About howardwheeler

I am the husband of one, the father of seven, and pastor to many more.

The Power of Liturgy

The story is told that years ago, when the communists began to take control of Russia, a Communist party official came to a Russian village to seek to convert its residents there to Communism. He challenged the Russian Orthodox priest there to a debate. He figured he could easily crush this frail old priest in a debate.

The whole town gathered for this debate. He so eloquently argued the benefits of Communism that many of the people there were nodding in approval. With great satisfaction, he smugly sat down, gesturing the priest to speak. The priest stood up at the podium and said simply: “Christ is risen!” The people there then passionately exclaimed as with one voice: “He is risen indeed.”

Songs of the Holy Spirit

I first met Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old when he knocked on the door of my room at the Erskine College guesthouse to invite me breakfast.  It was no luxurious affair to be sure. We broke our fast at the makeshift cafe inside Kennedy’s Exxon in the sleepy town of Due West, South Carolina.   I had signed up to take my first course in his fledgling, “Institute for Reformed Worship,” entitled “The Psalms as Christian Prayer.”

He seemed rather unremarkable standing in my doorway with his long Calvinesque beard and his frumpy broad brimmed hat.  But little did I know at that first meeting the impact that this giant of a man, scholar, pastor and teacher would have on my life and ministry.

When he would speak of the Psalms his eyes would twinkle and his whole demeanor would become animated.   He loved to refer to the Psalms as the “Songs of the Holy Spirit” and he encouraged poets and musicians to engage in the task of creating new settings for them to be used in private, family and public worship.

So it brings me great delight that my oldest, Isabella is doing just that.  Lord’s Day afternoons often find her hidden away in some quiet place, meditating upon some passage of scripture and setting it in a metrical setting to some old or contemporary hymn tune which captures the ethos of the passage.   She has been posting these on her blog and is working toward the production of a book of these Scripture songs — Songs, indeed, of the Holy Spirit.   Check out her work at her blog under Paradox and Poetry.

 

Art for God’s Sake

Art has tremendous power to shape culture and touch the human heart. Its artifacts embody the ideas and desires of the coming generation. This means that what is happening in the arts today is prophetic of what will happen in our culture tomorrow.  It also means that when Christians abandon the artistic community, we lose a significant opportunity to communicate Christ to our culture. Furthermore, when we settle for the trivial expressions of truth in worship and art, we ourselves are diminished as we suffer a loss of transcendence.  What we need to recover (or possibly discover for the first time) if a full biblical understanding of the arts — not for art’s sake, but for God’s sake.  

Philip Graham Ryken in “Art for God’s Sake”

Turning Point

Today marks a turning point.  It is not lost on me that it occurs on Epiphany.  Today is my last official day as a full time Chaplain with Arkansas Hospice.   For the past four years I have walked with patients, families, nurses, CNAs, social workers, bereavement specialists, DME techs, housekeepers, cooks, managers and hired caregivers through the valley of the shadow of death.

I have seen death and dying, up close and very personally — sorrow and joy, grief and relief, anger and happiness, fear and courage, hardened unbelief and powerful faith, broken and unbreakable families.

I have been privileged to serve with the very best.  I have been changed by these past four years with my beloved coworkers and with the patients and families we served together.  I pray that I have been faithful to the calling articulated by Michael Aureli, founder of Arkansas Hospice, to show:

“the tender mercy of our God whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79.

I am thankful for the years the Lord has given me in this calling, but now He has given me another calling.  As I continue to serve as pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Pottsville, the Lord has also called me to help start a new church in Little Rock.  You can find out more about this new calling at  http://rivercityarp.org and why we are doing this at https://rivercityarp.org/why-do-we-need-another-church/.

Please keep our family in your prayers as we embark on this turning point in our lives.

A Needful Reminder

“The very same impulse that makes the loving heart carve the beloved name on the smooth rind of the tree makes it sweet to one who is in real touch and living fellowship with Jesus Christ to speak about Him.  O brother! There is a very sharp test for us…. Shut up [that impulse] and it will be like some wild creature put into a cellar, fast locked and unventilated; when you open the door it will be dead…. For the direct work in speaking the name of Jesus Christ is possible for every Christian, whoever he or she is, however weak, ignorant, uninfluential with howsoever narrow a circle.  There is always somebody that God means to be the audience of His servant whenever that servant speaks of Christ.  Do you not know that there are people in this world, as wives, children, parents, friends of different sorts, who would listen to you more readily than they would listen to anyone else speaking about Jesus Christ.”  

Alexander Maclaren, “Christ’s Witnesses” An Exposition of Acts 23:11

Resolutions

What did you resolve to do or to be in 2016? Or perhaps your 2016 resolution was to stop doing or being?  Did you keep that resolution?  Is your life significantly different as you prepare for a new orbit around the sun?

Did you walk a new walk this year or only talk some talk?   We are good at deciding what we must do, but decidedly poor at actually doing it.   The Bible puts it this way.

“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV)

What resolutions have you begun to formulate in preparation for the new year?   Perhaps you have determined to attain a healthy weight and improve your fitness.  This is a worthy goal and should be part of every Christian’s obedience to the sixth commandment.  But as you are ordering your copy of “Trim Healthy Mama” from Amazon or enrolling into CrossFit 101, do not forget the words of Scripture,

“Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)

How are you training yourself for godliness?

Perhaps you have determined to increase your wealth and get control of your finances.  Indeed, the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that obedience to the eighth commandment requires “the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” Yet the catechism also reminds us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.“  To resolve only to increase wealth and get control of finances, but fail to submit all our substance to the Lordship and will of Christ incurs for us the Lord’s warning.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:34-37 ESV)

Perhaps you have resolved to reform some bad habits or character flaws – a most worthy resolution!  Scripture commands us to “be holy, for I am holy.”  Yet without faith in Christ and repentance and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, your resolve will produce only greater turmoil in your life.  No man has the power to reform himself.  Jesus warns us of the dangers of self-reformation rather than Christ-transformation when he tells of a man with an evil spirit.

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26 ESV)

There is only one resolution that is necessary this year – that is to follow Christ.  When Christ called men to Himself his call was always the same, “Follow Me.”  Friend, let that be your only resolution this year.  And if it is, then all other resolutions will be resolved.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously summed up the call to discipleship when he said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  What have you resolved for 2017?  Follow Christ!  Let that be it.

Not Holy Days, But Helpful Days

At this festive time of the year my Facebook feed is all aTwitter with the intramural Reformed debate over whether observance of Evangelical Feast Days are consistent with or contrary to the principle of “Worship, Reformed According to Scripture.”

The Second Helvetic Confession, authored by Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, notes in XXIV.3 that “if the churches do religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Nativity, Circumcision, Passion, Resurrection, and of his Ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, according to Christian liberty, we do very well approve of it.”

Bullinger’s important contingency is “according to Christian liberty.”  No doubt he had in mind Romans 14:4-8.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:4-8 ESV)

On the other hand, the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship, in an Appendix entitled “Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship” appears to express the matter quite differently.

THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.

A few years ago, Danny Hyde, Pastor of Oceanside Reformed Church, wrote an excellent article on this question entitled “Not Holy, but Helpful: A Case For the Evangelical Feast Days in the Reformed Tradition.”  I recommend that you follow the link above to read the whole article.  It is worth the time.  At the end of the article he draws the following conclusion.

The Reformed family of Protestant Reformation churches affirms that worship is to be done according to the Word of God. What this means today may not be what it meant historically speaking. And so we’ve seen that some of those same churches and theologians who affirmed sola Scriptura and what later came to be known as “the regulative principle,” also affirmed the Christian freedom to celebrate the work of Jesus Christ on the evangelical feast days besides the Lord’s Day and that this was to be done with a view to the edification of the body.

Mary’s Song by Luci Shaw

Mary’s Song

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Luci Shaw

The City of Man or the City of God?

“And thus it comes to pass, that though there are very many and great nations all over the earth, whose rites and customs, speech, arms, and dress, are distinguished by marked differences, yet there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures.  The one consists of those who wish to live after the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit….  Accordingly, [these] two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.   The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God.”  Augustine, City of God, XIV.1,28