I remember my first time at Abstract Church relatively well. It was in February or March, and I was home from college. I was a little nervous because the only person I knew there was my brother, and I don’t like clinging to someone in a new environment like that, but I knew that’s exactly what would happen.
I say I remember it “relatively” well because I don’t remember everything, like the exact date or even what the sermon was about that day. What I do recall the most (and the best) from my first time at Abstract, and what has kept me coming back ever since, is the freedom and love I felt the entire time I was there.
Now, I’m not here to slam or call out anyone, especially churches, but I do want to say that I’ve been to a few churches before – some that I visited and some that I attended – where I didn’t feel so welcome or loved. And I’ve been to some where I did feel loved, but none so much as Abstract.
The beautiful part of it is that I get those very same vibes whenever I walk into the church or any Abstract event. Getting to know the people who volunteer and the leaders in the church have only reinforced the sense of peace and freedom I feel at Abstract.
I’m not singing Abstract’s praises because I had nothing else to write about. I’m saying all of this because I’m extremely proud of what Abstract has accomplished, the goals we’ve set for this year, and the heart everyone involved has for God and His Kingdom.
Jesus said in John 15:9-17 (NRSV), “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
(I encourage you to read various translations of this scripture because while they all have the same bottom line, I think there is something special to be taken away from each of them. For example, I like the way the NRSV translates the bit about being friends and not servants the best out of the versions I read, but I like the way the NLT says the part about joy better. Maybe the more you explore the scripture, the more you’ll find in what God’s telling us here.)
I often say that I believe the key to Christianity (and life, for that matter) is really simple and we’re just making a mess of it. And I believe that key can be found in this scripture: obey and love Jesus/God and love everyone. (On a side note, I’d like to point out there are other places in scripture that echo this thought. I’ll refer you to John 13:34-35 and Matthew 22:34-40.)
If you look at everything from creation to what’s happening in your own life right now, love produces good. If you can’t really or completely see that, let me help you find it through scripture. God is love (1 John 4:16), and all that is good and perfect comes from God (James 1:17). Even if we can’t see what that good is, we know that only the best will come out of love and loving acts.
Love makes a difference because it’s so opposed to what we ordinarily encounter.
You don’t have to look long and hard to see that the world’s actually an incredibly messed up place that’s not only in desperate need of change, but also in severe need of love. I won’t provide any examples here as I’m sure you’ve already got plenty of your own in mind.
Jesus didn’t just sit around and throw out commandments every day, so it’s important that we make note of what He says in John 15. His commandment is to love others. While that may be difficult to do, it’s not that hard of a concept to understand.
His commandment was to love, and there are multiple reasons why He said it.. First, it sets us apart. While a lot of translations call us “God’s own people,” or something similar in 1 Peter 2:9, I’m a big fan of how it’s phrased in the King James Version. It calls us “a peculiar people.” No one ever made a difference by being the exact same as everyone else. So in order for us to bring attention and glory to God, people first have to see that there’s something about us that stands out. Second, people don’t just see that there’s something different about us; they know it’s something they want and even need. It’s not something small, either. It’s life altering, and people recognize that. Third, at some point people realize that it’s not so much the vessel as what’s in it. It’s not about me doing it. It’s not about any particular person. It’s about someone, anyone, allowing God to work and be shown through that person. People will recognize that what’s so great about us actually has nothing to do with us; it has everything to do with God.
Jesus also tells us to go and bear lasting fruit. That’s another thing that’s difficult to find: something that lasts. But God and love leave lasting effects. I believe that love and acts of love impact those around us and ourselves as well. Love, when genuine and unwavering, tends to spread, and giving it is very habit-forming. It makes everyone involved feel better, and what’s not to be enjoyed about that? So it leaves a lasting effect on us, but it also leaves an impression on others.
Jesus tells us that He’s told us this so that we’ll have joy. And what isn’t there to be joyful about? The love of Christ is not only in us, but we’re also able to live in the love of Christ. Day in and day out, we have access to the greatest love this world ever has and ever will know.
“But Carrie, I can’t seem to find it so readily.”
I get that. I really do. It comes from living in this world. It can blind us sometimes. Or it can pile so much bad on top of the good that we miss it altogether. So I want to challenge you (as that’s exactly what it will be, a challenge) to look harder.
No, I’m serious. Look harder. Actively search for it. When something terrible happens, think about what could’ve happened or what God could’ve saved you from. Or maybe the purpose of it was to open a door or someone’s eyes. You have to sort through the bad to see the good sometimes.
The human life is hit and miss. Sometimes we are on point with everything. Other times, we don’t get anything right. We can experience things and not question one bit why they’re happening because we get it. Then there are times when we couldn’t be more clueless.
I have yet to read a single Bible verse that says we’re supposed to understand it all. But I’ve read many that tell me to trust in God.
It’s so simple: Live in God’s love, and give love to everyone. That means sinner and saint alike. That includes the people you don’t like. That includes yourself. I can assure you that once you do, it’ll permanently impact your life and leave you with more joy than you’ve ever experienced.
By Carrie Prevette