Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Family Forte: Gasoline, Weights, and Fatherly Influence

by: Topher Wiles

To all you dads who are still influencing me and have modeled fatherhood for me, I thank you.  Keep up the good work!

I was surprised at their attitudes.  Really, it was no big deal to me, but for some reason a simple act of service meant the world to them.  I want to know why and what that means for my family.

TAXI SERVICE.  Running on my way to the gym early in the morning while the dew was still heavy on grass and the sun had yet risen, I found a couple in their forties walking with a gas can in hand.  Even though they assured me they could make it on their own, I ran straight back home to get my minivan.  After purchasing their gas and morning caffeine, I enjoyed getting to know Kevin and Stacey while taxiing them back to their vehicle.

I share this story simply to set the context of their reaction.  They both repeatedly emphasized that my helping behavior was very abnormal and strange.  They used words like weird and crazy in describing it, and then profusely thanked and proclaimed rewards in heaven on my behalf.  When I got home and shared the story with my wife and kids, it was as it should be, no big deal but a good smile-worthy story.

Why did it seem so strange to spend a few minutes and $20 to help a stranded couple?  Shouldn’t that be normal life expectations?


LITTERED WEIGHTROOM. When I arrived at the gym for my workout, the floor was especially littered with weights.  Dumbbells and plates were laying all over decorating the floor like dilapidated cars decorating a redneck junkyard.  This, friends, is where I struggle to be nice and kind.  For some other people, you need to know not to talk to them before their morning cup of coffee.  For me, you better stand your casual conversation down until we get that mess cleaned up or I may come unhinged!  Dad always taught me to pick up my tools after working on my car, I guess that’s why I expect weights to be picked up.

Why is it so difficult for people to spend a few minutes to pick up after themselves? Shouldn’t that be normal life expectations?


WHERE DID IT COME FROM?  Friends, I didn’t grow up in church. I didn’t have these great elders and deacons modeling the ways to pray, the ways to study, and the ways to serve.  Yet I was blessed with a dad who served everyone.  Dad didn’t make a lot of money as a machinist or as a mechanic, but he took pride in his work and helped everyone he could.  I can still hear his favorite saying, “A job worth doing is a job worth doing right.” 


I remember when my baseball coach’s old car was turning into a rust bucket and coach needed a hand.  My dad spent all day Saturday sanding that blue Chevrolet down and patching holes.  By sunset, my dad looked like a Smurf from the 1990’s cartoon as he was coated in so much blue dust. When they finished that car up, it was a beautiful work of art that my dad was proud of.  I thought sanding was boring, but dad made me take it up and turn a few shades of blue too.  I also remember when he refused to take coach’s money as payment, knowing that coach had fallen on hard times.   


I think we dads have more influence that we ever realized.


PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.  It doesn’t matter if it’s $20 in gasoline, 20 minutes of your time, or picking up 20 lbs. of weight, if you are a dad, your kids will see and remember the service that you do.  In 2002, Indiana Purdue University and Indiana University did a study on the family impacts of volunteering and service.  (Email me for the .pdf file if you want it.)  In that lengthy thirty-two-page paper, one of the key benefits in a family of volunteerism was “transmission of values.”  No, we’re not talking about a car transmission but the concept may work well for an explanation.


Much like your car’s transmission funnels appropriate power directly from the engine to the wheels of your vehicle, service and volunteerism, especially when a family does it together, transmits much needed values from one generation to the next.  Values such as altruism, work ethic, neighborly care, and community responsibility aren’t learned from a textbook.  They are passed from parents who serve, volunteer, and help to their children who watch and model the same.

So why does it seem so rare today for people to clean up the community weight room or strange to help stranded motorists with a little gas?  Could it be that we are seeing the effects of the broken family culture that is promoted in the United States?


Fathers, we’ve got to do better for our families.  Dads, let’s commit to letting our children see us washing dishes for and with our wives.  Let’s take our children along as we help fix someone else’s car or build someone a handicap ramp. Let’s put down the video game controllers and take up a hammer and nails to patch a hole in someone’s roof after a storm.  Let us resolve to be the transmission that passes the good values of work ethic, community service, and civic responsibility to our children.  Resolve to build your Family Forte by modeling what they need.  The next generation is depending on you.   


“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6    

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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Family Forte: Build Romance by Asking These Questions

 by: Topher Wiles

The woman on the opposite bench was barking orders on her cell phone loud enough for five counties to hear, all while parking herself 30 feet away on this perfect starry night.  If she had not been so focused on her phone call at 8pm in Dogwood Park of Cookeville, she might have noticed six empty benches farther from us, but instead chose the closest one, nearly interrupting a delightful question and answer time.  Perhaps it was the relaxing smell of the Butternut Pumpkin candle that drew her in.  Maybe she wanted to be near smiling strangers to cheer herself up.  Perhaps God wanted her to hear the meaningful conversation a married couple was having after 16 years of marital growth. Despite the cellphone interrupting bystander, the candle and question night was a success for our marriage and our lives.

The Adventure Dating Book for Couples has been pointed ammunition in my quest to enhance our married dating life which had digressed to stale and stagnant.  Many of the scratch-off ideas would not be anything I would have chosen, but they have been reinvigorating for our romance.  Every Monday evening my beautiful bride and I conquer the adventures together and we always enjoy the results.  This week’s quest instructed us to shop for a favorite candle, which is a challenge since neither of us are candle people.  We laughed as we dismissed many lemony pine scents as cleaning products; so strong they cleared out our sinuses. Others reminded us of sweet times with grandma but were definitely not date-worthy. After 20 mask-wearing & despairing minutes of shopping the Home Goods store of Cookeville, we settled on a winner: Butternut Pumpkin by Red Leaf Home.  

Our final date night task challenged us to find a serene setting, light the candle, and ask two questions to each other.  Dogwood Park after sunset was a relatively peaceful location dotted with the occasional skateboarder, Subway sandwich eater, and dog walker.  The benches were dimly lit providing perfect ambience for a single candle between us on this gentle breeze evening. The questions were simple with Ashley knowing both my answers, that I’ll keep only between us.  Yet Ashley’s answers provided ample conversation and sharing, answers I admit, I had never dreamed up.

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning.” – Proverbs 1:5a

Counselor Greg Smalley of Focus on the Family gives the following ideas on how to listen to your spouse better.

  • ·         Turn toward your spouse and look him or her in the eyes.
  • ·         Resist distractions, such as your phone or the television.
  • ·         Pay attention to your spouse’s nonverbal cues and body language.
  • ·         Don’t think about rebuttals or whether you agree.
  • ·         Let your husband or wife finish talking. And, when it’s appropriate, repeat what you hear your spouse saying for clarification.
  • ·         Pay special attention to your spouse’s feelings.

When the Doobie Brothers sang their 1972 hit “Listen to the Music” they were hitting on truth when their lyrics sang, “What the people need Is a way to make 'em smile; It ain't so hard to do if you know how; Gotta get a message; Get it on through…”  When we actively listen to our spouse, the by-product is better than listening to Tom Johnston’s lead vocals; we often receive long-lasting heartfelt smiles and a deeper romantic connections.  The value of listening is a message of care that desperately needs to get through in our marriages and questions are a great way to start.

One of my favorite blogs for self-improvement, All Pro Dad, offers the following 10 questions to ask your spouse regularly to build deeper connections and spark fruitful conversations. www.allprodad.com/10-questions-ask-wife-every-year/

  1. What do you think is going right in our relationship?
  2. Where would you like our relationship to be this time next year?
  3. Will you please marry me, all over again?
  4.  I’d love to hear about your dreams for the future
  5. Is there anywhere you’d like to visit this coming year?
  6. Do you think we’re doing OK financially?
  7. How are you doing health-wise?
  8. If you could change one thing about our priorities as a family, what would it be?
  9.  Is there anything I devote regular time to that you see as a possible threat to our family or our relationship?
  10. Are you happy?

Just for fun, I’m throwing in five funny questions that may lighten the mood on your date nights:

  • What actor or actress would play you in a movie about your life?
  • What was your first impression of me?
  • If you woke up tomorrow as the opposite sex, what would be the top three things you’d do?
  • If I let your dress me, what would I wear on our next date?
  • What memory do you have of me that always makes you laugh?

Our conversation lasted well past loud cell-phone lady, Dogwood Park, and even our car ride home.  The woman I know so well taught me a few new things about herself that night, even after 16 great years of marriage.  The night was so wonderful that we have now purchased a second Butternut Pumpkin candle to keep the romance burning.  I hope questions and candles help you build your Family Forte with many more years of adventures.

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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Family Forte: Art's Word Replacement Program

by: Topher Wiles

Sometimes I hate it when she’s right.  At least, I dislike it in the short moment my heart is convicted and I have to apologize.  Yet, I am grateful for my wife’s perspective, especially when she politely corrects my speech. That’s right, even preachers need correction.

Dawn dish soap tasted terrible in my 10-year-old mouth. After yelling a certain four letter euphemism while running through my boyhood home, my mother washed my mouth out with soap.  I was incredulous as I remember thinking, “You and dad say it all the time, why am I in trouble?”  Over the next few years my language got fouler and my mom stopped punishing me even though it progressed to more colorful utterances than simple words.  A sailor would blush at the phrases, stories, and jokes that came out of my mouth before my Lord and Savior, Jesus, changed me.   In my late teens I remember digesting a verse from Paul’s letter to Ephesus, a verse that would tame my tongue and make me reconsider the words I offered the world around me.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29

From the reading of this verse I was changed.  If Jesus could sacrifice his life to bring grace to me, the least I could do in appreciation is watch my words to give grace to others.  Ever since that day, I’ve not uttered a cuss word, thereby removing all need for Dawn dish soap in my life.  Yet, removing a few choice words doesn’t mean my speech builds others up or gives grace to hearers, as my wife as dutifully noted.   Recently the struggle gripping me revolved around what I say at the dinner table and what I say to my sons.  Too often the words “knucklehead” or “nimrod” color my speech when I relay frustration at other people’s mistakes.  Sometimes I even feel entitled to utter those derogatory words after long hard days “being good” at work, like I’m owed a verbal vent for my frustration.  My sin deepened one time when a son made a mistake on a project around the house and I allowed my mouth to turn one of those words on him, resulting in my wife’s gentle correction. 

She said, “Christopher, please don’t use those words anymore, especially toward our children.”  I love my wife and I knew my frustration had stepped over a line, one that she was gently but firmly redefining for me in that moment.  I’m thankful that she remembered the instruction of Bible verses even when I forget.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

Even though I may not like it in the moment, I’m gratefully for my wife’s perspective and correction.   I’m also grateful for the older men in my life that seem to timely reorient my mouth in the right directly.  My friend Art Kixmilller, an older servant in the church, reoriented my speech as he shared with me six statements that we all need to say more to be positive, build others up, and give grace to those who would hear.  Here is Art’s word replacement program in a nutshell, strive to say the following statements more.

#6 "I admit I made a mistake"  

#5 "You did a good job."

#4 "What is your opinion?"

#3 "If you please..."

#2 "Thank you."

#1 Anything involving the word "WE".

 Then Art shared with me his own verbal shortcomings and how replacing a few negative sayings with these positives changed his life and relationships.  Science backs up what Art says, our words directly impact our lives in a major way!  From Peter Himmelmann’s 2018 Forbes magazine article titled “The Power of Positive Speech,” we read the following.

“The research that’s been done on the use of positive language to change mood, behavior, and physical well-being is abundant —and abundantly clear. When we regularly use a more buoyant language to describe our lives we stimulate frontal lobe activity. This includes the language centers such as the Wernicke's area and Broca's area, parts of the brain considered vital for human communication. Those are regions of the brain that link directly to the motor cortex, which is responsible for getting us to take action.

When there is a substantial increase in the use of positive language, functions in the parietal lobes begin to shift. Those shifts are responsible for creating more positive perceptions overall. It’s also believed that the structure of the thalamus —which is thought to be partly responsible for the way we perceive reality—can actually be altered in response to positive words, thoughts and emotions.”

Armed with Art’s six statements, my wife’s gentle correction, and a general mindfulness of my words, I’ve seen a few changes.  My relationships with my boys have improved, with them wanting to spend more time with dear old dad.  I’ve witnessed my feelings toward challenges with work and life grow in a more positive light.  I’ve seen a decrease in my own stress and an increase in my productivity.  In short, giving grace to those who hear me blesses me, my family, my church, and my community.  Art is right, our words matter.

May you be blessed today to find people who gently correct you and reorient you to more Family Forte too. 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

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 23, 2020

Family Forte: Five Ways to Unplug from Technology

by: Topher Wiles

Technology detox.  Have you ever heard of it?  Neither have I.  It was an unexpected yet welcome gift last week when friends invited us to Lincoln State Park in Indiana to enjoy tent camping.  The weather was clear, the mornings brisk, and the break therapeutic for my family and my soul.  Let me explain how it helped with a tech detox.

As a church minister over the years I’ve seen ministry communications shift drastically.  As a youth minister in 2002 I had an office landline for calls during regular business hours  with email for less pressing needs.  My Nokia cell phone had 180 minutes of talk time per month during peak hours and a whopping limit of 50 text messages per month.  Fast forward to 2020 where my landline is of little use, emails are a hassle, and unlimited data plus text messages reign supreme.  No longer do people expect to call me between 9-5pm in the office; my cell phone is a mobile office where most people regularly text me (and expect a reply) between 5am and 11pm. 

Throughout the day my cell phone stays on vibrate in my pocket and probably buzzes at least once per minute with social media notifications, new emails, text messages, FB messenger requests, snapchat replies, and the occasional phone call or voicemail.  Sadly, I’ve developed the habit of grabbing my phone to check messages even when it hasn’t vibrated, sometimes during family times or first thing in the morning when I wake up.  I’m showing the signs of being addicted to my technology. From Addiction.com we learn that 13% of Americans struggle with serious technology addiction and 84% of cell phone users say they can’t live without their phones for a single day. 

Camping at a park that had no cell phone service was a blessing in disguise.  After the initial drive through the park revealing zero signal for the next four days, I put my phone in airplane mode and for the first time in at least a year, I went the whole day without a cellphone in my pocket.  On occasion I noticed my hand compulsively drifting to my pocket to check updates but was relieved when I couldn’t access my phone.  The emotional and physical results were wonderful.

A photo with the Swartzentrubers is the
only photo I took on this camping trip!

Every time my children asked me to play frisbee, I played.  Whenever they wanted to go on a bike ride, we hopped on those two-wheelers together. Whenever my wife wanted to cozy up in the tent to stay warm, she didn’t have to compete with my cell phone for my attention.  My family received my undivided attention and I enjoyed a low stress detox time.  Going camping was a benefit for me, but how do we unplug from technological dependency without taking vacation time off work?  Here’s five tips I’ve gathered from across the internet and from friends.

  • Leave Work At Work – When your cellphone is your mobile office, it’s hard to set boundaries on work.  When you’ve finished your work for the day at 5pm (or any time you set), put up an auto-away message that states, “Thank you for your email. I’m away from my desk, and I look forward to responding to your message upon my return.” Then, forward your calls to voicemail. Facebook Pages also have an instant-reply option. By eliminating the temptation to check your emails and messages after work, you’re helping yourself unplug from technology and the job.
  • Schedule Downtime - Create a specific time each day that you will completely power down. Leave your phone in another room, close your laptop, and turn off the television. It’s time to go old school. Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read. Page through some cookbooks and find a dinner recipe. Play a board game with your spouse or children. Go for a walk and listen to the sounds around you.  I highly recommend the hour after dinner to be a tech-free time.
  • Create A Technology Bedtime - Establish a time that you’ll unplug from technology for the day. This might differ from day to day, or you might have a strict 9:00 p.m. technology bedtime each night. Either approach is great. The important thing is actually sticking to that bedtime. Whether this means putting your phone on “do not disturb,” physically turning off your computer, or putting all electronics in a different room is completely up to you. Find a strategy that works, and go for it!
  • Create a Tech-Free Zone - Establish a tech-free zone somewhere in your house — like a tech-free bedroom, living room, or kitchen table.  The point is this: whatever place you choose, stick to it. A tech-free zone means no phone, no tablet, no laptop. Ever. Period. You'll be surprised how quickly this space becomes your go-to relaxation haven where no distractions are welcome. 
  • Replace the Habit - If the first thing you do in the morning is check your social media, or it's the last thing you do before bed, it’s time for an intervention. You could replace scrolling through social media with reading a book or going for a walk around your neighborhood. You could kick your late-night email habit by doing some gentle stretching or Bible reading (with a paper Bible).  Or, if you must use technology to wind down, use it in a more productive way like to plan your schedule, reflect on the day in a digital journal, write a to-do list, or listen to a calming podcast. Start and end your day with something positive!

If you are like me, feeling like a slave to your technology, take a bit of time for rest and respite by setting appropriate boundaries for a tech detox.  You and your family will be glad you did.

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him: fret not because of him that prospers in his way, because of the man that brings mischievous devices to pass.” – Psalm 37:7 

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Family Forte: Navigating the Differences

by: Topher Wiles

Photo Credit: Closer Magazine
How do you navigate the myriad of family differences that exist in the political realm, the pandemic viewpoints, the religious spectrum, and more?  This important query stems from a middle-aged friend of mine whose child has a vastly different political viewpoint, bringing them to ask me how to handle this challenging family dynamic.  That is a big, messy, tough question that I’m scared to answer. Yet, as I dwell on this challenging situation longer, I think the answer to the question is simple and it was modeled by a wise man known in history as Jesus of Nazareth.  

In families, you value others by making time to dialogue with them and ask questions. 

Author Marvin B. Copenhaver states, “Contrary to some common assumptions, Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man, but more like the Great Questioner. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings.”

As I’ve been reading through the book of John I notice many different types of people that Jesus gives value to through dialogue and questioning.  Obviously they didn’t view religious, political, & life situations the same way as Jesus did.  Yet this wise man whose time was heavily desired by all invested time in listening to others. 

Consider Nathanael the honest skeptic in first chapter of John who himself asked the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yet Jesus valued this honest skeptic and his belief by investing time in dialoguing with him.

Take a look in the third chapter of John’s book that details a lengthy conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and religious elitist. Jesus asks him a though provoking question about understanding heavenly things before blasting Nicodemus with an earth shattering quote for this pious legalist when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Pharisees struggle with the concept of God loving more people than just their chosen group so Jesus invests more time valuing Nicodemus, the religious elitist, by unpacking that statement.

Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s writing?  Yes, as a Samaritan female growing up in a patriarchal society, she was likely the outcast, the oppressed, the outsider compared to a Jewish rabbi like Jesus. Yet Jesus values her when many would not by entering into a challenging question and answer period that resulted in many lives being changed.

The Jesus even shows us a completely different type of person He valued when He spoke with the Roman official at the end of John 4 about the healing of the official’s son.  If you were a Jew at this time, a Roman was basically your sworn enemy!  Yet Jesus gave value to the enemy of the state in dialogue.

Jesus even values the youth in his time.  There is a strong argument that many of the disciples were teenagers when they began following Jesus.  It’s possible that the writer and disciple, John, was only 13 years old when he began following Jesus. At the time of the Last Supper in John 13, we find this young disciple sitting in the place of authority at Jesus’ right hand as the group chatted about the upcoming betrayal.

As you read this great book of good news, I’m sure you’ll find more, but I bet you’re starting to get the point.  If Jesus values so many different people in dialogue, the honest skeptic, the religious elite, the outcast, the enemy of the state, and the youth, I know that you can value them too.  How do we handle differences of opinion within a family?  We give value to the people and we enter into dialogue with them just like Jesus did.

Might I suggest a few ground rules for family discussions that may help?

  • Begin by asking for a deliberate time to discuss your difference of opinion. Say, “Susie, can we carve out some time at dinner tomorrow night at dinner from 6-7pm to discuss our differing opinions on the upcoming presidential election? I would be glad to listen to you.” Asking permission as a parent gives them the opportunity to back out if feelings are already hurt and wounds are too raw to deal with right now. Setting up a specific time, such as a meal, can ensure the discussion has a beginning and an end. Value them by letting them know you will listen.
  • Set a rule that you will only discuss one topic at a time and give opportunity for everyone to share opinions on that topic before moving to the next. For example, do not start with discussing the pandemic then move on to debating nuclear warfare before both people have had the opportunity to share their viewpoints on the first topic. Value each other by sticking to one topic at a time.
  • If things get “too hot to handle,” anyone can call for a break in the discussion. Take a break for perhaps 15 minutes, or whatever time is needed, before discussing again.
  • Agree on the outset that you don’t have to agree to love each other. Their value to you is not dependent on them agreeing with everything you say. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is one of the most intrinsically valuable rules you can have.

Friends, we know that families struggle and differing viewpoints often bring discord and stress.  Remember to be like Jesus in valuing the differing family member by listening, asking questions, and engaging in healthy discussions with them.  You’ll be glad you did.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19 

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Family Forte: Brothers Handshake, Help, & Hug

by: Topher Wiles

     As I pen this Family Forte article I find myself sitting at the table in an RV parked in Jamestown, OH, a bustling cornfield metropolis of less than 2,000 people.  How did I wind up here?  The story begins with an oft repeated dadism, “Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other.”

Even in 2013, you could see the difference in personalities!

   About three years into my foray as a father, I was thrown a curveball with my strapping young second son, Ethan.  Being two years younger than Gabriel, his secondborn nature showed a stronger and dominant demeanor.  As the two boys grew, they would often get into tussles with Ethan showing physical dominance over Gabriel who showed restraint.   Many scraps would end with the younger hurting the older and I realized my challenge as a dad was to teach these boys that they were not competitors, but that they were cooperative teammates. So as a father I laid down two ground rules to aid in the development of our family.

     The first rule was that the boys were never allowed to wrestle or box with each other, but only cooperatively against me.  Having been a high school wrestler and taekwondo student, I could allow the boys to test their physical strength with me in ways that challenged them but didn’t hurt them. Our wrestling matches on the bunk beds were epic events that often left my wife laughing over the organized chaos that ensued. A marvelous result of these cooperative wrestling matches that pitted Gabriel and Ethan against me was that they decreased their striving against one another focusing instead on working together toward my demise. We liked the result of the first ground rule and simplified it to, “Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other.”

     The second rule that I laid down from dad authority was that the boys were to focus their lives on agreement rather than differences, aid rather than aggression, and encouragement rather than trash-talking.  As they learned to compete with me, I directed them to focus their energy on encouraging one another on their successes, helping each other learn from mistakes, and ending each competition with respectful handshakes and hugs all around.  I distinctly remember one meaningful moment when this rule played out. 

     For a few years in sparring matches the boys were never able to land a single strike on me so I never wore a helmet even though I required protective gear for them.  My unprotected head learned a valuable lesson the day our sparring session ended with me blocking Gabriel’s roundhouse kick to the ribs followed by Ethan executing a textbook spinning backfist to my left temple, surprising me by the blow and bringing me to a knee to recover. As I shook my ringing head clear, I was blessed to witness Gabriel jubilantly high-fiving Ethan and hugging him all while verbally praising him for his deftly delivered shot. In return Ethan congratulated Gabriel on the perfectly planned roundhouse that caused me to drop my high guard for the session ending blow.  It was a proud dad moment for me seeing our second rule play out.  We simplified the rule to the short phrase, “Brothers handshake, help, and hug.”  FYI, I now wear a helmet when we spar.

     Brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other. This engrained mantra has grown beyond my now 11 and 13 year old boys to include the church in my life as well. 

     I believe that church is not an event but the church of Christ is a family.  That makes the men and women who are fellow believers and followers of Jesus Christ my brothers and sisters. The Bible is very purposeful in describing how church family should treat one another when it sums our conduct up in Peter’s first letter.  “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” – 1 Peter 1:22-23. 

     While the world struggles with complaining, grumbling, and nefarious methods of treating others, the family of Christ has demonstrated to me what true brotherly love looks like. When my children were born, Godly brothers in Christ were at the hospital to hug, handshake, and high-five my moments of joy.  When an acute back injury saw me struggling as my family moved to from Washington, IN, it was the brothers in Christ who showed up as working army helping move all my belongings into our new home in Sparta, TN.  When I made mistakes in life, my true brothers weren’t quick to deride or trash-talk me, but they strove to direct and guide me back toward God’s lighted path.  My church brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but my brothers handshake, help, and hug each other.  

     Thus I find myself in a motorhome parked in the middle of the cornfields of Jamestown, Ohio awaiting the outcome of a brother’s nearby back surgery.  This believer in Christ was quick to aid the Central Church of Christ family with many hours of volunteer labor in 2020. But life changed and his back necessitated a surgery in central Ohio. Our family in Christ responded by driving a motorhome with a comfy and safe bed for prone transportation of our recovering brother from the Ohio hospital back to Sparta for his continuation of recovery.  In life we’ve learned that the size and type of family does not matter, but what does matter is that brothers don’t hit or hurt each other, but brothers handshake, help, and hug each other through life's challenges.  As you strive to build your family’s forte, may this dadism bless you as it has me. Sparta, we'll see you soon.

     “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50

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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Family Forte: For Love and Adventure

by: Topher Wiles

The slicing hard steel blade was mere millimeters away from my fumbling fingers.  How did I get in this position of dicing pecans while blindfolded?  It all comes down to two words: love and adventure. Today I’m praying that readers actively instill both in their marriage.  

Love is what attracted me to Ashley nineteen years ago.  No, it wasn’t love at first sight. (Truth be told, she liked me months before I knew it; I’m a little slow sometimes.)  Yet love grew from a loving friendly relationship in which I tried to serve and help her with her schooling at Lipscomb University, to a loving intimate and exclusive relationship where I chose to sacrifice for her to give her the life of her dreams.  Love is the primary reason we chose to have those four beautiful children that we invest so much of our lives into now.   Love is still growing in our marriage relationship today as she and I both choose to learn how to better serve, help, and encourage each other toward God.  After taking a little look at our marriage relationship, it was love that motivated me to strive to do better in our dating life. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, county storm damage needs, and general increase in church work, I realized that I was investing so much time in meeting the needs of others that I was failing to invest time in my wife.  Sure, I worked on her car, mowed the grass, helped her with dishes, swept the floor, played tennis with her, and ticked marks off my honey-do list, but for months I hadn’t done anything fun with my wife.  That’s right, I had forgotten to “date” my wife.  That longstanding part of a loving relationship in which you go do adventurous things together was gone, replaced with responsibilities at home and service to others. 

That’s where love comes in.  Back in the Biblical Hebrew culture, love wasn’t merely an emotion or a mental exercise, it was a choice and an action.  If I was going to honestly tell Ashley, “I love you,” each night before bed, I needed to choose to be loving and follow it up with an action.  Love is why I purchased “The Adventure Challenge” book.  Now, I’m not going out on a limb to say that I recommend The Adventure Challenge to you yet at it’s $40 price tag, but our first experience was a blast!

There are three versions of The Adventure Challenge book available for purchase online, one for families, one for friends, and one for couples.  https://www.theadventurechallenge.com/  The Adventure Challenge for couples serves as a catalyst for meaningful, fun, and adventurous interactions in a marriage, much like we had when we were dating.  In our younger years (pre-kids), Ashley and I would take last minute trips, go rock climbing, visit flea markets in little towns, and attend social spectacles like the RC Cola & Moonpie Festival in Bell Buckle.  Alas, with life changes those adventurous moments have declined.  The Adventure Challenge for couples contains 40 PG-rated entertainment ideas in a fun and mysterious scratch-off format.  That’s right, you take a coin and scratch away that familiar gray film to reveal your next couples adventure.  The rules of the book state that you have to do whatever it says; no backing out.  Out of love, I purchased The Adventure Challenge book for our marriage and an adventure is exactly what we had! That’s how I found myself blindfolded chopping up pecans!

Our first scratch off together was titled, “The Helpless Baker.” The surprising instructions read like this: “Make a homemade pie together! One of you must mix all the ingredients by yourself…BLINDFOLDED, while the other person gives instructions by leading with their hands.” Baking a pie sounded mundane, with a chess pie or fudge pie being too easy, so we settled on an adventurous Kentucky Derby Pie. This deliciously mouth-watering dish proved tougher as it combined the following ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, coconut, chocolate chips, two eggs, and chopped pecans.  There was nothing mundane in this adventure as it proved quite the challenge to do blindfolded!  Ashley is a marvel in the kitchen and she was patient as she guided my hands and tapped out “yes” and “no” on my skin when I asked questions.  I was excited after cracking the eggs (yes blindfolded!) on the rim of a bowl to hear Ashley clapping and letting me know I spilled lost no rogue egg shell into the mixture.  Then the chopping pecan challenge came.  Ashley shared that she was nervous at first as I used my left hand to slowly feed individual pecans into the slicing and dicing knife wielded in my right.  Deciding that method was too slow, I put both hands on top of the knife and attacked a pile of pecans on the cutting board, only shooting a few across the counter. With the chopping finished and mixture poured into the awaiting crust, she guided my oven-mitted hands holding the prize into the pre-heated oven.

Blindfold removed, we laughed and talked about that 30 minute adventure for the next couple hours as we washed dishes together, ate delicious pie, and wound down for the night.  It was love that caused us to actively seek new ways to date in our marriage relationship.  It is the new and unexpected adventures like The Helpless Baker that give us memories to share. 

Love truly is an amazing choice that brings so much joy into the life of a marriage, a team, a church, a business, and a community.  I share my experience in Family Forte in hopes that you will choose to lovingly seek ways to take your relationships into ever growing adventures together. May your Family Forte be blessed as you choose to love.

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Family Forte: The Distracted And Distressed

by: Topher Wiles

I felt like a heel when I realize my parenting hypocrisy.  As my 3rd born son, six year old Micah is irresistibly adorable.  His bright blue eyes that he inherited from me were perfectly framed by his freckled face and sandy blonde hair when he looked up and asked one of his many daily questions. This query was one of his easier ones. “Dad, will you play basketball with me?” 

Look at Micah's
adorable blue eyes!

To my credit, ever since the tornado of March 3rd, storm damage of March 29th, and the shutting down of Central’s traditional church services in April, my time has been slammed, especially in the evenings with meetings and Bible studies on Zoom.  Many of you parents are going through the exact same situations in the last few months.  Our time is stretched to the max right now as demands increase! 

At the time Micah asked his question at 7pm in the evening, I was sitting on the living room couch staring at my phone.  I was involved in a text message thread with the elders from our church, Godly men that are a high priority in my life, but not as high as my children.  So what was my answer to adorable Micah’s question?  “Not now Micah, I’m responding to messages.”

To his credit, he didn’t backtalk, throw a fit, or even complain.  Yet his downcast gaze, slumped shoulders, and slow pace walking away let me know how disappointed he was and I immediately realized I made a mistake.  It was time to repent.  That’s right, that “churchy” word fits perfectly in this situation.  It was time for me to apologize, turn my actions around, and do my best to make it right.  By God’s grace, I sat the elder’s message thread down along with my cell phone, hugged Micah, and had a raucous basketball game with him on our 8’ goal.  Smiles and sweat abounded for the next 20 minutes, a time well invested in my children’s lives.  

The next day I received an e-mail from “All Pro Dad” which is a marvelous digital content provider that I subscribe to.  To tell you how good it is, Tony Dungee (former coach of Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts) is one of the primary contributors.  Their daily email described the “5 Dangers of Distracted Parenting.”  Since author Matt Haviland does a masterful job of describing the dangers of parents like me who are often distracted from higher priorities, here is a direct quote of the dangers from his article by his permission.

“1. Distracted parenting stunts your child’s emotional growth. When parents are distracted and unengaged with their children, those children miss out on a crucial buffer to help them express emotions through healthy outlets. This void can potentially create behavioral issues. Dad, get in the game, literally. An actively engaged father helps relieve his children of stored-up energy in a positive way and helps set boundaries when physical play becomes too aggressive.

2. Your child feels insignificant. Think of the silent message distracted parenting sends to your kids. For a child whose dad is constantly on his phone, it’s easy to believe that “something else is more important than me.” Failure to fully engage in your children’s lives robs them of any experiences that prove they are worth somebody’s undivided attention, thus reducing self-esteem and confidence. And it robs you of invaluable opportunities to be fully present in moments that only happen once.

3. It delays your child’s brain growth. I will not deny we all have important obligations. What I will refute is the use of devices as a form of babysitting, which can seriously inhibit brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 18 months and only two hours a day for children over the age of five, including teenagers. Are your children on screens for beneficial reasons, or just so you can do your own thing? Also be wise to the behavior you model to your child through continual personal screen time.

4. Your child does not develop communication skills. It is not possible for a distracted parent to hold authentic dialogue with a child. A parent is a child’s first teacher, and conversational skills children will need to function as adults are drastically hindered when families are not actively communicating. Around the dinner table is one of the top examples of where dialogue can occur, but do not underestimate car rides, before and after school, and even at parks, libraries, and social gatherings.

5. Your child doesn’t develop empathy.  I once saw a toddler tip over backward in her chair at the library. Coming to her mom crying and looking for comfort, she was met with resistance. The reason? Mom was too busy on Facebook. Whether two or twelve, when our children continually receive the message that their problems are not ours, they struggle to develop empathy because they rarely received it themselves. That spilled cup, lost item, or botched school project may not seem like a big deal to us—but it is for them.”
(Read the full article here.)

Friends, I have a little bit of experience with youth.  I was a 6 year youth minister, a 3 year public school teacher, a coach of at least 18 youth sports teams, and I have 4 children with one as a teenager. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that youth need your attention for good development.  I’m more important to my kids than I am to this world.  If I died today, some of the world would miss me yet  would largely be unchanged. However, my absence would change my children’s lives forever.  Dads, be there in the moment with your kids and not on your cellphone.  The Maria Edgeworth quote is true, “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” 

“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, July 8, 2020

White County Covid-19 Graph

I haven't been able to find charts and graphs of Covid-19 data in White County, so I began creating them on June 1st. Here's the latest as of 09/11.  All data is taken from the Tennessee government health site. https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/health/cedep/ncov/data.html
Since June 1st - Click image for larger view.  Updated 9/11

Since June 1st - Click image for larger view. Updated 9/8

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Since Aug 1st - Click image for larger view. Updated 8/27

Since June 1st - Click image for larger view. Updated 8/27

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Since August 1st - Click image for larger view. Updated 8/24

Click the image for the larger view - Updated 8/20/2020

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Coronavirus Chart
Click the image for a larger view - Updated 07/09/2020

Updated 07/08/2020