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No Fooling God
July 9, 1989

GALATIANS 6:7-18

In the week before "Parentsí Weekend," a small college town bar ran an ad in the campus newspaper, "Bring your parents for lunch Saturday. Weíll pretend we donít know you!" Not to be outdone by the bar, the college chaplain responded, "Bring your parents to chapel Sunday. Weíll pretend we know you!"

Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you canít fool all of the people all of the time." Did you know there is a further line which is usually omitted from this popular saying? The saying originally ended with, "and not God at any time." "You cannot fool all of the people all of the time, and not God at any time," is the complete sentence.

My text for today is Galatians 6:7, "Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant." There is no fooling God. This verse is both sobering and comforting.

It is sobering. There is no fooling God. You canít plant zucchini and expect to harvest strawberries. Why is it that we humans think we can outsmart the process of judgment? Why do we think we can postpone inevitably the consequences of our actions? Why do we think we can grow strawberries from zucchini? For years scientists have been telling us we are polluting the atmosphere and destroying the ozone layer which protects us from the sun. They have been ignored by politicians and business. President Bushís acknowledgement of the catastrophe is heartening. Letís pressure congress to act quickly before the process of judgment cannot be stopped.

As a nation, we are ignoring the consequences of a huge national debt, borrowing money from our children and grandchildren, and mortgaging our country to foreign investors. Congress and the White House bury their heads in the sand, hoping it will all go away. It will not go away. There is no fooling God.

Likewise, in your own life, you reap what you sow. You harvest what you plant. What you put into your life is what comes out. Every action has a consequence. Every decision has an outcome. There is no fooling God. Do not deceive yourself. William J. McCrane wrote,

Be careful what you think. What the mind attends to, the mind considers.

What the mind does not consider, the mind dismisses.

What the mind continually considers, the mind believes.

And what the mind believes, the mind eventually does.

There is no fooling God. It is sobering, even frightening, to realize the inevitability of judgment, the "unavoidability" of consequences. But, it is also comforting to know there is no fooling God. Deep within you, at the very core of your being, there is an ultimate honesty. "You is who you is." There is no deception there, no deceit. "Do not deceive yourselves," wrote Paul. You can relax. What a relief! Take a deep breath, fill your lungs and diaphragm, and let the breath out in complete trust and honesty. You do not have to pretend. You donít have to keep up a good front. Deep in your soul, you can face the truth, admit the truth, be honest, quit trying to pretend, because God is not deceived. When you cease deceiving yourself, when you stop trying to fool yourself and others, your health will improve. Imagine yourself without anxiety, without trying to prove anything to anyone, without the pressure to please yourself, or your parents, or your boss, or anyone else by pretending to be someone youíre not.

God knows you. God is not deceived. Donít be afraid to take a look in all honesty at who and what you are. Donít be afraid, for God knows. God knows all about you, and, here is the comfort, here is the great good news: God still loves you. You are loved. You are accepted. Regardless of what you see or are afraid of seeing within you, there is no fooling God, and yet, God loves you.

The good news is that when you accept yourself as you are, when you realize there is no fooling God and no fooling yourself, then you can be redeemed. Then you can be saved. Then God can reach you, forgive you, cleanse you, and empower you to be the person God created you to be, empower you to be the person you really are.

Michael J. Christensen, founder and director of the Golden Gate Ministries in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, in his new book, City Streets, City People, tells about Benjamin. Benjamin, at eighteen years old was street wise and fancy-free, with a criminal record a mile long. Benjamin was a "throw away" youth--one of thousands of homeless persons on city streets across the nation. Rejected by his family for being a problem child, imprisoned by society for theft and attempted murder, Benjamin was a walking time bomb ready to explode.

Benjamin was raised in San Franciscoís infamous Haight Ashbury district in the 1960s; his father was a member of the Hellsí Angels and his mother ran a hippie commune. It was a rare day when he wasnít beaten.

Benjamin became a survivor, capable of anything, willing to break any law or rule that threatened his survival. He was a street warrior, burglar, con, and a hustler. He was in and out of foster homes, group homes, state and county institutions. He lived on the streets, in the park, in vacant buildings, and attics.

Then, Benjamin became interested in the Golden Gate church. He started to drop by just to talk and try to figure them out. The first service he attended was on an Easter Sunday. He seemed to enjoy the informality of a house church, and even stayed to help cook the Agape Feast. Later that night he knocked on the door, and with simple brokenness and sincerity, surrendered, "you win; how do I become a Christian?" They welcomed him, prayed with him for forgiveness and the gift of faith, and the outcast youth--the abused, homeless criminal--became a child of God. He was baptized in the Pacific Ocean.

Nine months later, he suffered a setback. Conversions are not always smooth miraculous changes. There are advances, and there are setbacks on all of our journeys. Benjamin returned to the street, but wanted to continue coming to Bible studies. For awhile, as long as he checked his handgun at the door, he was welcome. But, finally, in a spirit of "tough love", Benjamin was excommunicated. He was told he was not welcome until he could live without his weapons and his street identity. Two months later, Benjamin returned to the church. Listen to Benjaminís own words about his experience,

The Lord told me the road to his presence was narrow and rock strewn. And so it was. The times of frustration and failure far outnumbered those of success, and if the times I thought of quitting were pennies, Iíd be a millionaire. But again, true to his word, when the night was darkest, the pit deepest, he was there to carry me through.

Benjamin went to college where he met Rosalind. They were married in Golden Gate Park, and now live in Oregon. They own their own home, have a son, David, and a second child on the way.

Benjaminís success began and continued when he was confronted in honesty by who and what he was. His Christian community helped him face the truth when they excommunicated him until his behavior changed. Without deception, Benjamin was accepted, loved, challenged and confronted. When he accepted the responsibility for his own life, realized there is no fooling God, and accepted the grace of God; Benjamin was saved, and is still being saved. He was saved from the streets, saved from a life of despair and hopelessness.

The San Jose Family Shelter, directed by Gerry Phelps and Jorge Balfour, who is a member of our church, ministers to its residents in love, challenge, and confrontation. They allow no deception. Families are given job training, assistance in finding jobs, and once employed, in order to stay in the shelter, they must give evidence that they are saving money towards the rental deposit on permanent housing. The families are confronted with the reality of who and what they are, and loved into a new life. There is no fooling God, which is sobering but very comforting and hopeful.

Most of us have difficulty identifying with Benjamin or homeless persons. Not too many of us have been homeless, neglected, or abused. But, all of us have some cleaning up to do. We all need to be sobered and comforted by the knowledge there is no fooling God.

We are given no favors by people in our lives who baby us along, trying to protect us from the truth. Likewise, we donít do anyone else any favors by encouraging self-deception. The beginning of redemption, the beginning of salvation is complete, utter honesty.

Many folks tell themselves lies, convincing themselves they are either better or worse than they really are. Many folks have given up, saying, "This is the way I am. I canít change. It is hopeless." Hey, thatís nonsense. Remember Benjamin. If he could be redeemed from the streets, you can be changed.

There is no fooling God. Donít fool yourself. What does God see in you? Whatís the truth about you? Whom did God create you to be? You too can be a winner. You too can be saved.

ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris