“I want to live!!! I can never make it. Help me, Lord, pleeease!”
In the 1978 movie “The End,” Burt Reynolds plays the role of Wendell Lawson, an adulterer and all-around despicable man who is misdiagnosed with a rare disease and given only 6 months to live. Rather than wait for the inevitable, Lawson hires Marlon Borunki, a delusional mental patient portrayed by Dom DeLuise, to kill him. The rest of the movie describes Borunki’s unsuccessful and hilarious attempts to kill Lawson.
Finally, Lawson drives to the beach and decides to take matters into his own hands by drowning himself in the ocean. But after he swims out and begins sinking deeper and deeper into the watery grave, he thinks of the people he’s leaving behind. Suddenly he swims to the surface,
I want to live!!…I promise not to try to kill myself anymore. Save me and I swear I’ll be a better father. I’ll be a better man. I’ll be a better everything. All I ask is, make me a better swimmer…Oh God, let me live and I promise to obey every one of the 10 Commandments…I’ll learn every one of the 10 Commandments, and then I’ll obey every…one of them…I’ll give you 50 percent of everything I make…I want to point out that nobody gives 50 percent—I’m talking gross God.
But as he approaches the beach, his promises begin to change.
I think I’m going to make it…I’ll no longer cheat in business—after I get rid of those 9 acres in the desert. And I’m going to start donating that 10 percent right away. I know I said 50 percent, Lord, but 10 percent to start. If you don’t want your 10 percent, then don’t take it!
Standing to his feet on the beach he tells God, “I know it was you who saved me, but it was also you who made me sick.”
Suddenly Borunki appears and starts shooting at Lawson. Eventually Lawson finds himself evading the knife-wielding lunatic.
God, make me a better runner. Fifty percent God! Do you remember what I said? Fifty percent. I’ll give you 80 percent, God 80 percent!
What does God think of our crisis conversions?
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Warning: video contains explicit language.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Ezekiel 20:1-49. Some of the elders of Israel asked Ezekiel to give them a word from God. This tells us that the people hadn’t abandoned God entirely. Remember, Ezekiel and the elders were in exile in Babylon, so they were given an example from an earlier time when they lived in exile in Egypt. Living as a minority religion, they were tempted to worship the “successful” majority gods.
We see in Ezekiel’s prophecy God’s undying love and relentless pursuit of his people’s hearts over the span of 1000 years (the span of time between their exile in Egypt and their exile in Babylon). More on that later in this post…
Hebrews 9:11-28. I once knew a pastor who refused to preach about the blood of Jesus because it was too violent. Yet Hebrews 9:22 tells us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The old covenant (people’s relationship with God before the cross) gave the Jews an astonishing visual. Every time they sought forgiveness, a life was required. Imagine serving as a priest and spending all day, every day sacrificing animals. It seems so violent because our sin is extremely serious and insidious.
Under the old covenant, people needed to repeatedly offer sacrifices for forgiveness. But the writer explains that Jesus himself is the ultimate sacrifice: “[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Once forgiven, we no longer need to seek forgiveness. We no longer need to live in the guilt of our past.
Jesus took the violence of our sin upon himself so we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
The most astonishing line in “The End” is Lawson’s statement, “I know it was you who saved me, but it was also you who made me sick.” How true.
In my experience, many people suddenly “get religion” when encountering crisis situations. Psalm 107 gives us an insightful perspective on this subject. In the psalm, we read about four such crises:
- Deprivation (verses 4-5)
- Bondage (verse 10)
- Affliction (verses 17-18)
- Danger (verses 23-26)
All of these depict a crisis in one form or another.
The theme in this psalm is most evident in verse 6: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
The fact is, God uses anything and everything to reconcile our relationship with him. Crisis situations present us with opportunities to dig deep into the recesses of our hearts and expunge anything that stands between us and God.
Most amazing of all is that God doesn’t give us one chance to reconcile with him in our lives—he continually, relentlessly pursues us. He allows us to make choices that bring dire consequences, and, at times he walks us through the fire, just to bring us to the end of ourselves. And to bring us to him.
That’s why Lawson’s repeated bargains with God are funny, but also demonstrate the inexhaustible love of God.
All too often, believers mistakenly believe that their crisis is a satanic attack. While the possibility exists that the powers of darkness could be attacking us, jumping to that assumption prematurely precludes us from allowing the crisis to drive us deeper into our most important relationship.
This insight gives me a new perspective on God’s judgment. In Ezekiel 20, we read that the people’s sin brought God’s judgment. But in light of Psalm 107, God’s judgment isn’t intended as punishment, but correction. In other words, judgment is intended to reconcile us to him.
At the conclusion of the psalm, we read, “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord” (verse 43). The word “love” is more accurately translated “loves.”
In an infinite number of ways, God’s multi-faceted, never-ending, all-pursing love beckons us, even after multiple rejections.
He wants you. Your heart. How will you respond to this great love?
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- Think of a crisis from your past. Looking back, how did God use it in his attempts to draw you closer to him?
- What crisis might you be experiencing right now? What might God be trying to speak to your heart? How are you responding? How should you respond?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.