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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: The reviving of Uncle Alton’s ‘Family Alter’

Good week to all. Welcome to the “front porch.”

One of my fondest memories of growing up is – at the close of the day – ending up at my auburn-headed Uncle Alton’s and Aunt Florence Bailey’s house and reading the Bible with their family. We would gather around their big living room in their home on Truitt Avenue – I must have been very young when I first joined in – and we usually would read out of the New Testament. The one I remember is a big black hardcover Bible with large letters. I did not need those big letters then, but times do change, as you know.

We would go around the room taking turns reading: Bruce, Mark, Allen, my aunt, my uncle, and me. One by one we would read a few verses, maybe four or five. Then at the end, we would pray. I remember my Uncle Alton asked me a time or two to lead the family prayer. It made me proud. I think those moments were as close to going to church as I ever got without having to leave the house.

Uncle Alton called such a gathering around of the family for Bible reading as the “family altar.” He would remind me at times as the years went along that it is not a good thing that the family altar had begun to gather dust.

Isn’t it very appropriate that now – so many years later – that the family altar is almost all the worship we have left across the world, at least for a time!

Few churches around the country will be gathering together on this coming Lord’s Day. It is almost as if we are exiled on Patmos. I suppose there will be fewer worship services this coming Sunday than there have been in more than five hundred years, since way back in the Dark Ages when the church took wings of an eagle and flew into the wilderness, according to Revelation. We are not in the Dark Ages today, as such, because our religion is not being oppressed by political powers. But we are in a bit of a dark time. Even with this, we know the Lord has led us safe thus far, and – as says the songwriter – the Lord surely will lead us home.

Oh, I know: There will be online worship services, and that is commendable. We know, of course – as with any replacement – the copy can hardly hold a light to the original. But we have something else, and I think you are going to find it is the nextbest thing to actual church worship. It is the restoration of my Uncle Alton’s family altar. Oh, I know it isn’t his, per se, but I cannot think of one without thinking of the other.

If nothing else good comes from everything we are seeing now, one good thing we know is this: The family altar is going to return, and it will return in a blaze of glory. It was all but gone yesterday, but it is everywhere to be found today. That would make my auburn-headed Uncle Alton proud.

The family altar is completely undenominational, too. It would little matter what church the friend down the street attended when he found himself spending the night with that little family on Truitt Avenue.

I’m glad of that. Here is a worship, right in your living room, that puts everybody on equal footing. There we all read together, sing together, and pray together, joining hands to learn a little bit more of what we need to be to get to heaven.

Through the years Uncle Alton reminded me just how biblical these often-impromptu Bible studies were: Abraham would always build an altar to serve the Lord in his day, he would say, as did Isaac and Jacob, and all the patriarchs. The world during that patriarchal age didn’t have a church to go to. No, they would mark key and blessed moments in their lives with a freewill offering on an altar of stone.

We have come to such a moment in life, as well. We can mark this moment, without a doubt, as a key one in the history of all of our lives. Of that, we are sure. We do not know exactly what the Lord is saying to us, perhaps. But we know assuredly – that phrase sounding an awfully lot like the language we’d read in those big black Bible on those lovely altar nights – that He is saying something. The Lord has something in mind, and we would all do well to pay attention. If nothing else, this is a time for us to dig deeper than we ever have spiritually and try to draw closer to God.

When we gather with our family this evening, or on Sunday, in our living rooms for the only public worship you may have available, I am glad you nor I will need to slay an animal to offer on an altar of stone. Those days are long past. You will only need your family, a few old Bibles you have stacked around the house, maybe a songbook or two, and a family anxious to give to the Lord the very best it has to offer – much as in the Old Testament days.

Blessings to you and your family as you revive this old-time tradition. Build you an altar today – maybe for the first time in a long, long time – and gather your family around it, and remember how much better the world is when the fire from that altar is burning.

And when the crisis ends, keep the altar’s fire burning for many years to come.

That, I know, would make my auburn-headed Uncle Alton proud.

Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a full-time writer and preacher of the gospel. In addition to his evangelistic travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email coachbowen1984@ or call or text 972-824-5197.

Ellis County Press

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