A Tribute to Rev. Nale Falls

It is a custom at the meetings of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to read a tribute to all pastors who died since the last meeting of the Synod.   This year we lost the Rev. Nale Falls at the tender age of 100.   Several of my fellow pastors in the Synod asked if I had authored the tribute read by Vice Moderator Patrick Malphrus at the opening meeting.   As I did write it, I offer it below to those who might be interested.

The Life of Nale Falls

On Sunday, November 27, 2016, at the young age of 100 years old, the Reverend William Nale Falls of Little Rock, Arkansas entered peacefully into the presence of the Lord.

Nale was born in Pottsville, Arkansas on February 24, 1916, the son of Thomas Boston Falls and Sally (Evans) Falls. He spent his early years helping work the family’s farm, and loved to tell stories about growing up with his brother and three sisters in Pottsville. After graduating from Pottsville High School in 1933, he went on to Erskine College in South Carolina where he graduated in 1939 and then Erskine Theological Seminary in 1941. He received his master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1959. In World War II, Nale served as chaplain in the Army from July 1944 to December 1945, which included a tour of duty in Germany.

As an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Nale served churches in Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas. He met his wife, Mable Finley Falls, at his first church, in Elsberry, Missouri, and they were married in 1942. Mable and Nale had four children: Phylis, Sarah, Nale Jr. and Katie.

Nale loved being a minister. He enjoyed ministering to all, whether it be at the church, at a hospital bedside or in members’ homes. He was proud to be the oldest living ARP minister.  Nale was a man who exhibited the joy of his salvation.   He loved to laugh and was rarely seen without a smile or his trademark bow tie.   Always quick with a joke, often at his own expense, or in reference to the peculiarity of his name, Nale used humor to connect with others.  While the arduous work of pastoral care often brings a particular weariness to a shepherd towards sheep, Nale truly loved to care for Christ’s sheep in the pulpit, in the living room and in the place of affliction.

Nale also loved to sing the songs of Zion.  He grew up in the tradition of exclusive psalmnody at the ARP Church in Pottsville, Arkansas.   He loved good hymnody, but his preference was always for the old Bible Songs.  He once wrote of returning home after spending a summer away from Pottsville.

“That first Lord’s Day I was home, I was late getting to Sabbath School.… One should be late for worship at least once to have the joy of hearing the singing of God’s praise as he approaches the House of Worship.  The metrical version of Psalm 122 says it perfectly.  “I was glad, I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go, let us go, go to the house of the Lord.”

Even in his hundredth year, when friends would visit Nale to share a psalm, a song and a word of prayer, he could remember all the verses to his favorite Bible Songs and add the deep and resonant harmonies of his clear and strong baritone voice.

Nale was also a man committed to the pastoral duty of encouraging others in ministry.  No doubt many ARP pastors and elders present here today have received a letter from Nale Falls, always handwritten and in large letters with a black sharpie.  Reminiscent of Paul’s comment in Galatians, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand,” these pastoral letters were an amalgam of curious aphorisms, humorous anecdotes and solid encouragement for young ministers.

Nale was committed to preach the gospel in season and out.  Following a faithful and fruitful pastoral ministry, he continued to preach “unseasonably” even in his twilight years at the nursing home in Little Rock where he was a resident. If you visited with him there, it was clear that he preached the word out of season to his CNAs, nurses and anyone else who would listen.   Despite his confusion in these years, any visit with him would involve conversation about the work of the churches in Mississippi Valley Presbytery, recitation of portions of the catechism, the singing and reading of a Psalm and a time of prayer which always concluded with Nale pronouncing a benediction over his guest.  Anyone who visited to minister to Nale Falls, left receiving ministry themselves.

Nale lived a long life.  The Bible speaks of long life as a blessing for the one who spends it following Christ, but makes it clear to us that this life is not our home.  Our encouragement is to “seek a better country, that is the heavenly one” and to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   This is the long life God calls us to live.   It is a life that begins with a new birth through faith in Christ Jesus.

None of us knows exactly when the Holy Spirit began to effectually call a young Nale Falls to follow Christ, but according to the records of the Pottsville ARP Church, he made a profession of faith on August 9, 1925 at the age of 9.   He served his Lord for 91 years on this earth.  What a great blessing for Nale to lay aside the mantle of oldest living ARP minister in the Church Militant to enter into the joy of His Master in the Church Triumphant.

 

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The Lesser of Two Weevils

Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!   Isaiah 5:20-21

The recent election cycle renewed vigorous discussion regarding whether Christian ethics may employ “the lesser of two evils” when faced with apparently competing ethical demands in the moral law.  To hold such a view, however, accepts as a given that there are, in fact, truly competing moral demands.  Ethicists call these “conflicts of duty” or “tragic moral choices.”   We often simply refer to them as “the lesser of two evils.”

But is it valid to assume that such “conflicts of duty” actually exist in a truly biblical ethic?   Are there situations in which our only option is disobedience to some biblical command in order to obey the lesser or two evils?   Does our fallen condition create situations in which obedience to God’s revealed will is not even a possibility?

Many ethicists hold it as a given that such “conflicts of duty” exist and contend that there are times in which it is right to do what God has forbidden or right to fail to do what God has required?   Christian ethicists who hold this view attempt to mitigate the obvious concern over calling evil good, by noting that such necessary sins still require God’s forgiveness.

In his book, Medical Ethics: Principles, Persons and Problems, Dr. John Frame refutes this position on the following points.

  1. In Scripture it is never right to disobey a command of God and never sinful to do what is right.   [To do so] is ethically confused at a basic level.
  2. According to this view, the Scriptures, our fundamental ethical standard, would be contradictory; they would be telling us to do two incompatible things.
  3. Consider the christological implications of this view.  Did Jesus face “conflict of duties?”  If so, then He too was guilty of sin; He too ought to have asked God’s forgiveness…. But if Jesus did not face such conflicts, then how can we say with the author of Hebrews that he was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin (4:15)?   Either alternative is unacceptable, so the premise must be wrong.  There are no “tragic moral choices.”
  4. And 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that Christians need never fall into sin, a promise that is incompatible with the view under discussion.

Given the belief that there are no “tragic moral choices” and no need to choose the “lesser of two evils,” our ethical task ought to be cut and dried, right?  Yet Frame notes Christians must often struggle longer than situational ethicists to find the consistent answer, biblically, to our ethical questions.  Frame notes several reasons this struggle is difficult.

“Sometimes we don’t understand Scripture adequately.  Sometimes we have an inadequate understanding of the situation to which Scripture is to be applied.  And sometimes our own spiritual immaturity obscures matters in our minds and hearts.”

Situational ethicists often accuse Christians of taking the easy way out by denying “conflicts of duty,” but the reality is that the unwillingness to call good evil and evil good or to put darkness for light and light for darkness makes Christian ethics far more challenging and indeed impossible without the illumining work of the Holy Spirit shining on the Word of God.

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.

 

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.

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.

A time for heroes

The day at last has come.  The cable is installed.  Cornish Pasties are mere hours away. The land of our noble fathers and forebears rings with celebration.   The world has gathered like a great cloud of witnesses to see men and women throw off fear and trial to run the race before them.  It is the time for heroes to emerge and history to unfold. 

Our family enjoys the Olympics.  We enjoy the pageantry, the drama and the sheer delight of seeing men and women gather from every nation, people, tribe and tongue to demonstrate the power, speed , agility and beauty of bodies that God formed and fashioned from mere dust. 

The Apostle Paul loved the games.   Time and time again, he alludes to them, but he always sets them in perspective. 

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 4:8 ESV)

The Olympics unveils the fruit of countless hours of suffering, sacrifice and perseverance in training, in places unknown to us.   The costs of training Olympic athletes are high and the commitment required to reach this level of competition consumes whole decades and phases of the athletes  lives – all to obtain a crown that fades.     Paul reminds us,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)

When the Olympians stream into the stadium in London tonight they will be welcomed by a great cloud of witnesses.   No doubt they will feel an overwhelming sense of encouragement to put aside every distraction and every failure and every hurdle and run with perseverance the race before them.   My beloved, how much greater is our privilege to enter the eternal stadium, to be surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses; myriads of angels in joyful assembly, the spirits of just men made perfect and the blood that speaks a better word then the blood of Abel.     Let us run the race, keeping our eye on the champion, the captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.   I am always struck by the words of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire as he explains to his sister why running in the 1924 Olympics is not a distraction for him as a believer — “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

My friend, run to get the prize. Run for God’s pleasure, not man’s applause.  Fix your eye on Christ. Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

It is the time for heroes to emerge and history to unfold – heroes like Bill and Emma Lou Wheeler, Preacher Paul, Prue Kelly, Ben Forrester, Carl Hall, David and Marium Oates,  J. Don Aderhold, Larry Aultman, Q. J. Clifton, Gene Jones, Harold Light, Jim Mason, Tony Woodall, Al Vater, Wayne Black, Scoti Old and other witnesses to numerous to mention who have challenged and admonished me to run the race, to keep my eye fixed on Christ. 

It is the time for heroes to emerge and history to unfold.  It is time for us to run the race and feel God’s pleasure.