A Virtuous Woman, Who Can Find?

    “Who can find a virtuous woman?
    For her price is far above rubies.

    (Proverbs 31:10, KJV)

I have a wife who volunteers for hospice care, makes home and hospital visits with her minister (that’s me), prepares meals for the homeless every Thursday, works as a nurse’s aid, and finds more ways to support her husband than he ever expected. Last week, she went to Kamiah, Idaho, to help distribute vital goods to people who lost everything in a recent fire. Not only that, I have never heard my wife cuss! Okay, that’s a seven week feat that has survived many temptations while in the passenger seat with me at the wheel.

Last July 18th, while driving north toward St. Marie, Idaho, I asked my new wife if she wanted to play the virtue game. She asked how and I told her that if we started, we could never stop. Then I asked her to name a virtue for the day.

Since it was our wedding day, I expected her to select “love!” Without hesitating, she chose, “courage,” claiming that it was at the root of all virtue.

C.S. Lewis agrees with my wife. He said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Winston Churchill also agrees: “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.”

I realized I was in good company.

The next day, we chose “humility” as the virtue of the day. We soon saw it on display at a tiny church where our presence pulled the attendance up to nine. The minister gave his all in earnest through the Bible class and worship service. We saw great humility in his undaunted effort to be bold and faithful in such humble circumstances.

Monday began with a trip to the local sheriff’s office to inform them of the three extremely threatening unleashed dogs we encountered the night before. “Patience” was that day’s virtue and we saw it on the mission statement for the sheriff’s department. Later, while driving off into the sunset, we listened to a CD by Eric Metaxas titled “7 Men And the Secret to Greatness.” Patience was used twice to describe George Washington.

The next day, “wisdom” was the word and Metaxas used it for the great William Wilberforce who used his political role as a Christian to abolish the slave trade in England over 200 years ago.

Other virtues that graced our honeymoon were, “joy,” “shalom”, and “gentleness,” a word Mary Ellen chose with her late mother in mind.

One day, we worked on the word “beauty.” On this, Mary Ellen is a natural. Together, we looked for beauty in our smiles, our words, our tone, and our timing. We sought beauty as an attitude rather than merely an attribute.

Admittedly, things have gotten ugly on a few occasions but such moments are no match for all the virtues we have called up daily for mutual instruction and application—especially “forgiveness.”

As the weeks passed, we ran short of English words and resorted to some New Testament Greek words to inspire us. Included among those my wife has chosen are:

  1. “Charizomai” – gracious forgiveness or generosity.
  2. Hypostasso” – submission!

Without a doubt, a virtuous woman, I have found.

Old Newlyweds!

Between the two of us, 118 years of life experience had passed under the bridge before Mary Ellen and I got married. Since then, I’ve had a birthday, so now we are a 119-year-old couple in our second month of marriage. We feel like kids.

But we’re not! We bring longstanding habits and quirks to our marriage that are sure to test whatever virtues we have cultivated. And we get tired. We both love old movies but at 119, we seem to find it quite difficult to actually finish one together.

We have opened many gifts and cards together and still feel inadequate in expressing our gratitude for the generosity of our friends. We have forgiven them for ignoring the instruction on our wedding invitation not to give gifts.

Getting married brought new changes and challenges to our relationship. One change was her name. The Christian principle of two becoming one meant so much to Mary Ellen, that she gave up her name and took mine. I am deeply honored. Of course, marital oneness goes much deeper than a name but a name is still a wonderful thing to share in common with a lifelong mate.

As for new challenges, adding Mary Ellen to my health insurance policy exploded our monthly budget. Health coverage for a 119-year-old couple is crucial. Sure enough, my wife of just two weeks (feeling much like a kid) fell off her bike and broke her arm, not to mention her road burns. Four weeks later, the cast is off and she is opening her own cans and bottles and washing her own hair.

My injured wife gave me gobs of credit for being a helpful mate, but the truth is that she had to fend for herself far more than any newlywed should. As the sole director of All-Teen Camp at Prince’s Pine in Northwest Washington, I had tons of prep-work to do and then I deserted her for a solid week during which our first month anniversary took place. Out in the boonies with fifty teenagers (and a great staff), I could not even get through on the phone on that noteworthy night.

She gracefully endured all these disappointments while giving me extra credit for the little I did for her.

Another challenge, at least for me, has been learning to be less selfish. Being single, it was rather easy to turn a blind eye to my selfishness. Now, with a lovely new bride in the house, it’s not so easy to fool myself. She comes with needs and notions that just cannot be conveniently dismissed, nor should they be. Marriage is like getting a new pair of glasses. It clarifies the way I look at myself and it’s not always a pretty sight. I’ll spare you the details but I am a piece of work!

We have had to apologize to each other on several occasions. I doubt that the best of marriages could survive without the refined skill of offering and accepting apologies.

Mary Ellen and I are old enough to understand that it is impossible to “make” another person happy against their will. That includes one’s spouse. Just being happy (not an easy accomplishment for many) is a precious gift to each other. We listen to a radio broadcaster named Dennis Prager who often says that happiness is a moral responsibility and a kind gift to all those in our lives who love us. We agree.

If Mary Ellen and I make it to our golden anniversary, we would be 218-years-old as a couple! That’s unlikely, so we plan to make the most of our time together. Life is too short to fuss over small stuff, like toothpaste, toilet seats, ego, pretense, and the TV remote control handset. Nevertheless, learning how to be more considerate of her “stuff” is an education I desperately need, no matter how small it may look to me. Remember, I struggle with selfishness.

Those marriage glasses I mentioned can make things that once looked small now appear big, and many of the big things are beginning to look small. These “glasses” (like reality itself) will take some getting used to, but it’s already clear that I need them. They help me see beauty and love (not small stuff, by the way) in a new and bigger light.

Here is what marriage is showing me in living color:

“A sorrow shared is halved and a joy shared is doubled!

The “Dones” are Coming (and Going)

Have you heard of the “Dones?” They are done with the run-of-the-mill, Sunday-go-to-meetin’ kind of Christianity. They want us to know how sick and tired they are of “churchianity” and they are not going to take it anymore. They are closely related to the “Nones,” as in, “none of the above,” a response increasing in popularity with young people when asked about their religious affiliation. They are unaffiliated.

Most “Dones” affirm that they have not abandoned the faith. But from there it often goes downhill as they regurgitate grievance after grievance against the organized church. Here are just a few:

  • It’s boring, unspiritual, moralistic, judgmental, superficial and hypocritical. Ouch!
  • It’s unchristian to meet in a building when the unfortunate, needy and homeless need our money and attention instead.
  • “Dones” claim to be tired of the Sunday routine of “plop, pray and pay” while just looking at the backs of people’s heads and calling it worship. They say they cannot abide being lectured to. They have “heard it all before.”
  • They love Jesus but not the church. Some say they still love Jesus’ church, but apparently not any particular one that actually meets together to practice their faith in an organized way.
  • Some claim their spirituality is much too authentic to get wrapped up in “churchianity.” They took it as long as they could. They emphasize how thoughtful and painful their decision was to leave.
  • Many “Dones” claim that before they left, they felt ignored. This one is sad. We must work to make sure people at church feel loved and heard. That also goes for people outside the church.

It hurts to love Jesus’ church and take all these shots. But we cannot deny that some have experienced church this way. Nevertheless, they are not fair as stereotypes. It is ironic that those who decry judgmentalism most often need to look in the proverbial mirror. But so do we, as a church. So, we take these shots with a measure of gratitude.

In his book “Church Refugees,” Sociologist and church critic Josh Packard glowingly describes the “Dones” (prior to their departure) as, “the most dedicated and active people in their congregations.” And then, they were done. Somehow, the implied blame always seems to go to those who are still not done.

Jesus’ church is far from perfect. But our buildings are not really the problem. I have found that Christians who meet in buildings are consistently generous toward the needy. And I love those imperfect people who plop in pews with me to pray, sing, commune, learn and love. If you resent the backs of people’s heads, then sit up front. Better yet, change your attitude. Jesus loves them too.

The proclamation of the gospel from the pulpit is a time-honored resource for spiritual guidance and inspiration. Doing it well is as much the job of the listener as the preacher. I find it ironic that the long one-way-street monologues of popular politicians promising hope and change seem to work charms on many of the same people who find church to be boring. They can take it from politicians, but not from preachers. Good preaching has always been precious in God’s eyes and in the ears of His people.

Everyone has the right to choose to be done. But when the “Dones” stereotype churches harshly to justify their departure, their plight loses legitimacy in my eyes. Too many “Dones” seem to want to take others with them.

So I have a challenge for the “Dones.” If churches in America are so off base that you cannot stay, then plant a new congregation and do it right. Instead of being done, show us how it’s done! Don’t curse the darkness–light a candle!

I suspect that the organized church will never measure up to the high ideal many “Dones” hold for her. They are done with the flawed and frustrating organized church made up of messed-up strugglers like you and me. In his book, Life Together (1938), Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed this trend. He wrote:

    “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

Loving one’s ideal of Jesus’ church is not actually loving her for who she is. “Dones” will come and go. They always have. Let’s love them coming and going. But Jesus’ church is not done with me nor am I done with her. And she is not done with hopeless sinners who need desperately to change.

Okay, I’m done.

Demolishing Strongholds

The apostle Paul wrote of using weapons of warfare that are not of the flesh to “demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NIV) He meant “arguments and every pretention raised up against the knowledge of God.” (vs. 5). Maybe Paul’s culture was as hostile to God and the progress of the gospel as ours is today.

Question #1: Is it acceptable for Christians to volunteer to help clean up our littered public highways?

Sure! Why not? But if so, how about cleaning up America’s cultural highways? They are quickly becoming cluttered with moral garbage. They are spiritual death traps for most travelers, especially children. Can’t Christians be as concerned about moral trash as we are about material garbage?

Question #2: Can a carcass-cluttered highway be tolerated?

Of course not. We deal with road-kill by hiring people to clean it up immediately. However, America tends to deal with culture-kill far less responsibly. We pile it on. We mock those who call attention to it or try to clean it up. Our corrupt culture not only tolerates culture-kill, we often glorify it.

Question #3: Is it acceptable for Christians to show respect for God’s creation by working to keep our air and water less polluted?

Yes, I admire Christians who are good stewards of the physical resources God has given to us. Can’t we also work to protect human hearts and minds from moral pollution that is lethal at a deeper level? Why not?


Culture is a force far more powerful than any raging river, political party, human law, lethal weapon or dangerous enemy. That’s why Plato said, “Let me write the songs and poems of a nation and I care not who writes the laws.”

America’s cultural highways are becoming unmarked moral graveyards. The stench is there but many of us have lost our moral sense of smell. We can have clean air, pure water, and uncluttered highways and still be in a moral coma as a people. Christians cannot live complacently with that. Paul didn’t.

For Example…

  • When the culture contends that humans are simply chemical and biological accidents in a random universe, the people will behave like accidents of nature. How can we keep a vibrant sense of virtue and purpose under that mindset?
  • Do you have a clear idea of what the Bible is about? America’s rich legacy of biblical literacy is fading fast in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Holy Scripture.
  • Are you addicted to lotteries, profanity, pornography, perversion, or cheap media entertainment? Stop! Don’t let your life become cultural carnage!
  • If you can vote for a candidate who supports Planned Parenthood (taxpayer-funded abortion providers) or cannot stand up for marriage between one man and woman, then you’re a casualty of a culture in moral freefall.

“Greater is He…”

America’s culture glorifies sin and stigmatizes repentance. It mocks those who pursue purity and exalts those who flaunt filth. Television is exhibit A. When the stream of culture gets polluted, we all suffer (especially children). Nevertheless, as Christians, we take confidence in the wise words of the apostle John: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4).

The power of culture cannot intimidate Christians. Christian love is not a call to surrender in the face of evil but it can radically transform how we fight. So stand up, not down. Let love lead you forward, not backward. Our culture is dying from a thousand cuts. There comes a time for Christians to stand and fight the lofty strongholds and pretentions of culture. In so doing, let us “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The Falling Sky!

Chicken Little didn’t know what hit her.

While minding her own business, an acorn landed on her little head and panic set in. She warned her friends, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey bought the story, hook, line and sinker. After all, Chicken Little felt a piece of the sky hit her head. They set out to warn the king but found Foxy Loxy instead. He led this motley flock of worry warts to his den and the king never got the big news.

Fearing harmless acorns, we fall for foxes.

It’s no compliment to be called “Chicken Little.” It means you are going off half-cocked and jumping to conclusions with the best of intentions to save the world. It means you’re both a nut and a sucker.

The Cultural Sky

But what if warnings are warranted? What if the proverbial sky actually is falling and we are too smug to notice? Truth told, America’s cultural “sky” is not holding up well. Marriage is in decline and being intentionally decomposed. Children who grow up without their mom and dad are increasingly rare. Tax-payers support a group (Planned Parenthood) that strategizes how to butcher human babies in ways that preserve body parts for sale. When nothing is sacred, everything is disposable, including the family and human life itself. Where is Chicken Little when you need her?

The sky is getting dark. Moral chaos, sexual confusion, gender blending, and raw perversion enjoy unprecedented public and political favor in America. Modesty is mocked while porn and promiscuity flourish. You think athletes are overpaid? The porn industry makes more money in the USA than all the big sports combined.

Expect more profanity, even from candidates. Expect more cynicism from people living in luxury. Expect less freedom to express your faith and more abuse if you do. Expect more teen suicides and school shootings. Expect more churches to cave in on moral issues! Don’t expect the word “repent” to get much play, even at church. Expect those who call for moral clarity to be dismissed as Chicken Littles.

The Political Sky

Following the culture, America’s political “sky” is getting too polluted to breathe. As I write, the radio tells me that taxpayers must continue to subsidize the greedy infanticide practices of Planned Parenthood. They exterminate minority babies at a disproportionately higher rate and President Obama and the Democrat Party protects this brutality with impunity. Meanwhile, our nation’s debt looms near $18 trillion with no signs of fiscal discipline on the horizon.

Many Americans vote like Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey, falling for any candidate that scares them into submission. On November 9, 2008, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal Digital Network: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” He explained that a crisis can create “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” In other words, it pays to sound like Chicken Little and act like Foxy Loxy.

On August 14, 2012, the winning presidential ticket falsely told a predominately African-American audience that that their Republican opponents were “gonna put you all back in chains.” (Vice President Joe Biden, at a rally in Danville, VA). President Obama doubled down on this horrible accusation. He understood the value of hysterical crisis-mongering to elicit votes. Some voters just need to be told that computer models predicting climate change prove that the world may come to an end if we support one party and not the other. And the skeptics are ridiculed.

The Moral of the Story

Cultural and political pathologies can destroy human hearts, souls and lives. They are not mere acorns. The moral of the Chicken Little story is not that all dangers are imaginary. The fox proves otherwise. And foxes don’t care about saving the world. They just want dinner. It is high time for honest caring people to be more discerning and less complacent. Otherwise, we won’t know what hit us.

A Quiet Life

The apostle Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, called for quiet Christian living:

    But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

Sounds nice but a bit boring, right? Read on.

Later, when they heard that some in Thessalonica were living an “undisciplined life, doing no work at all.” Paul, Silas and Timothy again exhorted such people “to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Instead of using your energy to be a busybody, they wanted Christians to quietly stand on their own two feet. Instead of being lazy, they urged Christians in the very next verse “not to grow weary of doing good.” (3:13).

Years later, Paul had not changed his mind. He tied praying for authorities with the desire to lead “a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Meanwhile, Paul Silas and Timothy lived anything but a boring quiet life. They were literally all over the map preaching up a storm wherever they went. Paul in particular was vocal, provocative, bold and brave. He led a life that was perilous, painful, and controversial. Every time he entered a town, he headed straight to a synagogue, lecture hall, or marketplace to wrangle and reason with the locals over issues that often got him into trouble. He suffered multiple imprisonments and countless beatings, and was “often in danger of death.” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Take it from Paul himself:

    Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

And this was just one snapshot midway through his missionary career. In calling for a quiet life, was Paul advocating for a Christian life that looked nothing like his own? Maybe we should look more closely at the New Testament Greek word for “quiet” (hesuchos).

In the gospel of Luke, a form of the word hesuchos was used for what some faithful women did on the Sabbath just after Jesus was executed. They “rested.” (Luke 23:56). Filled with grief on Saturday, it must have been torture to rest quietly. Little did they know what God had in store from them (and us) on Sunday.

When Paul’s companions begged him not to go to Jerusalem where he would surely face trouble, Paul could not be deterred. His friends finally “rested” (hesuchos) their case and said, “The will of the Lord be done!” (Acts 21:14). Luke equated surrendering to God’s will with hesuchos.

The apostle Peter, a married man, praised the quality of hesuchios in Christian women. He admired “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), which is precious in the sight of God. Our culture may call this quality boring or repressive, but not our Lord.

So, whatever a “quiet life” means to you, for Paul and Peter (in context) it did not mean a lazy, passive, undisciplined, free-loading, isolated life. Paul wanted hesuchos to be our ambition! Excel in it (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Hesuchos means working hard to “attend” (an active verb) to our own business so we can be more effective in reaching outsiders (1 Thessalonians 4:12). It did not mean being complacent. To Paul, it meant being tireless in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

Clearly, Paul was not calling for a cushy life when he used the word hesuchos to challenge his readers. He was indeed calling them and us to a life of restful tranquility and quiet stability, but not without hard work, discipline, personal responsibility, and effective vocal and practical outreach to others.

I “rest” my case.

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil.”
(Psalm 97:10)

Donald Trump recently announced that he loves Mexicans. In context, he was doubling down on his previous controversial comments about illegal immigrants. I respect the distinction and I recognize the hope he places in the power of the word “love.”

When marriage was redefined by the Supreme Court, President Obama pronounced that we all finally realized that “love is love.” National opinion remains divided over whether love won or lost, but everyone is apparently still for love.

Preachers and celebrities alike claim to love “love.” All politicians claim to “love” America, including those who blame her for nearly every global ill and want her fundamentally transformed. Viagra advertisers also get much mileage from this flexible L-word that can pass as both a verb and a noun.

As overworked as the word “love” is, one aspect gets little respect– an aspect about love that is tied to God Himsaelf. Long ago, a Hebrew Psalmist wrote: “Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” (Psalm 97:10). Centuries later, Jesus revealed a good reason for hating evil, saying, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Wickedness is a threat to love.

The opposite of love is not hate, but evil. In fact, hate directed against authentic evil is a huge component of godly love.

Does it make you uncomfortable to hear words like love and hate used like this in the same sentence? If so, avoid the prophet Amos. He wrote: “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. (Amos 5:15). The apostle Paul agreed: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9). We are told in the book of Proverbs (6:16-19) that God Himself, the Author of love, hates six things; then seven are listed just for good measure:

  • Haughty eyes,
  • A lying tongue,
  • Hands that shed innocent blood,
  • A heart that devises wicked plans,
  • Feet that run rapidly to evil,
  • A false witness who utters lies,
  • One who spreads strife among brothers.

Over two millennia later, it’s time for love to get tough again.

But where do we begin? Racism? Corruption? Crime? Terrorism? Media dishonesty? Abortion? Political chicanery? Sex trafficking? Homosexuality? The national debt? Adultery? Gossip? Child abuse? Drug abuse? Grammar glitches?

All those evils deserve fierce opposition (please let me know of any grammar gaffes), but they are not where a Christian begins. We begin by hating the evil in ourselves. It’s called repentance and it is the soil from which real love grows. Jesus’ preaching message is summed up as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17). When He sent out His disciples, “They went out and preached that people should repent.” (Mark 6:12). Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). He laid it on the line: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5). When sin breaks your heart, Jesus is able to get inside.

Real evil can be hard to recognize in ourselves, especially when covered by appealing words like “love.” It uses attractive bait and collects countless victims before they recognize it. That’s because instead of hating evil on the front end, most people just hate it’s bitter results. Jesus challenges us to hate our own evil before it bears rotten fruit in our lives. Even after it does, the offer to repent still stands!

Hating sin and loving sinners is exactly what God does with us. Once we repent and die with Jesus in our water grave (baptism), He raises us up fully forgiven and renewed under the grace of God. Then, we can gracefully stand up to many of the evils of our time. Just remember, we have no call to hate or harm people. The battle is against evil, not its victims. Our weapons of choice are the sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. Loving God and hating evil is like loving life and hating cancer.

Hating evil is a powerful way to love God as well as real people who need less evil in their lives. Okay, that’s everyone, including me.

The Magic 4-Letter L-Word

Remember the Beatles? They made a huge hit in 1967 out of the phrase, “All You Need is Love.” Okay, having a job helps too. In 1981, Crystal Gayle went deeper when she sang, “Too many lovers; Not enough love these days.”

Love is an easy word to spin. A male on the make will say “I love you” at the drop of a dime to have his way. I recently saw a colorful activist with a sign saying: “All love is equal.” I wondered if he had a job. The word “hate” is also useful. Just assault your opponent with the H-word and the conversation is over. If he retreats, you can say, “love wins!”

Jesus understood love. He commanded it and lived it. He knew how to make real love win. He achieved that victory on the cross where He sacrificed Himself on my behalf and yours. Having paid our debt, it is through Jesus that we are forgiven and reconciled to God. That’s love!

Jesus also knew what makes love lose. He preached, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). He saw the rise of immorality as a threat to love, regardless of how you spin the word.

Ministers willing to change the wedding vow to say, “…as long as you both shall love,” are of the same ilk as ministers willing to say, “I now pronounce you wife and wife,” or “husband, husband and wife.” They are not worth their salt.

In tennis, “love” means you’re probably losing. Popular leaders learn quickly to play tennis with words like “love,” batting it around with little regard for its meaning. When they tickle our ears with “love,” it is game, set, match. Nice racket!

In politics today, “love wins” means marriage lost, at least as an institution that exists to ensure that more children will have a mom and a dad in their home. When marriage was redefined by the Supreme Court to nullify gender, President Obama praised those who worked so hard to accomplish this, claiming that they “made an entire country realize that love is love.” (June 26, 2015).

They did? So, prior to this ruling, we had not realized that love is love? Never mind that the President implied that activists swayed the Supreme Court. All that matters is how it felt when he uttered the magic L-word back to back.

Maybe Oprah had a point when she told us Barack Obama would help us “evolve to a higher plane.” Okay, maybe not.

God’s word teaches that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8). Thus, love is a sacred and transcendent quality, not a self-defining sentiment. The Bible also declares, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Real love begins with God, not Supreme Court decisions. In marriage counseling, I have heard adultery labeled as “love.” It’s a seductive spin that works like a charm on many, but not on God.

So much that is crucial about culture begins with children—how we raise them, teach them, train them, and love them. We owe children a culture that does its level best to make sure they grow up with a mom and a dad together in a loving home. Certainly, kids who don’t experience this design can cope and even thrive as we all work to love them where they are. But God’s intent was for marriage to manifest love between a man and a woman and elevate the mother-father partnership from which children richly benefit. America has officially departed from that design because we have replaced “God is love” with “love is love.”

The title of another hit by the Beatles in 1965 sums up what America needs now:


Ten Unpopular Facts About Jesus

Let’s get right to it:

1. Jesus was a moralist!

Just read His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). He exalted righteousness as a primary pursuit (Matt. 6:33). He espoused bearing good fruit and warned against bearing bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-19). He saw the increase of wickedness as a threat to love (Matt. 24:12) and had little patience for religious performers who were “full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).

2. Jesus demanded repentance!

His entire preaching career is summed up with the imperative verb: “Repent…” (Matthew 4:17). The alternative was to perish (Luke 13:3). To Jesus, “Sodom and Gomorrah” were notorious for their failure to repent. He used them as powerful illustrations of God’s just judgment to foster repentance (Matt. 10:15 & 11:20-24).

3. Jesus publicly attacked local politicians, fearlessly

(Matthew 23). In His culture, the religious leaders and the civil politicians were one and the same. Nearly all the local legal, judicial, and civic concerns were left to the chief priests, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees (Rome left most local political matters to the natives). Jesus pulled no punches denouncing their hypocrisy out loud.

4. Jesus got angry.

One day in a synagogue, some Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Seeing their stubborn cold hearts, Jesus got angry and defiantly healed the man (Mark 3:1-6). For Him, religious rules must never obstruct kindness or morality.

5. Jesus talked about hell

more than any other Bible character. Here is just one of many references: “…it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29).

6. Jesus used violent force with a weapon

to cleanse the temple of exploitative money-changers and merchants (John 2:13-22). Once, He told His disciples that those without a sword should “sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36). Later, he told Peter, who was carrying a sword; “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Go figure.

7. Jesus fiercely criticized his entire generation.

He often described His generation as “evil and adulterous…” (Matthew 12:39); “unbelieving…” (Mark 9:19); “wicked…” (Luke 11:29), “perverse…” (Luke 9:41); and “sinful” (Mark 8:38). He sounds like a “culture warrior.” Moral, cultural and spiritual concerns filled His teaching ministry. He did not hate his generation. Rather, he wept for them. His rebukes flowed from love.

8. Jesus openly commented on laws regarding divorce and defined marriage in sacred terms.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus affirmed that from the beginning, marriage was one male and one female becoming one flesh. Today, he would be branded as a bigot.

9. Jesus respected rites, customs and traditions,

but never at the expense of love and morality. He observed the strict tithing practices of the Pharisees and warned them not to neglect “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” He added, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23).

10. Jesus was religious.

He attended and preached regularly in synagogues throughout Judea and Galilee (Matthew 9:35 and Luke 4:16,44). He kept and led religious feasts (Luke 2:21-22 and 41-49). He was a respected Rabbi (John 3:2). He commended a poor widow who contributed money to the temple treasury (Luke 21:1-3). He prayed a lot (Matt. 6:5-13; Luke 6:12). He cared for the needy and advocated purity of heart, which is “undefiled religion” (James 1:27). He knew His Hebrew Bible backwards and forward and practiced the same religion as the Pharisees, but unlike many of them, he did so sincerely, inside and out.

This list presumes you are already aware of our Lord’s focus on love; learning it, commanding it, and living it—even dying for it. But if we fully understood the nature of His love, its affirmation here would be the most unpopular fact of all.

American Individualism
(As Portrayed by Frank Capra)

In Frank Capra’s 1939 classic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a young senator gets his idealism tested in the face of relentless political corruption. Many of his new colleagues on Capitol Hill had long ago surrendered their dignity to the collective to ride the tide of popular power. He is overwhelmed by cynicism until he finds his spine and realizes he cannot stay free and decent without it. He rises up as a lone individual to face down the collective corruption, come what may.

America’s most treasured ideals and symbols are featured in this movie, but they take on meaning only when a senator stands up all alone as a brave individual willing to live or die for his convictions. Sentimental patriotism is fine but without the courage of one’s informed conviction, it’s nothing.

American movie director, Frank Capra (1897 –1991) was an American by conviction, not by blood. When he arrived here at age five and saw Lady Liberty with torch in hand, his father exclaimed, “Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom!” Capra believed it. He learned to understand America by her principles, which have nothing to do with one’s race, gender, class, group, or social status. He went on to win three Best Director Oscars.

American individualism has fallen in popularity in recent times. It is often the scorn of preachers and professors alike. If I have heard American individualism demonized once, I have heard it a thousand times. In context, sometimes I agree with the criticism. But for the most part, the virtue of American individualism is being misrepresented.

Of course, every virtue has a dark side. Tolerance is poisonous in response to evil deeds. Patience is lethal when practiced by terrorists. Many Nazis were highly intelligent and brave, making their hatred even more harmful. Pride in one’s family, community or nation can be healthy but when it turns to arrogance, the virtue becomes a vice. When patriotism morphs from informed gratitude into mindless idolatry, it loses its virtue.

Rugged American individualism is a tremendous force for good when it takes shape in you as a confident unselfish advance toward the acceptance of personal responsibility. Virtuous individualism calls up the courage to emerge from the crowd, not to isolate yourself or feed your ego but to play a self-reliant productive role in in the world. You can take it to a dark side, but that is your problem.

In another Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), George Bailey watches his good life fall apart. He is tempted to sell his entrepreneurial aspirations short and take a cushy job working for a heartless rich competitor. He resists this easy option, affirming his character as a self-reliant risk-taking American individual. George had always used his independently owned business to enable others to fulfill their dreams, while his dream remained on hold. He would not cave. Things get worse before they get better and he considers suicide, losing sight of his worth as an individual. An angel comes along, not to change his circumstances but to enlighten his perspective. He is shown a bigger picture of the good he had done for his community and his worth as an individual is reaffirmed.

Capra’s films embody the plight of the individual against power politics, mass production, mass media, collective greed, lazy dependency, and mass conformity. Exalting the worth and dignity of the individual was a theme Capra relished. It is also featured in the following Capra classics:

We need each other. An English cleric named John Donne (1572 –1631) wrote: “No man is an island.” I get that. I love it. But too many Americans today want cradle-to-grave care from our government. Self-reliance is belittled as coldly unrealistic. The desire for dependency is swallowing up nearly every virtue upon which the American character was built. The clamor for politicians to provide for our health and happiness at all levels has yielded astronomical debt and unprecedented corruption. This is no fiction. There will be no way out of America’s debt-ridden state of dependency without some real rugged individualism, leaving all the selfish and arrogant stereotypes behind.

Politicians profess great love for the common man while spinning out promises to use government wealth and power to take care of commoners. Sadly, this works like a charm in the new America that sees rugged individualism as a vice, not a virtue.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 3, 2015, John Marini wrote: “For Capra, the real America was to be understood in terms of its virtues, which are derived from its principles.” Capra’s art as a director was dedicated to keeping those virtues alive in the common man, the rugged individual. Ivory tower cynics and socialists scoff at his virtue-centered worldview, but in the spirit of authentic American individualism, go find an old Frank Capra classic—and decide for yourself.