A Meditation on the Hands of Christ
(an abbreviated version of what I shared with our conference pastors this past Thursday)

If you’re like me, you become “grumpy pastor” about 10 days or so before Holy Week begins. The more of a perfectionist you are, the earlier the grumpiness beings. Weary is a word that describes many of us.

Or maybe you’ve been wounded: by life, by “friends,” by the church. We are the walking wounded.

So what do we do… the weary, wounded ones?

We look for the hands of Christ.

In John, chapter 13, we read that the Father had given all things into Jesus’ hands. And what does Jesus do with those hands? He washes feet. Stinky feet. Dirty feet. Lowly work. Slave work. Servant work. The first thing Jesus does after all power and authority has been given to him is “low” work, menial work, slave work.

He washes the feet of of us, the weary ones.

Another place we see Jesus’ hands is in the garden. Jesus’ betrayers have arrived. One even kisses him. And then things get heated and even before Jesus can answer the question, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” someone chooses violence and cuts off a soldier’s ear. We choose blood and vengeance so quickly. But not Jesus. He says, “No more of this!” and reaches out with his hand to heal the soldier’s ear. Healing hands. Jesus’ hands.

He heals the bodies of us, the wounded ones.

And there are the crucified hands. (The ones we’d rather not remember.)

And in the upper room, crowded with fear-filled disciples, there are the risen (yet wounded) hands, offered to the denying, deserting disciples… and even late-to-dinner Didymus: Thomas, the twin.

Still with the wounds, the scars, as if to say: The foot-washing hands are the healing hands are the crucified hands are the risen hands.

When those who created American Sign Language chose a sign for Jesus, it wasn’t a cross or even the one for “Lord,” but one that evoked the marks in those open hands.

Servant hands.
Healing hands.
Crucified hands.
Risen hands.

For you, weary and wounded ones… for all of us.


Wanna buy some cookies?

Girl Scout cookies are the quintessential fundraiser. Most people love the product, feel good about supporting a good cause, and like the idea of supporting budding entrepreneurs.

But how much of every four-dollar box of cookies goes to the Girl Scouts? (Turns out this is not easy to determine.)

  • What is the value of a fundraiser beyond the fundraising?
  • Why do we do fundraisers?
  • And how do we determine if they are worth it?

We all have fundraisers that make us groan. And yet there are others and cause us to light up with generosity. We can’t wait to get out our wallets.

How do you determine if a fundraiser is a good idea? What metrics do you use to determine the bang you get for your buck?

I’m assuming that most fundraisers want the best return with the least amount of work… in other words: leverage. It’s a fundraiser. The point is to raise funds.

So I’ve created this little matrix to determine if a fundraiser is worth it:

  1. Profit
  • What is the net expected profit from this fundraiser, given past experience?
  • Are there any downsides to unsold inventory, etc. or variables such as the weather?
  • What is the profit goal for this particular fundraiser?
  1. Volunteer Hours
  • How many total volunteer hours are required to pull this off? Assign an average hourly wage and calculate the “cost.”
  • Would it be better just to simply ask each volunteer, for example, for a $20 donation?
  1. Hassle Factor
  • This is the most difficult intangible cost to determine: How much of a hassle is the whole thing?
  • Do people groan even thinking about the fundraiser?
  • Does it involve counting pennies, keeping food refrigerated or coordinating the pick up of 1,000 items in 90 minutes?
  • Just assign a number between 1 (easy) and 10 (total hassle cluster).
  • Do you find yourself asking every year: “Can’t I just write a dang check?”

There’s not a neat formula for this, but I think the more we know the profit numbers, calculate the volunteer hours and consider the hassle factor, the better off we’ll be in deciding whether or not to do a fundraiser.

But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Here are some other intangibles:

  1. Teamwork

Accomplishing something together as a team is a valuable life skills. Sometimes fundraisers achieve this end. I also think that sometimes this intangible gets too much play. Is the fundraiser actually achieving this end? Is it developing a cohesive team or is this just something we’d like to think it is doing.

  1. Entrepreneurship

I truly think this is also overrated. True entrepreneurship is developing something on your own, not simply selling someone else’s great (or terrible) product. How cool would it be to create something as your organization from scratch and sell that?

  1. Sales and Marketing Training

I do think fundraisers can be leveraged to teach creative ways of doing sales and marketing. But this only works if mentors in those fields (read: parents) are willing to teach those skills before the fundraiser begins.

What is the value of fundraising to you?

What metrics do you use to determine if it is worth it?


Sometimes when you are trying something new (to you), it is met with the response, “We tried that.”

The implication, of course, is: “We tried that. It didn’t work. So it makes no sense to try it again. Don’t waste your time. We know how that will turn out.”

A great response? Let’s try it again now.

It might not work–like that time before.

But it might.

How will we every know–unless we try?

(What’s really at work here is our fear of failure or criticism.)

Let’s try it again… now.

Reading the Bible with Saint Francis

Last week our intern Eric Johnson wrote a helpful blog post with the catchy title, The Very Best Way to Read the Bible.

Perhaps not coincidentally I was listening to Ian Morgan Cron’s fictional reflection on the life of St. Francis (Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale) while commuting back and forth to a pastors’ retreat. In this book, I was introduced to Francis’ very best way of reading the Bible.

Most of the time we read Scripture, we take something like this approach:

  1. Read
  2. Understand (or seek to understand)
  3. Do

Francis’ approach reverses the order of the last two, so the sequence becomes:

  1. Read
  2. Do
  3. (in the doing), Understand

I like this approach because it emphasizes that it is in doing what God invites through the Bible that we better understand what God is saying to us.

Perhaps doing (obedience) and understanding are meant to be woven together seamlessly.

Email Vampires

Have you ever met an email vampire? Andrew Mellen, in Unstuff Your Life, describes email vampires as people who respond to a short message with paragraphs, who respond to your one question with 30 more, who–when you answer those questions–have 100 more. It’s an endless, vicious cycle. Nothing ever gets resolved. The only guarantee is more time wasted on email… and often more heartache. He suggests cutting off all contact.

But what about when you cannot cut off contact? What about when you don’t want to?

What are other ways of dealing with email vampires?

I have six suggestions:

1. Dial it back. Instead of amplifying the conversation, make it smaller. Narrow it down to the one or two (at most) issues that seem to be at stake and focus on those in brief responses.

2. Kindler, gentler email. Tone it down. My experience with email has been that the sender generally intends a milder tone than what is written and the receiver often assumes a harsher tone. This is a recipe for misunderstanding. Use intentionally kinder, gentler language.

3. Pick up the phone. This one is the most obvious, of course. When you sense any email exchange is getting out of hand, offer to meet face to face (best) or talk by phone (second best). Tone and body language just cannot be communicated via e-text.

4. Turn down the burner. Years ago I had an email exchange that got out of hand quickly, and it was all my fault. I assumed the sender was being accusatory and I fired an email right back (We’re all email vampires on occasion, right?). Thankfully, that exchange was resolved helpfully… in person.

So now my rule is if an email raises my blood pressure a few points, my response waits 24 hours. If I’m really upset, 48 hours.

This works great in family life too. When I’m wise enough to remember these words, I say, “I’m too angry to talk about this right now and I don’t make good decisions when I’m angry.”

5. Treat email like mail. If it’s not interrupting you every seven seconds, some vampires just go away. I treat this more fully in this post.

6. Walk it out. There is something to talking and walking. Walking is God’s speed… where we can see and hear what the other person is actually saying. And walking together implies that we are at least to some degree on the same journey.


This is something I am not very good at, but am working on.

Are you ready for it?




Frustrated yet?

The thing I’m not good at? Placing a pause between when I encounter something and react to it.

How many times has that hastily-written, fire-loaded email helped your cause?

How many times has the quickly-typed social media reply changed someone’s mind?

How often has the “parenting by reaction” method worked for you?

Almost never, right?

I’m not very good at this (yet), but I find tremendous value in placing a holy pause there in that space. It allows God to work on me and it allows me to do some interior work.

Event. Pause. Then react.


It is said that if you want someone’s attention, begin with these words: “Once upon a time.” In that spirit, I offer my homily for Christmas Day…

‘Twas the night before Christmas
(based on Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas”)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the town
No room was found for our Savior, nowhere to settle down;

The manger was filled with fresh hay with great care,
In hopes that Emmanuel soon would be there;

The shepherds were nestled all asleep on the hill;
While visions of angels, the skies they would fill;

And Mary waiting expectantly, with a very full belly,
Had just settled into a stable that was smelly,

When out on the fields there arose such a clatter,
Shepherds cleared their sleepy eyes to see what was the matter.

Away to the manger they flew like a flash,
Leaving sheep behind for this 100-yard dash.

The angels and heavenly hosts sang out with full voice;
God had come to earth—they hardly had a choice!,

When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature child, held by his mother so dear,

With a little infant cry, that child, Mary’s one,
They knew in a moment he must be God’s Son.

More rapid than eagles his disciples they came,
Each one of them, this Savior, would call out by name:

Come Andrew, come Peter, come James and come John,
Come Judas, come Matthew – get your tax collecting on,
Now Phillip, Now Simon, Nathaniel and Jude,
On James number two, and that Doubting Thomas dude.

To the hill of the cross, to the empty tomb wall,
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

As flames that one Pentecost morning would fly
When they meet with Apostles, in many tongues they would cry.

So to the ends of the earth, his disciples they flew
With Mary, and Mary, and the other Mary too.

And then, in my life, I heard this call too.
Baptism joins him to me and to you.

Through straw and clay, friends digging through a roof
Rubbing shoulders with prostitutes, he never stayed aloof

As he gathered the crowds and fed them with bread
They sensed something bigger… a heavenly banquet was spread.

He was dressed very simply, not normal for a king
But his Kingdom, you see, was no normal thing

Stripes and scars he would bear on his back,
Nail wounds in his hands, and a promise to be back.

His eyes—how they pierced us. His gaze made us merry.
His crown was woven of thorns, how scary!

His beautiful frame was hanged on a cross,
They gambled for his clothes, rude dice they would toss.

Terrible nails they would fix in his hands and his feet,
He was lost and forsaken; everything spelled defeat.

But this tree had a purpose, and God had a plan,
To save the sinful world by this Son of Man.

He was wounded and beaten and gave up his last breath.
But in his dying he destroyed the fierce power of death.

On that dark Sabbath when all hope was lost,
Our Savior, our Jesus, paid too high a cost.

They wrapped up his body and left him for dead,
A white linen shroud from his feet to his head.

But early Sunday morning, most of the world still sleeping,
Some surprised grieving women began Gospel preaching.

He rose up from the grave, to his disciples gave a commission,
“To the ends of the earth–so that no one is missin’!”

And they heard him exclaim, as he ascended out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and e-ter-nal life!”

(c) 2015 Matthew D. Musteric

10 Steps to a More Sane Christmas

Every year as Thanksgiving advent1nears, I mumble: This is insane. There is no way we are going to [fill in insane activity] next year.

A few years ago, we actually began to change things as a family. These are some of the things we’ve learned on the way. Some we’ve nailed; others we’re still working on.

I know this topic is covered with landmines: relatives and friends with poor boundaries, incredibly high expectations (often from ourselves), a culture that screams “CONSUME!” and a nostalgic veneer that says this is the “most wonderful time of the year.” But Advent can also be a time of incredible hope, joy and love. 

So here are my top 10 steps to a more sane Christmas.

Make a budget and stick to it. Having a reasonable Christmas budget and sticking to it is the most sane way to begin Christmas planning. Dave Ramsey’s organization has a lot of material on how to do this. This often involves up-front conversations with adult parents and children about how Christmas is going to be “different” (read: simpler) this year, but it’s well worth it.

Cancel everything. During the lead up to Christmas there are already a ton of activities that automatically appear on our calendar. Dial back as much of the other, regular stuff as you can. I like to treat December like July on my calendar: Assume everyone else has a full schedule and try not to add anything to it.

Buy an Advent wreathe–and use it. We began with a simple brass Advent wreathe years ago and have since upgraded to this one by Carruth. What makes it work, however, is lighting the candles together as a family and sharing devotions together.

Finish your Christmas shopping before December 1. I got this idea from Glennon Doyle Melton. This leaves a little wiggle room for those who actually kind of like the insanity of Black Friday. (Personally, I think you are sick, sick, sick… but that’s another conversation.) But it also means you can spend December not in a mall.

Get out of your family. (Some of you are already thinking this means something else.) What I mean is: Decide early how you can bless someone else besides those you’re related to and friends with. In Luke 14, Jesus invites his disciples to have a banquet for those who can’t pay us back. Getting out of (only giving to) our family helps us experience giving more fully.

Get rid of decorations when you put the tree up… and when you take it down. This has been a game changer. Each year, when we haul all the decorations out we choose some to donate. And then when we pack everything back up during the new year, we make another trip to Goodwill.

Move your family Christmas party. Nowhere in the biblical stories of the Nativity does God say, Thou shalt have thy family Christmas party before Christmas. Some of the best “Christmas” parties I’ve ever been to have been in early November or well into January. Why not have an Epiphany party on January 6?

Cut up and cancel your credit cards. This is more a “love your neighbor” thing this year, anyway. Who is the sadist who thought it was going to be a good idea to put the new cards with chips embedded in them in circulation right before the holiday retail season? In all seriousness, though, we have been credit card free since December 2008. It’s been one of the best decisions for our family and for our marriage. Plus, you can tell all of your friends you are having plastic surgery for Christmas!

Be present in the moment. The little books by Thich Nhat Hanh have been very helpful for me in this area. I still have a long way to go. But I feel like I’m beginning on the right path.

Lighten up, Francis. I mean this in three ways. First, have lots of lights. It’s the one Christmas excess I truly love. Two, lighten up in terms of stress. It’s just Christmas. No one was even ready for the first Christmas… and perhaps that’s the point. Three, Pope Francis has helped many of us lighten up and turn our faces to the Christ who appears in our midst.

Happy Advent, people!

Milk Jug Musings

Costco milk

This is a milk jug from Costco.

If you have not had the pleasure of pouring your morning cereal milk out of one of these, you must not like to spill milk.

It truly is worth crying over.

The jug, as far as I can tell, was designed either by a sadist… or by an engineer who was asked to come up with a milk jug that could be stacked 12 high on a pallet for easy shipment and storage.

I’m sure these nearly-rectangular-shaped jugs stack really well. Here’s the thing, though: They do a terrible job at their chief function: pouring milk.

This is what happens when you design a product, a system, a service that serves the functionality of the creator (or middleman) with little or no concern for the end user.

Are you building it for you… or are you building it to serve others?

Baptismal Birthday

Today is my baptismal birthday. It’s also St. Matthew’s feast day. I love it that I share the day I was born again with a tax collector who was, at Jesus’ call, turned into a disciple.

I mean, isn’t that all of us? Not, I left my mess behind and now I’ve arrived, but instead, Dear Lord, I’m still such a mess… but you have still invited me to follow you. And so I go. Thanks for loving me.

Or, as one of my favorite seminary professors put it as he opened class each year, “Hi, I’m Tony, a sinner… washed in the blood of the Lamb.”

I was a weak, premature baby. It’s amazing I even made it to my baptism day, even as an infant. But God is near to the weak and the suffering. God delights in the premature. (It was probably my first experience of God’s timing not being my timing.)

My name means “Gift of God.” I suppose that could lead toward arrogance (It would have been a great line when I was dating in high school, right?), but for me it’s all grace: that all of who I am comes as a sheer gift of God.

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