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,, or through our website,

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


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,, or through our website,

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,, or through our website,

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Family Forte: The Pitfalls of Hungry Shopping

by: Topher Wiles

Fifteen years!
This week marks my 15th anniversary with my darling Ashley!  As I survey all the success God has given us raising four wonderful kids and enjoying wedded bliss, I wonder, “What advice can I give others to help them enjoy the same and more?”  There’s a lot I could share.  Praying together is a big deal.  Put your spouse ahead of your kids and your work.  Don’t give up on dating your spouse.  Talk openly and honestly with your kids.  Quality time comes with quantity time.  Be flexible so you won’t get bent out of shape.  The list of family learning could go on and on, but I’ve got one piece of wisdom that has stuck in my head recently.

Never go shopping while hungry.   

We’ve all felt that nagging feeling in our stomachs when we head to the grocery store.  We enter inside and our bellies start growling at the delightful colors and enticing smells all around us. It’s at that moment we realize that we’ve forgotten to eat lunch or chosen to shop right before dinner time, a disastrous mistake.  While our main mission may have been a list of five items, due to our hunger, we snag an extra candy bar and sugary drink at the cash register.  For those of us who are especially impulsive, we dish out the cash for many impulsive purchases sometimes doubling and tripling our list, all because we were hungry.  Hunger distracts us from our main mission while shopping.  To curb the hunger, always invest time in a healthy snack from home before you go shopping or shop after a meal.  Problem solved, no impulsive shopping distracting you from the mission. 

You’re probably asking, “Topher, what does shopping and hunger have to do with Family Forte?”  I reply, “Shopping while hungry is exactly what weakens the strength of the family.”

In young families, that marriage relationship is such an important bond that needs to be protected, nurtured, and given a firm foundation to grow and flourish.  For example, I chose during my first year of our marriage NOT TO SPEND ONE single night away from Ashley.  Unfortunately, many young couples invest their primary time and energies into their work and their hobbies, neglecting those helpful dating and early marriage habits they once held so dear.  When couples within a young relationship stop feeding the relationships with quality time and quantity time, in effect, they are starving it.  Too often in my profession I see the results of those hungry marriages that get distracted by their main mission while their spouses are away on business or pleasure trips.  I’ve counselled through many tears and heartaches over wandering eyes, adulterous mistakes, and broken relationships.  If you are regularly feeding time and energy into your young marriage in purposeful ways, the relationship is less likely to be distracted by enticing smells and colors in other markets.   Investing your time in your spouse helps them to avoid the impulsive hungry shopper syndrome.

I’m excited to see the rise in Daddy/Daughter & Mother/Son date nights within our culture because it seems as though someone has grasped the concept of hungry shoppers.  According to, a daughter learns what it is to be cherished and affirmed for who she is most from her father.  The protection and stability a son needs for confidence and self-esteem is typically given by time and attention invested by his parents.  Our girls learn what appropriate physical touch and boundaries are from spending quality time with that man she trusts, her dad.  Our sons learn how a woman should treat a man and vice versa by observing quality time invested at home with mom and dad.  Sadly, too many families are sending their young men and women into the world as hungry shoppers.  Rather than being fulfilled with a solid lasting relationship with their parents, they crave attention in many inappropriate ways.  Like the hungry shopper who will grab a candy bar off the shelf on impulse to satisfy a craving, we see young adults entering many destructive short-term relationships because they were unfulfilled.  We, as parents, can help guide our young adults into positive and beautiful relationships as they mature by continuing to give them the affirmation, stability, and attention they need and thereby avoid the pitfalls of hungry shopping. 

Churches have a large role to play in this department of strengthening families.  People in our culture are seeking purpose, meaning, and deeper relationships in their lives.  Sadly, too many churches only see it as their role to only spout religious dogma and send families on their way.  Shepherds must have the vision and goals of filling those needs for purpose and cravings for relationships with God’s Truth and with God’s people.  Otherwise, our church families become just like hungry shoppers, buying into the latest self-help book, investing in destructive friendships, or investing all their time into the latest consuming hobby. 

For spouses, invest quantity and quality time together before you send each other off into the distracting situations life offers.  For parents, invest purposeful energy in your kids quenching those desires for attention, stability, and nurture so they can develop appropriate relationships with positive peers.  For the Lord’s Church, invest your focus into the life affirming words and actions of Jesus Christ giving people the purpose and relationships they crave as they grow in loving God and loving their neighbor.  To keep to your missions and goals in life, send your spouse, child, or family into the world satisfied and fulfilled.  Never go shopping while hungry. 

Ashley, thank you for being my wife for the last wonderful fifteen years.  Here’s hoping for a fun and fulfilling fifteen more!

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

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

*Special Note* We don't want you to get the wrong idea, our lives are far from perfect!  This recent photo reminds us of the chaos that often ensues in our house!