Loving God with Everything
by Arun Gogna
One day, I visited a friend of mine who has a store in Baclaran. I was shocked when I saw the two statues on her altar in the shop. One was a Sto. Niño. Beside it was a figurine of Buddha. I shook my head in utter amazement and asked her, “Why do you have a Buddha beside the Sto. Niño?” She smiled shyly, and answered, “Well, they’re playmates.”
A few months later, I happened to pass by her store again. I was glad to see that the Buddha had disappeared. However, in its place stood a golden cat with multicolored embellishments, winking and waving at me. She believed the cat would usher in prosperity for her business.
In many Filipino homes, if someone stands up and leaves in the middle of a meal while everyone else is eating, most people believe that that person will be in grave danger. Unless all who are left behind turn their plates around to assure the safety of the one leaving.
And don’t you dare clear the table while an unmarried woman or bachelor is still eating. Otherwise, they’ll never get married!
Other people practice all kinds of superstitions when it comes to weddings. A lady friend of mine did not fit her wedding gown at all because of the belief that if the bride fits her dress, the wedding will not push through. When the much-awaited day came, she marched down the aisle looking like a suffocated fish (sinakal na isda)!
These are just some beliefs typically espoused by many Filipino Catholics. Although we are predominantly a religious and pious people, we often mix our faith with superstitions that are contrary to our beliefs. But why allow a cat to dictate the prosperity of your business? Will you let plates determine your future? Will you permit a gown to decide whether your wedding will push through or not?
It depends on who or what matters to you most.
Make Him the Center: Love God with All Your Heart
Let’s assume that what holds the number one position in your life is your spouse. Your partner is your everything.
Now, what would happen to you if your spouse hurts you or leaves you? You would be devastated! Or let’s imagine that the first thing in your life is your career. It just tops your list. You love it with all your life and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Then, suddenly, you get fired. What would become of you? Would you survive?
The Lord wants to be above everyone and everything in our lives because whatever happens, come hail or high water, tsunami or earthquake, He’ll never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20). We will never be alone.
But often, we’re like the Christian who put his God to the test.
One day, three men with different religions were gathered in an airplane with an atheist. The atheist said, “I want to test your gods. You will jump out of this plane and must call your god. Let us see who will be saved.”
The first man jumped off the plane at skyrocketing speed, and somewhere midway, he confidently shouted, “Allah! Allah! Allah!” He accelerated. “Allah! Allah!” Then, when he was nearing the ground, as if knowing his fate, he pleaded, “Allaaaah! Aaaahh!” He was dead.
The second man jumped and cried, “Buddha! Buddha! Buddha!” as he peacefully sat in a lotus position in mid-air. “Buddha! Buddha!” As he neared the ground, strangely, he was swiftly lifted up and carried back onto the airplane from way below.
He was saved!
The Christian finally came up and said, “It’s my turn now. Hallelujah, Jesus!” He jumped, shouting “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” He skydove without any gear but having no qualms that he would be saved. “Jesus! Jesus!” And already, he saw land far below.
“Jesus! Save me!” He was very close now. “Jesus!” Almost there. “Jesus!”
A breath away from hitting the ground, the man shouted, “Buddha! Buddha! Buddha!”
How then do we apply this commandment to daily living? To put it simply, we make God our top priority and the absolute center of our lives. All the other persons, things and aspects of our beings have to take their rightful places around Him. When He’s the center, everything else falls into their perfect place.
Fight Idolatry: Love God With All Your Mind
Let’s go back to Filipino superstitious beliefs.
Here’s my advice: Don’t let your mind be filled with superstitions. Don’t rely on other gods. Depending on superstitions degrades who you are as a child of God. You are God’s greatest creation. Don’t put yourself down by depending on creatures or things that are less valuable than you. Instead, believe in a God who created you and desires your well-being more than anything. He alone holds your future.
That’s why God commands us to worship Him alone. It’s not for His ego or because He’s self-centered. So why did He begin His top Ten Commandments with a law such as this? Why should He order us to make Him number one?
Here’s why: Because He loves us!
Yes, you read it right. He wants us to have no other gods before Him because of His love for us.
Explore this with me.
Worshiping an Invisible God
When God gave this Commandment to His people, Israel was a gateway to many nations. People from all over traveled their roads. Their land was part of the Fertile Crescent where people journeyed from Egypt to Babylon and back. This situation made them open to viewing many tempting foreign practices.
Surrounded by polytheistic nations, their neighbors had various gods in the shape of colorful statues, idols cloaked in gold, made in ivory, majestic in size, and striking in beauty. The Israelites saw these images and wondered what it would be like to bow before them. What intrigued them more were the rituals associated with worshiping these gods.
One such practice, for instance, is associated with the god of fertility. A man wishing to have an abundant harvest is supposed to go to the temple to perform a sexual ritual with a temple prostitute and thereby be blessed with fertile land.
Now put yourself in the Israelite’s shoes (or more accurately, his sandals). You break your back tilling your land, hoping it will produce well. Meanwhile, what all your foreign neighbors have to do is to visit the temple, enjoy the ritual and benefit from a fruitful harvest. How unjust is that?
Moreover, during Old Testament times, the presence of the God of Israel was represented by the Ark of the Covenant, which was off limits to the ordinary person. God was hidden in the Holy of Holies and only the high priest was allowed to enter His dwelling place once a year.
So the Israelites had to worship an invisible God while their neighbors worshiped gods that were tangible and attractive. On top of that, the foreign nations could turn to many gods. They believed in gods that ruled certain geographic areas or natural phenomenon. There were “national gods.” The Philistines had Dagon, the Moabites had Chemosh, the Ammonites had Molech.
They also had fertility gods, storm gods, sun gods, sea gods and many other kinds that the pagans had to win favor from.
It was in this context that God gave His first commandment. At the same time, He fully knew how difficult it would be for the Israelites to follow it, that’s why He called them His chosen people.
“I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you here for myself… You shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:4-5).
They were to be a race set apart, unlike anybody else and a cut above the rest. That made them special. And that’s how God sees us today.
Keep the Sabbath: Love God with All Your Soul
God would like to free us by freeing ourselves from that which enslaves us. Without rest, we become slaves of work. He wants us to be satisfied with the work of our hands, knowing that we have limitations. He wants us to relax physically after six days of work and rest spiritually through worship.
Keeping the day holy can only be done through worship. God ordered us to rest so we can focus only on Him. Worship is focusing on the most essential.
In many Gospel accounts, Jesus had been called a Sabbath breaker because of His true understanding of that law. He healed a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-13), He allowed His disciples to pick grain on a Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8), He healed a man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-5) and He cured a crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17), to name a few. Jesus said, “Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). His primary concern is our welfare.
Picture this with me. God created the light, the waters and the sky. He smiled and said, “Good!” Then He created all the living creatures of the sea, land and air, and He said, “Oh, how good!” But you know what? When God created man, He looked at him and said “Very good!” (Genesis 1:1-31).
Among all His creations, we satisfy God the most! We are His most cherished treasure. When we make our Sabbath holy, we make God happy. When we keep our Sabbath day focused on God, we tell Him that He satisfies us. He is more than enough for us.
Behind the Laws: A Father’s Love
I heard this story from a priest’s homily.
There was once a man who wanted to teach his teenage son a thing or two about life’s more important lessons. At the prime of his youth, and nearly on his way to leave home for college, the young man could not care less about his father’s agenda. To him, his life was now all that mattered. He knew, however, how much his father loved him and welcomed the older man’s advice.
An invitation to a big graduation bash came one day.
“Dad, there’s this party I will attend this Saturday.”
“OK. Don’t be out partying all night. What time will you be home?”
“Oh, I’ll be home by 1 a.m.,” the son assured.
“All right then, 1:00 it is. Do I have your word?”
“Of course, Dad, man to man, I’ll be home by then.”
“And what do I do if you’re not?” probed the father once again.
The boy grinned in disbelief. “You can lock me out, no questions asked,” he concluded.
“It’s a deal then. Have a great party.”
Saturday came. It was a great party. Drinks overflowed, girls were everywhere, there was fantastic music and the young man was having loads of fun. Time flew quickly. It was half past midnight when he checked his watch. One last drink.
1 a.m. Just one more dance.
1:30 a.m. Old friends just arrived.
2 a.m. Oh, forget it.
2:30 a.m. I’m gonna make the most out of this!
3:30 a.m. Maybe just one more…
He saw his dark house from afar. Walking from the car, he convinced himself, “It’s pretty impossible that Dad would actually lock me out. Nah, he loves me too much… I don’t think so.”
There was silence everywhere. He approached the doorway. Lifting his hand to the knob, his heart pounded. The metal was cold and stiff. He poised to hold it. Almost sure of himself, he tightened his grip and turned.
It was locked. He stood in utter disbelief.
“This can’t be happening,” he told himself. He turned again. It was bolted. He took a step back as reality sank in. “I’ll be out here in the cold all night…”
His steps took him further.
It was only him and the dark abyss that surrounded him. Then, suddenly, the door cracked open. First a little, then slowly it opened until it was ajar. From where he stood, he saw a vague shadow.
He was walking towards him. His steps were sure. In his hands were pillows and blankets.
“Dad…” he began.
“Son,” his voice was firm, “we had an agreement. We made it clear that if you wouldn’t be home on time, I would lock our doors and let you sleep out here. That was the punishment, correct?”
“Uh….” The young man was out of words.
“But you know what, son? We never agreed that I cannot sleep out here with you.”
With that, he took his son in his embrace and they lay under the tree, surrounded by the darkness, together.
When God wrote the laws, He didn’t intend to imprison us with do’s and don’ts. Rather, He wants us to experience what true freedom means. A freedom that can only come from Him. A freedom that can only come from His Fatherly love.
We will fail at some points, but God will always be right there to pick us up and lead us back to the path of truth — not of laws, but of love.
*This article is an excerpt from Arun Gogna’s book, Happy Secrets to an Obedient Life. Available at www.kerygmabooks.com.
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