Performance Review

Performance Review


February 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10                      Luke 6:17-26                  1 Corinthians 15:12-20

 

When was the last time you had a performance review?

Both in secular jobs and in pastoral ministry, my job performance has been periodically evaluated.  Theoretically, this is supposed to happen annually, but in reality, my supervisors and, to a lesser extent, my Staff Parish Relations Committees, have occasionally missed those deadlines.  But regardless of how often they happen, most all of us have experienced them with some regularity.  We sit in a room together with our boss, or with a committee, and we discuss how things have been going, what things are going well, what things need to be improved, and what things we might focus on in the months ahead.  Although it is almost always stressful, sometimes the process is generally painless, and at other times, “painless” is clearly not a word that we would use to describe them.

But can you imagine what it would be like to be reviewed by God for your job performance as one of his followers or as a follower of Jesus Christ?

With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 17:5-10, where we discover something that sounds very much like a performance review from God.

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

There is some hard-hitting, close to home, preaching here that hits many of us right where we live. 

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

Jeremiah wastes no time and does not fool with political correctness when he says that we should not ever put our trust in kings, or presidents, or human governments, or even in pastors, priests, popes, or churches led by humans.  When we put too much trust in human beings, whether in governments or in the men and women who oversee our churches, that misplaced trust can cause our hearts to turn away from God and we become like a bush that grows in a wasteland, always wanting more, never having enough, and never being satisfied.  But, if we put our whole trust and confidence in God, then we will be like a tree that is planted by a lake or a river, never in fear of drought or summer, or sunshine, and always being fruitful and giving to the world around it.

But the last line of this passage strikes us most of all.

“I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

That clearly sounds like a performance review.

And not just a performance review, but a merit-based performance review.  God will examine our hearts and minds and reward each person based on our conduct, our behavior, and our actions. 

This serious business.  There is not a lot of “wiggle room” here.  You either perform, or you don’t, and your reward will be based on your performance.

But there are some caveats, or qualifications, that need to be made to that sort of teaching.  It needs to be explained because many of the people of Israel, or the Old Testament followers of God, read passages like that and began to believe that since rich people seemed to be blessed by God, then they must be good people, and since poor people seem to not be blessed by God, then the poor must be sinners and have somehow made God angry at them.  That line of thinking is still heard today among those who preach what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel says, “If you truly believe, or if you only believe hard enough, if only your faith is strong enough, then God will make you healthy and rich.”  But that isn’t at all what Jeremiah was saying.  And, in truth, this understanding became so common that Jesus and the disciples spent a considerable time preaching against it.  One of the most famous of these lessons in contained in Luke 6:17-26 where we hear this:

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Jesus us in the middle of healing a crowd of people from all over the region.  Some had physical illnesses, others had spiritual problems, and some might have had mental illnesses (as we understand them) as well.  Jesus was so filled with the spirit and the power of God that people were being healed simply by touching him.  But in the midst of this, Jesus looks directly at his disciples and gives a speech.  Clearly, this is something of vital importance that they needed to know, and which was illustrated in some way by the healing that was going on in front of them.

And Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God belongs to poor people, that hungry people are blessed, that people who are experiencing great sadness, sorrow, and depression are not cursed, but will eventually rediscover laughter.  Jesus wants this followers to remember that when life stinks, you are still blessed by God, and more than that, if your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus, or because you are doing the work of Jesus Christ, then you are blessed precisely because you are hated, insulted, excluded, and rejected.

If your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and because you are acting like a follower of Jesus Christ, then remember that God’s own prophets were similarly mistreated.  God’s prophets were still loved, honored, and blessed by God even when the world treated them like crap. 

And so are you. 

If… you are mistreated because of Jesus.

If you live a life that honors God and does the work of Jesus Christ, even if that life stinks, you need to know that you are piling up blessings that may not ever be received until after you meet Jesus face-to-face.

At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, being rich might just mean that you are cursed by God, and not blessed.  If you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or spend your days in joy and laughter, or if everyone speaks well of you and thinks that you’re great, if you live well because you say the things that people want to hear… and you have forgotten to live a life that honors God, and have forgotten to live a life that does the deeds and actions of a follower of Jesus, then the only blessing that you will ever get is the one that you have now. 

And you will have all of eternity to regret the choices that you have made.

Once again, that clearly describes a merit based, performance review.

But don’t let the thought of a performance review fill you with anxiety or uncertainty.  Instead, be reassured and remember the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth where he reminds them of what is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then nothing that we have done is worth anything.  If Christ has not risen from the dead, then everyone is lost, and no one has anything in which to find hope.  But Christ is real.  And Christ really did rise from the dead.  And if Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the first born from the dead, or as Paul said, the first fruits of the dead.  And that means that everyone who has aligned themselves with Jesus, everyone who has become a follower of Jesus, carries with them the promise of resurrection from the dead. 

Paul’s message is that resurrection is real.  The Bible is real.  The Gospel message is real.  And in that reality, we have a future if we believe in Jesus Christ.  But when we believe in Jesus, we must also live for Jesus by doing the things that he has called us, and commanded us, to do.

Rest in the knowledge that, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you will be see resurrection.

Be confident that we will live, with Jesus, in God’s eternal house.

But be – daily – spurred to action, be motivated, by remembering that there will be a performance review on the day of judgement.

 

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Struggle

“Struggle”

August 06, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 32:22-31                                Romans 9:1-5                                     Matthew 14:13-21

 

 

 Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly?

 

At home we have a butterfly bush that is a favorite of humming birds and butterflies and at certain times of the year it can be crowded with flying things.  Once, at one of the zoos that we visited, we got to go through a greenhouse that was filled with butterflies.  It was an amazing experience.  Many of us have had science teachers who brought in a chrysalis and set it in an aquarium where we could watch it.  And if we were lucky, we were in school when the time came for the butterfly or moth to open the chrysalis, struggle greatly for an hour or more, climb out, and begin its new life.  But it is here when the butterfly is in the most danger, both from nature and from kindhearted humans.  While the butterfly is attempting to climb out of the chrysalis and while its wings are drying, it is nearly defenseless and utterly vulnerable to predators.  But it is also in great danger from human beings who want to be helpful because while its climb out of the chrysalis into the world is filled with struggle, if a helpful human being opens the chrysalis and lays the creature on a branch, that creature will never be a butterfly.  Its wings will never form properly, and its body will always be bloated and misshapen.  In this case, kindness has robbed the butterfly of the struggle that would have forced fluids out of its swollen body and into its wings.  Those fluids needed to come out of its body and expand its wings into their final form and the only way that they could move from one place to the other was through the struggle to squeeze out of the chrysalis and climb out into the world.  It is the struggle that completes the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and without the struggle that miraculous transformation never happens.

 

In today’s scriptures we are reminded that much of our life, and much of our spiritual life, is filled with struggle.  But, as unpleasant as that struggle can be, it is often the vehicle that carries us from one side of transformation to the other.  We begin in Genesis 32:22-31, where we find Jacob preparing to meet his estranged brother Esau.  When they had last seen one another, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, out of his father’s blessings, and out of a third of his father’s estate and so, Jacob was afraid of what might happen at their meeting.  With that in mind we hear this:

 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, he is sending his herds, his servants, and even his family ahead of him in waves, each carrying greetings and gifts in the hope that Esau will be persuaded not to kill him or take revenge in some other way.  And on this last night before their meeting, in that place, during the night, he meets… and wrestles with, God.  Jacob demands a blessing from God before they part, but in the process wrenches his hip and acquires a limp that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  Jacob names that places, Penial, which means “face of God” because he knew that he had met God face to face, and God gives Jacob the name Israel, which in this context likely means “struggles with God.”  On the evening before he meets his brother, a meeting which might literally become a life or death fight between brothers, Jacob meets, struggles with, and is blessed by God.  For the rest of his life he limped because of this struggle, and with every step he remembered that it was this same struggle that brought him God’s blessing.

 

The Apostle Paul lived a life that was full of struggle but in Romans 9:1-5, he outlines one of his greatest frustrations saying…


9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

 

Paul was born and raised as a Jew and he had always been proud if his heritage, his religion, and his God.  As he travelled on the road to Damascus to capture and punish those people whom he believed were perverting and damaging his faith, Paul met the risen Jesus.  Paul’s life was changed in an instant and he knew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the rescuer of God’s people.  But the joy of that knowledge came with what he described as “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart because despite his love and respect for the heritage of Israel, despite the stories and the teaching of the patriarchs, despite the covenants of God, despite the construction of and the worship in the temple, and despite the ancestry of and the genealogy of Jesus, many Jews would be lost because they did not have faith in the messiah.  Paul’s great desire was to save Israel, and he wished that he could be cursed and trade places with his people so that they could be saved… but he could not.  Paul continually struggled with the difference between his compassion and love for his people and the reality that they did not know, trust, or believe in the Messiah Jesus.

 

But it was this struggle that drove him, constantly, throughout his entire life, to preach the good news, and to use whatever energy that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

And then in Matthew 14:13-21 we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and we discover that there are everyday struggles in the Christian life as we try to be obedient and faithful.  We join the story, just as Jesus learns that his friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded.

 

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Jesus is tired and he is grieving at the news he has just received.  And so he withdraws to a remote and quiet place so that he can be alone.  But the crowds follow him and as much as Jesus wants to rest, as much as he wants to grieve the loss of his friend and relative, he feels the needs of the people, has compassion on them, and cares for their needs instead of his own.  And as evening comes, the disciples realize that all these people, 5,000 men along with many of their wives and children, will need to eat and so they urge Jesus to send them away so that they can go home or buy food for themselves in nearby villages.  But instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the hungry with the five small barley loaves and two fish that they found in the sack lunch of one small boy.  For the disciples this was an impossible problem.  In their eyes, they knew that one sack lunch was not nearly enough to feed a crowd of ten thousand or more people.  But Jesus sees the world differently.  Jesus never told the disciples that they should feed everyone a full meal but only that they should give the people… something.  And surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus did.  He took what little they had, prayed over it, and shared.  Jesus shared what they had, God blessed it, and it was enough.  We are left to wonder what would have happened if the disciples had chosen to share what they had instead of complaining that they didn’t have enough.

 

The disciples of Jesus struggled with the difference between their compassion for the people in the crowd and the reality of one small sack lunch.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their generosity and the reality of their poverty.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their desire to be obedient and their willingness to trust Jesus with all that they had.  The disciples struggled because their faith was inadequate to overcome their understanding of reality.

 

As the followers of Jesus, we struggle with these same things today.  Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, to speak for the voiceless, to be fathers to the fatherless, to love the unloved, to love mercy, and to have compassion for the people around us.  But we struggle because we don’t think we have enough.  We come to Jesus thinking that we need more, that we need more food, that we need more money, we need more time, we need to be a bigger church, we think that we simply don’t have enough.  But Jesus’ answer to our struggles is the same today as it always has been.

 

We don’t need more.

 

We just need to trust Jesus enough to share what we already have.

 

Jacob’s struggle brought him God’s blessing.

 

Paul’s struggle drove him to preach the good news, and to use all that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

Our struggle is the same as that of the disciples.  Every day we struggle because we think that we don’t have enough faith, or enough money, or enough of something else.  But Jesus reminds us that we don’t need more.

 

What we need, is to trust Jesus with what we already have.

 

And we have faith that as we struggle, like the butterfly, day by day, we are being transformed, into the people God created us to be.

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.