Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Family Forte: 13 Ways to Love Your Teenager

by: Topher Wiles
Photo Credit: Fascinate.com
Glory Hallelujah, we’ve reached the teenage years!  I know, I know, the teenage years for many are worse than a cat’s tail stuck in the screen door.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way; God intended abundant life during the teenage years too.  In honor of Gabriel’s 13th birthday, here are 13 family strengthening ideas I’ve stashed away in my teenage preparation toolbox.
13. Invest Time in Your Teen – Gabriel still loves creating Legos masterpieces.  However, I’m more interested in how he’s progressed in his Microsoft Excel tutorials in school.  In my time serving as a high school math teacher and church youth minister I watched the hands of time tick down on teenagers seeking their parent’s attention and approval.  For his confidence growth, whenever he wants to share his newest Picasso artform in Lego medium, I need to invest time in listening and marveling at his passionate progress in Legos more than Excel.   
12. Say You’re Sorry – Adults, we stink at uttering the simple words, “I’m sorry.”  When I remind myself that my goal with my son is to raise an adult who loves God and the community around him, I am struck by how much he needs to see adult skills modeled in me.  That means apologizing when I’m running late, short on my temper, or selfish in my time.  Adult skills take adult examples to learn and a father is a perfect place for the learning to deepen.
Ashley's chocolate cherry 13th
birthday cake was good!
11. Have Fun – Teenagers have so much energy, so many big dreams, and a desire to shirk responsibility to play.  Why not shirk responsibility together?  Yes, my kids have frequently heard my mantra, “Work first, play later.”  They’ll probably write it on my tombstone when I’m gone.  I won’t let go of that mantra lightly, but I do make exceptions to go create some fun with my son because he needs it.  Go check out Willard Harley’s chapter on recreational companionship and a man’s need for it in “His Needs, Her Needs.”  Then go have some fun with your teen.
10. Maintain Your Authority – I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am my son’s parent.  Enough said.
9. Reward Maturity with Freedom – When he gets that legendary license freedom that begins with being home by 9pm, I’ll extend his nightly curfew when he shows the maturity of being home on time.  Give more freedom when they demonstrate repeated growth with mature decisions.
8. Connect Them to God – Teens need hope more now than ever that there exists something bigger than them and their world experience.  You can connect them to God by continuing to read the Bible with them, take nature walks with them, slow down to meditate with them, serve with them, and fast with them about the decisions of life.   As you connect with God personally in your life, invite them to the same.
7. Connect Them to Other Adults – If their entire world is made up of teenage life, teenage peers, and teenage media, they are living in the confines of a very small bubble missing out on some of the great blessings a broader life has to offer.  Involve them in civic organizations, church leadership teams, or multigenerational workforces in a business.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.
6. Run at Their Pace – Sometimes I run 5k races to win and sometimes I run to help train others to win.  If I’m training others, I can’t bolt out of a starting line and leave them, expecting them to catch up later.  Slow your life down a little so you can run beside your teenager through the challenges their experience has to offer. 
Look at Gabriel smile!
5. Be Fertilizer for Ambition – Fertilizer may stink sometimes, but the nutrients it gives provides for growth.  Your progeny may want to only sit and home playing video games and may not want your pushing them on to higher goals, greater adventures, and bigger kingdoms to conquer.  Know your child enough to recognize when they need a boost and fertilize that ambition.
4. Be Soil for Deep Roots – Don’t let them chase every passing adventure in life.  The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Remind them when they need to stay in an area and develop deeper roots that will benefit them for years in life by providing stability and strength. 
3. Listen to their Fears – Fear of the future, failure, and loneliness are common in these years.  You may not have all the answers, but God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.  Listen to your kid. 
Does time fly?
You bet it does, so
enjoy it!
2. Give Up the Lawnmower for a Weedeater – The new term, “Lawnmower Parent” describes those who cut a clear path for their kids to succeed like those parents who paid for cheating test scores so their kids could get into the ivy league schools.  We all struggle with being a lawnmower because we want to help our kids.  Think less about clearing the path in front of them and focus on just clearing some of the unwanted weeds around the edges of life. 
1. Love Them Anyway – Your teens will make mistakes, say things that hurt you, and fail to be perfect.  Love them anyway, because God loves you.

Sometimes I stink at parenting and need to follow my own advice better.  So when you see me as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, remind me of the wisdom learned in this article so I can approach these teenage years as cool as the cat who got the cream.  May you be blessed with Family Forte as you strive to bless your children with abundant life.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus in John 10:10b

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, January 7, 2020

Family Forte: Socializing and Thriving as Families


By: Topher Wiles

    The question used to surprise us.  Well meaning people who knew our family’s activities would ask the question and I struggled to understand the logic.  Our kids are involved in sports teams, community clubs, outdoors events, the YMCA, our church, a homeschool cooperative, music lessons, and more.  Knowing that, I’m always surprised when someone asks, “Don’t you worry that your homeschool kids aren’t properly socialized?” 
     Since we are well known for our home education efforts, we get quite a few concerned comments about our children being properly “socialized.” Caring people live in fear that we are short-changing our kids without involvement in the standard school system.  I appreciate their care and their willingness to ask.  I guess it is true that there are some homeschoolers who live more like hermits, but that’s definitely not us.  So I try to turn their question to address social isolation for families as a whole.
     My usual response begins by asking, “Did you know I was a public high school algebra teacher?”  Once I’ve solidified common ground that I can talk intelligently about our current education and social structures,  I follow with, “Have you ever seen a socially awkward or isolated student in a standard school?”  They always return with a “Yes, I know a few.”  Sometimes they even admit that they themselves were the awkward one (really, we all went through middleschool and struggled didn’t we?).  Then, I follow by thanking them for their concern and letting them know that positive socialization for all of members of families and the malady of loneliness are important issues to us and to our God, no matter how we receive our education.  If they are willing, we talk about loneliness and what we can do to help.  In my years in public education, I saw more than my fair share of those who struggled with isolation, awkwardness, and feeling out-of-place.  Sadly, I see it even more now in adults than in kids and have seen first hands some of the dangerous affects.
     From the New York Times Article “How Social Isolation IsKilling Us” comes the following eye-opening information of a loneliness plague that is hurting our families in the United States.  Author Dhruv Khullar gives us the following news.

“Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. Loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking. Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. Socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions.”

     Social isolation or loneliness is a growing problem in our country in every age range and its negative affects can be clearly seen in the medical and psychological fields.  The good news is, there are quite a few tools you can use to help someone avoid this malady and encourage positive relationships that breath life into their existence.
     The tool I appreciate most for my kids and my wife is the Lord’s church. 
Perhaps God knew all this isolation was debilitating when He inspired this remedy, “(Let us) not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) In a day of TV church, Radio church, and Podcast church, nothing can replace the benefits in my children's lives of the face-to-face real Church, which is the gathering of loving people and purposeful encouragement of the of those around you.  Even though we at Central livestream our services on our website, I encourage viewers to meet together as often as is possible.
     God has also given us some other wonderful social constructs such as extended family, civic clubs, and sporting teams.  Ashley and I endeavor to keep our kids involved in a little bit of each.  We love the Vision basketball league in Cookeville that focuses on sportsmanship and positive relationships.  We are excited about the start of a Trail Life program in Sparta later this year (it’s the Christian version of Boy Scouts).  We treasure the moments when we listen to live music and play chess with neighbors at the Coffee Collective in downtown Sparta.  Our local YMCA, where I serve as a board member, is growing to be even more of a positive, healthy, and encouraging environment for all people to enjoy.  God has blessed us with many wonderful ways to develop deep and regular meaningful relationships in our church and community so that we can avoid the harmful affects of social isolation. 
     Just as you push your kids to invest time eating healthy foods and exercise, for the sake of your family, can I push you to also invest time in positive social relationships?  Come experience family love at Central Church of Christ or come see me at the YMCA and I’ll make sure to give you a welcoming smile.  If you are “properly socialized” and know someone who struggles with social isolation, then lovingly and regularly invite them to come along with you.  We’ll give them a big smile too. 
     “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11


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.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Family Forte: Resolve to Achieve a 2020 Vision

by: Topher Wiles
Topher in 1991
Regularly since 1990 I’ve visited that beloved optometrist who puts a funny little machine over my eyes and asks, “Which one is more in focus, one or two?”  In 6th grade I received my first pair of brown and white “turtle-framed” glasses and I got a bad haircut from my older sister’s friend, a combination that set the school year off on the wrong foot.  Yet, I excelled somehow, making much better grades than previous years and developing lasting friendships.  Those grades & friends stayed steadily strong all the way through high school.  Correcting the weaknesses that affected my focus (and getting a better haircut) led to marked improvements in my life.  I know I’m not alone in that learning experience.
Vision that is rated at 20/20 is the standard for clear focus, yet many of us struggle with vision that is much weaker.  When our weaknesses in our eyes cause problems where we can’t focus in the proper place or distance, studies show that it affects us in profound ways.  According to www.allaboutvision.com, the lack of proper focus “can affect learning ability, personality and adjustment in school.”  I was one of those students, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.  In fifth grade, I almost didn’t pass my classes and struggled to get along with my teacher who thought I was lazy.  When my focus was corrected with glasses in 6th grade I shot to the top of my class with straight A’s. 
Focus and weaknesses are exactly what Paul was referring to when he writes to the church at Colossi, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)  Paul lists several weaknesses that inhibited them from focusing on things that are above.  Making the top list of weaknesses from the Colossian past are: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, desire, greed, idolatry (3:5), anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (3:8).  Indulging in these weaknesses, they were limiting their ability to focus. Indulging in these items were like adding a cataract or a stigmatism to a child’s eyes where they can’t properly focus at school.  The lack of focus greatly impacted their lives.   
New Year’s resolutions are all about focus.  Whether you make 1, 10, or 100 resolutions, make sure those resolutions are focused on “things that are above.”  Then, set goals and make plans to get rid of all those “weaknesses” that inhibit your ability to focus on those heavenly resolutions.   I’d like to suggest a few resolutions that might change your year, your decade, or your life to give you a 2020 focus?
·         Read the entire New Testament, Old Testament, or Bible in 2020.
·         Set a 10 minute time and small place to pray every single day.
·         Identify a child to mentor, empower, or encourage specifically for the year.
·         Search for a church or a non-profit to invest your time and abilities into for the year.
·         Commit time to a family service project for others once per month.
·         Commit to studying with one person in 2020 in the hopes of leading them to the Lord’s salvation.          
If you’ve looked back on the last year or last decade with regret realizing that you had life “out of focus” then now is the perfect time to make the change.  Remove the weaknesses that inhibit you from focusing on “things that are above”.  It will change your life, someone else’s life, and potentially the lives of generations to come.
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” – Proverbs 4:25-26
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, December 18, 2019

Family Forte: The Heel, the Hercules, and the Humble Hero


By: Topher Wiles
She’s received a litany of gifts from me including a vacuum cleaner, racquetballs, and tickets to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert over our 18 Christmases. Yet, the best gift she can remember has left me at times feeling like a Heel and at other times feeling like a Hercules.  Even better than the way the gift makes me feel is the Humble Hero it reminds me of.  If all that feels cryptic, it’s ok, all will soon be revealed to those of stout heart willing to persevere through the following anecdotal explanations.  The best writings reveal their truth over time, like the unwrapping of a present.
HEEL.  When you feel like a heel you believe you have treated someone unfairly or given them less attention than they deserve in life.  I definitely felt like a big heavy ugly heel the week after Christmas in 2004.  It’s hard not to play the comparison game isn’t it?  In our first Christmas as a married couple we set some stiff limits on our noel spending.  We knew those student loans weren’t going to pay themselves off, so our money discipline led us to declare a $10 spending limit on our gifts.   Now, you and I know that it is completely unfair for a couple 20 year-olds to compare themselves to a married couple with kids in their late 30’s, but that’s exactly the temptation I fell prey to when a sweet lady at church made friendly conversation with my wife.
The inquisitive well-meaning woman asked, “What did Topher buy you for Christmas?” 
“Welding gloves,” was my wife’s reply followed by, “What did your husband buy you?” 
“This jewelry,” she replied.  Do I need to explain anymore why I felt like a heel?
HERCULES.  I’m sure the mythological character, Hercules, felt pretty proud of himself when he slayed the invulnerable lion or toppled the multi-headed hydra.   I imagine him beating his chest, fist bumping friends, and making loud guttural sounds in celebration of his monumental achievements.  I may have done some of the same when I saw my wife’s response to a Facebook survey last week.  The question was, “What was the best Christmas gift you’ve ever been given.”  Her reply was, “Welding gloves.”  Hercules never flexed as big as I did in that moment. 
My wife was a domestic marvel even early on in our marriage.  She poured time and effort into baking the most delicious delights and this newlywed husband was mesmerized by her culinary artistry and beauty like Greeks were enamored with Aphrodite.  Yet, my bride wasn’t perfect and frequently received battle scars in duels with her oven baking racks.  Ashley’s arms were receiving the raw end of the deal as she routinely seared the flesh just beyond the wrists because those beautiful oven mitts just didn’t provide the coverage that my beloved needed.  When I found red welding gloves (yes, the kind that industrial commercial welders used) on Black Friday sale for $8, I was excited.  Their red hues even matched our kitchen décor!  The best part wasn’t the price or the color, but the length of coverage that travelled well up onto her forearms.  The forearm branding ceased during the next decade that she used her Christmas gift of culinary armor.
It’s hard for beaus to buy gifts for their belles.  Some ladies prefer the practical while some appreciate the pretty.  One lady may treasure the thought while another puts priority on a price-tag.  God gave us women who differ in love-languages and present preferences, and that’s just part of the adventure as we strive to buy them the best gift to honor their uniqueness.  Sometimes your gift makes you feel as a hero and sometimes a zero.   This time, my gift was special to my wife because it fit what she needed, matched her décor, appeased the budget, and was a complete surprise.
HUMBLE HERO.  Some of the best gifts in life are the ones you least expected.  That’s exactly why Jesus is the best gift the world has ever seen.  As you slowly unwrap the truth of Jesus through a life of worship, prayer, and study, you start to see just how wonderful of a gift He is.  The world expects a savior like the physically strong and striking Hercules to deliver us but we were surprised instead to receive a man who lacked physical beauty to save us from our sins (Isaiah 53:2).  Jesus’s sacrifice is a gift that costs exactly the price that was required of sin, nothing more and certainly nothing less (Romans 6:23).  Giving of His Son as the Christ was the surprising gift God knew we needed most (Philippians 4:19) which causes us to rejoice (Philippians 4:4).  Jesus is the Humble Hero that became the greatest gift the world has ever known which causes us to declare the same as Paul.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15
Of all the great gifts you been given, from pretty to practical, fancy to festive, and delicious to delightful, make sure this season to thank God for giving us the Humble Hero of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hunter's Annual Remembrance 2019

The following are some of my notes from Hunter Funeral Home's annual remembrance service here in 2019.
*****
  On behalf of the family at Hunter Funeral Home, I'd like to welcome you to our annual Remembrance time.  I'm Topher Wiles, minister at Central Church of Christ.   The invitation we all received said at the top, "Someone is missing at Christmas."  Those words right there bond us all together in this community.  We've all experienced the loss of someone important in our lives.
This year, there were memorial services for around 150 people here ranging from infants all the way up to 101 years old.  And it doesn't matter, whether young our old, whether you've made a trip to the funeral home 1 time or 10 times this year, when you lose someone special, they are missed throughout your life, but especially this time of year.

The Telling of Three Tree Ornaments
    Grandma Nell was so sweet when she gave us her tree about 16 years ago.  That Christmas tree has seen a lot of years and we were happy to keep putting it up year after year when she no longer could.  As our first Christmas tree in the Wiles family, our ornaments took on the personality of the tree.  We began decorating with mostly hand-me-down ornaments donated by Grandma, my mom, sweet friends, and dirty-Santa game winnings.  Now that old tree is completely filled with memories of sweet times and sweet people long past.  I’d like to tell you about three of our ornaments that will bless some families this year who may find some struggling moments during the Christmas holiday season.
     One of my favorite ornaments to put on the tree makes me laugh out loud as it comes with a story.  As we pull this delicate ornament out of the box my kids wait expectantly on the edge of their seat for the coming hilarity of the story.  During our first Christmas together as husband and wife, my Ashley decided to cheaply make ornaments for our tree.  Her chosen materials for the ornament were cinnamon and apple sauce.  Did you know you can bake them together to make a cute star shape, bell, or heart through which ribbon can be threaded?  Yes, we have cinnamon based ornaments that have been on our tree for 15 years.  And they taste horrible.  I would know, because 15 years ago I took a bite out of one of those ornaments.  They may smell sweet, but they taste like dirt.  My kids laugh every year as I tell the story of my ornament tasting time.  Some ornamental memories make us laugh.
      I have another ornament that I alone get to hang on the tree near the top.  It’s a little blue plastic star framing a nativity scene.  It’s not anything special, but with a family that doesn’t profess or practice a lot of religious faith, my late Grandma Marge’s makes me smile as it signifies her own belief in Christ.  She hung it every year at the top of her tree, and that ornament is one of the few things I have left from my grandma who passed away 24 years ago.  When I hang the ornament I remember the sweet times of eating chicken pot pie at the bar in her kitchen or visiting the humane society where she worked.  Some ornamental memories make us smile.
     There is another ornament that completely caught me off guard.  My mom was always crafty and handmade so many things for us kids through our years.  Annually, my mom would handmake a few new ornaments on our tree, most of them were odd, like crocheted lollipops or paper stars, but I kept them every year anyway and dutifully hung them on the tree.  When mom passed away in May a couple years ago, I didn’t think a thing about those Christmas ornaments until I started hanging them on the tree six months later.  I pulled out the pink crocheted lollipop and was surprised as tears started welling up in my eyes.  I had cried little over mom’s passing, as I’ve been a minister and hospital chaplain for years, often comforting others in the passing of their loved ones.  Yet here I was six months later breaking down in tears remembering mom and all her handmade ornaments.  Some ornamental memories make us cry.
     Laughing, smiling, and crying are all perfectly normal emotions during the holiday season as we remember the good times, the sweet people, and the lives that we miss.  If you are struggling through missing a loved one this Christmas season, I want you to know that it is perfectly ok to experience all of those emotions.  There is a song on youtube from the Piano Guys and Craig Evans called “The Sweetest Gift” that will help you in expressing all those emotions.  Simply search for that song title and artists and you’ll be blessed with a song that expresses some of our tough sentiments. 



There's a stanza I love in that song. 
The memories flood my mind
As I place your ornament upon our tree
Although this year I have a broken heart
It gives me hope and joy as I remember where you are

One of the best services I attended this year was simply a service of remembering.  It was for an older fella who played a joke on my family one time with his brother.  That service of remembering was for Joe Pat Clark.  Oh, it was funny, it was heart warming, it was endearing.  We all left grateful for investing time there to honor Joe Pat and his family.  What I'll remember most about Joe Pat is how he looked like Santa Clause at the Holidays. 

What you remember about your loved ones at the holidays?
     I remember my mom buying me a nerf gun every year for Christmas even when I was an adult.  
     Remembering the good times while we acknowledge our grief can be very healing. 

I think David had Jeduthn do just the same thing in Psalm 77:1-13a as he laments the tough times, but ends on remembering the good times God has given. 
I cried out to God for help;

    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
Beyond simply recalling a memory, what else can we do to honor a loved one this time of year?  Here are a few ideas.
What you can do:
  • Serve others in their name
  • Make a donation to their favorite charity in their name
  • Set a vase of their loved one’s favorite flowers in front of an empty chair
  • Share a memory of their loved one and observe a moment of silence before enjoying their holiday meal. 
  • Prepare your loved one's favorite dish from their recipe for the holiday meal.
  • In our church, we purchase poinsettias in honor of those who have passed as a reminder of special memories with them.
  • Create a scrapbook of items that remind you of your loved one.
  • Visit the grave-site
  • Watch their favorite movie or TV show or listen to their favorite song. 
  • Now, What are some of your ideas to honor your loved one?

One of the best ways we can honor them is to live a life they would be proud of.  Linda Ellis expresses that well in her 1996 poem titled, The Dash. 

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone,
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
           about how you spent YOUR dash?


Linda  Ellis captures one of the best ways we can honor someone else, through how we live our lives.

I believe the person we should strive to honor most of all is Jesus Christ.  John 14:1-6a expresses well what He's done for us that is worthy of honor. 
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life."


Jesus has provided us a way to the Father's house.  May we remember Him and honor Him with our lives this holiday season.
In honor of those who have passed away, here are my screenshots set to background music of 3 songs.
Supermarket Flowers - by Ed Sheeran
Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven
Over the Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole



You can probably find Hunter's professional video by clicking the link here: https://www.hunterfuneralhome.net/


My prayer for you this holiday season is that you find God's peace during this season as you remember those you miss.  God bless you.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Family Forte: Missing My Mark


By: Topher Wiles

It was one of the most exhilarating moments in life, followed by three hours of disappointment.  Yet, that moment illustrates perfectly our battle with sin. 

I was fully prepared for the task before me.  Since it was below 20 degrees that morning, I was completely covered head to toe in the warmest and most flexible gear I had.  I’d spent weeks sighting in my bow from standing on the bed of my truck down at a target on ground level.  My arrows were straight and true, ready to follow wherever I pointed the peep sight. 

That hour in the deer stand at sunrise was pure bliss. That peaceful hour was suddenly interrupted by rustle in the woods beyond my vision. I grunted on my deer caller and was rewarded when a decent sized buck appeared in the woods before me. 

For those who don't hunt much, there is a specific area of vitals we want to hit that brings about a quicker harvest and less suffering for the animal.  Shooting a deer isn’t the toughest job in the world, because it’s a relatively big animal and those who bowhunt aren’t there just to “shoot an animal,” we’re out in the freezing cold reenacting a time-honored hunting practice that the world has enjoyed for a few thousand years for one purpose, to hit within our 8” diameter mark. 

The buck came within 40 feet, and when I made a little noise, he turned to give me the perfect broadside shot.  I pulled the bow back excitedly, but momentarily forgot how to aim!  I realized I wasn't laying the bowstring on my cheek, I wasn't looking through the peepsight, and I wasn't sure which pin to use to line up my distance!  In my excitement, I forgot how to hit my mark!  I released the arrow and immediately knew I hit him (I could see the point of impact) but knew I missed his vitals. I shot too high and toward the rear of the animal, missing my mark.

Over three hours and a half mile of tracking later, my church buddy and I had to call off our search.  We had lost the blood trail and had no deer meat for the freezer.  Missing by 6-9 inches of that "bullseye" mark was enough to give me guilt in knowing that the deer went through extended suffering that I didn't intend or want. It gave me guilt in know that I spent over 4 hours away from my family with nothing to show for it.  It gave me grief knowing that in that moment of testing, there were no excuses, I ... missed ... my ... mark.

If you’re not up on your church lingo, there is a word we use that simply means, “to miss the mark.”  That word is “sin.”  In my handy dandy Greek dictionary, I am given a few definitions for the way this word is used throughout the Bible. 
1) to be without a share in the prize,
2) to miss the mark,
3) to err, be mistaken,
4) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong,
5) to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law.

It’s important for us to understand this concept of sin, not as a fancy church word that gives people a license to be judgmental, but as a word that helps us describe what happens when we miss the mark God intended for our lives and for humanity.  When the hunter misses his mark, he misses out on the desired prize, he loses precious time on the hunt, wastes precious resources, and causes unnecessary suffering.

Like missing the mark for a hunter, when we humans sin, it also leaves us without a prize, losing precious time in life, wasting our precious resources, and often causes unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others.   Consider when a man commits adultery in his marriage, which God defines in the Bible as a “sin,” a missing of the bullseye God intended for humanity (Hebrews 13:4).  What follows is time lost, resources wasted, unnecessary suffering for all parties involved, and the people involved missing out on one of God’s best prizes in life, the wedded bliss that comes of a happy and healthy marriage.  In one moment of missing the mark, sinning, a person can destroy years of preparation, of time investment, and of love.  Whether we’re talking about adultery, drunkenness, gossip, or angry words, each of the sins misses the mark for what God intended for humanity.  When we allow our families to indulge in “missing the mark” we’re setting them up for a similar disappointment that I experienced when I sinned from my deer stand in the woods. 

This is partly why I continue to daily read the Bible with my children, involve them in Christian based activities, surround them with positive Christian influences, take them to be part of an active church, and discipline them in small areas where they miss the mark.  It’s an effort to strengthen my family by preparing them for a life to routinely hit the bullseye. 

Now that you understand sin from a hunter’s perspective, please understand the core of Christianity and why Jesus came.  Just as no trained & disciplined hunter can hit the bullseye of a target perfectly every time he shoots every day of his life, so too do we often miss the mark in life. 
Romans 3:23 tells us that all people have missed the mark and Romans 6:23 tells us there is a stiff penalty for our sin.  Yet God, in all His great providence, gave us Jesus who paid the price for our missing of marks, so that we can enjoy the prize anyway. 

Friends, whether hunting or raising a family, may your aim be true this season so that you hit all your marks.  Also let your heart be grateful for Jesus who not only straightens our aim but gives us hope of eternal life even when we miss.  Thank God for Jesus.
"The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 6:23

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Family Forte: Feeding A Starving Family


by: Topher Wiles

My boys were starving and needed nourishment from me.  As I overheard their argument pushing their tones to get higher pitched, their volumes louder, and their reasoning to falter, I knew they needed life giving nourishment that a father can provide.

Our world is starving for something of which you and I have a potentially unlimited supply. You can get it by simply deciding to have it. You can give it away freely to thousands of people and still have plenty to give yourself. In fact, the more you give away, the more you will be surrounded with it. This elusive, yet potentially unlimited substance is simply “a positive encouraging word.”

So, why is encouragement in such short supply? We live in a society where people gravitate toward the bad news; the shocking, the fear-inspiring, and the awful. Too many of us are constantly on the look out for something negative or shocking to talk about or promote. The news media is too often a prime example of the focus on the negative (although I’m excited that the Expositor is one outlet seeking something different!).  This influx of negativity leaves us like the child who eats only bacon and twinkies.   Their appetite is satiated for a while, but their body is mal-nourished.

Even though there exist unsung heroes doing their best to share goodness in the world, statistically, it rarely is reported in the news and our social media.  Families as a result of our cultural consumption are drowning in the flood of negativity and unless we as individuals and a community take immediate action, we too will drown in this world’s negative onslaught.   Yet, there is hope and we can provide the poisitve nourishment needed.  Our families, our friends, and our neighbors are starving for positive encouraging words that you and I can give. 

The argument was strengthening between my sons as I rounded the corner into the room wearing my “serious” face. A stern look was all it took to gain the attention of my boys and stop all bickering.  They expected me to lower the boom and bring a fiery wrath that any dad is capable of.  What came next from my mouth shocked them in a new way and completely changed the direction of our day. 

“You are loved,” were the first words I spoke after a long moment of silence.  Then, I followed with encouragement, sharing with them the care I believe they were capable of, the level of respect I thought they deserved from each other, and how much their brothers, their mother, and I really loved them.  We wrapped up our correction by having the boys share heartfelt compliments to each other and stories of when we felt loved by each other.  The boys needed no negative consequences this time to remind them of the lesson, they only needed encouragement. The hugs and smiles that followed the escalating argument reminded me how nourishing encouraging words can be. 

Photo Credit: CrackerBarrel.com
As you gather around the table this holiday season greeting loved ones with bellies full of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes, remember that they may still be starving for something more than food.  Too often, tables are filled with sweet food, but the air is soured by harsh sentiment and negative news.  Your family needs you to be a source of the positive, encouraging, and loving nourishment.  You have the power to feed starving families.  

Recently I was writing about the nourishment of positive words, when words of poetry began to flow from my pen.  The following is an original *Shakespearean-styled sonnet that you may need to hear or share, titled, "You are Loved."

Ever and anon, be sure; you are loved.
For as the Son rises, one realizes.
This awesome truth remains; It is not shoved,
But gently trickles into the wisest.

You are loved, by the great Father above,
Through whom is every good and perfect gift,
By Spirit who showed in likeness of a dove,
Whose blessed peace and comfort kindles so swift.

You are loved, by the Sacrificial Son,
Who dared care not if you were rich nor poor,
By His blood your full salvation is won.
This loving effort stands forevermore.

So share your love, due to the gift granted,
And watch love grow by the seed you planted.

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." - Hebrews 3:12-13

*(A Shakespearean sonnet contains 14 lines of 10 syllables following the rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.)



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, November 13, 2019

Family Forte: Lasting Gratitude - More Than a Re-tweet


by: Topher Wiles

     Has it really been 5 years since David Letterman retired from Late Show entertainment? 
Recently, Dave was on the Ellen Degeneres show chatting about the era that ended in 2015 when he finished his 33 years in nighttime TV with a simple, "That's pretty much all I got ... thank you and goodnight." When we look back through social media at the moment, some fans responded with tears, others offered  jokes, and a few responded with thanks.  I am particularly struck by Conan O’Brien’s tweet (did you know he still has a show?), which sums up much of how our culture has shifted in the post-modern era. 

"It's absolutely absurd to thank David Letterman for all he's done in a tweet.  But that's the world we live in now. #ThanksDave" – Conan O’Brien

     That tweet was retweeted 2,900 times.  Yes, “retweeted”.  That means some people were too lazy to write their own 20 second grateful tweet and just clicked the retweet button on Conan’s.  Conan, true to form, was making commentary and his followers illustrated well “the world we live in now.”  It’s a world of fast tweets and short-lived gratitude, trending today and retreating tomorrow. 
     Yet there are some who choose to be different than “the world we live in now.”  Last week I received a special treat in the mail, a handwritten “Thank You” card from my friend John.  Sure, I catch the occasional text, tweet, snap or email in my inbox after serving someone but none of them feel the same as reading that handwritten note from John.   I don’t save screenshots of text message gratitude, but I have a box full of handwritten thank you cards from the last 20 years of serving others, and I’m grateful for them. 
     Who have you thanked lately?  I am convinced that the mayor, secretaries, firemen, law enforcement, coffee baristas, county commissioners, newspaper editors, ministers, librarians, social workers, church elders, teachers, janitors, physical trainers, principals and more deserve greater thanks than a text message.  Those who serve us on a regular basis deserve our long-lasting gratitude.
     I believe this strongly enough that I’ve changed my own habits to strengthen myself and my own feelings of gratitude.  If you are like me, fully immersed in the digital age, then you are familiar with project and time management apps like Google Calendar, Reminders, and Tasks.  At the top of my daily digital to-do list every Monday through Thursday (my traditional office days) is the task, “Write a Thank You Note.”  Conveniently located next to my desk is a stack of my own custom designed thank you cards (thanks to designer Chelsea Hilton & Brady Printing).  Next to that stack is a roll of stamps.  It takes me merely 5 minutes a day to snag a notecard, write a personal thank you to a friend, and drop it in the mail. 
     How does this translate into Family Forte (family strength)?  First, by training yourself to be more grateful your gratitude will rub off on others, including your own family.  Moreover, you can also intentionally train your family to be more grateful with just a few small efforts such as:
  • ·         Putting a pack of “Thank You” cards in your kids’ Christmas stockings each year;
  • ·         Counting your blessings together before bed every night;
  • ·         Making a “Turkey Ticket” for Thanksgiving, a receipt roll that is one centimeter long for each year of their life, that they must fill up with things they are grateful for as an entry ticket to your Thanksgiving meal;
  • ·         Creating a “Thankful ABC’s” chart to fill out every Sunday night before bed as a family, naming 25 things you’re thankful for from the previous week (we’ll give you a pass on the letter “x”);
  • ·         Giving your family a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt during warm weather in which your family members walk the neighborhood (individually or in teams) and take photos with specific listed items or neighbors to be grateful for.

  
I’m convinced that developing gratitude in myself and my family is some of the best invested time of my day, only to be topped by the time I invest in prayer in which I always thank God first (Prayer is also good to put in your daily task list!).
Our Holy Scripture handed down from the Father through His Spirit gives us a view of gratitude that is much more than a retweet or social media post.  Read the following “Text Messages” from Scripture about gratitude.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -  Colossians 3:17

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” – Ephesians 1:16

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
 – Psalm 50:23

Gratitude can be practiced in many long lasting ways.  It can displayed by doing something in someone’s name (Col 3:17).  It is done by praying for a person (Eph 1:16).   It is shown by sacrificing for someone (Ps 50:23).  If you’re thankful for someone today, how about doing something to honor them, praying for them, or sacrificing five minutes for them by writing a note.  A retweet is a start, but real gratitude is more – it is the calling of the community of Christ. 

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
” – Ephesians 4:1b


    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.