How to Love People and Show Mercy

So this post has been a really long time coming, since I first wrote down some thoughts on how to show mercy to people clear back on November 28, 2016. So two years later I'm finally getting around to writing this post... ;)

This is definitely an urgent message, though, that of how to love people, especially when that doesn't come naturally to you or isn't one of your spiritual gifts. What I mean by that is we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Some people are actually really good at being patient, but obviously you know that's one of my weaknesses. The same is true with showing unconditional love and forgiveness. Some people are better at it than others. That doesn't mean they do it perfectly, but for some, it just may be one of those things they've either been blessed with or have worked hard to grow at. For example, I think my grandma has this gift of loving and forgiving people. Does that mean she does it perfectly all the time? No, she'll even admit to that. But I still really admire her desire to see the best in people and her recognition of all people as people God longs to save.

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No matter how good you are with forgiveness and unconditional love, this post, I'm hoping, will still be able to speak to you. Before I go into what I've learned about how to do it, I'll tell you how good I tend to be with doing these two things, from an honest perspective and not just what I hope I do, haha. I'll also tell you why forgiving and loving people IS NOT OPTIONAL and why it is so crucial.

Forgiving and loving people is not optional for a Christian.

In one of my Bible studies, I remember I read something very convicting. It was a chapter about loving the unlovable—literally what it was called in the book I was reading—and the author was listing Bible verses that show how loving others is the most important command for a Christian, second only to loving God. So... I basically sighed in my head because my attitudes on people lately have been far from loving, so I knew I had to change. But lots of time, of course, loving people is one of those things easier said than done. But that's why I'm writing this!

Anyways, here are the verses she had that prove loving people isn't a choice:

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 22:37-39 NIV

There's also this verse about forgiveness:

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
— Matthew 6:15 NIV

So it's definitely not optional. And I would bet that most people wish that wasn't the case. I think nowadays we live in a very apathetic, bitter society where loving unconditionally and extending grace are not the norms. Look at the media and how grown adults behave towards each other. Look at the crime rates. Look at the overall brokenness. You know the reason most people are broken? I would be willing to bet it's a lack of love. Not always. But I would bet that's the main reason why people are so depressed in this society. And even though we have people that may say they love us, I think nowadays with the shifting and creation of new media, we don't even know what authentic love is anymore. But we as Christians are defined by the way we love other people (John 13:35).

How good am I with forgiving/loving unconditionally?

So I promised I'd share where I think I fall on the spectrum of forgiving and loving people. I feel like it depends on the day. ;) Some days I feel more compassionate than others, but I will say that I have the tendency to be overly judgmental. In a society where people want to think anything goes, I feel like I’ve almost had to be, because there are behaviors that should not be tolerated. With that being said, God has opened up my eyes to see that behind those behaviors are people who need Him just as much as I do, and He loves them just as much as me. Because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to be more empathetic, but it can definitely be a challenge giving people grace in the real world.

The secret, I’ve found, that has changed the game for me is not to look at people’s behavior but to their heart. When you look at someone’s behavior and how bad it may be, that is not going to help you at all when it comes to loving them. I think some people naively believe that if we love people, we can just sweep their behavior under the rug, but I disagree. Bad behavior doesn’t need to be excused even when you’re loving someone because what’s sin is still sin. I think this is where I struggled, is because I felt like to love someone, you had to be okay with everything they did in life. But that’s far from true. True love extends to the people who have done some of the worst things, and true love will not say it is okay. And I wanted to emphasize this, about how bad it is that someone acts a certain way, but then I realized something else about love.

What I’ve learned is that yes, you can condemn someone’s bad behavior, but then what are you going to do? Where is it going to get you? We still have to get along with people. You can scream at people and condemn them all you want, but it won’t change someone’s heart. The only thing that can do that is love, God’s love. And we are commanded to display that love through the way we live (John 13:35).

So back to looking at people’s hearts. I’ve found it helps if you think deeper than their behavior. If they behave badly, WHY? Is it possible that there are underlying hurts they’re running from, hence causing them to act that way? Behind every person who behaves darkly lies some inner pain. That’s NOT to say this just makes their behavior okay. But pain is easier to empathize with, and it can show you more of an understanding behind why someone behaves poorly, and you can also see your own inner darkness, which gives you the potential to be the same way. That helps you to better relate to that person and display God’s redeeming love all the more. Think of them with needs and desires just like you that have probably gotten perverted along the way. Because we all have those. And that really is one of the main causes for any sin, is a perversion of some desire.

How did I learn this? The main thing for me was being able to see firsthand that my salvation is truly a gift from God, and that without His grace alone to do that, I could have been just as “bad” as someone else. Take prison ministry, for instance. Not a lot of people would be too keen on going into that because most people don’t have a lot of mercy for criminals. And while their behavior is absolutely not acceptable, we forget that they are still people God loves and created. We have the same potential to do bad things, and besides, knowing God shows you that everyone does bad things, regardless of the severity, and are still in need of His salvation (Romans 3:23). If I just see a crime story on the news with some random person, it’s easy to just dismiss them and condemn them. But one time there was a more local story, and the person who did it was a lot younger and not a typical “type” of person you would imagine to do what they had done. When I did some research on that, it really opened up my eyes to see how any person, even someone like me, can be successful in society and yet turn to the dark side, so to speak, when bad attitudes, pain, and selfishness go unchecked.

And that opened my eyes, because maybe, without God’s grace alone in helping me become better through my pain, I could’ve been just like them. Turning to bitterness, letting my pain rule me and cloud my judgment and do the same horrible things. EVERYONE has sin, and therefore everyone has the potential to do bad things like that.

It is only by the grace of God I'm not out there, dead in my sin, like some of those hardcore atheists or criminals—whatever it may be. Because we are all perfectly capable of that. And when you learn that tremendous gift you've been given, it really humbles you. It is only out of God's grace I'm saved. I could just as easily been an atheist, a criminal, whatever. Now that I've recognized that, I truly remember I'm not better than anyone. And it makes me desperate for the people who are dead in sin. We have to quit hating them and go reach out to them. God may just use the spark you send, the seed you plant, to save their life. And if you were in their position, wouldn't you want that?! It goes back to what I talked about in this post: how do you want people to remember you?

It is terribly frustrating when people don’t do what they know they should. But it’s also a gift to know what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. And when you do know that, we cannot be shy in talking about it or exclusive in who we share it with. That is Jesus. He has put in us our sense of what is good and what is not—He defines goodness, after all, and He is love (1 John 4:8).

There is a Bible verse that says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV). I have to be honest, when I was younger and read this, I did not like the idea of love being the most important. I wasn’t as mature about it as I am now—I cared much more about hope, for instance. Focusing on God to save me from all the other dumb people, is probably what I thought ;) And the same goes for faithfulness. I wanted to just focus on myself and my behavior and how good I could be. But thankfully God opened up my eyes. There’s more to life than living for yourself and your own faith. If you want to change the world, it has to be done through love. That’s the only way to do it. Because true love—God’s love—does not condone bad behavior, but it also does not disregard the hearts that struggle with it. And glory to Him for that. When I learned this, it’s filled me with that much more urgency, to be gentle and kind, because that is what people respond to. Being arrogant or trying to be right or more intelligent about a concept does not change a person’s heart. But true love does. It has the discernment to know when to be gentle and understanding, and when to be gentle and truthful.

I also feel like I need to define true love as God intends for us to have, and I really believe it is reflected most truly by cultivating the fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). I’ve been striving to have all of those character traits—patience is one I am still working on desperately—but that is what I want people to think of when they think of me. I remember all of a sudden how one time in middle school at some assembly emphasizing kindness or something with character, I believe we did some activity where we had to write three traits about somebody we were assigned, and it could be good or bad—yikes. I remember for one of mine, someone wrote “gentle,” and that stood out to me because I didn’t understand what that meant and I was almost embarrassed by it.

Society thinks being gentle is a bad thing, but it’s not at all. It’s a beautiful thing, especially because not a lot of people have it. Being gentle doesn’t make you a pushover—having no boundaries or values does that. As you know about me, I am still very confident about my values and will not change them for anything, BUT being gentle means that even in spite of that, you can still be kind and loving while at the same time sticking up for what you believe in. This is what people are searching for most, I think, are people who are real about what matters in life and set in their values but are not mean about it. They have Jesus’ peace about life, and the sin that is so prevalent in the world does not steal their joy or love. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a female, either. Why do you think women are so attracted to guys when they see them doing sweet things like interacting with little kids? Because Jesus Himself was the most gentle person and yet also the most truthful person about what is good and true in life. It doesn’t make you any less masculine or feminine to be gentle—just all the more like Jesus for showing His love to people. (Seriously, I just watched a video of a hockey player I like doing something sweet for a little boy, and it melted my heart. #iwanttomarryhim)

I can also tell you so many stories about how I’ve done this at school and how I’ve seen it work like nothing else. This true love does not make you any less worthy as a person or take away your worth (like people think when they imagine it making you a pushover), instead, actually, it makes people have all the more respect for you. Like I said, I could tell you stories about how this has been true for me. Most of all, showing love to others pleases God, and that is what is most important.

If this is something you struggle with, don’t feel guilty. I’ve struggled with it as well—every person does. But as long as you have the desire to obey God and ask Him for help in this area, He promises to help you (James 1:5). He will give you the wisdom needed to do this.

It’s definitely not always easy to love people, and sometimes it feels overwhelming, but the key, really, is to know and love God because with that comes His wisdom and His love that He puts in your heart, and people can tell when this is present in a person. His love is what changes people’s hearts and can spark any change in the world.

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Jesus Died for You

Why did Jesus die for you? How do I know he died for me and for you? Can I earn this? Am I good enough for this? Is it too late for me?

I wrote a blog post awhile back. Think January 2015 back. I was reviewing a devotional book that talked about why Jesus came, and I was going over my thoughts on the blog.

I'm going to do a short four part series here on the blog. I don't have any guarantees on how fast they'll be out, especially since I want to take my time on these next four posts because they're over four very important topics that I could go on about a ton.

I got inspired to write this post series because I wanted to write a letter to somebody where I encouraged them with these four topics. At the time being, I can't do that right now, and after I made a list of all the verses (or just some of my favorites, actually) and saw how that took up two pages just to write the references... I figured there was no way I could fit all of it into a letter. Plus, this message I wanted to write in the letter is for everybody, not just this one person. Everyone needs to hear it because here are the four things everyone needs to know and accept before they can truly live:

Jesus died for you, and you are forgiven of all your sins.
God loves you so much.
God has a plan for your life wherever you're at right now.

We have such a beautiful hope.

I didn't include references for those four statements not because there isn't any but because there's tons, and I'm going to show you some throughout these four blog posts.

I also wanted to write these posts because I've wrote about why Jesus died for us on this blog before. I've written about God's love. I've written briefly about fulfilling your dreams and God's plans. I've written quite a lot about the hope. But some of those posts, like the one about why Jesus died for us, I (a) didn't necessarily agree with anymore, (b) didn't include many verses to back up what I was saying or for you to hear what God says (which is the most important!), or (c) I could elaborate more.

So this is to all of you. Each one of you reading this right now. And if you're thinking this could never be for you because you've done, XYZ or whatever sin you think is unforgivable, don't you dare tune this out. It is FOR YOU. Jesus died FOR YOU. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and he wants you to believe that you are beyond forgiveness, that God doesn't love you, that you blew God's plan for your life, and that there is no hope for you.

And per usual, he is full of crap.

Want to know why? I'll tell you. Here's my letter to YOU. If you're a strong Christian and well aware of this, praise the Lord. You can use this as a reminder or share it with somebody else. And if you're on the complete other end of this, thinking you blew your life with some sort of sin or just your sin in general, this is mainly targeted at you. I'm going to use as much Scripture as possible, too, so don't take my word for it, take God's.

To whoever is reading this...

Right now...

Wherever you're at...

I want you to know that Jesus died for you. He did that because he loves you so much, and if you join me through looking at the Scriptures, I'll get into that later. But right now, I want you to know that you can be forgiven of any and every bad thing you've ever done.

Let's dive right into it.

When I was looking up these verses, I was overwhelmed. I've known these truths, but just when you really process them and let them sink in... Our God is amazing.

First off, you can be saved. How? To put it simply, recognize you are a sinner and that you need a Savior, believe Jesus died for you on the cross for your sins and was resurrected, believe in ONE God existent in three persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--and humble yourself and repent. Then turn from your sin and do your best to fight it everyday. I could write a whole post about that, too, but right now I just want you to know about God's forgiveness and grace extended to YOU.

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
— 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

You can be saved by doing that. Humbling yourself. That's the big thing. You must hate your sin and confess it, as it says here in 1 John:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
— 1 John 1:9 NIV

But isn't that amazing? If you confess your sin to God--whatever it may be--he will forgive you. It's not too late for you. It's in God's mercy you're here now, and He is waiting for YOU. So let's keep going.

People love to rank sins. I used to do that too. And some sins can have worse consequences. If you kill someone, you're going to prison. If you curse God, you don't get a consequence like that, but that's still sin. And you're out of the game, too. Don't let anyone tell you that one sin is unforgivable or that by committing a certain sin it's too late for you. That's not true. You know why? Because if that's the case, we're all done. There are no good people. There are no better people. We are ALL sinners. And I get that right from the Bible:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
— Romans 3:23 NIV

We all need a Savior. Not one of us is good. I elaborate more on that in this blog post. This is where God's love and mercy comes into play. 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
— Ephesians 2:4-9 NIV

Just let that sink in. We were all dead to our sin. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. That means you. But God saved us because of His grace. He saved you. You can't earn this. You aren't good enough. But God wants you anyway. Jesus didn't have to die on the cross. He was God; He could have done anything else. And who even said God had to save us? He does not owe us anything. But He did. Jesus did die on the cross. Because God had mercy on YOU. He wants YOU.

Also, let me talk to you about the last part. "Not by works, so that no one can boast." Have you ever heard a comment from someone saying something like, "God can judge me because I didn't commit that sin!" or "At least I'm not that bad!" or "God can hold me accountable because I'm not as sinful as that person!"

Sorry not sorry, but yes you are. And I used to make those comments too. Sin is not okay, and we should not tolerate it. But don't get prideful to the point where you boast about your goodness over somebody else's. I see this on social media all the time. I saw it just recently, in fact. Some people were talking about a criminal and the crime they committed, and this one person wrote basically that God can hold them accountable because they didn't commit that crime. He will hold you accountable, then, because the proud are going to get humbled. So listen to this:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’
— James 4:6 NIV

You need God's grace for your own sins. Maybe you didn't commit a crime, but you've still got a whole other list of crap you've done. Sin is sin, and the verses from Ephesians say we were all dead in it. Now, don't tolerate sin. We can't let it control us (Romans 6:14). Don't say the crime a person committed was okay--it wasn't. But don't tell the criminal they're done for it. Don't get the idea that you're better than them. Because if they cry out to God, if YOU cry out to God, this is the response you get:

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
— Psalm 86:5 NIV

If you struggle with forgiving people or seeing people as God does, honestly, just pray that He would help you with that. That was me for the longest time! I remember when God broke me and humbled me. I followed a story of a criminal, actually, and when I first heard about the ordeal, I didn't really give a rip about it or the person quite honestly. But as I talked about in my prayer to God the other day, I had been asking God to show me patience. It was so amazing how He did that over the week where I followed that story. At the beginning, I remember explicitly saying, "He deserves to be locked up; he deserves to be alone in there." Now, given what the crime was, YEAH. He probably does need that. But there was no compassion in me saying that. Yes, it was the truth, but there was no love with it. I have to remember that even when I screw up royally, God gives me grace. He will do that for you. He's that loving and patient with you.

This was the first Bible verse I memorized as a kid, and for good reason: it's essentially the meaning of life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16 NIV

God sent His Son for you. And if you believe this, you are going to have eternal life. You are going to have such a beautiful hope that I will write to you about later. Please, rest in this:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
— Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

Praise the Lord. I am writing this letter to you because I want you to know those verses. I want you to know how much God loves you, and He will forgive you. He doesn't want ANYONE to perish. Including you.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
— 2 Peter 3:9 NIV

You are part of that everyone. Jesus died for YOU. God wants you to come to repentance so that He can lavish His grace on you that He already demonstrated two thousand years ago. He wants you to know that, to grasp that, to believe that, to live in that beautiful truth.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
— Ephesians 1:7 NIV

You have that through Him alone, my friend. That can be yours right now. And since God's love is so great and beyond what any person on this planet could offer you, when you ask for forgiveness, YOU ARE FORGIVEN. Your slate is wiped clean.

as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
— Psalm 103:12 NIV

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Also, once you totally trust Jesus with your life, you are a new person. It doesn't mean you'll never sin, but you don't like your sin. I don't believe you can be a Christian and just do whatever you want or live however you want. It doesn't work that way. You're not saved, then. But if you do believe in Jesus and what he's done for you, and you allow the Holy Spirit to change your life, which is what will happen when you trust him, listen to this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
— 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Whatever past sins you may have committed, they no longer define you because the Holy Spirit will put a hatred for sin in your heart (1 John 3:9). And if you look up that verse, it says "he cannot keep on sinning." That doesn't mean you will never sin again, but you will not be able to love your sin or just say you're going to do what you want. When you're born again, you are a new person, and the Holy Spirit will clean you up (Hebrews 9:14). He will do that for you, friend. Run to Him.

‘for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.’
— 2 Chronicles 30:9 NIV

If you are reading this right now, it's not too late for you to return to God, but I discourage you to wait. Wherever you're at in this life, regardless of what anyone has told you about your sin, regardless of what sins you've committed, God wants you to know He loves you and will forgive you. Return to Him. He will take you right where you are.

And those are just few of many verses that demonstrate His forgiveness. The bottom line is this: return to God. He will forgive you. Right now. Wherever you are. He will take you.

If you're reading this and not convinced that He can forgive your sin, let me tell you that you've believed a lie of Satan. What's a sin that's beyond forgiveness, do you think? I'll tell you what this society thinks it is: murder. And murder is awful. But let's start there. Murder. Do you think that can be forgiven? Do you think this letter applies to a murderer?

I think yes. I think murder can be forgiven, and I think this letter can be for a murderer. Here's why I think that: I originally wanted to write this letter to a murderer.

Yep. I wanted to write this letter to a murderer because I think--and I KNOW--that even they are not beyond God's love, and I can't wait to write you all the next part of the letter over that.

And would I really know this without Scripture? No. So let me tell you about one of the Christian faith's big leaders. Surely you've heard of him. His name is Paul. He was Saul. And he was a murderer. He committed murder more than once, too. Here's just a few verses about him because I could talk to you all about Paul and his story in a whole other blog post.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

’Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.
— Acts 9:1-5 NIV

Let's dissect this. This is before Paul was converted, and his name was Saul. It says he "was still breathing out murderous threats", and "He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem." So that's premeditation. He would've been charged with first degree murder.

But Jesus came to him anyway. Jesus saved Saul and made him Paul. Jesus saved the murderer. And why did he do this? Paul himself tells us:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
— 1 Timothy 1:15 NIV

Let that sink in. Jesus died for sinners. Jesus died for Paul. And Jesus died for you, whatever your sin is. And finally, rest in this:

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
— 1 Timothy 1:16 NIV

Our God is amazing. Praise Him. And friend, please run to Him. Memorize those verses. Meditate on them. They are true, and they are amazing. I pray that each one of you reading this would see that and run to God, your Father who loves you enough to die for you when you did nothing but sin against Him.

If that's not love . . . I don't know what is. And that love can be yours. Right now. I'm praying you know that and own that truth. And then go share it and don't shut up about it. I love you all as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Your sister in Christ, Ashlee Mae