Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Family Forte: The Traveling Ten Year Old


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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Family Forte: The Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests

by: Topher Wiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

FF: We Need More Celebrations of Life

by: Topher Wiles

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Family Forte: Appreciating Bugs, Girls, and Guts


by: Topher Wiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Family Forte: Practicing a Positive Perspective

By: Ashley Wiles

Summer, summer, wherefore art thou, summer?  Every year, I marvel at how quickly the summer passes.  As I write this, I find myself in July, staring down the beginning of school.  Yes, we homeschool, but we follow a traditional school calendar, which means July is the time for finalizing plans for the upcoming year, and this year, I have more plans to make.  You see, Micah is five now, which means he will be doing kindergarten with us this year. (And boy, is he thrilled about it!) I've been cruising along in a good rhythm with Gabriel (7th) and Ethan (5th), who have become a lot more self-directed in their learning, but now, I've got to circle back and think about some things I haven't had to in a few years.  Out come the easy readers and early math books. Out comes an adjusted daily schedule in which I am a lot more hands-on in school work. Oh, and kindergarten is a signal that it's time to take care of some other business: shots.

I had mentioned to Micah a few months ago that he was due for a few booster shots this summer, and his reaction was predictable: reluctance, concern, anxiety.  He can't really remember receiving other vaccines, and besides, who really wants to go to the doctor and get poked with a needle? I offered honesty (it will sting) and reassurance (it doesn't last long), but I wasn’t sure that he was convinced.  Not wanting him to have mounting anxiety, I didn't bring up the subject again until the morning of our appointment last week. 

"Micah, today you will take the next step toward kindergarten."

"What is it?"

"Booster shots."

"Yes!!!!!!"

He was excited?!  Yes, it appeared that in his little brain over the last few weeks, he had turned his fear over shots into...happiness.  When I questioned him about it, he simply said, "They mean I'll be ready for kindergarten."  

When was the last time you were excited about an unpleasant, albeit beneficial, task?

I get to write a twenty page paper to finish this college course!

I get to pay my car insurance!

I get to go to the gym and get really sore!

I get to write lesson plans!

I get to unclog this drain!

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t said any of those things with much excitement. I'll admit it:  my first instinct is not to view the good that comes from these tasks. Instead, I usually think about all the work and discomfort that's going to be involved.  Thankfully, the simple conversation with my son reminded me that sometimes a change of perspective is in order. 

How do we cultivate this positive perspective shift? The apostle Paul is one who seemed to have mastered this attitude of gratitude.  If anyone could complain or be anxious about the future, it was him. This was a man who endured beatings, jail time, shipwrecks, hunger, and homelessness (2 Corinthians 11), but he didn't seem to fret.  Instead, Paul wrote that he delighted in his hardships because they made him stronger and advanced the cause of Christ for which he worked (2 Corinthians 12:10).  With Christ’s help, Paul kept his purpose and his goal in view. He knew what he was working toward, and he kept at it, even when faced with discomfort or death. How’s that for perspective?

We can use this mindset when we’re facing tasks we dread.

I get to write a twenty page paper to finish this college course!  I am privileged to receive higher education that will create opportunities for me.

I get to pay my car insurance!  I have the ability to drive and will have some financial help in case of an accident.

I get to go to the gym and get really sore!  I am getting healthier and stronger.

I get to write lesson plans!  I can teach and influence children. 

I get to unclog this drain!  I, unlike a lot of the world, have indoor plumbing and clean water.

Micah showed this to me.  He took his vaccines bravely; even the nurses were surprised by how tough he was. Micah knew the secret: he could see something momentarily painful (shots) was going to lead him to something he really wanted (kindergarten). When we’re tempted to complain about or be afraid of something ahead, let’s remember Micah and Paul’s approach and practice a positive perspective. 

"...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." - Paul, in Philippians 3:13-14


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.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Family Forte: All Freedoms Require a Cost

by: Topher Wiles
What began with tears of frustration ended with a smile of joy.  At any age, freedom comes with a cost, a tough lesson that my wonderful wife was determined to teach my darling daughter.  At three years old, Clara was delayed in potty-training just a bit longer than her three older brothers.  As I got up from my chair at the kitchen table, my daughter stuck out her quivering lower lip with tears streaming down her cheeks.  So deep was her desire to go with dad on a hardware store run that she was devastated when her mother said, “No.”  Ashley cancelled all her regular routine and daddy-daughter trips to stay home and teach Clara the value of keeping that big girl underwear dry.  Ashley did not to the YMCA for her normal morning Pilates class, and we cancelled our evening tennis, all in the hopes that Clara could be trained to use the porcelain.  Yet the deepest cut for Clara was being told “no” to a trip with dad as her brothers walked out the door with me.  Even though there is great long-term freedom in maturing to using the potty like a big girl, that freedom comes with a short term cost that is hard for a three year old to understand.  
We see the cost for freedom played out in our families every day. For a 16 year old, it may be in the form of sacrificing time working a first job to pay for insurance and gas to be able to enjoy that driver's license.   The cost for freedom from heavy college debt may come in the form of sacrificing years of high school study and hard work to be rewarded with freeing scholarships and grants.  The cost of freedom from an abusive relationship may come with the discomfort of having to go it alone for a little while.  The cost of freedom from a debilitating drug addiction may come in the form of strict treatment and restrictive rehab.  The cost of freedom from the restraint of diapers and changing tables may come in the form of a week of earnest potty training, but even for a 3 year old, we know the cost for freedom is worth the effort. 
As parents building our Family Forte, or strength, it is essential that we bear with the short term costs that give our children greater freedom. We understand that freedom comes with a cost no matter the size of the struggle.  We see this principle in major conflicts from world history. In the great battle between the thirteen American colonies and Great Britain we learned that our Independence Day cost approximately 25,000 patriots.  In WWII, the “War to End All Wars”, there were over 400,000 American soldiers lost by the end of 1945.  Yet the cost of freedom isn’t felt only on major world stages.  We feel it in cities in America on a daily basis.  According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, we’ve lost 62 police officers this year in America while on duty.  In Tennessee alone, three families will struggle through the fireworks of the 4th this year as their loved ones died wearing a badge while on duty in 2019.  We understand that sober truth that freedom has a price, and at this time of year we honor those who have made the greatest sacrifices for our freedom.
Our heavenly Father knew the cost better than any of us when He sent His only Son.  John describes that great cost of freedom from sin this way, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son to pay for sins, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Jesus understood the cost so well that he foreshadowed to his disciples by saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Our Savior knew that true freedom was worth it, and it was something we desperately needed when He shared, “If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.” (John 8:36)  Yes, freedom comes with a cost. 
As I walked through the door on day two of potty training I was greeted with great news.  Clara was all smiles as she came running up with arms spread wide to give me a big hug.  Then she shared her proud statement of the day.  “Daddy, I used the potty!”  I beamed as big a smile as I could as I encouraged her saying, “I’m so proud of you Clara.  What a big girl you are!”  Then I encouraged my wife, who sacrificed her time, energy, and routine in this little battle of life so that our daughter can enjoy a greater freedom as she matures.  Yes, we understand that freedom comes with a cost no matter the size of the struggle.  We hope and pray that you will continue to fortify your family by sacrificing for your children’s physical, monetary, emotional, and spiritual freedom because their freedom is well worth the cost. 



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, June 26, 2019

Family Forte: Putting Down the Bumpers


by: Topher Wiles

Tepid.  Tepid is the way I would describe Ethan’s reaction to our upcoming activity.  We had already enjoyed the Huntsville Space Center on Ethan’s special 10th birthday trip, and then we proceeded down the Alabama roads toward the bowling/arcade/laser tag complex.  I was excited. Maybe it was because we had gotten a great price on the package deal starting with an hour of bowling, or perhaps it was because I was thrilled to enjoy three days alone on a trip with my middle son.  Maybe my previous time coaching bowling at Portland High School had filled me with positive feelings toward maple board planks and crashing pins.  However, it was obvious that Ethan was much less excited than I was.  Ethan’s reaction was disappointingly lukewarm as my excitement toward bowling was growing.  Tepid.

Walking up to the lane, I didn’t notice that the bumpers were down.  Ethan carefully selected his 7lb ball while I tied my bowling shoes and dutifully put our initials into the electronic scorecard.  I looked up from cleaning my bowling ball, and Ethan’s orange polyurethane projectile was already making its way down the lane to find four pins.  “Nice job big man; you did that without a bumper,” I offered as encouragement.

Immediately he froze and asked, “Dad can you put the bumpers up?”  I could see his fear of throwing a gutterball.

“I think you’re fine without them.  I’ll teach you how to keep it in the middle of the lane.  Try and roll another one straight, and we’ll see how it goes.” 

Reluctantly, Ethan threw his next ball.  To his surprise, my second-born picked up two more pins and a big grin on his face.  For the rest of the hour, we worked on a consistent starting spot, a smooth approach, and a solid follow through while using no bumpers.  While he only scored 74 with one spare in that game, I made sure to congratulate him on leaving no open frames, having knocked down at least 1 pin each of his 10 opportunities.

We played games, rode bumper cars, grabbed some lunch, and made our way back home to Sparta, TN.  In the truck, I asked Ethan what the best part of the trip was.  I thought that maybe he’d talk about the centrifuge experience at the Hunstville Space Center or the virtual roller coaster ride on the moon.  Maybe he’d share about the hiking around the lake in the mountains or the air hockey table in our AirBnB.  Maybe he’d share about the night we stayed up way too late playing Super Mario Smash Brothers, or he’d remember that colossal burger he ate at Cheddars.  To my surprise, that tepid look was replaced with excitement as Ethan shared, “I liked knocking over 74 pins without a bumper!” 

I was proud of Ethan, and it had nothing to do with the score.  My pride swelled because of my 10-year-old’s willingness to trust and his joy at overcoming a challenge.  There are few things that make a dad’s heart glad like a kid who will listen, learn, and grow beyond the bumpers of life. 

As a bowling coach, I purchased my own shoes, my own rolling bag, and my own bowling ball drilled perfectly to fit my hand.  I learned to throw a nice hook that swung out wide to the edge of the lane and then broke back toward the right pocket of the headpin for a strike.  My scores were great, averaging in the 180’s… except when I went bowling with my young children and shared their lane with the bumpers.  When the bumper was up, I struggled to break 100.  Why was that?  With a bumper up, I couldn’t throw my ball out wide across the boards for a hook, maximizing the potential of my game. 

What bumpers are holding you back from enjoying the best God has for you in life? 

Maybe you struggle with the “Perfect Bumper.”  This is the bumper that hinders us from enjoying some of the best people or the best moments in life.   Waiting for the “perfect person” or the “perfect moment” with no imperfections causes us to miss out on the good things around us.  Maybe it’s your time to grow by putting away the “perfect bumper” that’s been protecting you from the occasional gutterball.

What about the “Worry Bumper?”  Some people put this bumper up as a defense to protect from the uncertainties of money, relationships, and even faith experiences.  For instance, some people struggle to step foot in a church because they worry what everyone will think.  Don’t let the worry bumper cause decision paralysis where you fail to even roll a ball down the lane of life.  Learn and grow as you put the worry bumper down, knowing that the occasional gutterball won’t sink your score.   
Could you struggle with the “Predictability Bumper?”  That’s the bumper we put up whenever we fear changes in life.  Some people avoid college, marriage, or a new job because they fear the unknown in the changes of life.  They settle on the predictable if it is uncomfortable.  Maybe it’s time for you to put the predictability bumper down to enjoy the beautiful new and growing experiences God has to offer you in life. 

Sometimes we need to put down the bumpers of perfection, worry, and predictability for our ball to cross the most and best boards that a life in Christ has to offer.  Enjoy more than tepid moments by growing, learning, and embracing the joy of overcoming exciting challenges in life.  I was proud of Ethan for meeting the challenge and growing from it.  Your heavenly Father will be proud of you, too.    

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18 


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, June 19, 2019

FREEEEEDOOOOM in Marriage!

Family Forte:  FREEEEEDOOOOM in Marriage!
by: Topher Wiles

Married men, this Family Forte is specifically for you.  Do you remember the 1995’s hit movie Braveheart starring Mel Gibson?  This box-office success was a quintessential “man movie” focused on war between the Scots and the Brits with Gibson playing the flamboyant Scottish leader, William Wallace.  Men everywhere identified with this movie and its many quotable lines, such as the following: 
“Every man dies, but not every man really lives.”
“I know you can fight, but it’s our wits that make us men.”
“We all end up dead, it’s just a question of how and why.”
“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!” 

These old quotes still give me a chuckle as I hear them quoted by men today.  Yet the army that utters these words today is different from the men of the 1200’s who fought in the First Scottish War of Independence for love of country and family.  Today, I most often hear these freedom mantras from single men who fight against the “old ball and chain” of marriage.  That’s right, in our culture, it seems as though many men see marriage as the invasion of the Brits into their sacred territory of singleness. They seem to forget that it was the love of his wife that drove William Wallace to fight for the independence of Scotland. 

There are more humorous phrases that men use to describe marriage as stifling, such as: getting hitched, taking the plunge, being tied down, tying the knot, dropping the anchor, and buying the cow.   However, even though some men feel like their efforts to remain single are embodied by William Wallace’s quest for freedom, there are many of us who have found a profound sense of satisfaction and, dare I say, freedom in marriage. 

How did we find freedom in marriage?  I think it begins with a concept the great missionary Paul shared in his second letter to the church at Corinth. There, he says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  Those words sound like they could be straight out of a “man” movie, don’t they? Destroy arguments by taking every thought captive.  How do we men do that in reference to this cultural push to consider marriage as a ball and chain?

First, realize that we will either be prisoner to our thoughts or master of them.  If we believe we are going to have a bad day, we likely will have a bad day.  Conversely, if we believe like William Wallace that we can succeed against the odds, then we likely will find success.  Think positively to escape the slavery of negative thoughts.  Solomon said it this way, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov 17:22)

Second, note that you don’t take captives in a war by sitting passively on the sidelines.  Taking every thought captive is an active process; we cross the battlefield to intercept intruding thoughts and bind them up so that they do no more harm in our lives. Make an active decision that you won’t revel in and repeat those harmful phrases that cast marriage into a stifling light.  Don’t speak any more of marriage as being tied down, but as freedom to open up!  Believe that God truly does mean what he says in “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22).

Finally, choose to honor your spouse and your marriage.  Focus on the positive aspects that they bring to your life.  Speak highly of those qualities among your friends and water-cooler acquaintances.  Recognize the benefitting freedoms those traits bring to your life and praise them in front of everyone.  As the anonymous author of the Hebrew letter said, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” (Heb 13:4a)

Men, stay with me while I share an example by fast forwarding a few decades.  When I picture myself as an older man, wrinkled and weathered by time, I picture myself free.  I picture myself fishing at 60, hang gliding at 70, and playing tennis with my wife at 80.  I also imagine that I’m still conquering my own little worlds and slaying the dragons of unrighteousness around me.  Now that you’ve seen my imagined future, let’s rewind the tape 15 years to my past.  I had some spending problems when I met Ashley.  I lacked the discipline needed to keep myself out of needless debt.  

When I married Ashley, we began addressing those issues, which, honestly, felt stifling, like an anchor, ball & chain, a tying down.  Yet with the proper perspective, just by changing my mindset, I became convinced that joining with a frugal spender like Ashley brings more freedom in my life.  Today, we’re saving for a retirement of fishing, hang-gliding, and tennis.  We’re free of the credit debt that plagues many of my peers.  I don’t have to hide from phone calls and the mailbox because I am free from stress and worry of bill collectors.  While joining with Ashley in marriage felt a little stifling at first, I was able to escape the slavery of negative thoughts, actively take captive those thoughts that bind me, and honor my wife and marriage for the freedom it brings. 

Yes, some men evoke William Wallace as they shout their wife, saying, “You may take my life, but you will never take my freedom.” However, we who desire to truly live can invest our lives in our marriage and truly find freedom in God’s plans and designs. 
It is true what William Wallace says, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”  May you truly live as you seek God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


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, June 12, 2019

Family Forte: Taking Off Training Wheels

by: Topher Wiles
*Scroll to the bottom to see a video of Micah's first ride*
     Micah made his bold and resolute proclamation at the dinner table Monday night stating, “Dad, I would like to ride my bike without training wheels tonight.” 

     Children often look forward to the next rite of passage; that moment that marks a transition from one stage of life to the next.  It could be getting to start kindergarten, putting on makeup for the first time, receiving a first cell phone, going on a first date, or taking that driver’s test.  The striking way my five-year-old distinctly made his proclamation let me know this rite of passage needed my full attention and it needed to happen soon.  Around the dinner table, the family changed plans for the night intending to see this monumental achievement in the life of a child done properly in a sloped parking lot.
     We arrived at the White County High School parking lot about 7:30pm.  If you haven’t parked there yet, I’ll let you in on a bicycling tip, the hill the school is built on makes the parking lot perfect for coasting.  That’s right, I said, “coasting.”  The act of gliding on a bicycle without pedaling is key to riding a bicycle and leaning into turns without training wheels.  Many parents get frustrated with their children when trying to teach them to ride without training wheels by going straight into pedal power.  
     A youth minister years ago told me the secret truth to removing training wheels:  remove the pedals first and focus on coasting. 


     Gabriel (my eldest son) snagged the 16mm wrench, and we removed pedals while raising the training wheels.  Micah, who’s been pedaling for years on trikes, big wheels, and his “big boy bike” with training wheels, didn’t understand why we removed his pedals and placed his bike at the high end of the parking lot.  “Get on and coast” was the only instruction we gave.  Micah studied the situation, looking down at his pedal-less bike then up at the parking lot.  His eyes lit up bright as the mental light bulb turned on.  With both feet on the asphalt, he pushed forward and began to pick up speed with me jogging along beside.  “Coasting is fun dad,” Micah yelled as he flew down the hill for his fifth time, learning to lean into the turns.  We put the pedals back on and Micah was a blur of smiles and speed the rest of the night as the entire family cheered him on. 

     Helping Micah achieve the next step of cycling prowess reminded me of a fundamental principle of child rearing. To give your kids the most freedom they can safely enjoy, we need to purposely give them safety nets and training to help them on their way.

     Before you turn your daughter loose with that pursuing young man, consider the “training wheels” you can use to help stabilize her till she’s ready to coast and pedal.  Ensure that she’s got the proper expectations of how she should be treated by giving her regular dates with her dad, uncle, or grandpa.  Consider keeping the training wheels on as first dates in public places can chaperoned by mom or an older sibling.  While you give her freedom to coast, make sure safety devices are in place, such as a fully charged phone, curfew, and “code emojis” so that she can send a quick message to get her out of trouble.  Training wheels and coasting practice will go a long way to ensure she isn’t scarred for life from dating disasters.

     Before that first cell phones hits his fingers, consider training your son on proper internet usage by keeping a desktop computer (I know, ancient right?) in a public place in the house for early internet usage training.  Make sure to openly put safety apps on the cell phone such as time limiters and internet accountability apps to give them an extra safety net when the temptation to access unsafe material arises.  Consider having a “cellphone cabinet” in the kitchen or living room where kid’s cell phones get charged and stored during bedtime hours.  As studies show the potential pitfalls and dangers for young kids and teenagers, proper training and coasting practice will pay big dividends in your teens’ development.

I’m fond of the current tiered driving regulations in Tennessee and I’m a big fan of parents keeping kids accountable to them.  Before a teen is turned loose with a car and no restrictions, they must follow the training wheel/coasting regimen which is as follows: 1)  Pass a road knowledge exam to get the learners permit; 2) Keep a learners permit for 180 days, have 50 hours of driving experience with a parent or instructor, and pass a road skills test to receive an Intermediate Restricted License; 3) Hold an Intermediate Restricted license for one year without having accumulated more than six points on driving record before obtaining the Intermediate Unrestricted License.  If you’ve completed these three milestones of training safely by the time you’re 18, then you’re ready for the Class D regular driver’s license.  Tennessee is getting better at providing training and safety nets when kids get behind the wheel.

     Wise King Solomon shared, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6)   To enjoy the most freedom in life when we are older it takes purposeful incremental training when we are younger.  Pray for wisdom, do some research, and ask other parents how and when to take the pedals off and let your kids coast on the path of life.  May you find success as you as you learn to train your family to enjoy the freedoms life has to offer. 

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11



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.