Matthew 5:38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also.”

Christ’s love compels us; Jesus of Nazareth came to expand our horizons. He addresses many things in His Sermon on the Mount, one of which is our approach to revenge. Under the Law of Moses the Israelites were allowed to request an “eye for an eye”; in other words, punishment for wrongdoing had to be within reasonable limits.

It used to be common practice to exaggerate punishment. Here is a true story: The sons of Jacob committed murder and devastated an entire tribe over the rape of their sister Dinah. An example of insane revenge, the book of Genesis describes their punitive actions in sobering detail (Genesis 34:25-29):

“Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.”

The eye for an eye law was very progressive at the time; it clearly reduced unjust and cruel punishment. Jesus, however, progressed even further. In His mind revenge is completely off limits – and for good reasons: We know that nobody wins if we insist on revenge. “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind” is Mahatma Gandhi’s input who endorsed nonviolent resistance.

Following Jesus will change our perspective and teach us a new way of life – a life less exclusive and more inclusive, and a heart that grows bigger because we are no longer restricted to a mindset that solely revolves around us.

Psalm 33:4-5: “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

Creativity is the pulsing drive of creation and originates from the Godhead; the big bang was a firework display of His genius. Countless star systems were created. In the Milky Way Galaxy alone, astronomers have discovered more than 2,500 stars with planets orbiting them. Our planetary system is officially called “solar system”, but is probably not the only solar system around.

Bound by gravitational attraction, the planets of our solar system began orbiting our Sun. Meanwhile on Planet Earth, oceans spilled all over our planet and turned it blue. Because of its abundance in water, Earth became home to millions of species of plants and animals. Continents were forged while vegetation sprouted. Streams were formed and cut their way to the sea. The ocean habitat developed while on dry land wildlife showed up.

God built us an amazing home. Builders take pride in their building projects and God is no less attached to His work than any other builder we know. We need to remember that and not take our home planet for granted.

A world abounding in sounds, colors and smells, Planet Earth is a vivid reminder of God’s love. Think of the myriads of details that hold our universe together. The love of God flows through each and every aspect of creation, which is why His presence is so tangible in the outdoors.

We hold a sponge soaked with water, dripping wet, ready to wipe a window. We could say the sponge is saturated with water. Similarly, our home planet is saturated with the love of the Lord. His unfailing love fills Heaven and Earth.

Psalm 18:1-2: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Reading the footnote of Psalm 18: “For the director of music; Of David the servant of the Lord”, over time King David had become a prolific song writer. He captured what moved him. Working with the director of music he made his poetry accessible to the public.

King David was a man devoted to God. Throughout his lifetime he continued to write very candidly about his experiences and turned them into poetry. He wrote down his prayers even in the worst time of his life; and on the flip side he also captured his times of triumph and success. Whether passing through a deep valley or arriving on an illustrious mountaintop, King David shared all these moments with the Lord.

Psalm 18 represents such a mountaintop moment. Another footnote of this particular psalm paints the picture:

“He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

King Saul’s leadership led the nation of Israel into a crisis. David served in King Saul’s army at the time, and his continued success in battle eventually brought on King Saul’s deadly jealousy. As a result, a great portion of David’s life was the life of a refugee. Eventually, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle and this chapter of his life closed. When David was elected the new king of Israel, he celebrated with the Lord.

In his moment of triumph he took the time to remember that everything he had came from the Lord. His victory was the result of many steps of faith that had led him to this place. On his way he needed protection from his enemies, deliverance in battle and a Rock to hold on to. He could not have reached the mountaintop without the Lord. David was acutely aware of the gift he had been given, and he turned his gratitude into a prayer that we are privileged to read today (Psalm 18:2):

“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

It is good to remember the gifts we have been given. Gratitude is humility’s sister and opens our eyes to the wonder of God’s love while inspiring our love for Him.

James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Heaven runs on humility because God is humble; genuine humility originates in Him.

We can learn humility by watching how God’s Spirit operates. Thanks to the Holy Spirit we have life on Earth. It was the Spirit of God who hovered over chaos in the story of our creation and turned it into a Garden of Eden. And it was thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Despite all of His power, the Spirit of God is still respectful of our boundaries. If we vote against Him, He respects our decision, even if it is detrimental to our well-being. The gentle Spirit of God is the best example of humility I can think of. He does not overpower us, He guides us only if we ask Him to, and He immediately withdraws if He is not welcome.

How do we humble ourselves? I believe we humble ourselves by surrendering completely into God’s almighty hands.

In the palm of His hand we can find out who we are. We are God’s creation – intricate and complicated, mysterious and wonderful – a reflection of our wonderful and mysterious Creator. However, if we forget that, we become disjointed and self-centered. And now we begin to blow things out of proportion as we lose our grip on reality.

Surrendered to God we are grounded in the truth. The closer we draw to God, the humbler we become. He puts things into perspective without belittling us. God the Giant and we His little dwarfs is definitely not His idea. He is our Father and He is “giantly” in love with His creation. We are considered family.

Our significance derives from the Lord. He made us, He is endeared to us and we have His undivided attention. In God’s eyes we are very special. We stand out because He is the One who lifts us up. In the palm of His hand we can truly be ourselves, and maybe this is what humility is all about.

“I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me” – Ron Block

Psalm 63:6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

A few years back, I had a near-death experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while I felt my life was drawing to a close. Naturally, this had a profound impact on my psyche. Thinking I would soon be gone I wanted to leave a good impression; so outwardly I gave it my best shot, though in all reality I was wrapping up my life to get my affairs in order.

Meanwhile, I have made it through yet another heart surgery, and here I am, still kicking. Eventually, I had to shift gears, because my life was not about to end any time soon. I had to give my life another chance.

I did not want to admit to it at the time, but I felt hopeless when my health went south. In the book of Proverbs we find a brief description of the effects of hopelessness (Proverbs 13:12):

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

It is a medical reality that lack of hope eventually catches up with us and affects us physically. Sometimes our struggles go unnoticed, and that is very unfortunate. Suicide rates are up – a sobering indicator that we live in a lonely society.

How can we help a hopeless person? Pep talk in a depressed state may not be the best approach. Self-help groups promote positive thinking, and that is perhaps a good start, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is the answer to our deepest needs. Ultimately He is the One who can fix what is broken inside of us. I believe, in our frailties we mostly depend on God’s mercies to get us through a valley and beyond.

We all need the Lord. Turning to Him for encouragement is a wise move. God is not stuck in a mold and He can get us out of ours; He is able to help us see things differently. Regardless of how much or how little lifetime we have left, we do have things working for us; God is able to open our eyes so we can become aware of these things.

The Lord walks with us on difficult roads – and I cannot stress this often enough – His presence is the best gift He can give us in most confusing times.

When we feel lost, we need to remember the Lord.

Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Sowing and reaping are agricultural terms. The history of agriculture reaches far back to the beginning of mankind’s domestication. A farmer has to nurture the plants all the way down to harvest, or there is no harvest; so after the first seeds were sown, mankind began to settle down; townships were formed, some of which developed into the first big cities.

Seemingly, there is more to the story of sowing and reaping in the eyes of the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Galatians he mentions that God cannot be mocked. That’s one serious way of describing a farmer’s business.

Looking at the onset of mankind in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, it is curious to note that there was no sowing or reaping whatsoever in Paradise. Adam and Eve had free food whenever they were hungry. Change came after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge. From then on they had to take care of themselves. Toiling the soil was meant to be a curse, which is why God said to Adam (Genesis 3:17-19):

17 “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

In light of the fall of mankind, leaving paradise made it necessary to sow. Food was no longer provided for us. Besides physical sustenance, spiritual inspiration too was no longer readily available. Adam and Eve used to enjoy face to face encounters with God back in the Garden. Those encounters were now history; still this did not mean that God could no longer be accessed. People understood this and they developed a corporate way to seek Him out (Genesis 4:26):

“Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.”

In Adam and Eve’s family history, it was in their grandson Enosh’s generation that people began to organize worship services to formally call on the name of the Lord.

I believe that it is important to realize that both agriculture and organized religion started outside of Eden. It is safe to say that outside of Eden things have never been the same. Although now we have experience under our belt and we know a thing or two about survival, the most important lesson we can learn is how to stay connected to the Lord in this life.

Obstacles to a genuine connection with God are the things we consider more important than Him. If we hold on to anything that separates us from Him, most likely God is currently working on removing those obstacles.

To make the most of our lives we need to focus on our heart and soul, the part of us that can connect with the Lord. Our heart and soul is the engine of our existence. It is our connection with God that carries us into the future, beyond death. As such it takes precedence. We sow into our connection with God, and we harvest a dynamic relationship that will continually lift us up, here on earth and throughout eternity.

Luke 5:15-16: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

At set times Jesus went into the wilderness to pray. His regular practice of personal prayer manifested itself through the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit wherever He went.

Jesus knew busyness. According to the gospel writers, Jesus was the man of the hour. He was wanted everywhere. In His generation, people were looking for leadership that would free them from the political super power of their time – the Roman Empire. Some had Jesus on their agenda to manipulate Him (which by the way never worked). Others sought Him out to receive healing. Wherever Jesus and His disciples went, a crowd gathered quickly. People were fascinated with His message of the kingdom of God. He spoke with authority. And from dusk to dawn, there were people – people – people.

Who has not become tired and frustrated at times with people constantly knocking on our doors? We keep up the good work until one morning we wake up and have nothing left to give. In sport terms, we have been tossed a Red Flag and need to review a challenge.

God gave us freedom of choice for a reason. He empowered us to say “yes” and “no.” Jesus remarked in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37):

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Life happens without our permission. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because we simply have too much on our plate. If this happens to be the case then it is probably time to exercise some portion control. We need to determine what belongs on our plate. On a personal note, my husband and I have developed the habit to pray before saying yes to any new commitment.

Never underestimate the power of prayer. Our alone-time with God is a sacred time when everything else stops and the noise of the day subsides. We can clear our heads to listen to the voice of the Lord. Jesus once said, “My sheep know my voice”, and this is what our private audience with God is all about. It takes time to sort through all the voices in our heads. In order to receive the Lord’s input we sometimes have to wait things out. Our hearts are wired with sensors and we will know when the Lord has spoken to us.

Alone-time with God is time well-spent – and it pays in dividends of wisdom and joy.