear heels on the day after that!!!

The wedding day was perfect as everyone met my new handsome man in a Kilt. Okay they called it a skirt but … hahaha just joking.

We decided to leave the hotel resort after that one night so I could go to urgent care. As she was giving me antibiotics and wraps my foot and hearing about our crazy wedding week … we get a call that Keith’s step dad was taken by ambulance to the hospital across from where we were, having a stroke! I looked at Keith and he asked, “Are you serious… what is going on?”
We walked in the ER and found him. He was going to be okay. I left the room so he could stay with his mom and found a chapel on the way to the cafe to get coffee. I was waiting on my son in law so I went in.
At this point … I was done! I cried my eyes out and shook my fist and said,”Bring it on!” Then all I could do at that point was ..
like the song says…. I don’t want to think I may never understand how my broken heart was part of your plan…I… like a child fall to my knees and all that comes to me is … Thy Will Be Done! {Hillary Scott}

The rest of the arranged family honeymoon … went pretty uneventful as we travel from Phoenix area to Tombstone Arizona stopping along the way in Tucson just visiting family and ended up with everyone following us and having a blast!!

After Keith got back to Scotland without me as I must get my spousal visa first, we reflected over the craziness and chaos and looked for the lesson we were meant to learn and we have decided that we had just survived a true test of our commitment to God and to each other. We have relied on God’s good graces for so long that when things got tough we felt the spirit of doubt and fear try to penetrate something that already belongs to God … our faith.

We continue to battle but now we know … this too shall pass … keep the faith..

Susan Webster ….💝

Easter Celebration 2018

You’re invited to join us as we celebrate Easter 2018 with The Fellowship Choir! There will be plenty of cake, snacks and coffee. Fun for the whole family with childrens crafts and crèche provided, and games for older children.  Free for all and everyone is welcome!

2:30 – 4:30 pm, 1st April, Portlethen Academy

 

His Plan Continues

I have a friend who recently went to the doctor for a diagnosis on some symptoms she’d been experiencing. Over-emotional, mood swings, changes in weight and total lack of appetite amongst many others. After a series of tests all coming back negative, the doctors gave her their diagnosis: stress. My friend works long hours in a high-stress work environment and had recently been disappointed by an upsetting end to a long term relationship. The emotional distress of the break up combined with the big demands being made of her in other areas of her life have led her to feeling dismayed.

If you flick through a couple of dictionaries they’ll describe the word dismay like this: a sudden or complete loss of courage, utter disheartenment, sudden disillusionment, agitation of mind, a strong feeling of fear or worry, or a ‘sadness that is caused by something unpleasant and unexpected’.

The hebrew word translated as dismayed in the book of Joshua is ‘chathath’ (pronounced khaw-thath’) and it means ‘prostrate’ or to ‘break down’. In Joshua 7:6 the Israelites are taken aback by their defeat at the hands of the men of Ai who they were confident they would have victory over. The Word tells us that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water”. Joshua “fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening” and points his finger at the Lord, saying, “why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?” (Joshua 7:7).

Convinced that his calling from the Lord to lead the Israelites to the promised land meant no obstacles, Joshua faces a crisis of faith. He literally breaks down before the Lord and questions why he began his quest in the first place, if God doesn’t have his back.

How does God respond? He says to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?” And if we look back to chapter one of Joshua, we see that God saw this coming. In 1:9 God says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God told Joshua not to be dismayed because he knew he would be. In his great foreknowledge he saw the trials Joshua would come up against and wanted him to know that even during the darkest of times, when it seems all your hope was vanity, that even there the Lord is still walking with you. And when we break down and even our bodies show the signs of our heartbreak, we can know that just like Joshua we have a God who says to us “Be not dismayed”. Take heart also that after this ordeal, Joshua and the Israelites defeat the people of Ai with the Lord’s help. Even when our plans for ourselves are lost, God’s plan for us continues.

 

A Relational God

I woke up on Christmas Eve about twenty minutes before everyone else. My daughter Willow was still fast asleep in her cot and despite her giving me a lie in that morning, I didn’t have to use it. I woke up and actually felt rested and content (very rare indeed). I had my husband next to me and a dog who hadn’t flapped his ears violently and woke everyone up once the entire night. I lay there until the alarm went off thinking of just how blessed I was.

Christmas was always a big deal in my family growing up. None of us were Christian so I’ll be honest, it was mostly about the food – but from a young age I adored everything about the holiday. When I got married I fully intended on passing on my holiday cheer to my husband Aaron; I wanted us to replicate the holidays my parents had given me and made him crazy with my constant carols and cinnamon candles throughout the house. There was a massive build up as I counted down the days. Then, on Christmas Eve, Aaron (through no fault of his own) became ill with some kind of virus that had him in bed for three days straight… and I mean literally in bed! I spent the whole weekend on my own, eating all of the food I had slaved away making. I spent Christmas Eve crying in the living room on my own, tub of Celebrations in front of me ready to try and eat away my disappointment.

This is a scenario I’ve seen myself repeat; unrealistic expectations and the devastation you feel when reality inevitably fails to live up to my standards. When I was young my father had a serious brain injury and to spare you the details, I ended up taking care of him within the family home whilst essentially homeschooling myself. I knew a couple of people my age here and there but as a naturally shy and introverted kid I ended up retreating into a world of literature. Most of what I learned about the world came from books or television – which made my entry into the real world when I went to college at age sixteen quite a shock to the system, to say the least. In fact a slap in the face is probably a more accurate turn of phrase.

People lied and got away with it, the truth didn’t come out in the end and motivations were much harder to decipher – even my own. There was no structure and sometimes no rhyme or reason to how people behaved. Becoming a Christian when I was twenty didn’t improve matters –  they were just as confusing and problematic as everyone else. Contrary to how a lot of Christians sell themselves, the first churches I attended weren’t utopias of acceptance and grace. I found myself wondering whether I would ever find a place I felt I belonged. But more importantly my disappointment in other people led my heart to grow cold not just to those around me but to God.

When I woke up on Christmas Eve, I was overwhelmed with the love God had shown me through the people in my life. Once I believed that there was no one in the world who cared for me – now I have a little girl who cries before I even leave the front door because she can’t stand to be away from me. I have a husband who holds my hand and tells me everything will be okay when I share my cares with him. I have friends who have persisted when I’ve pushed them away, nursed my heartbreaks, laughed with me (and at me). I believe all of this is by the grace of God and that God’s will is that we allow him to use us as a tool of encouragement in His hands, to be this light in a world full of fallen relationships and disappointments; that we stand side by side as we all make this journey home through a foreign land.

When you ask someone you don’t know that well to go for a coffee, when you invite them round for dinner, when you take time on a Sunday to not just ask how their week has been but how you can pray for them – and maybe even let yourself be vulnerable and let them know how they can pray for you – you are building God’s Kingdom here on earth and showing those around you, your brothers and sisters in Christ, one important and beautiful aspect of the Godhead; relationship.

 

PortlethenCF Youth Club!

We’re excited to announce we’ll be starting a new youth club on the 7th of Feb.

Every Wednesday 7-9pm, for S1-S6, meeting in The Porty Cabin.

We’ll be working through the Youth Alpha videos as well plenty of games and activities!

Resolutions

The clock strikes midnight,

the fireworks go up,

and as they light up the night sky

they usher in the dawning of a new year.

Hogmanay has always seemed like an odd celebration to me. This belief stems from the fact that January 1stin many ways seems no more or less noteworthy than any other day in the year. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ, at Easter we celebrate His glorious resurrection, and at New Year we celebrate… turning the first page of our new calendar? On one level it all seems rather trivial to me, and yet I think this particular day does stir up something of significance in each one of us: hope.

As we consider the infinite possibilities of what the next 365 days may have in store, the outset of a new year often fills us with optimism. This becomes all the more compelling when the previous 365 have left us feeling dissatisfied. Indeed, this is a celebration tinged by the fact that it is often accompanied by a time of self-examination which rarely leaves us feeling content. Little wonder that as the bells chime we are all ready to wipe the slate clean, leave the past behind, and start again. New year, new you. Hope… but for what?

Ultimately, I think we find New Year so captivating because it seems to offer us the hope of change. We recognise that in our lives, as in the world, things are not the way they are supposed to be. In some mysterious way, entering a new year reminds us that the curtain has not fallen for the final time in the play that is our life; it has merely reached an intermission, and the final act is yet to come. There is still time to turns things around, and now is the time to become the people we want to be: smarter, richer, healthier, or whatever our idea of positive change might be. When so many of us begin a new year feeling this way, it is little wonder that the four-thousand-year-old tradition of making resolutions is alive and well today. We identify the change we desire, we muster all our strength, and we endeavour to make this year the beginning of a new, more satisfying journey. Sadly, in time, this path usually ends up looking much like our previous one, and we struggle our way to the next December 31st, awaiting another chance to get it right.

Upon reflection, I have come to realise that there is nothing trivial about the feelings Hogmanay stirs in us. We all have a deep-rooted desire for change which is well-founded. Where we often err is in believing that the beginning of a new year, paired with our inner strength, can provide the solution. Whilst we are right to seek an opportunity for change, too often we look in the wrong place. When our souls cry out for transformation, the reality is that it is available to us; all we have to do is look up.

In His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus said: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT) Jesus’ teaching was often radically counter-cultural two-thousand years ago. In a society driven by ambition, competition, and self-interest, Jesus called on His followers to live humbly, love others, and seek God; and He still does. As it turns out, our longing for change is not misguided; it is simply often misplaced. We think we know best what we need, and we regularly try to get there on our own strength. What Jesus reminds us is that ultimately God knows what we truly need, and if we would only turn to Him we would receive the strength we need to become not the people we want to be, but the people that God created us to be. The way things are does not have to be the way things will always be, provided we give God the opportunity to follow through on His promises. Not on our strength, but His; not on our schedule, but His; and not in the way that we desire, but in the way that He desires. Our imaginations can come up with countless possibilities for resolutions we could be making, but truly there is only one which we should all be making each day: to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. But how is this done?

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT) If we are to seek God’s Kingdom in our lives, what Paul reminds us is that each day we need to turn to God and turn away from the ways of the world. We need to submit ourselves to His will and obediently follow where He leads. We need to worship Him through the way we think, speak, and act not just on Sundays, but every day of our lives. This is what it means to seek the Kingdom of God, and this is where we will find the transformation our souls are longing for.

In closing, as another Hogmanay has come and gone, this year I am resolved not to try to go it alone in my search for change. This year, as with every year, should be about seeking God and His will for my life. In doing this I trust God’s promise that I will be transformed, because we serve a faithful Lord. As the great old hymn goes, He is my ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’. This truth is for you too, and I hope that when December 31st 2018 comes around we will be able to stand together in awe of the fact that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that is something truly worth celebrating.

What A Gift!

The first Sunday in December is such a blessed day in the calendar. For me anyway, it is the countdown to the Saviours Day. The hope that is poured out over the earth on that day is so deep in our hearts. It’s as if our souls cry out in jubilation that the King above all Kings has come. The peace that envelopes my heart when I cast my mind to Bethlehems lowly stable, is all consuming. I sense the still of the night, the majesty of the moment and the fear and awe of the shepherds as the angels filled the midnight sky.

In all the worldly things that Christmas holds, may we never forget the miracle of the virgin birth and what it means and always will. In his birth came the promise of a rebirth for us all. A rebirth into eternity in his presence and the forgiving of all the times we fell short and will fall short. What a gift. What an assurance. What a Saviour.

For a child is born to us, a Son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 

Even before Mary was visited by the Angel,  the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before, spoke of the coming of the Saviour King.  That really blows my mind.  The people of that time had the promise of hope.  We still have that promise today.  The baby born in Bethlehem would save a broken world from sin.  Oh that we never forget this or the price paid on the cross at Calvary.  

Thank you Father that you loved your creation so much that you gave your only begotten Son so that all who believed in Him shall not perish but will have the free gift of eternal life in heaven with you.  I still pinch myself and I pray I never lose the wonder in my heart regarding the babe of Bethlehem – the Son of God.