How I Met the Father

 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”

Jeremiah 29:10-14

Last week we introduced the concept for this year’s theme of “First Love” talking about how God is the first to love us and how we are called to make His son, Jesus Christ our Savior, as our First Love in our own lives. As I was introducing that concept last week I hope it turned some gears in your own hearts. For me, when we were planning out the course of the year and trying to find a good starting point, it drew me back to the concept of falling in love in my own life. I’m a little bit of a romantic, and its kind of fun to go back in my own mind from time to time and play through a highlight real of the moments that brought us closer together. That reminded me of one of my favorite shows, “How I Met Your Mother”

Now, I’m not going to say that this show is church appropriate, but it was a fun show and it was supposed to be a series based around the main character telling the story of how he met his wife – his children’s mother. That stoked this interesting idea for me that is the title of our series for the next 6 weeks. It’s a series titled, “How I Met the Father”. How I met the father, stories, testimonials, about how we came to know our heavenly father. Testimonies are some of the most profound and impactful ways that we explain God’s grace, and yet I don’t feel like we get to hear them often enough. We get embarrassed or we think it has to be the incredible rock-bottom-to-mountaintop story so if we don’t have one of those moments then we don’t really think we have a testimony to begin with.

For a long time this was a big hang up for me. It was something that kept me from witnessing to others and feeling worthy of God’s mercy because I couldn’t think of a profound split-second where I was brought to my knees and came to know God. But, I came to a realization during a photography project I was working on: Everybody is hero to somebody. You may not know it or realize it, but there is something that looks up to you and looks to you for strength. Once I understood that, I understood how powerful every testimonial could potentially be for somebody else.

So today, I get to share with all of you my own testimony which is kind of awesome because it allows you to get to know me better, and it helps set up our next few weeks of study together!

Jeremiah 29:10-14, particularly 11-4 has been an important part of my story of coming to know God for two main reasons, and those are the scripture itself and the timing at which it was shown to me.

I was raised my entire life in the church and my grandfather was really into genealogy for a while and found out that you can follow my family history back to its roots in England. My family followed the Methodist movement from England to America and down through the south, coming to stop in Northeast Texas. So, I never had a chance, Wesleyan theology was just in my blood. Anyway, I was raised in the church so I’ve always had a relationship with Jesus and I’ve always known my heavenly Father. As I think is true with all of us, I’ve had times where my relationship has been stronger and times where I haven’t made him priority, but I’ve always known where my soul rested and have never denied that. So when I think about the question of “How I Met the Father” it’s not as black and white as I know it is for others. But, there is a particular moment where I remember feeling a new connection to God and this one in particular is the point where I would say there was a change in the trajectory of my life.

I was a Junior in high school and I would say that what defined my high school experience was swim team. I joined the swim team freshman year having never swam before, and I fell in love with it. I’m also hard headed enough and competitive enough that by my sophomore year I was pretty darn good at it. My junior year, I was swimming times that had colleges very interested in my collegiate future. Now, in the corn-metropolis that is Marshalltown, IA, we didn’t have a year-round swimming program where colleges could see my times outside of the high school season, so the biggest meet of the year and one of the most important meets for my recruiting purposes was the State Swim Meet. And my junior year we were a darn good swim team. So good that our 4×100 team was poised to potentially win state. I worked my tail off all year and was totally focused on the week of state. We started the tapering process which is where you work a little less each day so you build strength back into your muscles and try to hit a peak moment on the day of the meet. And then on the Thursday night before state, I woke up with a stomach flu. I was up all night getting sick and my energy and taper were completely blown, but I was determined to swim. On Friday, they took me to the doctor, I got an anti-nausea shot and they took me and put me in a dark closet at the school for an hour. I had to be at school for at least an hour to be elidable for Saturday’s meet. As soon as that was done, my mom loaded me, my dad who was ALSO now sick, and my little brother into the car and got us to Iowa City. I can stand here and honestly tell you I remember very little from that day. I know I swam, I know I got sick a few times, and I know I didn’t have the day that I had worked so hard for.

I swam ok, the rest of the team dropped a bunch of time and did great and I didn’t drop much time but I also didn’t swim slow. But I was devastated, and I felt like I let my team down. We ended up getting 3rd in the 4×100 and I’ve never had a single person on that team tell me I let them down, but I felt like I had ruined everything and I was in a pretty dark place because I don’t like to let people down. I also was worried about swimming in college.

The next day I was sitting in the Ruddock pew at the church that I grew up in and I was still just destroyed. I didn’t want to be there and I felt like I must have done something that would cause God to punish me the way he obviously did. As I was sitting there, I watched my mom reach forward and grab the Bible from the back of the pew in front of us. I remember it so clearly because it was in the first half of the sermon and I thought it was weird that my mom was now deciding to reach for a bible to look something up. Then she handed it to me and she pointed to Jeremiah 29:11 and she whispered, “Read this a few times and let it sink in.”

The Holy Spirit works in miraculous ways y’all. I don’t know how my mom new at that time that this was the scripture that I needed to see, or if she knew I was going to keep reading beyond verse 11, but I can tell you the only was I know how to explain it is that the Holy Spirit is a wonderful thing.

I sat there and I read Jeremiah 29:11-14 and I wept. I wept because a few incredible things became clear to me that I had never seen or considered before. See, I think most people focus on the words “prosper” and “not harm” when they read verse 11 and think of this verse. But, in that moment the word that stood out to me was the word “plans”. That word stuck out to me because it changed the entire way I viewed God’s relationship with me. See, to that point I had a very legalistic and judicial view of who God is. If you were to relate it back to the Apostle’s Creed, I would say I completely missed the words Father and Creator that we use to describe God and only focused on the word Almighty. He was a judge that was going to look at how many checks I had on the right side of the column and make sure they outweighed what I had done on the other side and then I was going to get a ticket one way or another. That’s not a relationship y’all, that’s a prison sentence.

In that moment I saw that God had plans for me. Not meaning that my free will was gone and it was all plotted out before me, but that he loved me enough to meet me wherever and however he needed to meet me. But, his desire was to meet me there all the same. There was no single plan that depended on my deeds, there were countless plans in each and every moment because He wants nothing more than to see me prosper. He is a good father and that descriptor comes first in our affirmation of faith because He is first and foremost our heavenly father. And a good father doesn’t just lay a single plan out in front of their child and say its this or nothing. A good father knows you deeply and is willing to go where you go and give you the best chances for success. Now, that doesn’t mean that the world is going to be perfect, because this world is broken and we have free will in this world. Bad things happen, people get sick, but it’s up to us how we choose to react to those situations. We can choose a plan and a path that goes away from God’s will – and he will still follow you further down that path – OR we can choose a path that is in line with His desire for us.

That is what Jeremiah was prophesying when he was writing this letter to the Judeans. See, they had continued to choose a divergent path from God’s will and those choices have consequences, but God never left them. He never left them and he always has intended for them to return to him. He desired for them to prosper and he never wanted to harm them. In the same way, I watch my kids my risky decisions on the play ground all the time. I don’t step in and stop them from doing it because I want them to have the freedom to succeed or fail on their own. But, when they do fall, I’m always right there to ask them if their ok and console them. God allows us to make our decision, but he loves us so much he’s going to continue to meet us and give us a way back to him. If we want to know that way back to him it becomes clearer and clearer the more we “call on him, come to pray to him because he will hear us. We should seek him and seek him with our whole hearts and in that space we will find him.”

In that moment I felt like I was in captivity. I felt alone in my failure from swimming the day before. Unsure of my future. And disappointed in myself. But, I also understood that I was making other things my idols. Swimming had become an idol to me and I definitely put it before my relationship with God along with a host of other things. I didn’t feel like God had cast me into this space or had made me sick as a punishment. Those are things that just happen, but He offered me a way out of a potentially dark space for me. He offered me a lifeline in knowing him and knowing that he loved me. That He loved me and wanted to see me succeed. That joy was felt in my heart and I sat there in that realization and I wept because it was beautiful. It was embarrassing because I was a 17 year old boy and we sat in the front row of the balcony where everybody and their brother could see me, BUT in that moment I didn’t care about all of that. I didn’t care about all of that because I knew that God loved me and that those weren’t just words I had memorized from John 3:16, but that he truly loved me and that he was calling to me to come to know him more. That the more I knew him the more prepared I would be for this world. The more assurance I would have in my future. Maybe not school or swimming, but those things are just a blink of an eye in the comparison of eternity.

It became the moment that I came to know God not as the Almighty, but as the Father. That’s How I Met the Father and it was shortly after that that my Father gave me a call that I avoided for a long time before I came to trust him even more.

That’s the story of How I Met the Father. I hope it’s given all of you a little more insight into who I am as a person, as a Child of God, and as a preacher. Now, I’m going to end this with an invitation to all of you. I know that it’s not always comfortable to share your own testimony, but for the next 4 weeks, I would love to create some space if some of you would like to take a few minutes and share how YOU met the Father. Testimonies are power things, and you never know who you might end up being a hero for after you’ve shared it.

Let’s Pray.

About Pastor Payton

Payton splits his time and calling as the Head Pastor at New Hope Methodist Church and Macedonia Methodist Church in Waller, TX. Both churches are members of the Global Methodist Church denomination, and Payton is currently working towards his ordination as a Deacon in the GMC.

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