All These Things and More

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

Do you have a nativity scene somewhere in your house? Maybe just a small ceramic set sitting on the fireplace hearth? Or do you go all out, with a 3/4-scale wooden stable out in the yard, complete with glowing electric plastic Mary and Joseph? Even if you don’t have a miniature First Christmas tableau on your property, you probably know someone who does, and you no doubt pass a dozen of them every day. While they may cause controversy here and there when a city hall tries to put one up, the Nativity scene is a fixture of the season, and is generally loved even by those who care not one whit for the spiritual side of the holiday.

And that’s kind of a shame. Not because there’s anything wrong with Nativity scenes. (I hope not; I have one at the foot of the Christmas tree in my living room.) It’s just that Christmas is often the only time of the year that people are exposed to the Son of the Most High God, and the only image they see of him is that of a tiny, helpless baby in a straw-filled manger surrounded by smiling sheep and donkeys. And while that is one small aspect of him, my God is so much bigger than that.

Yes, our God was once a baby, resting in his mother’s arms. But he is so much more. Look at the aspects of God we’ve explored over the past week. Our God is the wise teacher who meets us in times of silence and solitude. He is a loving Comforter, showing compassion to any who call on him. He is a strong, stable shelter in times of trouble. He is the Savior beckoning to the lost to come to his side and be found.

He is all these things and more. He is bigger than Christmas. He is bigger than the year you just experienced, whether it went swimmingly or whether it was the darkest 365 days of your life. He is so much more than the Christmas baby that inspires an awwwww. Our God created the universe. He is a God that inspires awe.

Help me to see you for who you really are, Lord, not for who I want or expect you to be. More importantly, help me to show others just how awe-inspiring you are.

Choirs Singing Carols Right Outside My Door

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
Revelation 3:20 (NLT)

The Christmas season gives rise to plenty of complaints—it’s a hassle, it’s a celebration of crass materialism, fruitcake is not very good, etc. That said, it’s got one huge thing going for it: it’s the one time of year when just about everyone is talking about Jesus. Take Christmas carols, for example. They’re played on radio stations, in stores, in school concerts… and people who haven’t set foot in church in decades gleefully and unselfconsciously sing along. They sing about a sinful world pining for a savior (“O Holy Night”), about the Word made flesh (“O Come All Ye Faithful”), and about the meek accepting Christ (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”). (Apparently “O” is the go-to opening for Christmas carol lyricists.) Choirs are singing carols right outside everyone’s door this season, essentially presenting the gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Of course, most people have heard these songs so many times over the years that they warble along mostly out of habit, rarely thinking about the meaning of the words. Most people, maybe, but not all. For some people, a particular lyric will get stuck in their head, and they’ll work it over in their heads, wondering what it might mean for real, and the Holy Spirit will gently tug at them to open a door. It’s a door to a new life, and it’s not just choirs outside that door. Christ stands there, as well, beckoning them forward.

Do you know someone who has grown weary of what Christmas has become, and is searching for something real? If they come to you with questions about the hope that Christ has freely given you, would you know the answers? How can you prepare yourself?

Father, give me eyes to see and ears to hear when seekers cross my path. Help me to point them toward you with my words and actions.

Lots of Snow and Ice Everywhere We Go

…You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat.
Isaiah 25:4b (NLT)

The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.
Deuteronomy 33:27 (NLT)

We think of Christmas as a winter holiday. And it is, technically, but just barely. Christmas Day rolls in at the very beginning of winter, which means that it’s the gateway to three months of bitter cold, shoveling the driveway, icy roads, and having to rearrange your life because the kids are having another snow day. The most wonderful time of the year leads into the least wonderful. Children pray for a white Christmas, but trust me: their parents want all that white gone by December 26.

A few years ago, a Christmas day packed with “lots of snow and ice” was responsible for one of my most terrifying nights ever. We awoke on Christmas morn to a world blanketed in white. All was right with the world, until we later drove to a dinner party at a friend’s house—a house at the bottom of a steep, icy hill. When it was over, we couldn’t make it back up that hill, and thus had to take the back way out. White-knuckled, we eased down an even steeper hill coated in deep snow and ice, slipping and sliding toward a frozen pond and certain death. Yes, we survived, but fearing for one’s life does not a Merry Christmas make. Never were we so happy to get back to the warm, protected confines of a house.

Such is winter. It is cold, it is snowy, it is icy, it is dangerous. We may curl up indoors with hot cocoa by roaring fires, but a remarkably unpleasant reality lurks just outside our windows. Likewise, such is the nature of life in our fallen creation: it is cold and dangerous, and unless we are given shelter from its predations, it will destroy us. And shelter—a warm, inviting shelter of the spirit—is just what our Savior has provided us. Life’s bitter storms may rage outside, but we have been given an incredible Christmas gift: refuge.

What storms are raging in your life today? How has God provided protection from those storms?

Thank you, God, for the refuge you provide from the storms of this life.

Lots of Mistletoe

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
John 15:12 (NLT)

Just to be clear: when I reference “loving each other,” I do not mean the kind of love that normally manifests underneath the mistletoe. This ain’t that kind of church. Still, those green sprigs hanging over doorways are inescapable this time of year, especially at the innumerable parties that seem to pop up every weekend. Secret Santa Parties, Ugly Sweater Parties, White Elephant Parties, even the dreaded Office Party that requires you act like you like your coworkers outside of working hours… they all have something in common: they require interaction with other people. Yuck.

Wouldn’t Christmas be so much easier without other people? You wouldn’t have to fight anyone for that last must-have item at the store on Christmas Eve. You wouldn’t have to buy presents that are just going to get returned at the first opportunity. Christmas might actually be enjoyable for a change! These people are just so difficult, yet God wants us to love them. But what does that mean, exactly?

Think about what happens under the mistletoe. Two people in love demonstrate that love publicly by exchanging a kiss where everyone can see it and know their love is real. That is the message represented by “lots of mistletoe”: it is not enough to simply love one another with sentimental feelings that are locked up in our hearts and never see the light of day. Real love is love you can see, love that is exhibited through real actions that affect real people’s lives. It’s the kind of love that Jesus lived every hour of his life. We’re all difficult people, hard to tolerate on our best days, yet our God loved us enough to sacrifice his heavenly existence and come to live—and die—among us. Love like Jesus? Love like that.

How can you love sacrificially this Christmas? What are some concrete, real-world steps you can take to show Christ-like love to someone in your life who desperately needs it?

Give me a renewed love for people this Christmas season, Lord.

Candles Burning Low

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

“If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence.”

When Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard made that memorable statement, he was speaking about the “modern world” of early 19th-century Europe. Just imagine if he could get a glimpse of a typical Black Friday sale in 21st-century America. “Noise” barely begins to cover it. And that’s just the beginning of an increasingly chaotic season that finds most of us running from Christmas sales to Christmas parties to Christmas pageants to Christmas concerts and other assorted Christmas-themed whatsits. It’s a nonstop, exhausting whirlwind of obligation, activity, and spending that all too often leaves us spiritually empty in what should be one of the most spiritually filling times of the year.

God can speak to us at Christmas, but life’s ever-quickening pace has made it harder and harder for him to do so. That’s why it’s imperative that we seek time to tune out the noise of the season, to find an environment where we can rest, reflect, and simply be quiet in a peaceful environment, where silence can envelop us, and the only light comes from a fire slowly dying, or from candles burning low.

What will it take to intentionally create such an environment, where you can hear God’s still, small voice without the noise of the modern world drowning it out? What is he whispering in your ear this Christmas season? Light some candles, and let them burn low. Create a little silence, and listen.

Father, give me the strength of will to make space in my life for silence, to reflect, to rest, to hear your voice.

That’s What Christmas Means to Me, My Love

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means “God is with us”).
Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

Candles burnin’ low
Lots of mistletoe
Lots of snow and ice
Everywhere we go
Choirs singing carols
Right outside my door
All these things and more
That’s what Christmas means to me, my love

Recognize those lyrics? You’ve probably heard them a couple dozen times just since Thanksgiving. They’re from “What Christmas Means to Me,” a catchy bit of holiday fluff first recorded in 1967 that has become a Christmas pop standard. (Numerous artists have recorded their own mostly lackluster versions, but Stevie Wonder’s original remains the definitive take.) It turns up on the soundtracks to innumerable Christmas movies, in commercials, on radio playlists. And with good reason: it’s hard not to be taken in by its bright melody and appealing good cheer.

The verses of the song reflect the kinds of images that define Christmas for most people—family, friends, glittering lights, timeless music, cold winds, and hot cocoa. There’s nothing wrong with those things, of course. Who doesn’t love mistletoe and carols? But it is a view of Christmas that is firmly planted in the world’s view of the holiday, a view that only reluctantly acknowledges pregnant virgins and babies sleeping in troughs and shepherds who see heavenly visitors singing praise to their creator. “What Christmas Means to Me” may mention “Silent Night” in passing, but the events of that night never come up.

That said, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, the deceptively simple lyrics can take on meanings that the songwriters never intended or imagined, pointing not at a commerce-saturated worldly holiday, but at a holy time in which God stepped into history to save us from ourselves. Each day this week, we’ll use a lyric from this song to examine our hearts. What does Christmas mean to you? More importantly, what does it mean to God? How does he want to use Christmas to effect lasting change in you?

Minneapolis Vacation 2012

Hey, check it out you guys, I am totally making a post on the blog that we are paying for but never actually using! And I am doing so to share a vacation video that is super-timely, in that it is only several weeks old instead of being months out-of-date like the last one!

Anyway, we went to Minneapolis, wherein we scampered about the lakes and shopping centers of the Twin Cities. Well, one of them, anyway. We totally skipped visiting St. Paul because it was all the way across a bridge. Enjoy!

Colorado Vacation 2011

Remember that Colorado vacation we took eight months ago? Presenting: the highlight reel! Yeah, I’m that fast. Anyway, we headed west for fun and adventure in Colorado with our friends the Butlers. We spent a week playing and exploring in and around Summit County, Lake Dillon, and Glenwood Springs.

(Apologies for the lame generic soundtrack, but I had to throw some royalty-free stuff in there after YouTube choked on the Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane I used in the original.)

The Horn Family Christmas Letter

GET IT?!

Running for It, Epilogue: In which I finally wrap up this whole wretched exercise

I put on the ol’ green eyeshade today, whipped out a calculator, and did a little figuring on just what this marathon thing has entailed. To wit:

  • Number of weeks spent in training: 32 (calendar-wise, just over seven months)
  • Number of miles run in training and in actual races: approximately 754.3 (that’s like running all the way from Kansas City to, say, Glenwood Springs, Colorado)
  • Number of emergency dumps taken: innumerable
  • Number of blog readers and Facebook friends alienated by constant scatological references: all six of them

That’s kind of humbling, actually. In the midst of it, when I was just taking it one run at a time, I certainly didn’t think of it in those terms. Doing so probably would have scared me off the thing from the beginning. So I guess it’s for the best that I did these calculations now, instead of back in late February when I started this thing.

Wow… late February. It wasn’t that long ago, really, but looking back on those early posts it’s like I’m reading words written by a completely different person. Look at the guy complaining about having to run six whole miles! Look at the guy stunned–stunned!–when he learns that you can’t run 10+ miles on an empty stomach! Look at the whiner complaining because a run did not go absolutely perfectly! So sweetly naive, I was, with so much to learn about what it would mean to give up every weekend for the better part of a year to run for hours on end with nobody chasing me.

Something’s different now. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not the same person I was when I–perhaps rashly–made the decision to run a half-marathon and a marathon in the same year, despite never before having run more than three or four miles competitively. I don’t quite understand how, but I’m just now beginning to see that somehow a switch inside me has been flipped. Frankly, I’m not sure I even grasp quite what that switch controls, and I’m willing to bet the wiring isn’t up to code, but that switch was thrown anyway, and I am not the same.

It wasn’t just crossing the finish line in Chicago after nearly five hours of perspiration and effort… it’s just as much a product of the long road I ran to get there. The early mornings when I dreaded the sound of the alarm… the exhausting, sweat-soaked exertions of July and August… the peaceful, long runs in the cool of September… They changed me. I am not the same.

After all these months of training and cross-training, I am unquestionably a better runner, a better athlete. I’m not necessarily a faster runner, but that’s not what this was about, even if there were weeks when speed was all I could think about. No, for me at least, it’s been about learning to endure–to push on when you want to stop, when it seems like the only rational thing to do is quit, when the little voice inside your head suddenly turns BIG and will not stop screaming for you to QUIT because FOR GOD’S SAKE why are you trying to kill yourself? You endure.

I endured.

And I’m going to do it again. Oh heck yeah, I’m going to do it again. I’ve run one marathon now and I have to say that I’ve developed a taste for it. I can’t let all these gains fall by the wayside. I can’t just check the “run a marathon” box off my bucket list and move on to the “climb Mount Kilimanjaro before the snows melt for good” box (note to self: need to discuss the African mountain climbing with the wife). I want to do it again. I want to do it better.

And I want to do more: maybe I’ll do a triathlon. Or an ultra-marathon. Or one of those crazy runs where you have to jump through fire and crawl through mud and dodge wolverines and stuff. Some have suggested I try for the Ironman. (Let’s get real, people. I mean, come on.)

Then again, who knows what the future may bring? Besides, of course, the inevitable robot apocalypse.

But… perhaps I’ve said too much.

And so ends “Running for It,” this weekly series of blog posts which have chronicled the struggles of an aging, bony nerd to prove that he still has a little life in his aging, nerdy bones. I hope they’ve been worth your time, maybe even inspiring in a way. Look, if I can do something crazy like this, then what can you do? Probably more than you think you can. So get up! Try something audacious, something rash, something that seems impossible! Just remember what yer old Uncle Price taught you:

Endure, endure, endure, endure, endure… and always stay within sight of a toilet.

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