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Your capacity to lead is determined by your capacity to love. Have you ever participated in a “three-legged” race? Picture it with me for a moment… Two partners stand side by side and willingly tie their adjoining legs together. When the race begins, spectators enjoy the insanity of watching two individuals attempting to run as one. Rarely does the adventure go smoothly because most pairs stumble and fall. Still, the “few and the proud” find a rhythm- they run their race in unison and eventually, they reach the finish line in tact. What a fantastic image to reinforce our shared journey of faith.

Fellowship and unity are the unrivaled building blocks that found every good relationship. They’re also at the core of the universal language we call love. Love, the greatest command ever given by Jesus Christ, its greatest advocate in human history. God IS love, and our heavenly Father not only possesses this attribute, but shares it with us willingly. Love is a tangible element that transcends all understanding, crosses every boundary, breaks every chain and seeps into even the smallest cracks of every hardened heart. To love (and to be loved) is the true purpose for your existence. It’s the task for which you were created. Your heart was manufactured to love the Lord and love every heart you encounter.

So, if we were hardwired to love and preordained to share that love with others, why does it seem to be the hardest thing to show in so very many circumstances? Why is it the hardest thing to feel when our life conditions aren’t what we desire them to be? Why is love so easily abandoned? Why do some of us offer up love without accepting it? Why do many of us take love (or even expect love) without giving it back? Why do we think we have the right to break up God’s perfect equation? Fellowship, plus unity, plus love. It’s the only way things can run smoothly, and no one element can exist apart from the others. It will only lead to rifts and disappointment. Why? Because we were not meant to be islands. We were never meant to take on this world alone. Like it or not, you’ve been “stitched” to the souls around you, and your heavenly Father is an expert tailor. Every heart in and around your life is another square of fabric in the beautiful quilt of your story. You’re knit into them and they’re knit into you. Fellowship, unity and love, working together. This is God’s plan of action for a fulfilled life, and living any other way than this just puts strain on the stitches.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” -Matthew 22: 36-39

Who is this “neighbor” that Jesus is talking about? Well, it’s everyone, of course. Every member of your family- every person you call a friend- every soul you come in contact with is stitched into the quilt, and a God who has sewn love into you also expects you to sew it into one another. Be very wary about losing sight of this. One of the greatest human tragedies is a heart that lacks the ability to show true love. Few souls will ever admit to having this void, but even fewer souls will recognize it’s there. The sin of selfishness is a convincing argument the enemy uses, leading us to believe that we have a right to pick and choose who we love and how we love them, but it is a lie, straight from the pit of hell. Selfishness is a cancer that will eat away at every thread of your life until you're isolated and no longer tethered to anyone. This is exactly where the devil wants you. Too often we are unfairly selective with the portions of love we dish out to others. We desperately convince ourselves to “love like Jesus,” but when the time comes for that love to shine, we keep it for ourselves, or only share with those we deem most “worthy.” Do you really want to convey a love that resemble that of Christ? Then ask yourself, is your love “conditional?”

Love is broad umbrella, sheltering a multitude of disciplines that compose the type that Jesus demonstrated. It’s cut and dry. We can only truly love like Christ by practicing ALL of these disciplines. We were never given an option to be selective with the forms our love can take. We were never permitted to let our mood dictate how we respond to our neighbor, but time and time again, we attempt to exercise this sinful right. Jesus Christ has provided us with love (and freedom through that love) but we often treat it as a “free pass” to indulge in attitudes that are contrary to His example. “Not me,” you utter. “I love everyone the same.” Alright, than does your version of love match the forms described in scripture?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” -1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

So, what about that individual you struggle to get along with? What about the family member who stresses you out? What about the coworker who mistreats you? What about the needy soul you just don’t have the time for? What about the person who lives a lifestyle you disapprove of? What about anyone who challenges your pride or takes advantage of your grace? Does your love still take all the forms described in God's Word? Can you still say (with confidence) that your love resembles Christ’s? Perhaps. I just don’t think I can. I admit, I have loved others selectively, with a level I deem appropriate, and I’ve seen just how quickly it can murder a testimony.

I have believed before in the lies that selfishness permits. “They’re too hard to love... I’ll show them love when they show it to me.... I don’t have to love everyone the same, only the people close to me… it'll be easier to love others when my situation gets better.” No! The love we give can never be based on how loved we feel. It can't be based on the quality of our own situation. We just can’t let those things matter. Selective love is not love at all; it’s pride in disguise, and it’s sinful. Do you love with patience and kindness? Without envy, pride or boasting? Do you choose to honor others without seeking honor for yourself? Do you strive to avoid anger and truly forgive the wrongs that have been done to you? Then, and only then will you find freedom in Christ.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out for you will be destroyed by each other.” - Galatians 5: 13-15

A love with conditions attached is a faulty love, lacking unity. We cannot live in both darkness and light. Black is a color that will always show through the white. I can admit, I'm not always easy to love. I can be stubborn, prideful and opinionated. I can be sarcastic, rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful. Yet, I somehow grow weary when others treat me the very same way. I find myself hypocritically expecting love when I haven’t displayed a willingness to give it. What can I do? I can make a choice. I can make a conscious decision to change the attitude I wear.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Colossians 3: 12-14

Do you show respect when you’ve been disrespected? Do you share kindness with those who aren’t kind to you? Do you affirm others even when you’re not content with yourself or your situation? Do you emit positivity even when you’re feeling negative inside? Do you demonstrate patience with those who test your own? Do you show support even when things aren’t done your way? Do you go the extra mile to be the bigger person rather than turn inward? Jesus calls for sincerity in love. Treat others the way you want to be treated. You see, the “golden rule” will always apply.

What do you do with those who are difficult to love? You love them still. Do you dislike someone? Love them still. Do you disapprove of their choices? Love them still. Have they wronged you? Love them still. Have they challenged your pride? Swallow it, and love them still. There’s no room for excuses. To truly love, and love well, a change must take place inside of you. If there's no meaningful change in your life, you cannot be an ambassador for Christ. You are instead a victim in the pit we’ve all found ourselves before. Hypocrisy. Lies. We claim to know God, but deny Him by our actions. We can’t justify what isn't warranted by the Lord.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” -Romans 12: 9-18

Think now of those moments it's been difficult to love. To live like Christ, your love cannot have conditions. We can’t turn a cold shoulder or a blind eye. We have no right to respond with negativity, anger, bitterness or judgement. We simply cannot shine light this way. Look at yourself. Assess how you cope with the lives you’re stitched into. Do others perceive Christ’s love in you or would they say your love is conditional?

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” -1 John 2: 6

Who are you tethered to? Are you seeking fellowship, love and unity with them? Or, are you trying to run your own race and dragging those poor souls along? Are you stitched into Christ? Have you been awakened by His indescribable love? Let Him take you to a new level. We CAN live like Jesus, when we decide to look past our own interests and put our faith into practice. We can’t wait for circumstances to be right, for stars to align, for relationships to feel equal or for our hearts to be in the mood. We just have to obey God, the one who mandated this love from the beginning of time.

To love is never an option, it’s a commandment. We cannot claim to live for God until we learn to love like God, and no soul deserves exemption from this love we claim to have inside. Don’t hide behind a mask of false words just to convince others on the surface. Words are just words.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

-1 John 3: 18

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 2: 15

So what’s your current situation? How’s life? What “neighbors” are stitched into your story? Should it matter? No! Value all others above yourself and see them through the eyes of Christ. Look past your own interests and prioritize the interests of others. Give when you want to take. Forgive when you would rather accuse. Seek fellowship when you would rather be alone. Don’t let the enemy in. Everything stems from love, and love covers a multitude of sins.

Just like yours, my life has been knitted to others. I have family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. I meet strangers and encounter those in need. There are souls I like and others I desperately want to hate, but I know that regardless of how this world treats me, I am still called to love them all. I know that I cannot expect love if I do not give love. I know that when I feel that void of selfish negativity, I am called to rise above it and live like my Savior, who knew the rewards of heaven.

We sing songs and praise the love of Jesus but when our time comes to love in this way, we often abandon the action. We want to be seen loving others, by others, but one on one, we’re willing to tear others down for our own sake. I pray that together, we can rid ourselves of conditional love. Together, we can take a deep breath and learn to love the way we were created to love. This life is not about our happiness. It’s about being stitched into the Father and into one another. Love is the greatest command ever given because we cannot know our God without it!

Every ounce of love you show will strengthen the stitches of those you’re sewn into. I’ve been hurt, disrespected, even embarrassed by those closest to me, but I’ve regrettably done the same to them. Still, I wish to strengthen the stitches between us. I know that true love can only be Christ in me. I want to be known as His child and recognized by the light His love shines through me. I pray the same for you. Apart from God's love, we are offered a solemn warning...

“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” -1 John 3: 10

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” -1 John 3: 14

“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” -2 John 6

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