Monday, November 24, 2014

A Living Memorial

With Thanksgiving approaching, I hope your mind is on more than turkey and stuffing and football! I hope it's on family and friends and all the blessings you have in your life. When I was little, we always took the time before Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table and have everyone talk about what we were thankful for. Some years, it was hard to think of anything others wouldn't say first, but I remember some years when I couldn't wait for my turn to share!

"Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Whether it seems like something easy or hard, gratitude is an important attitude to have, and I'm glad we were taught early on to think about what we appreciated in life and express our thanks. Having an attitude of gratitude can help you when life is rough by reminding you that not everything is bad. Having this attitude also helps you to stay humble when you remember that "every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17, NIV).

I was thinking about all this recently when I was watching Western classic, The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. In the movie, four sons come back to their hometown after news that their mother, Katie, has passed away. When they arrive, they slowly find out that their father had been murdered and their mother had sold the family farm to make ends meet, and they begin trying to piece together the mystery of what happened to their family and their home. In the midst of this, there's one scene that particularly stands out to me.

You see, Katie was a fine, respectable lady, and her sons begin to find out just how well-loved she was by all the community. When her sons try to settle her debts, they find out she didn't leave any. When they try to pay for her funeral, they find that she already made her own arrangements. When they try to pay for a burial plot, the owner of the land chooses to donate it in her honor. The people of this town all seem to have a high regard for Katie, and it makes a big impression on her children when they see it.

It's at this point when the scene I love takes place. The boys are gathered in a cabin, trying to figure out what they need to do next, and one suggests that there ought to be a memorial for Katie - a marble angel, perhaps. One of the other brothers thinks it might be a waste of money, but John Wayne's character chimes in, agreeing that if their mother was so well-loved, there ought to be something for folks to remember her by.

John and his brothers try to make arrangements
to pay for Bud's education
But then John puts a twist on the idea - the proper memorial to Katie would be for her youngest son, Bud, to go to college and make a good life for himself. John figures it's too late for himself and the others, as they've already taken their own paths in life and made so many bad choices, but if Bud could do right, then Katie's good name can live on in him!

Now, Bud resists the idea - he wants to be more like his older brothers - but John is trying to teach Bud an important lesson: the best way to honor someone is not just by using your words, but by using your life. The best way to show love - to show faith in someone, to show your gratitude for who they are and what they've taught you - is to show it in your actions!

"Little children, let us love,
not in word or speech,
but in truth and action."
- 1 John 3:18

So then, if you are thankful for your parents, you should not only say so, but show it by living in a way that makes them look good.

If you're thankful for your children, show it by lovingly teaching them how to live right and correcting them when they do wrong. Set an example they can look up to!

If you're thankful for your spouse, then honor him/her by being faithful and offering support in every way you are able.

If you're thankful for the soldiers who have fought and died for your freedoms, you can express it by treating veterans well and doing what you can to ensure the freedom of others.

If you're thankful for the many blessings God has put in your life, then what are you doing today to show your gratitude to him? Think about all the ways that God has blessed you - the fact that he provides for you when you're in need, the promises he has given in Scripture, the people he has put in your life, the fact that he sent his Son to be the ultimate example of love and give his life for you on the cross...

"But God proves his love for us in that
while we still were sinners Christ died for us."
- Romans 5:8

God doesn't just say that he loves you: he shows it by his actions over and over!

And as right as John was in the movie to say that Bud ought to honor Katie with his life, at the same time, he got something wrong, because John and the others assumed that their lives were too far gone for them to do any good. They figured they'd already made too many bad decisions and there was no redemption for them.

But the cross tells us something different.
The cross says your past mistakes can be forgiven.
The cross says you don't have to be the person you were before.
The cross says that who you were yesterday isn't near as important as who you choose to be today.

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!"
- 2 Corinthians 5:17

The better tribute that John and his brothers could have offered was not to try and force Bud to be Katie's memorial, but for each of them to take up the mantle! And the best way for you to show your gratitude for those who have been blessings in your life is for YOU to be the tribute.

Who are you thankful for?
Whose influences have made you the person you are today?
Who are you glad to have in your life?

It's important to think about them. It's important to thank them. But if you're truly grateful, then let me ask you today:

How will you honor them with your life?

Now, Happy Thanksgiving... Pilgrim!

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