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“Sheila-ism?” Matthew 25:14-30 Key verse(s) 24:“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.’”


Taking the safest route is something that my father always taught me to do. If you are moving a large, heavy piece of furniture from one room to another, the best thing to do is to take the time to remove the passageway door from its hinges first, thereby giving you ample room to clear the portal without scratching the woodwork. And, of course, there were the safety instructions connected with riding my bike. Always take care to be sure that your chain guard was in place so that the cuff of your trousers didn’t get caught in the chain and pull you off your bike.


These safety rules were many and varied and they were given for a reason. Parents want the best for their children and will, therefore, impress upon them rules of conduct that promote safety. Because I wasn’t always mindful of the rules there were many times that, because of my disregard, I suffered the consequences. This tendency carried on into my teen years and, of course, manifested itself in some of the predicaments that I found myself in when I first started driving a car. The rule “Always Wear Your Seat-belt” was forgotten, even neglected at times. I live today with a gimpy elbow because of that. Then there were the other oft-neglected rules like “Check Your Oil and All of Your Fluid Levels Regularly!” Perhaps its the nature of a teenager, in that he is so often wont to don the cloak of invincibility and durability, to assume that his well-being was somehow magically inherited by his alter ego sitting in the driveway. You know, “I feel good today. I’m sure that this feeling will somehow pass through the steering wheel, clutch, brake and accelerator pedal to my car as well!” Check the fluids? Perhaps next time. One expensive valve job later and I discovered how invincible my car was and how vulnerable my wallet could be.


Over time and with plenty of hard experience under my belt, I learned that putting safety first is a norm that makes a whole lot of sense. Perhaps it isn’t as much the physical discomfort that led me to that conclusion as it was the financial pain that could result from disregard of the rules. Nevertheless, playing it safe in whatever I did that involved risk has become ingrained to some extant in all that I do today. Note “to some extant.” Much depends upon the nature of the activity. If following the rules of safety dictates that I would have to discover and adopt an involved, even tedious routine to accommodate the procedure, I am still inclined to disregard or at least skirt the issue in favor of a quicker, albeit less safer, route. For example; there are, of course, those tedious instructions that come with almost any item that can be assembled. Rule of thumb, if the instructions are less than four pages, you can read the first line of each paragraph, look at the parts list and read the picture captions. If they are as many as eight pages, there is only a need to look at the parts list and read the picture captions. Anything longer than eight pages requires a blank look, a restless thumbing through and then applied Yankee Ingenuity. No instructions necessary. Safety or no, there are just some frontiers I have never been able to cross by the assigned paths. Self-interest is often more important than personal safety.


But, what about faith? When it comes to strengthening our faith and following the directions that God has put in the instructions, His holy Word, should self-interest or anything else dictate a more facilitating approach to believing? A poll sheds some light on what appears to be a paradox of increased religiosity and, perhaps, decreased morality in America. According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of the American people also say they agree that “an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church or synagogue.” Thus the key to the paradox is the fact that those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms – terms that make no demands on behavior. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, embodies this attitude. “I believe in God,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It’s ‘Sheila-ism.’ Just my own little voice.” (Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 98.)


There is a difference between “playing it safe” in terms of self-interest and playing it safe in terms of “soul-interest.” When it comes to eternity we only get one shot at it. There won’t be an opportunity to make regrettable repairs or take the risk and see if it works. When given the tools of Yankee Ingenuity or good, old-fashioned reading of the Instructions, in regard to our souls, the choice becomes an easy one. Soul is spelled G-O-D not Y-O-U.

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