Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coveting the Ten Commandments

Once a year, our small Baptist church would host a revival.

When I was ten years old, the featured evangelists were Cowboy Ken and Aunt Marge. The husband and wife came dressed in full cowboy get-up – Cowboy Ken wore the requisite ten-gallon hat, western belt, plaid shirt and jeans. His wife, Aunt Marge, was a busty woman in a western fringed dress that would sway when she sang. They could swing a lasso and preach with enthusiasm.

But what really drew us kids back night after night was their offer of a special prize: a Ten Commandments charm bracelet. Cowboy Ken told us that if we memorized each of the night’s seven passages of Scripture, and were able to recite them before the church at the end of the revival, we would earn the glittering gold bracelet.

I was determined to win that prize. So I began to memorize Scripture. Night after night I worked on my passage. And, night after night, we listened to Cowboy Ken preach the gospel. My best friend and I liked to sit close enough to get a better look at the gold charms that whirled around Aunt Marge's wrist.

Night after night the plan of salvation was unveiled. And, each time, we would dutifully recite the chosen Bible verse. Individually, the verses were not too hard, but remembering all of them in succession was tricky. Like a spelling bee, the playing field gradually narrowed, and I think my friend and I were among the very few to actually receive the charm bracelets.

It never really hit me, at that age, that it was probably wrong to "covet" the Ten Commandments. But I did. I wanted that bracelet, not just because it was pretty, but because of what it represented. I would be one of the select few to get to stand on stage and jangle my bracelet like Aunt Marge. It would be a big achievement – something that would make my parents proud.

I am sad to say that this covetous attitude continued to creep into my faith life from time to time. I remember being jealous of my college roommate at Bible school. Every morning at 5 am, she would get out of bed, click on her desk light, and spend time in prayer. She had a little file box with names of missionaries and specific prayer requests in alphabetical order. She was meticulous and faithful in her prayer life. My own was sporadic and sometimes non-existent. I coveted her spiritual habits, but I did little to change mine.

It has been easy to get caught up into wanting what other people have. I justify this attitude, because the things they have are good things. They may be talented preachers or brilliant writers. They have been gifted by God to do the work of the church.

Why can’t their giftedness be mine? My attitude can easily drift into coveting not just their gift, but their position, their prestige, or their reward. Social climbing, I’ve learned, can be replaced by religious climbing. It is easier to justify, but just as deadly.

The disciples had the same struggle. They wanted to be first in the kingdom. They wanted to be on top. They wanted to be the ones who Jesus noticed, the ones who had the power.

“Thou shalt not covet” does not just apply to our neighbor’s house, wife, or car. It can be a sickness that creeps into our hearts. Wanting what we have not been given, and ignoring the responsibility for the gifts we already have, is dangerous, even when the things we so desire are good things.

The Ten Commandments bracelet that I coveted at age ten is long gone. But I am thankful that the Words of God that I learned continue to break down and teach my stubborn heart.

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