By Michael Anthony Howard
Today’s post is dedicated to my sister, Rev. Becci Howard Loy, and all of the other women who God has used to remind me that “God is for me!”
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28)
Think for a moment. What is the most important event for you in the entirety of the gospel narrative?…
I think everyone who reads scripture with the kind of passion my family does will have a list of favorite passages, parables, or moments in the story they call their own. My favorite passage is Romans 8. Yet, this passage is forever bound in my heart to my favorite moment in all of the gospels, a foundational part of the gospel narrative that I simply would not be a Christian without: the empty tomb.
During this Easter season, I have been reading and really meditating on a particular detail of the empty tomb story. In each of the four gospels it is the women disciples that are first to the tomb to find that it was empty. This is not just some random detail; if we take it seriously, it’s downright scandalous in a society where the role of women is thought to be in service of men. Here, it is the women who are privileged by God. And this is not just any small thing that God has privileged them with…it is the very message at the heart of the gospel! In particular, the Gospel of John tells us that there was a race involving Peter and the beloved disciple to get to the tomb and verify it was empty. But, neither stuck around for the later action. Only Mary Magdalene. In fact, John says that Mary’s name was one of the first words the Risen Lord spoke (John 20:16). It was Mary Magdalene who was the first given the all important duty by which us evangelical Christians feel our lives are claimed. She was the first commanded by the Risen Christ to share the gospel. Jesus commanded her, “Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). Wow! According to John’s Gospel the first evangelist–called by God to testify to the resurrection–was a woman!
I can hear the gasps…”Really? You mean that God chose a woman to be the first to tell the story?”
Some people have a very hard time with this idea. In some communities, the role of women in ministry is a hot topic. Thank God, for me it has never been a question. I have always known women were effective at sharing the heart of God—-often more effective. The first person to share the gospel with me was my mother. I didn’t listen to her, but she was relentless.
Honestly, I feel like my life growing up was a mess. We had many good days, and I have great memories. I also still have some scars. I remember days, even months of my life where I’m not sure a single positive word came out of my mouth. Luckily, God does not desire to leave us in our brokenness.
God has constantly put godly women in my life, always reminding me of God’s heart.
One of the most important women in my life has been my sister, Becci. When my life was a mess, her life was even more of a wreck. Emotional chaos. I remember those days, feeding off of each other’s anger and frustration. But then, at a powerful moment in the midst of the chaos of life, God captured her heart. She spent weeks in a house alone, broken, soaking in every word of scripture. God was writing on Becci’s heart a prayer of faithfulness back to God: “I know that you are for me! I know that you will not forsake me.”
Naturally, I saw this change. I didn’t understand it. I pretended to be proud of the change. The truth was, however, that I was simply confused. I was hurting and bitter. What could this be that was happening to her?
Then, it happened to me. Just like God used Mary Magdalene to share the news of God’s power with the other disciples, God used my sister to begin writing on my own heart. I remember us setting on the front porch of our country home, wrestling together. Becci had heard God’s voice. I wanted to hear God. But, I had to learn how to get rid of the anger, the bitterness, the loneliness. My sister told me, “You are just going to have to get over yourself.”
What did she mean?
I asked her to clarify, waiting for her to give me some complicated theological answer that I knew my philosophical questions could counter. She answered me, “God doesn’t need you to figure it all out. And, hating yourself is not real repentance. You have to get over yourself and believe that God is not against you. God is for you.”
That weekend I began writing a song in my journal called “In My Life” where I began praying about a new season God was leading me through. Then I wrote a song called “Come, Lord Come” as a way of begging God to come into our lives and really relieve me of this mess I felt I was in. Then, my sister asked me to play at her church at Asbury United Methodist near Columbia, KY.
It was at that moment, in the midst of an entire congregation, vulnerable and broken, when I learned about the power of a song to teach us to pray. I was being exposed, naked, emptied. All my anxieties, all my fears, all my desperation with God, all laid out on the altar at this small church in the country full of people I didn’t know who were waiting for revival. Revival came, and it was all over me! My brokenness had now become healing for others. Worship, for me, would never be the same.I remember the details of this season so well because I kept a journal over the years. My prayer journals are chock-full of details listed in prayer as I sought to live my life out as a record of what God was doing. It was part of a practice I learned from my sister. One of the first gifts she gave me when I became a Christian was a devotional that led me through 40 days of learning to pray life with words on paper in response to what God was doing.
It was through this same practice of praying with words written in a journal that God worked in Keri Jobe the words to the song “You are for Me.” She says that in her season of brokenness, she continued to write to remind herself of the truths about God. There were truths, she said, that she “had to learn to speak over herself.” Getting alone with God and writing it all out gives a record of what God has done and the seasons God has brought us through.
This weekend, my sister is going to be preaching at Asbury United Methodist Church to celebrate the many years of faithfulness God has shown in our lives. This congregation of people I barely knew took care of me, even though I was a member of a completely different United Methodist congregation several hours away. They raised money for me to begin traveling the world preaching and singing and sharing God’s love.
Becci had served for five years at Asbury UMC, and left in 2006 to serve as the assistant pastor at Lebanon United Methodist Church in the same area of central Kentucky. This summer she will be taking her first church as senior pastor. Wow! I have no doubt that God will use her to shake up the world, just like he did that faithful woman that first shared the gospel to Jesus’ male disciples 2,000 years ago.
Here is a quote from Asbury UMC’s facebook page today:
Becci Howard-Loy came to Asbury in 2001 as leader of Youth ministries. She was the catalyst in Asbury developing a significant youth ministry. Many lives were changed, and those youth have become adults and many of them are involved with their families in Asbury’s ministries.
In 2006 Becci went to Lebanon First United Methodist Church as Associate Pastor. Their youth ministry grew from a small number of youth to over ninety youth now involved.
She is a recent graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree. The Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church will ordain her as an Elder in June and appoint her as the Senior Pastor of a leading church in the Elizabethtown District.
Join us this Sunday 11:00 AM EDT for worship as we welcome back Becci and her family. She will preach a message titled “The Impossible God.”
I guess you can tell why I have spent so much time reading the story of the empty tomb. I am so thankful for the women in my life that have faithfully carried on the task of witnessing the faith. I am thankful that my wife constantly reminds me of my calling. I am thankful that my mom never gave up telling me the story of the gospel and teaching me to pray. Even more, I am thankful that my sister faithfully fulfilled the calling God gave that first evangelist:
“Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
These words and their new-found meaning for me have now become my favorite moment in all of scripture. It was the moment when God sent a woman to come find someone like me and share the message that changes everything.
Thank you, Rev. Becci Howard Loy. Your faithfulness has been my salvation. Please always remember that our Impossible God can do the impossible! Remember God sings over us songs of healing. Never, never, ever forget that God is not only capable of the impossible, but more important, God is impossibly for us!!!