The deaths of B. J. Thomas and Gavin MacLeod: Four ways to honor our military heroes

By Dr. Jim Denison

B. J. Thomas died Saturday of complications from lung cancer. He became famous with country and pop crossover hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

However, he fell into a spiral of substance abuse that nearly ended his marriage. On January 28, 1976, he gave his life to Jesus, less than a month after his wife came to faith. He and his wife reconciled, and he was sober to the end of his life.

After his conversion, he wrote an autobiography about his new faith, Home Where I Belong, and released his first Christian album by the same name. He went on to release at least fourteen more Christian albums.

“This is your captain speaking”

In other celebrity news, actor Gavin MacLeod died Saturday at the age of ninety. Best known for playing Murray on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Captain Stubing on The Love Boat, his acting and musical career spanned six decades.

When I learned of MacLeod’s death, I read his 2013 autobiography, This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage through Hollywood, Faith and Life. It tells us how MacLeod suffered childhood adversity: he was overweight and self-conscious, and his father was an alcoholic who died of cancer when MacLeod was thirteen.

He found himself as an actor, graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in drama and working as an usher and elevator operator at Radio City Music Hall, where he met his first wife. They had four children before divorcing in 1972. MacLeod married Patti, his second wife, but divorced her as well.

While he was filming The Love Boat in 1984, his mother had brain surgery. He could not get away to be with her and writes that he felt “completely helpless” and “more alone than I had ever been in my life.”

“Call Patti”

MacLeod continues: “That is the moment when everything changed—at 7:15 a.m. on September 14, 1984. I said, ‘Jesus, if you give my mother more time, I’ll turn my life over to you. I don’t care if I act anymore. Just give my mother more time.’” After he prayed, he sensed a voice saying, “Call Patti.”

He called his former wife, who agreed to see him the next week. Then came the news that his mother’s surgery went perfectly and she would be okay. When he met with Patti, he could tell that something was different about her. “What’s happened to you?” he asked. “I’ve been born again,” she answered. “What does that mean?” he asked. She explained salvation to him, and he solidified his commitment to Christ as well.

MacLeod wrote his book to tell the story of his conversion and its significance for his life. He explained salvation so clearly that anyone reading his book could make Christ their Savior as well. He was privileged to lead his dear friend and fellow actor Ted Knight to Christ before Knight died of cancer and to lead other actors to faith as well. He and Patti remarried and eventually hosted a television show about marriage and transformation in Jesus.

He dedicated his autobiography to “the Captain of my life, who came that I might have life and have it more abundantly.” Toward its end, MacLeod writes: “The most important thing I’ve ever done is to become an ambassador for Christ. And I will always remain his ambassador.”

Four biblical responses

B. J. Thomas and Gavin MacLeod remind us that living for a legacy is the best way to live. Both are eternally in the presence of Jesus today. And both left a story that points beyond themselves to the Lord they loved and served.

Living for a legacy is an especially appropriate commitment on this Memorial Day. As our nation remembers the more than 1.1 million Americans who died in combat to defend our freedoms, we can respond in four biblical ways:

One: Take time to express personal gratitude for their sacrifice. The National Moment of Remembrance is at 3 p.m. today. Please stop whatever you are doing, wherever you are, and participate. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).

Two: Pray for the families of our war dead and all those affected by their deaths. “Be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Three: Support those on active duty. When you meet a soldier, thank them for their service. Pray daily for God to protect our military and to use their service to draw them closer to himself. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

Four: Do all you can to make this nation worthy of our heroes. I once asked a disfigured veteran how I could thank him for his sacrificial service. He replied, “Make this a country worth dying for.” “The generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:2).

Advice from George Washington

You may not be called to be a famous singer or actor. You may not be called to military service. But you have a calling that only you can fulfill. And you have only today to answer that call.

Let’s close with this Memorial Day advice from George Washington: “Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do—then do it with all your strength.”

Are you doing what God wants you to do?

Are you doing it with all your strength?

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