During this patriotic season, there is much fanfare and excitement among Americans.

During this patriotic season, there is much fanfare and excitement among Americans.

However, it is after these festivities that we discover this nationís heart and soul.

The Pharisees' question in the Gospel of Mark, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?" forced a wedge between God and nation. Then Jesus tied them together when he said, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

During our nationís 237th birthday celebration, letís ponder our core values.

The family has been the center of every nation that has attained greatness. Hitler saw this when he tried to form his master race. In our homes, we help build our nationís integrity, justice, peace and honesty.

The ballot box is our last resort. We do not elect public officials to establish policies; they merely ratify what we were taught and teach in our homes. Jesus emphasized the homeís primary nature when He said, "Honor your father and your mother."

A nation strengthens with its peopleís courage. When young service members go to war, there are no artificial, Hollywood-style Rambos among them, no superficial John Waynes. Everyday folks quietly, but valiantly, line up at recruiting offices and sign up for battle.

Every drop of blood, every broken bone, every shattered body, every tear and every prayer put life into Americaís fabric.

Moral courage ó determination to do what is right in every situation ó also is vital to a nationís strength.

Finally, a nation is made good by its churches. Asked why North America was great, statistician Roger Babson quoted a president of Argentina: "South America was settled by the Spanish, who came in search of gold; but North America was settled by people in search of God."

America had its birth in a yearning to breathe free and spiritually. "Enough of being required by the king to worship contrary to our desires."

Our nation has gone through a decline of spirituality in the last three decades. Morals have lowered; political and military strength and integrity have waned.

However, when Christians decide to be serious and put our spiritual shoulders to the wheel, we see dramatic transformation. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to modern timesí overwhelming problems, our nation has known one crisis after another.

Moreover, God has intervened to bring us through.

He will do it again. Sacrifice purchased our freedom in America.

We must accept Him and His purpose and plan for each of our lives, and for our nation, and allow Him to heal us.

If we will, He will.

Eugene Strickland is the Director of Missions for the Okaloosa Baptist Association.