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, 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,, or through our website,

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:

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.