Talking with God Where the Rubber Meets the Road (Camp Meeting, 7/28/19)

Posted by on Jul 29, 2019 in Pitman Camp Meeting, Sermons, Worship & Prayer | 0 comments

Music has a way of leading us into a deeper place with God.  Words and speech can sometimes be fluffy and dishonest, but there is a space where music can bring gut-wrenching honesty into our conversation with God.  When music is at its best, it can express our fears, regrets, hopes, and praises to a level that our words can’t reach.  

“Country Gospel” and the “Blues” are genres of music which are especially able to give voice to our inner being.  There’s an honesty and vulnerability in these genres that perhaps isn’t quite reached by other forms of music. 

John Keith Davis is a redeemed child of God who has found Christ, and he’s an artist who has discovered Country Gospel and Blues as a way to express his struggles and faith.  John shared his music and faith at the Camp Meeting service on 7/28/19.


Old Time Religion

In our tradition as the Pitman Grove Camp Meeting, the evening services open with a prayer and the ringing of our bell (which always jolts us from the quiet reflection of prayer into an wide-eyed anticipation of what is to follow).  As is the tradition, we always begin by opening our “Pitman Camp Meeting” hymnals to page 187 and singing the hymn “In the Garden” (aka “the Pitman anthem”), which was written by C. Austin Miles. 

C. Austin Miles was a resident of Pitman and was a regular presence at the Pitman Grove Camp Meeting during the early 20th century.  There is some debate to truth of this claim, but (at least in Pitman) we believe that this C. Austin Miles wrote this famous hymn while he was living in our town.  The garden clearly references the garden tomb in Jerusalem where Mary encountered the risen Christ.  But could it be that the garden at the Miles’ home in Pitman inspired the words?

It has been said (true or not) that the gong of the Camp Meeting bell is in the key of Ab, which “Coincidentally” (?) is the key in which “In the Garden” (and many other hymns of this era) was written.



After the traditional opener, the congregation was given the opportunity to call out their favorite hymns from the hymn book, and we sampled some more of our rich music heritage.


New Time Religion

Faced with the tradition of C. Austin Miles and our hymnbook’s profusion of writers such as Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, and William Bradbury, it can be daunting for a singer songwriter to present his own music to the Pitman Camp Meeting.  And so it was with a sense of humility that John Keith Davis visited the Camp Meeting (something he had desired to do for years).

In spite of his glasses which he claimed blurred his vision of the clock set before him, John was determined to limit his “set” to the usual 20 minute time that’s recommended for camp meeting sermons.   However, at the closing strains of his final song, it was clear that he could have held our attention for much longer.

John is a member of the Aldine United Methodist Church, but he used to live in Pitman.  There was a time in his life when he wanted to hone his love for music into a skill which could be used professionally.  While living in Pitman he studied music at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University).  But along the way he realized that God was calling his music into fruitful ministry instead of professional income.  Through the struggles in his life, he came to a loving and trusting relationship with God.  Instead of traveling the road towards a paid profession, he decided to walk with Christ and to share his music to glorify God.

John has recorded several CDs, and he offers them on his website.  Click this button for more info. about obtaining some of his CDs:    CDs  

The music isn’t for sale.  He only asks for a love offering “of any size” to cover his expenses and to further his ministry. 


Country Good News and the Blues

After the introductions and during his testimony, John shared his music with us.  He opened with a version of the hymn “Beulah Land.”  The original hymn “Dwelling in Beulah Land” (#160 in the Camp Meeting hymnal) was written by C. Austin Miles.  It speaks to the joy and anticipation of living with God: both in eternity and in the present.  There’s joy in “living on the mountain underneath a cloudless sky, and drinking at a fountain that never shall run dry (Praise God!).”

Through the prophet Isaiah, God told Israel (and us) that He would never leave them.  Despite their exile from the Promised Land, God would not leave them in a barren land.  In fact, He would “marry” them.  His people would be betrothed or promised to Him forever.  The Hebrew word “Beulah” means married or promised.  We are adopted into God’s family.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate.

But you will be called Hephzibah,  and your land Beulah;

for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

Isaiah 62:4

The version that John presented speaks of a longing for this relationship.  Not only do we praise God for our adoption and how He brought us by grace into His family, but we long for the constantly abiding presence of our Lord and Savior in every moment of our lives.  Following that  sentiment, he played a beautiful instrumental rendition of the John B. Dykes tune to the hymn “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee” (which is also in the Camp Meeting hymnal- #259 if you ever get a chance to look it up!).

But life isn’t always full of love and blue skies.  Sometimes it’s filled with frustration and blue modes.  So John took us to the Blues with his song “Bad World.”  There are a lot of terrible things happening in this world.  But when faced with the love of God we long to leave the world’s darkness behind and to be filled with God’s light instead.  His song openly expresses fears and anger at the injustices and evil in our world.  God does want us to turn to Him in honest prayer.

Later, he put his guitar down and picked up the Tenor Recorder instead.  He played his rendition of the “Siclian Mariners” hymn.  At Pitman UMC, we’re familiar with this as the tune to the benedictional hymn “Lord Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing” (#671 in the United Methodist Hymnal).

Towards the end of the evening, John got us clapping with his rendition of “Old Time Religion.”  Here’s a video sampling:


A Language for Life

John’s closing song told us that “when I am cast out and troubled in soul, He whispers peace to me.” Through music, through listening, through different expressions of our emotions and souls, we are opened to hearing God’s whispers of peace.

John’s expression of his faith through music inspired us to leave the Sunday service with an honesty that will drive us to walk with God for the remainder of the week.  His message left us with styles of music which are, perhaps, underappreciated in our modern expressions.  During this single evening, John tapped into a rich wealth of music to lead us into a new level of conversation with God. 


For more information about John Keith Davis’ ministry, visit his website:     Panting Heart Music  


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