Very recently, I led another memorial service for an 84-year old Army veteran of the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The man had been a sergeant major (SGM) when he retired. He continued his service as a defense contractor upon retiring from the military. In the last chapter of his life, he moved near Ft. Benning, GA to be near a longtime friend under whom he’d served as a first sergeant (1SG) during the early 1970s. He spent his last years deer hunting in west Georgia. Finally, the cancer he’d battled for years conquered his body, and he died. When I spoke at his memorial, and before we committed his ashes to the ground, most of the chairs on the rostrum were vacant. Most people did not know or care of this man’s passing. As I read Scripture, prayed, and consoled a couple of his friends, I had an overwhelming sense that there were multiple deaths at hand. We were not just marking the passing of another veteran’s life. I was witnessing in microcosm a culture that chooses to forget what is praiseworthy. What/whom one generation fails to honor, thenext generation will forget altogether.
People are busy, I understand. No one can be more than one place at a time, I understand. However, I fear that there’s a sense of callousness in our culture today towards almost everything once viewed with honor. What was heretofore praiseworthy is now neglected or even mocked. It is as if many people’s consciences are seared. But should we not laud that which is praiseworthy, when it’s in our power to do so? What does it say about a culture that forsakes its warriors? What does it reveal about us when we inventory what fills our time? What/whom one generation fails to honor, the next generation will forget altogether.
Nothing quite diagnoses a culture’s ethos as clearly as seeing what it worships. Man becomes like what he worships. But what does it mean when many worship at the altar of self, or at the altars of what Francis Schaeffer called personal peace and affluence? In other words, are we now so self-absorbed that we fail to recognize the passing of those that lived lives of sacrifice, courage, and honor? Are we so taken with our conveniences that we cannot think of those who gave of themselves for the greater good? Some of the deepest lessons I have learned come from times I’ve spent in cemeteries. They are among the quietest places on earth. You can hear yourself think. As you survey the tombstones, the mausoleums, the white markers, you relearn that this life is passing. You learn that man is a vapor. You learn that generations come and go. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes: “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (Eccl 2:16a ESV). But Solomon’s thesis in Ecclesiastes was how not to succumb to that. The answer is to look to God, not to oneself alone, not just to our personal peace and affluence, but to recognize that which endures. But I’m suggesting that we are living in a time and culture that largely chooses to neglect what should be appreciated and worships that which should be minimized. The banal has replaced the praiseworthy. What/whom one generation fails to honor, the next generation will forget altogether.
When the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter known as Philippians. It’s a short New Testament book about Christ’s humiliation and subsequent exaltation. It’s also a NT book of encouragement. But what I want to focus on here is how he instructs the Philippians in matters of what they should honor, of what they should deem important: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8 ESV). It’s vital to understand what is honorable and praiseworthy, not what our selfishness deems honorable and praiseworthy.
If we want to know what we honor, let us examine how we spend our time. We are not witnessing the death of appreciation; we are witnessing idolatry—the appreciation of the wrong things/ideas/gods/people.