Family Altar – A Lifestyle
By: Juleen Turnage
Our efforts to find a regular time for family altar with our three sons usually ended in frustration and failure. Getting five schedules to cooperate, especially during those teen years, was nearly impossible. And just as difficult was focusing Bible study in areas that spoke equally to all ages and interests. These twin frustrations often resulted in postponing or even canceling our family altar times. Yet we knew as parents this was to be a priority.
An important injunction one day I read again Deuteronomy 6. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “This is the key to family altar.” The passage reads, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NIV).
This passage, central to Jewish faith, is known as the Shema. Jewish homes post this passage on their doorposts inside a mezuzah which reminds them of their obligation to love God supremely and teach their children to love and obey Him.
Judaism sees God as integrated into every aspect of life. Unfortunately, we Americans have compartmentalized our lives too often into sacred and secular. Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday evening become our sacred time and the rest of our life is secular. This idea is not only unbiblical, but it also keeps us from living out the claims of Christ in every moment of our day. For the Christian there is no sacred and secular-every moment is lived in the presence of God. So whether I’m in the grocery store, behind the wheel of my car, or in church, I’m to live in obedience to God and His Word and teach my children to do the same.
This concept revolutionized our family altar times. If we take literally that we are to “impress them (God’s commandments) upon our children” when we sit, walk along the road, when we lie down and get up, then we realize the family altar is not one time or place-it is a lifestyle.
Anytime, anyplace Now our family altar occurs throughout the day. At mealtimes, we discuss the day’s events, particularly those people God has brought across our paths. We focus on the Bible and principles it outlines for our response or behavior in that day’s situations. These discussions, since they deal with situations that we’ve dealt with that day, often become lengthy and take us to many different Scriptures. Our prayer times take on a new dimension as we commit ourselves to walking in obedience to the Word as we go about our daily activities. “When you walk along the way” often is translated “as you drive in your car.” We listen to Christian music or taped sermons. We sing along in worship and discuss what God doing in our lives and the world. We even have times of prayer (with the driver watching and praying), and some of our most memorable family altars have been “along the way.” Since we have only one son at home now, he shares in these family times and his college classes in biblical studies provide food for thought.
Our family has enjoyed late night visits when our son comes in from some activity. Again as we share what God has done today and opportunities He’s given us to live for and witness about Him, these visits turn into family altar times.
As I look over the past 3 years of practicing a lifestyle of family altar, we have learned:
1. God wants to be involved in every part of our lives. The Bible reminds us that no matter where we go, we can never flee from God’s presence. (See Psalm 139.) Even in times when we don’t feel His presence, He’s there. But this is also a sober warning that, because He is always there, we must live in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to Him-at home, in the marketplace, on the job.
2. We must capture every moment to teach our sons and daughters the precepts of Scripture. The Assemblies of God teaches that the Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and conduct, yet too often we are ignorant of its teachings. By using every opportunity that comes along to go to Scripture and see what it tells us to do, we are learning line upon line and precept upon precept.
3. We no longer struggle to find a relevant topic to capture the family’s attention. Our day’s experiences provide a forum through which we seek God and His guidance. For example, last January when we lost a dear friend, we turned to Scripture to recall what it said about the death of believers. it reminded us that death doesn’t have the final word but is the entrance into the very presence of the Lord. As we sang together songs like “He Lives” and “Because He Lives,” we knew once more that Jesus has conquered death.
Another time, we discussed the Great Commandment also contained in the Deuteronomy 6 passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (v.5). Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew and expands it to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Our family altar time extended for an entire evening as we discussed why the Great Commandment comes before the Great Commission (which every Pentecostal family can quote from memory) and what loving God with all of our heart, soul, and strength would really involve for our family. Today with only three at home, it is a little easier to schedule a family altar. But when the schedule doesn’t work out, we look for opportunities to turn the ordinary events of life into divine moments with God. As we’ve gained a new perspective on practicing God’s presence in our lives, Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians has become our prayer: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, KJV).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED IN THE PENTECOSTAL EVANGEL, FEBRUARY 11, 1996, BY JULEEN TURNAGE, PP.14-19. THIS MATERIAL MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.