The Salem Campmeeting will begin to stir again July 8 and will continue through July 15. This gathering began in 1828, and this year will be the 183rd time it happens.
There are huge oak trees at Salem that listened as seedlings to the singing of hymns and the preaching of Christ's good news. There are men and women who themselves have become spiritual oak trees because the seed of God's love was planted in their hearts on these hallowed grounds. The decision to live as a Christian has been made by thousands at this gathering. Thousands more have renewed their commitment to the Lord as the Spirit moved their hearts.
The writers of American history point to the campmeeting movement as a key to the Second Great Awakening that rooted our nation in true religion. Families in the agricultural South looked forward to "laying by time." Crops were trusted to God as people climbed into wagons and traveled to these important gatherings. Friendships were born and nurtured as people left the hard work and isolation of family life behind them. The services were informal, the preaching was fiery, and the singing was enthusiastic. The services lasted several weeks. People went home knowing that how they lived and what they did mattered to their Lord. They went back to plowing the ground and even their mule knew they had experienced a change of heart. They had been converted and born anew - to use the language of the Bible.
A lot has changed since 1828, but you and I are not different than those who lived on this land in days gone by. We still need the assurance that God loves us, and we need to feel our hearts strangely warmed. We need to decide that there are some things we will never do and some sacred boundaries we will never cross, no matter the tempter's lure. We need to lay down the tools of our trade and trade busyness for friendships. We need to sit around tables as families to count our blessings, naming them one by one. We need to look beyond the local horizons and remember that "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50). We need to ponder and pray and repent.
Dr. Brian Dunks, the senior pastor of the Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, will step to the pulpit and speak God's word to us. I'll be listening with both ear and heart open wide. I'll also have the privilege of sharing the good news of the Lord. I will say as clearly as I'm able why our commitment to Christ and his church matters. I so look forward to seeing you.
Dr. Don Martin is the senior pastor of Alpharetta First United Methodist Church.