Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Bible Class Angels Tonight

For anyone following along in our adult studies class tonight on Angels in the OT, here are a few scripture to enjoy! http://bible.com/events/688002

Remembering People on 9/11

by: Topher Wiles

What do you remember from 9/11? I remember a lot as I met my wife that day before taking an immediate trip to help at the gates of Ground Zero.  Here are 6 peoples I remember from that fateful week in 2001. 


  1. My wife. I met Ashley shortly after the planes hit on 9/11/2011. While many others were crying and weeping, she was reading her Bible calmly from 2 Corinthians 4 finding peace in the Lord. (See that passage below.) 
  2. Three Lipscomb University classmates. (Michael, Jon, & Paul) Two days after they plane hit, they shoved life aside to drive supplies, money, and aid together with me to the Pentagon & Manhattan Island. 
  3. The Military Police and his assault rifle. He made it clear that we were not to pray on the Pentagon lawn at 1am Thursday morning, September 13th, 2001. 
  4. The Franciscan monks who humbly bowed in prayer for us as we entered the smokey dark gates to Ground Zero as part of the rescue efforts on Friday, September 14th, 2001. 
  5. The elders of Manhattan Church of Christ who let us exhausted Tennessee college boys sleep on their floor. 
  6. The K9 units who worked tirelessly to find survivors, in traumatizing situations for humans and dogs. I wrote a short article on them here in 2015. http://www.topherwiles.com/2015/09/remembering-those.html

Today I returned to the hope that is in the passage Ashley read to me on 9/11. May it also cause you to hope in Christ as you read it.

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." - 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

I remember on 9/11 the way Christ was manifested in so many bodies of those who loved God and loved their neighbor. What do you remember?

Family Forte: Unused SuperPowers and Men that Crave Them

By: Topher Wiles
The strongest thing in that moment wasn’t my bulging muscles swinging a sledgehammer; it was her kiss, her look, and her words.  It’s hard for her to understand the power that she wields over me.  I’m convinced most women never understand the superpowers they possess over their husbands, nor do they know how and when to use those powers.  For all the ladies out there who want to get the best out of their husbands, to see that sparkle in his eye, to hear him profess his undying love for you, here’s a story from this past weekend to help you understand the power of affirmation.  
The moment began with a simple Sunday text message that read, “A woman just slashed her tire pulling into the park.”  Mind you, Sundays are my busiest days.  There’s no need to drone on about the amount of classes & sermons, meetings & counselings that go on any given Sunday.  Since I am a preacher, that day is always busy from sunrise to well past sunset, so squeezing in a little vehicle repair was a tall order.  Nevertheless, I arrived at the beautiful little Carter St. Park within minutes to see a young lady outside her car, with a rim sitting on the ground.  She was not the first person to fall prey to the sharp rocks bordering the park entrance waiting to ravage the tires of anyone making the mistake of turning too sharp.  Using the 12v air pump we keep in every vehicle (seriously men, go invest $15 at Walmart for one), I searched for a leak in the tire to no avail. Having no jack or spare tire in her car, she was at a loss for resources, so we began grabbing ours.  Once we had her lugnuts off and tire in hand, we found the source of deflation, a bent rim.  Mind you, this one wasn’t just a small dent from when you scuff a curb, this was the type of gap on the inside of the rim through which you could stick your finger.  No tire was going to reseat itself on that rim.  
To make matters worse, neither of our vehicles’ spare tires would fit this young lady’s car.  Remember, it was a Sunday afternoon, when tire repair businesses are generally closed in small towns.  Her car was sitting at the park with one side jacked up, with no spares available, and she was running out of options.  Well, this son-of-a-mechanic with a never-quit mentality wondered, “Can bend that rim back into shape?”  A ball peen hammer, two sledgehammers, and a lot of sweat later the rim was round and the tire was holding air.  That’s when my wife used her power of affirmation in just a few short words.  
“Is it fixed?” 
I responded, “It sure is.” 
“You’re a beast,” she said.  Then she gave me a big smile and a lingering kiss on the cheek (not lingering too long, we were in a public park on a sunny Sunday afternoon!)  My chest puffed out, my posture straightened up, and I was walking on clouds for the rest of the day when my wife powerfully and sincerely boosted my ego with words of affirmation. My wife admired me and I knew it.
Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs shares this nugget of wisdom.  “Men NEED to feel admired by their spouses, so let him know that you love him for his many admirable qualities. Say, ‘I love you for all the ways you care for me and our family’ or ‘I never doubt you give your very best because you love me as much as I love you.’ Compliment him for being a good provider, loving husband and father, thoughtful man and one who tries his best to understand you. Ensure that you add an affectionate hug, kiss or a gentle touch on his face or arm. Your love will come through.’”  Gary Chapman, famous marriage counselor and author of The Five Love Languages, agrees with Harley and offers a little more when he shares the following, “Snuggle up next to him and let him know he’s tops with you for taking out the trash or bathing the kids while you clean the kitchen. Whisper how loved you feel when he changes the oil in your car or calls to see if he needs to pick up anything on his way home.”
There you have it: expert tested and husband approved.  Women, your words and accompanying actions have the ability to instantly change a moment in a man’s life.  He can go from cursing the fates for a string of bad luck to a beaming smile as he’s riding an emotional high from sincere compliment you gave him.  Your husband wants your admiration, and the expert research shows that he needs your words of affirmation. 
Ashley’s Add-On Note: Ladies, you have power, but understand that this is not about manipulation or getting what you want.  Words of affirmation are a great tool for encouraging your husband and building up your marriage. I am naturally reticent and reserved, so I have to work on being more intentional with my words to my husband.  Some of you may be the same, or some of you may be struggling in your marriage and find it difficult to think of finding anything positive about your spouse.  Pray about it.  It can be as simple as, “You’re good at mowing the lawn,” or, “I admire how you’re on time to work everyday.”  Set a goal to say one intentional, kind thing to your husband everyday.  Set a calendar reminder if you need to!  You and your husband will be glad you did.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” - Proverbs 16:24

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Family Forte: Pushing vs Supporting Toward New Heights

By: Topher Wiles
Our hearts were pounding so hard, we could both hear them in our ears.  In spite of my nerves, my heart was welling up with joy. Could my smile get any bigger in this moment ?  Ethan beamed at me, and I grinned right back at him as our eyes locked about 10 feet apart with nothing in between us but sunshine filled air.  
Gabriel works his way up the wall!
At one point, I had wondered if this moment was ever going to come.  You need to know that I don’t have a lot of fear when it comes to heights.  Growing up in middle Tennessee, I had plenty of tall maple trees to climb, lots of cliffs to jump off of into the water below, and many rock climbing opportunities to ascend and rappel.  Since my kids have joined me on adventures since they were little, one would think they would love to climb the highest heights as well.  
When our boys were young, I took them rock climbing with our church youth group at Black Mountain, a quaint little spot east of Crossville, TN.  To my surprise, the boys didn’t want to go over 3 feet off the ground. “No big deal. They’ll conquer their fear of heights soon enough,” or so I thought.  Time continued and they never did go high in trees, nor did Gabriel and Ethan ever enjoy helping me work on the roof of the house. Earlier this year, I was disappointed when 10 year old Ethan and I travelled to the Nasa Space Museum in Huntsville and he was overcome with fear about 15 feet up the indoor Mars Wall.  He was so scared that he was shaking as he clung for dear life to the wall. I wondered if my two oldest boys would ever join me in my love of climbing and rappelling.  
Ethan smiles as he begins his descent!
As a dad, I want my boys to be everything I am and more.  I desire for them to be as brave as me and braver, strong as me and stronger, adventurous as me and… you get the point.  We all want our kids to be better than us. We want it so bad that we often push our kids too hard, too far, too fast. Psychology Today says that researchers have realized pushing kids too hard comes at a high price.  Premature burnout, unrealistic fear, and feeling like a failure are often the results of this parental pushing style.  Dr. Kyle Pruett describes the cultural shift this way, “Waiting for a developmental skill to emerge in its own time seems just too passive in the 21st century. It leaves many parents today to conclude that pushing will work better than supporting. They wonder only how hard to push, not whether to push at all.”  Bob Cook, a youth sports writer for Forbes.com describes a remedy this way, “But there are also times that we need to back off for our children's physical and mental health. That can be hard to do, but a little rest can go a long way. And if you're pushing that hard, maybe you should think about whether your child is really interested in whatever you're pushing.”  
I’ve always struggled with the balance between pushing and supporting.  I’m not alone as a parent. Remembering my own well-intentioned parents takes me back to 1990, when I scored a 95% on my report card in 6th grade math (in those days a 95% was only good enough for an A-).  That A- was the lowest grade on my report card that year, and my mom seemed furious that I would score so low.  There were some hurtful words said, and I recall slinking to my room to study with my tail between my legs. Here I am nearly 30 years later still remembering those negative emotions as I felt like the biggest disappointment on the planet for the woman that I wanted so desperately to be proud of me.  In that moment, I think mom made the mistake of pushing too hard rather than supporting me toward higher success. I bet some of you parents reading this article have struggled with the same balance my parents years ago and I am working through today.
Here's a map from Sparta
to Black Mountain.
That’s why the smile Ethan gave me last week on the 40 foot rock wall of Black Mountain was so sweet.  All these years, I’ve chosen not to push the kids into rock climbing or heights. I’ve only offered them opportunities and encouragement along the way.  My own emotions and words have been carefully measured out so that I didn’t make them feel like a disappointment for not learning this non-essential skill.  All the encouragement and offerings paid off as both Gabriel and Ethan “topped-out” on that special day. There were no harsh words, guilt trips, and disappointing feelings.  Both my boys finally succeeded at what most people never achieve. They reached new heights because they desired to and because they were ready.  
A few minutes later, when Micah (5 years old) and Clara (3 years old) put on the climbing harness and only reached a height of five feet off the ground, Ashley and I praised and supported them for these small steps in conquering fear.  One day, whenever they are ready, they’ll have that chance to reach for the sky, too.  
“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Family Forte: Cruising the Challenging Changes of Life

by: Topher Wiles

     Horrible.  Horrendous.  Heinous. Those were the words ripping through my head when the stuff of nightmares became reality.  No, it wasn’t a Freddy Krueger type of moment.  It was my first day of school, and I was late!  As a second year Algebra teacher at McGavock High School, I was rehired only 5 days before the school semester began (a result of my type of licensure), which meant I had little time to get my new room ready for my 150 new students.  I was teaching 5 preps that year (high school teachers cringe at hearing this thought), sponsoring a new club, and coaching a sport.  There was entirely too much on my to-do list before the first day of school.  Maybe that’s why I had been working in my classroom at 1am before the first day of school.  Maybe that’s why I overslept my 5am alarm! 
Despite my rough first day, I had a great
year teaching students in McGavock!
Even named Teacher of the Week
on 107.5 the River!

     Panic set in when my blurred vision found focus on the red digital display of my alarm clock.  My 1st period algebra class had begun 45 minutes ago!  Like a fall Tennessee tornado, I ripped through the morning routine, only allowing time for the bare essentials, calling my principal in the process.  He said, “Don’t worry Wiles, you weren’t the only one.”  My principal was full of forgiveness and flexibility as I arrived in time for my 2nd period Honors Algebra 2 students.  As it turns out, I certainly wasn’t the first who struggled through the transition back to school, and I won’t be the last.

     This year, I’ve already worked through multiple text messages, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings helping students and parents through the new school year changes.  From challenges of affording school supplies, to rising tensions in homes, to trouble understanding advanced math, the new school year brings many challenges with the changes. Through our church family, Ashley and I have been blessed with opportunities to counsel and care for several students this year, from kindergartners to college students, and they all agree on one thing:  change is challenging. 
By God’s grace, though, we can tackle those challenging changes with a joyful heart and the hopeful expectation that we can not only survive but even thrive through change.  Here are a few tips on how to prepare yourself and your students for the tough transitions of life. 


Credit: ShutterStock RoyaltyFree
Start Preparing Young for Change – According to Psychology Today, flexibility is a must-have skill to learn as we deal with change.  That’s right, I said flexibility is LEARNED.  Researchers state that we begin teaching the skill of flexibility right out of the womb.  In her article titled, “Our Thriving Children,” Dr. Tovah Klein says it this way:  Neuroscience and developmental research repeatedly show that the early years before age five are foundational for setting up optimal lifelong development. Facing transitions is a daily dilemma for young kids even as it presents the opportunity for lifelong skills to grow.”   We begin teaching our children flexibility by modeling it at home.  If we handle change with anxiety and stress, our kids likely will too.  Be aware of how you deal with life’s transitions in front of kids.


Credit: Health Magazine
Start Preparing Early for Change – Nothing is as anxiety-inducing as the sudden change from a normal 8am summer wakeup time to a 5am alarm clock.  Establishing routines early can help mitigate the misery of change.  When we began preparing our kids for the new school year, even though it was still summer, Ashley began enforcing earlier bedtimes and setting morning alarms, gradually changing those times to match school year needs. If you know change is coming, prepare early in your time management, finances, and routines.  Even as adults, this strategy is a valuable asset in our ability to be flexible.  Whether you are starting a new job or taking over the care of aging parents, begin new routines early with your time, money, and energy to make a terrific transition for life’s changes. 

Start Preparing Now for Change – Whether you’re reading this as a student, working adult, or aging retiree, there are a few things you can do now to help prepare for inevitable change.  

  • Allow more room in your schedule by planning in “relax” or “buffer” time.  Change adds stress to over-filled schedules; adding margin allows you to more easily absorb any extra time commitments needed. 
  • Start a savings account now to anticipate needed money later.  If your car is on its last leg and you know the next repair is going to cost more than the car is worth, begin saving now so that you aren’t put out having to walk or take the bus to work/school.  
  • Add things into your life that bring you peace, such as prayer, singing, Bible study, a walk in God’s nature, and church services.  When your thoughts and emotions are filled with peace, you’re better able to handle the stressful transitions in life. 


     It’s been over a decade since that horrible, horrendous, and heinous first day of school, and yet I still find thankfulness and joy when I think back to how my principal handled my mistakes in transition.  When I walked into the school on that first day, I was met with a smile, a handshake, and a heartwarming, “Welcome back!”  We would do well to remember that transition is tough.  Let’s strive to be flexible and forgiving with others through life’s challenging changes.  Let’s also be grateful for the One whose mercy never changes.   


“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

Students, we hope your new school year is blessed with joy and peace as you continue to grow. 

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Family Forte: Sharing the Daring is Caring

by: Topher Wiles

Teens at Welch's Point for a Sunset

     That deep orange circle of sun rapidly disappeared underneath the canopy line of trees.  The edge of dark chasm between us and the sun only added to the gravity of the colorful spectacle before us.  So much joy filled my heart as I watched these teenagers quietly stay in awe of the sunset view from Welch’s point.  My heart was full. 
     I’ve listened to too many men share that life seems meaningless, empty of joy, devoid of passion, or lacking in purpose.  Yet, these exciting men are doing daring things.  They are fishing aficionados, drag racing darers, metal-working masters, tennis terrors, Zumba-aholics, and rock climbing rockstars.  How can a man enjoy such marvelous adventures, yet struggle to find fulfillment in life?  I think solution lies in the old mantra, “Sharing is caring.”
     No, I’m not talking about taking a photo, posting it on Facebook, and clicking a share button.  Sharing is connecting intimate time, moments, and memories personally with other people.  If you want to upgrade to the next level of fulfillment in life, there are four peoples you may want to share your life adventures with.   

Share Level 1 – Your spouse.
Climbing at Vertical eXcape
in Bowling Green
     As a minister, I counsel too many men who complain about losing the “spark” in marriage as husbands and wives live in the same house with their lives moving different directions. Regularly sharing adventures with my wife has brought us to a higher level of intimacy and fulfillment in our marriage.  
     Recently Ashley and I shared an inexpensive trip to southern Kentucky where we enjoyed indoor rock climbing and a butterfly sanctuary.  Our hearts that are often tugged in different directions by hurried schedules were rekindled as I encouraged her up a 30’ rock wall.  Our closeness increased as together we marveled at the soft kisses of butterfly wings as they fluttered all around us.  While butterflies are not my first choice of adventure and rock climbing certainly isn’t hers, the sharing of simple adventures together rekindled a fire and sense of fulfillment in our marriage.  If you find your hobbies unfulfilling in your life, consider sharing them with your wife.
Charlie Miller Butterfly Habitiat
Bowling Green


Share Level 2 – Share with your children
July 2019 at Welch's Point
     Some of my fondest memories of childhood are from my times drag racing with dad.  No, I couldn’t drive the 1969 Camaro, but he made sure I had an important job on his racing team. My little red radio flyer wagon was the perfect size to tote a big water sprayer which I dutifully used to cool down the car’s radiator after a run down the dragstrip.  I know I slowed down his daring dragracing, but it brought him a sense of joy knowing that his son was sharing in the adventures with him.  Likewise, there’s little I enjoy more today than when one of my kids gets up to preach a sermon with my help, navigates the rapids in a kayak beside me, or fires the .22 rifle as we target practice together.  To find more fulfillment in life, share in your adventures with your children.


Share Level 3 – Share with community kids
We kayaked to a cave
and got wet inside!
     Tim was good at making and flying model planes.  He loved the high-flying fun and sunk a lot of money into his immaculately made airplanes.  When I was 17 years old, I remember watching him as he met once on month on Tuesday nights with his “Airplane Club,” a group of kids in the community who built and flew airplanes with him.  Maybe it was his training as a preacher that gave him so much patience with the kids, because it took a lot when they crashed the creations they had made together.  Tim was a good example for me. As I look around the community in White County, I witness many kids that don’t have active parents in their lives sharing adventures with them.  No, not every kid likes to kayak, hike, and play tennis like I do.  Yet when we are willing to offer and share our adventures with others, I’ve found no shortage of kids willing to be in my informal “kayaking club.”  You’ll find me sporting a big grin as my sons and their new friends shout and yell their way down the rolling waters of the Caney Fork next to me.  Share your daring deeds with other kids who desperately need it and your heart will continue to be filled up.   

Share Level 4 – Share with another adult
I'm grateful for the many
gray haired men in my life!
     They had more gray hair than me, but I was blessed years ago to join with a group of adventurous men in church.  These old codgers taught me a lot: how to run a marathon, win a 5k, cycle 60 miles, catch the biggest bass, shoot pool, bow-hunt a deer, and much more.  Unbeknownst to me, this group of older fellas at church were training me in daring adventures which in turn, I would share with my sons. While I never intended to be a “dad-trainer,” now that I have a few more gray hairs, I now find myself in that same informal position, and I love it. It brings me great joy to take a young father running on his first half-marathon, give him his first tennis racket as he steps on the court with me, or guide him into his first cave exploring adventure.  My smile broadens as I watch him share the same daring adventures with other children as the process repeats itself. Share your adventures with other adults, and you’ll find no lack of fulfillment in all you do. 

     Welch’s point was beautiful the other day as I took those teens on a trip to see their first sunset from that high cliff precipice. Yet the greater joy came a few days later as photos popped into my Instagram feed of my first-timers now taking others to enjoy the same awe-inspiring experience.  Sharing truly is caring.  My heart is full. 
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews 13:16

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Family Forte: The Traveling Ten Year Old


by: Topher Wiles
     “Can a 10 year old make a difference in the communist, socialist, and challenging state of Cuba?”  That was the question I wondered before and after my trip with Ethan a couple weeks ago.   I struggled with fear and doubt as we approached this trip together, concerned for my son’s safety and usefulness during our first family foray into Cuba.  After the trip I received this message from that beautiful island country that answered my question.  
Ethan praying with little David in Matanzas, Cuba
     “Dios les bendiga hermanos, gracias por todo el trabajo realizado en su estancia en Cuba, los jóvenes pudieron tener las mejores condiciones gracias a la obra de amor hecha  con las manos de todos ustedes, muy especialmente del pequeño y ya gran misionero Ethan. Las más ricas bendiciones de Dios para todos. Hoy Susana usó para traducir un texto la Biblia que él le regaló. Mil gracias nuevamente. Un abrazo en Cristo. – Ludmila”
     Here is Ludmila’s message roughly translated. “God bless you brothers, thank you for all the work done in your stay in Cuba, the young people have the best conditions thanks to the work of love done with the hands of all of you, especially the little and already great missionary Ethan. God's richest blessings to all. Today Susana used the Bible he gave her to translate a text. Thanks a lot again. A hug in Christ. – Ludmila”
  Believe me, the need is great.  It’s hard to describe to you the poverty in places where the social services and resources to better yourself just don’t exist.  It is an annual reminder of how blessed I am to live in the United States where truly anyone can find success.  I shed tears each and every time I’ve left those countries, due to the plight of the beautiful people there.   
Ethan and Susana in a Bible class working on telling
the story of the paralytic and his friends in
Matthew 9:1-8.
   Allow me a few words for explanation. For the last 8 years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to underdeveloped countries in Central America to help meet the needs of poor and share the loving story of Christ.
     As a father, I believe the experiences would do a world of good for my own children as they develop.  To build relationships with kids in other countries, to get their hands dirty and bodies sweaty under the hot sun for little or no reward, to see the inescapable hardships that others experience on a daily basis: these are all reasons why I took my second son on his first international mission trip.  I knew the effort would leave a mark on him, but would Ethan be able to leave a mark on others? 
     Ethan is a good kid, don’t get me wrong.  Yet, he’s like most 10 year olds, as much of his focus is spent asking for more dessert and video games.   Yes, we’ve had Ethan studying Spanish since 1st grade.  Yes, we’ve taught him world cultures and geography in social studies classes.  Yes, we provide a structured schedule so that he reads Scripture daily, helping him desire to serve and love others.  Even so, I still wondered if it was worth the large monetary, time, and energy investment to take my son on a mission trip at such a young age. 
     Ludmila’s description of my son being the “little and already great missionary Ethan” settled my quandary once and for all.   
Ethan breaking up gravel for flooring the kitchen
in the sweltering Caribbean sun.
   Ethan swung a pickaxe with gusto to break up a gravelly dirt pile for flooring while we built a kitchen that would feed elderly and orphans in Cuba.  Ethan kneeled in prayer alongside children with different skin colors, accents, and experiences.  Ethan also wrote a short letter and a prayer into the cover of a bilingual Bible and gifted it to Ludmila’s 12-year-old daughter, Susana.   Ethan showed that in that culture, youth can be an active participant in success now, not just the future.  Yes, I now believe that the time, energy, and money invested to help Ethan be a part of Central Church of Christ’s mission effort will pay dividends in my son’s life and the lives of others in the world. 
   That young man may not have been the build site manager, mission trip leader, or class teacher but his example, friendship, and gifts left a lasting mark on people in Cuba.
     Most of all, it gave this dad a renewed respect for the influence a young person can have in bringing faith, hope, and love to a world in need.  My gratitude goes out to all of you that helped support Ethan through prayer, encouraging words, and donations.
     Parents, I know the lure of our culture pushes us to spend exorbitant amounts on our children’s travel experiences such as basketball tournaments, band trips, and Disney experiences.  I urge you to also set aside time, money, and efforts to give your children a mission experience serving the hungry and hurting of the world.  You and the world will be glad you did. 

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
     
(Author’s note: Due to volatile situations and government relationships, I must be cautious and measured with what I write publicly about the challenges of serving in Cuba.  If you have any questions about the state of the Cuban people, the government, or the needs, I’m happy to share my experience privately with you.  If you’re curious how to prep your child for missions, I’ve got a few ideas as this is our second successful effort for our children to be foreign missionaries. To ask questions, share your own experience, or meet together to talk, please email me at topherwiles@spartacoc.com.)

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Family Forte: The Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests

by: Topher Wiles

     I’m like most of you, growing up hearing quick quips like “it’s good enough for government work” and “How many government workers does it take to change a light bulb?” Being influenced by a culture of regular jabs at our civic workers makes even the best of us look for the lazy as we travel down highway construction zones. Yet, a recent TDOT worker in Sparta made me reconsider my culturally influenced perspective and reminded me of one of my important parenting principles for building strong families.
Point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. 

     Have you ever been a part of a church or met a family whose identity is defined by what they don’t do? Rather than being known for the fruit that they bear, how they make the world a better place, or how they bring glory to God, they focus on a checklist of things they don’t do that makes them “righteous.” In reality all they are creating is self-righteousness. As a dad, this pitfall is an easy trap to fall into as one of my primary roles in training my kids is discipline and correction. You’ll frequently hear me tell my boys, “Wiles men don’t whine,” “My boys will not lie,” or “We don’t hit.” If I’m not careful, I build a code of conduct that isn’t focused on positive communication, integrity, and gentleness but rather is a simple list of “do nots.”

     It takes purposeful and intentional effort to point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. As a parent, my positive efforts have lead me to create new mantras such as, “The men of the Wiles family don’t hit, but we do handshake, hug, help, and hold each other accountable.” As a preacher it means that I focus more messages on the positive ways Christ changed our world rather than negative behaviors. Yes, I’ll still tell people to abstain from drunkeness, sex outside of marriage, and the love of money; things that constitute the “milk” or elementary teachings of the Bible. However, the primary focus of most messages deals with cultivating a hope through salvation in Christ that breeds the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I want our church and my family to have a reputation for how we love God and our neighbors more than being known as “the church that doesn’t have musical instruments” or “the family that doesn’t watch tv.”

     That is why the TDOT workers I witnessed on Tuesday are so valuable. When I see those bright yellow reflective vests, no longer will I be conditioned to think they are lazy trying to gain as much hourly wage for as little work as possible. The group of men at Pressed 4 Time on North Main Street in Sparta got my attention for their respect, courtesy, and willingness to work. It was standing room only for lunch at this swift little sandwich shop located just across the road from the building where Central Church of Christ meets. I love to frequent this establishment because of their welcoming smiles and their Buffalo Kickin Chicken toasted sandwich. (Topher’s Tip: Add the dipping ranch and the homemade sweet-heat pickles and you’ve got an explosion of flavor in every bite!) All the tables were full on this lunch hour and this team of four yellow vests were occupying one of them when another group of four locals walked in.
I nabbed a quick cell phone shot of the sweeper.

     Due to rising popularity of the cafe, Annie and Sharon were literally “Pressed 4 Time” in taking orders, bussing tables, and delivering food, all while responding to smalltalk, smiling politely, and welcoming the new group who would need to wait for a table. The TDOT boys looked like they’d been sweating hard out in the sun that summer day and needed a full hour lunch break to rest and recover when they saw the new group walk in needing a table. Even though they weren’t finished with their food yet, the yellow vests recognized the dining dilemma, wrapped up the remainder of their sandwiches “to go,” and began bussing their own table. They cleaned up their own trash and quickly wiped their table, much to Annie’s protest. Then, one went an extra step and grabbed the broom. Noticing that his boots left mud tracks on the light colored floor under the table, he worked to quickly sweep every nook and cranny around the table and then also swept the rest of the main walkway through the restaurant. How often do you witness restaurant patrons doing the dirty work? In under a minute, the polite group of TDOT workers had Pressed 4 Time ready for the newcomers and were hopping back in their work truck.

     In that minute, my perspective of “good enough for government work” was changed by these four reflective vests, especially the broom man, who put a high value on respect, courtesy, and working hard to serve others. As a parent and preacher, I could naysay the negative by telling my kids, “Don’t leave your toys on the floor,” or chiding congregants with instructions, “Don’t leave Sunday lunch waitresses regretting that you were there.” Yet I know my words will have more impact if I frequently point out the positives in life like the time I witnessed the Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests. Always strive to be like these four workers as you seek to serve your community, be respectful of your neighbors, and leave every place better than you found it.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9



The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

FF: We Need More Celebrations of Life

by: Topher Wiles

     The line was long as it wound down the hallway to the entrance.  The small room was packed to the brim. Extra seats were brought in and immediately filled.  The late July heat was increasing as more people found space where ever they could sit, stand, or kneel.  The Wiles family found their way to the short steps located just before the entrance, two kids to a step. I stood just at the base of the steps where I had a pretty good vantage on the entire venue.  The event was beginning 30 minutes later than scheduled because it took that long for the line to wind down and people to find their seats. We were halfway through the Celebration of Life service for Joe Pat Clark at Hunter’s Funeral Home when I looked around and thought, “We need more of this for our families.  
     What I noticed was amazing. Many families at various stages of life were sitting, listening, laughing, and crying, all while giving full attention to the various speakers.  No children were fussing and fighting with siblings. Nobody was making mad dashes to the restroom. Not a single cell phone was out during the entire memorial service! That’s right, no men texted their workmates, no kids were playing games, and no middle-aged women were filming for Facebook.  
     I continued to watch for the full hour as friend after friend stood at the front to make you well up with tears or giggles with Joe Pat stories, and the entire time the audience in the packed out room remained focused on the speakers.  There was no high tech music for entertainment. There was no fancy Powerpoint for visual aids. There wasn’t a specific order in an elaborately planned program. What I witnessed was amazing and gave me hope.  
     I worry for modern families as I observe them in many different gatherings including: church services, public monument dedications, National Days of Prayer, company picnics, family reunions, and more.  In all of these events I regularly see families default to some form of technology to fill their attention and addiction. What I routinely witness are adults at the dinner table checking youtube videos, kids playing video games during prayer gatherings, and deacons checking sports scores during the sermon message.  Even I am not immune and am often tempted to pull my cell phone out in family time to answer emails, respond to texts, or plan my weekly calendar activities, all while missing the beautiful life around me.
     That is what made Joe Pat’s Celebration of Life service so special and why I believe we need more Celebrations of Life.  We need less Face-Time and more face to face time. We need fewer Facebook stories and more listening to people telling their life story.  This service time demonstrated that if we put our minds to it, we can strip down our gatherings to what is most important: people sharing life together.
     At this point you may be asking, “How can I strengthen my family to enjoy these beautiful life moments together?”  You’re not alone; many other families are asking the same question. Here are a few ideas to help. 
  • Set limits and stick to them.  Your toddler doesn’t need screentime for any reason.  Cut your teen down to no more than two hours of entertainment media per day.  Decide on your limits based on research and stick to them. 
  • Encourage your family to play.  Take them down the road to meet the neighbor kids.  Schedule time for them to ride their bikes to the next neighborhood.  Set a “healthy entertainment jar” on the kitchen table and draw a random event from it daily (i.e: hide-n-seek, freezetag, fishing, blanket forts, model building, puzzle work, reading a book…)
  • Create Tech-Free Zones.  Making the dinner table and the bed a tech-free zone will increase language development in kids and increase the quality and quantity of sleep for everyone.  
  • Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
  • Apps for kids – do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality.  Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
  • Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging, and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen. 
  • Do more research.  You can find some of these ideas and many more on websites like focusonthefamily.org and healthychildren.org.  Check them out and decide what works best for your family.
     As we travel through this journey of life, we are blessed to connect with other families who are noticing the same trends and wrestling through the same struggles.  You and I are not alone in goals to increase our family fortitude in a rapidly changing world. May you succeed in finding allies and strategies that focus your family on the best things life has to offer.  As always, if we at Family Forte can help or if you have a suggestion for an article, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Central Church of Christ in Sparta, TN.  
     “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” - Psalm 29:11
The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Family Forte: Appreciating Bugs, Girls, and Guts


by: Topher Wiles

That year was a dogged one for me as a Rutherford County boy.  I knew by my southern roots that I was supposed to be rough and tough, but in 1989, I felt as little and lost as a spec of dust in a Tennessee tornado.  After mom had her massive heart attack that landed her in the hospital for six weeks, I did little more than lay in bed listening to the radio and wondering what life was all about.  

My older sister was in the throes of teenage life and my younger sister was the darling baby of the family soon to start kindergarten, but as the middle child struggling with a young stage of depression in a world suddenly turned upside down, I felt broken, alone, and upset with life.  I can still remember the strong grasp those emotions had on me, all until Jack talked to me about bugs. 

(Photo Credit: treehugger.com)
Jack was a good kid, not an influential popular kid that everyone followed, but just a solid friend.  Our time together in Cub Scouts and Little League had given his family a familiarity with me, enough so that Jack knew I was hurting that summer.  Whether prompted by his mom or not, I may never know, but I’ll be eternally grateful that Jack talked to me about bugs.  His church down the road was one that I had spent time at, just not on Sundays.  (They had the only basketball goal with pavement in the entire neighborhood, so of course my friends and I invested time around the rim there.)  Jack gave me great hope, and it started when he asked me if I liked bugs.  My Cub Scout buddy proceeded to tell me all about a bug catcher they were making at VBS at his church that week.  It was formed from a coffee can with mesh covering a rectangular cutout in the lid complete with a string threaded through the sides to make an easy carrying strap, and I knew it would be perfect for summer lightning bugs.  Then Jack asked this unchurched kid if I wanted to come to his Vacation Bible School the next night to make my own bug catcher.
(Want to make your own bug catcher?  Metal coffee cans are harder to come by today, but Pinterest has got a lot of great ideas for plastic ones! https://www.pinterest.com/pin/154389093448733963/?lp=true

By the end of the week, I had felt loved by a lot of people, completed my bug catcher, and memorized some saying called a “Bible Verse.”  It went like this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Life, that four letter word was precious to me as I lay in bed after VBS and prayed my very first prayer asking a God I did not know to give my mother life. 

Yes, that really is Stephanie and her piano back in the day!
Who wouldn't go to church when she invites?
Fast forward six years to when I was struggling with the deeper meanings of life and my own teenage troubles.  Mom was much healthier by this point (by the grace of God I think,) and I hadn’t stepped foot inside a church assembly since that VBS (except maybe to play basketball indoors at the Mormon church building.)  I had just begun dating this pretty young lady in my AP Biology 2, a girl who captivated my heart with her big brown eyes, her flirtatious nature, and her piano playing ability.  One Wednesday evening at her house, after we had finished a discussion on the deeper concepts of life and its struggles, Stephanie played the piano and sang for me.  I was melted butter on a microwavable plate at that moment when she looked at me with those mesmerizing eyes and asked, “Do you want to go to church with me and talk?” 

GUTS.  I’ll always be thankful for guts.  That’s the word I use to describe what Jack, the bug catcher kid, and Stephanie, the piano playing beauty, had in common.  They saw the struggles I faced as a kid and had the boldness to invite me to their churches, a place where they knew that I could find love, hope, and a few answers to the tough questions of life.  I’ll always be thankful Jack and Stephanie had the guts to invite me to share in a life in Christ with them, even though none of us could see the bigger picture of what my life would become.  Today, as a result of bugs, girls, and guts, I serve as a minister of Central Church of Christ, where we also strive to be a church where people can find love, hope, and a few of their own answers to the tough questions of life.  Friends, never underestimate the good that can be done in someone’s struggling life if you just have the guts to befriend them and invite them to find love, hope, and faith in Christ.

It just so happens that we also have a Vacation Bible School event coming up on July 21st – 24th at Central Church of Christ.  It would be hypocritical of me to not to invest a few words to invite Family Forte readers to enjoy our VBS theme of “Power Up Parables” from 6:30pm-8pm each night.  We’ll begin with a meal open to all at 6pm and then jump right into a time of praise before we separate into youth and adult learning activities.  Our Super-Hero themed VBS will focus on the deep truths that the original Superman, Jesus, gave when he had the guts to share wisdom through stories.  I invite you to join us by first signing up at: www.spartacoc.com.  Most of all, we at Family Forte encourage you to continue invite others as you strengthen faith, hope, and love in your families.   

“Let us then with boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.