Character-Building Habits



It’s not by strength or speed or swiftness of body that great deeds are done, but by wisdom, character, and sober judgment. These qualities…grow richer as time passes.

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

     As I write this, we’re hearing heartbreaking news from Chicago. Over the 4th of July weekend, over 100 people were shot, and at least 15 have died. Pray for the families of those who lost loved ones. But also pray for our country, as it seems to be unraveling. We have lots of questions, but seemingly few answers. But here is one answer. Maybe we need to get back to the basics and start teaching our kids how to be responsible adults.

As I wrote about in my last post, I’ve been reading a book that my oldest son gave me – The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse, a US Senator from Nebraska. This book is a must-read if you’re a parent, grandparent, or just anyone who has a pulse and loves this country. This groundbreaking book provides tangible answers on how to teach our kids to become responsible adults and men and women of character. After laying out the problem – distracted, drifting, indulged, and passive teens, he presents a solution and framework, built about instilling five character-building habits.  I wonder if we’re reaping the consequences of a generation that is woefully unprepared to be adults?

So here are his five character-building habits:

  1. Overcome peer culture.  Break free from your exclusive group and learn about life from others who have walked the trail.


  1. Develop a work ethic.  Don’t protect them from hard work.  Sweat is OK.


  1. Embrace limited consumption.  Consumption isn’t the key to happiness; production is.


  1. Travel to experience the difference between “need” and want.”  Acquiring more stuff doesn’t bring happiness.


  1. Learn how to read and decide what to read.  There is a difference in knowing how to read and how to read well.  Unplug and read.

I’m going to write a post on each one of these character-building habits, but let’s explore the first one now. So here is what he means by overcoming peer culture – …our emerging adults are cut off from older generations and the reality of human frailty. They’re limited in a culture created by their peers. Consequently, they don’t appreciate the joys of birth and growth and the tragedy of pain and decline. We isolate them into groupings of people their own age, and shield them from those who have lived through a tough life, yet learned to overcome, face adversity, and even succeed.

We need to expose our kids to an older generation, of people who know how to truly love, who know how to redeem our limited time on earth by purposeful living, and who know how to die well.

Do your kids know about history? Have they been around people who have fought in a war or experienced loss and hardship? When I was in seminary in Abilene, Texas, our neighbors, Wendall and Betty Broom, had been life-long missionaries and were now back in America, teaching at the university. Wendall’s dad, lived with them. I’ve long forgotten his given name, but we all just called him “Pappy.” As we got to know Pappy, we learned that he had fought in the First World War. I remember my son Nathan talking to Pappy and Pappy letting him wear his army helmet. Our kids still remember him and his stories. They knew a man who actually fought in World War I, and who knew men who fought in the Civil War.

So the point of this first habit (and there’s much more about it in the book) is to help our kids travel between generations and expose them to those who have traveled a long time down this path called life.  If you want your kids to be responsible adults, find ways to get them next to older adults.

More to come next week.


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Summer Reading


Summer Reading

     I haven’t written for a while, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading. So this post is devoted to what I’m reading.   Most of us probably watch way too much TV. But there’s nothing like sitting in a chair with a good book and hot coffee (or Diet Coke), and reading a book that you can’t put down. I’m always interested in finding good books, so feel free to share your ideas in a comment.

In no particular order, here goes:

  1. Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne (2010, Scribner Press). My son got me on to this book. It gives the story of Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanche’s, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. It is really two stories, as it also tells the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanches as a nine-year old girl, and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. I love historical non-fiction, and this shows the four decades war and how the west was finally opened and the United States came into being.


  1. An Album of Memories (Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw (2001, Random House). A friend gave me this book, about the men and women and their families who lived, fought, and died in World War II. You see actual letters, postcards and pictures of these people. This generation is passing away, and their stories will die with them. But we have some. I love the letter written by nine-year old Casey Morrison, whose grandfather, Emery Morrison was in the Navy and on a ship at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.


  1. The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse (2017, St. Martin’s Press). My oldest son, Scott, gave this book to me for Father’s Day. Wow, what a timely book. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or just someone who wonders about what is happening to our country, this is a must-read. Ben is US Senator (Republican – Nebraska). He is also a father of three and a former college president. In a nutshell he says we are living in an America of perpetual adolescence. I will write further about this in later blogs, but here is just one (long) quote:

After spending the better part of two decades micromanaging and choreographing playdates, dance practices, extra tutoring for standardized tests and college entrance exams, music lessons, martial arts, select soccer and travel baseball, track meets, swim meets, art classes, language enrichment, and all the rest, it should come as no surprise that the kids have only the vaguest idea of how to make decisions for themselves. All that many of them have ever had to do by age 18 is be dressed and in the car at the appointed hour.

  1. OK, here’s one more that is just fun – The Fix, by David Baldacci (2017, Grand Central Publishing). This is one of those page-turner, can’t put down fiction thrillers. It is the 3rd in a series about Amos Decker, the so-called “memory man” (read the book to find out why). It’s a neat story and well written, and really tells about redemption.

Hope you have time to give some of these books a try. The older ones you can find in second-hand bookstores, or on Amazon in the used book section. And feel free to comment on this and add the books you’re reading.






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Intentional Engagement


Intentional Engagement

     Here is something that our children’s minister, Robert Gentry, shared about parenting on Facebook recently. This information is alarming, discouraging, and encouraging, all at the same time. Here is the alarming statistic:

Studies show 75% of our kids who are part of a strong evangelical church will leave the church and any connection to Christ from age 18-29.

This came from a blog, called KidMin Leadership, by Josh Denhart. But rather than focus on the 75% who left, he looks at why the 25% stayed. As he says – This is not rocket science. There are no magic levers. As they researched these 25% of remained faithful, 5 simple things stood out:

  1. Ate dinner 5 of 7 nights a week as a family.
  2. Served with their families in a faith-based ministry.
  3. Had at least one significant spiritual experience in the home during the week.
  4. Were entrusted with significant responsibility in a ministry at a young age.
  5. Had at least one adult in their lives, other than their parents, who believed the same thing as their parents.

Obviously, we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and God’s help. But we have a role to play too. The blog author calls this – intentional engagement. I like that. I pray it gives you hope, that if you haven’t been doing these five things, you can start, now. And I pray that it gives you encouragement that you’re on the right track.

Our former neighbors in Abilene, Texas, Wendall and Betty Broom, practiced intentional engagement. They had been missionaries to Nigeria for many years, and in their “retirement,” they would take their individual grandchildren on short-term mission trips. Sounds like a significant experience with grandparents. They were intentional.   They were involved with their grandchildren. They were planting seeds of faith. We haven’t seen Wendall and Betty for a long time, but I would bet their children and grandchildren are in the 25%. And their model of how to engage with their grandkids made an impression on our three sons and us.

I believe God wants 100%. If we could just start doing these five things, we would be keeping a lot more of our kids. I think it’s worth a try.

Jim Schnorrenberg



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A Hat and a Backpack


A Hat and a Backpack

     We have nine precious grandkids, and love them all. It’s fun just being around them, playing with them, and hearing them talk. They’re just so innocent and fresh (and beautiful). Everything is new and a wonder. A few weeks ago, we were watching two of our granddaughters, Harper and Clare. They were playing outside in a sandbox, when Harper (who is 5) suddenly jumped up and said, “If I had a hat and a backpack, I could go on an adventure!”

Wow. What a statement. She was ready for adventure. That word speaks to me of travel, trails, exploring, fun, excitement, learning, even risking. How many of us old grown-ups reading this still yearn for adventure – to climb that mountain, go on a mission trip, travel to a far-off place where no one speaks your language, or to launch out to a place where you’ve never been. How many of us are just enduring the grind and trying to enjoy life in the rut?

I think of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and all those who explored the American West, or those who made the land rushes and settled Oklahoma. I think of those who explored the frontiers of space. I think of movie characters like Indiana Jones. I think of old friends like the Baileys’ who retired from the Army and settled in Alaska and established a small farm and live off it’s produce.   I think of those who are hiking the Appalachian Trail. I think of those who answered the following newspaper add (1914) from Sir Earnest Shackleton, the famous British explorer who was seeking men to help him explore the South Pole and cross Antarctica:

MEN WANTED: for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, and constant danger. Safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.

     Hundreds of men answered this call. Shackleton succeeded, even when his ship became frozen and crushed in pack ice, and didn’t lose a man.

You don’t need a lot for an adventure. For Harper, it was just a hat and a backpack. You travel light. You really can’t go far or for very long if you’re dragging everything with you. You take what you absolutely need and leave the rest behind. Maybe that’s something else that is so appealing about an adventure. It’s a chance to get away from the noise and race of life, and just start out fresh. It is energizing; it is renewing.  It’s living a life with no regrets. For me, it is packing the car and driving west, toward the setting sun. For you, it might be jumping on your Harley. It is getting back into nature, turning off the cell phones, and just soaking up the moments.

Adventures aren’t necessarily comfortable. You sweat. You get hot (or cold). You get lost. You get hungry. You get tired. You yearn for air conditioning.

But you get so much more. You see incredible views. You see bears and eagles and whales. You get stronger. You learn resilience. You learn that you can live with a whole lot less. You get close to God. You build memories that no one can take away. We weren’t made for comfort. We were created to live an adventure. I don’t want to settle and just watch life go by. Or as the old country song says, “Life is not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”

Maybe it’s time to grab my hat and backpack. See you on the trail….


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      Well, we had a garage sale a few days ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we forgot how much work goes into a garage sale – gathering items, pricing, preparing signs, advertising, setting up tables, and so much more. We kept telling ourselves that this would be our last garage sale. Ever. And we mean it. Really.

Anyway, we sold a lot of stuff, took a pick-up load of unsold stuff to the thrift store (actually a big store of stuff), and came back home to a house full of more stuff. It was at that point that I realized that we had contracted a special disease (or at least a low-grade fever).   I looked it up, and the technical word for this disease is “A-lotta-stuff-itis.” It is when you have more stuff than you could possibly use, and it is just laying around, taking up space. Maybe it was useful once, but do I really still need that broken ice cream freezer, or that genuine cuckoo clock that we bought in Germany (which no longer cuckoo’s by the way)? And do I need to go to other people’s garage sales to replace the stuff I just sold?

I kind of think that we’re not the only ones with this disease. Isn’t it easy to just buy and get and hold onto? Isn’t it hard to throw it away? Don’t we live in a target-rich culture with giant temples of stuff, things that we are convinced that we just have to have? Here’s a quote from that famous someone – We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, just to keep up with people we don’t even like.

So is there a cure for this? Thankfully, yes.  Here are some words of Jesus on the subject – Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars. Rather, stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Matthew 6:19, The Message).   If our eyes are centered on stuff, then we will pursue it and crave more and more. The way to break the hold of this disease is to focus on God and his priorities.

Don’t get me wrong. God still desires to give us good things. We don’t have to live in a van down by the river and eat spam and beans. But we can live more simply, and hold onto our things less tightly, and give them away more easily.   We can also invest in those things that are eternal, like family and people and service. We may always be vulnerable to contracting a low-grade stuff-itis fever, but with our eyes focused on God and his priorities, we can overcome.

But I think we’re going to retire from garage sales.



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You Are What You Think


You Are What You Think

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  (Philippians 4:8, The Message)

     We’ve all heard this truism – “You are what you eat.” Generally speaking, we are a product of what we put into our bodies. A healthy diet leads to healthy bodies; a steady diet of junk food leads to junk bodies. Sure, there is the guy out there who smoked and drank and ate Twinkies all his life, and lived until 105, but he is the exception.

So just as a healthy lifestyle leads to a healthy body, so too, healthy thoughts (mind), lead to healthy emotions and behavior.   This was the gist of a training conference I attended recently on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness. This is a mouthful, but it basically means that when we get our thought life right (emotions), we tend to get our life right (desired behaviors).

One key part of this is the idea of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, to your body, thoughts and environment, in the present moment. It is an attitude of interest, alertness and curiosity to the moment. It is getting off autopilot and getting out of the rut and observing. It is allowing yourself to be a human being, more that just a human doing. It is slowing down every so often to smell the roses, rather than racing to beat everyone on the interstate to the next city.

Look at the drawing above of the person who is walking a dog in the park. The human misses the trees and sun, and dwells on the stuff of life – busy, bad, frantic, worries, stress, and misses joy and peace. The dog sees the stuff right in front of him – the trees and sun. The human misses it; the dog gets it. Come to think of it, dogs just seem to be happy with everything, even on a ride to the vet, just because they can be with their human.

One aspect of mindfulness is getting our mind “full” of the positive.   For most of us, I think that our “default” is to go negative.  Sure, there is a lot of negative in this world and probably in your life, but there is also a lot of positive. In years of counseling and observing, I’ve discovered that people/couples who do well, tend to focus on the positive in their relationship, and discount the negative. Couples who are struggling tend to focus on the negative, and forget or discount any positives. This doesn’t mean we never look at the negatives, but it does mean that when we look at the positives, we get a better outlook and energy to deal with the negatives. Life then doesn’t seem gray and overcast; the sun starts to peek out.

Why not try this with your marriage, family, job, church, or whatever? Develop a new, positive mental habit. Make a list of what is right and good in your life.  Then, think about those things, and smile.  You will probably discover things you have forgotten, things you have taken for granted.

Maybe someone should start making t-shirts that say, “Life is Good.”


Life is good; and it’s even better with coffee.


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Take Lots of Pictures


Take Lots of Pictures

     What would you grab if you woke up and smelled smoke and you only had time to get a few things before you ran out of the house?  For most of us, the top of the list would be the box of family photos.  Or for today, it would be the laptop that contained all the family photos.  This is what we treasure; what can’t be replaced.  Now today, most of us probably have some type of back-up system, which is really the best.  Clothes and furniture can be replaced, but pictures, unless backed up, cannot.

     With digital cameras, we are not limited in how many pics we can take.  And we can share them instantly with family and friends on Facebook, Instagram, and numerous other sites.    I’m in the middle of a big scanning project where I am scanning the old print family photos.  It is quite a job, and even though I have a lot, it is nowhere near the number of digital photos we have now.  And that is because in the past, it took a lot of money to buy the film and get the photos printed.  So to me, they’re even more valuable.

     I kind of enjoy scanning the prints myself, as I get to relive the moments.  I also collect the antique brown tone pics, and I notice that people didn’t smile in these photos.  Maybe they thought they had to look grim and dignified.  I don’t think we should live in the past, but it is OK to remember the past.  As I look at our pics, all I see are happy memories – the first day of school pics, Halloween costumes, weddings, family reunions, that vacation we took to the Grand Canyon, Christmas, and so much more.  I also get to relive the memory of happy times with my parents and others who have passed on.  It’s also fun to check out the old clothes and hairdo’s.  (My wife loves this.)

     So here are just a few observations as I take a short break from my scanning:

  1.  Treasure life.  We only get one shot at it, so don’t waste it.
  2. Life passes much to quickly.  When I look at the pics, it seems like only yesterday, even though it was 20 years ago.  Don’t miss a moment.
  3. People are more important than things.  I’ve taken lots of pics of mountains and scenery.  But the most valuable are those of the kids and family.
  4. Life in the past was better than I thought .  I suspect that when we think back about the past, we tend to over-emphasize the negative and discount the positive.  Sure, we experienced all kinds of negative events in the past, but the pics show light on the positive things we may have forgotten.  And that ain’t bad.
  5. Learn to laugh about yourself.  We look at these old pics and shudder and ask, “Who are these people?”  We wear the out-of-date (now) clothes, have the funny haircuts and make the funny faces.  With digital photos, we can delete the bad ones with our mouth open.  Can’t do it for prints.  They can be blurry and slightly out-of-focus.  But that is life.  So we get it all.  Just laugh about it.

Feel free to comment and add your thoughts.  Now I need to get back to scanning.  Only a few hundred left…..


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