"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." Hebrews 9:27
Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw published his bestselling book, The Greatest Generation, in 1998. The book continues to be widely acclaimed for its portrayal of the millions of Americans who answered the call to serve our nation, and the world, during the incredible darkness of World War II. I had the privilege of personally knowing one of these "greatest" when I pastored my first church, the New Oak Grove BaptistChurch near Myrtle, Miss.
James Knighton was an unassuming and quiet man. He was a deacon in our church, served as the treasurer, and shouldered many other responsibilities in our small congregation. He and his wife, Ms. Jewel, were much beloved and respected in our rural community in western UnionCounty. When Tammy and I arrived on the church field in December of 1989, Apryl had just turned a year old and Laurie would be born the following September. Not only was this couple an important part of our church and community, but they were our fantastic, adoptive "grandparents" for our little girls, who adored the times they stayed with Mr. James and Ms. Jewel.
Not long after I became pastor, I sensed a need for our men to gather together on Saturday nights at eight o'clock to intercede for our Sunday services and the spiritual condition of our community. There would be times when six to eight men would assemble for prayer, and sometimes there would be only two, myself and James Knighton. No matter the weather, the local sporting or civic events, or whatever might be occupying the lives of some of our men, Mr. James was always there with his pastor, praying. And believe me, we saw God do some great things while we were there.
Mr. James had been a Marine in the Pacific theater of WWII. He was an island hopper. His eyes had seen unbelievable carnage as the Marines sought to liberate islands from Japanese control. He never elaborated what he had experienced, as he was always so humble and quiet. He did tell me on one occasion that he had been wounded. It was severe enough to justify his returning home. But he decided the mission had to be accomplished and he needed to be with his men, rather than return to the safety and comfort of his home and family. Mr. James returned to battle. He was a true Marine.
I thought of Mr. James today as our nation mourns the loss of another of our Greatest Generation. President George H.W. Bush was also a brave young man who counted service to his country as a duty and honor during the War. The touching scene of former Senator Bob Dole's fragile body being gently lifted out of his wheelchair so that he might salute the casket of our 41st President was a powerful and emotional scene of love and respect. These men are all part of that Greatest Generation. One became President, one a Senator, and one was an humble Mississippian who served the Lord's church, loved his wife and family, worked in a furniture factory as a supervisor for many, many years, and was a great encouragement to his young and inexperienced pastor.
In the twenty years since Brokaw's book was put in print, it has often been noted that we are slowly losing our Greatest Generation. The Bible says that we all have an appointment with death. For President Bush, this appointment has been fulfilled. For you and me, an appointment is on the calendar as well. Many do not receive an advanced notice, nor a call to confirm. I don't know, but I doubt my life will extend into the 90 year range like President Bush, or Billy Graham, or my grandmother. Death. It's an unsettling reality that looms on the horizon for every man and woman. Are you ready?
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