I was born in a small town. The life of the 1950s was a great one for a young boy, and it was exciting to find out what was going to happen next.
We used to go to the gas station, the man would run out and greet us, and he filled the tank, washed the windshield and checked the air in the tires. That was when we actually had air in the tires.
My mom tells me that when I was about 3 or 4 years old, she went inside a gas station to purchase something, and left me bouncing in the front seat with the motor running. I managed to hit the gearshift, drove the car through the plate glass window and knocked the desk back against the wall. They stood there watching.
“That boy is going to go places in his life!”
I walked to school uphill in the snow both ways. Ok, there were no hills, but the rest is true.
Most people knew each other. It was a time of growth and excitement following the winning of World War II, and there was much to be thankful for.
Sissy Spacek wrote about her early days.
“I loved growing up in a little town,” she says. “I loved knowing people. I loved going to the store and running into people. I loved going into the store and having forgotten my bag, saying, ‘Charge it, put it on my bill.’ I loved going to the gas station and saying, ‘Pete, fill it up.’ I loved that continuity of life.”
We went to a small church in the county, and that’s where most of my faith memories begin. We sang old hymns, learned about Jesus and did good things for others. That’s what the church is supposed to do still, in my view.
Jesus was born in a small town. Bethlehem, it was -- right outside of the big town, Jerusalem.
When he was beginning his ministry, about the age of 30, people criticized him for the great things he said. They drove him out of town, throwing rocks.
Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family.” ~ Matthew 6:4
Some would get discouraged, but Jesus didn’t. He did things that changed the world forever. We can take the values of the small town to the big cities, where people laugh at what we believe. But the eternal values we know, the God who can do anything, the faith that can move mountains, will always prevail.
Jesus took those small town, miracle-producing values to the countrysides, where most people believed. Most people who knew Jesus in those small towns liked Him and believed the wonderful things He was teaching and preaching about.
I was supported by the folks of my hometown and count my time there as the uplifting and wonderful time that made me the man I am today. My best friend is now the mayor there, and when we connect, it was as if we were never apart.
I have spent most of my ministry in the country or in a small town and will count forever the friendship moments and faith adventures we have shared. I see the fast pace and lax moral values in many urban areas and give thanks for the values that never left me.
Burt Bacharach, the great composer, said it this way, “A small town is a place where there’s no place to go where you shouldn’t.”
People know their neighbors. They smile and wave. They celebrate the life they have together.
There are churches everywhere in a small town. And many times there are people in them — people who believe that Jesus died for them, who believe in the virgin birth there in the stable of Bethlehem and who walk with God every day.
We can keep the small town ways of thinking even when we are in the big city. We can be nice rather than mean. We can get to know our neighbors. We can do good things for others. We must never forget where we learned about how to live the best life. We can be comfortable, yet ready to change for the better.
“What makes most people comfortable,” says singer Justin Timberlake, “is some sort of sense of nostalgia. I grew up in a small town, and I could count my friends on one hand, and I still live that way. I think I’ll die in a small town. When I can’t move my bones around a stage any more, you’ll find me living in a place that’s spread out and rural and spacious.”
Not just nostalgia. Faith. Faith that is hard to find anywhere else. Never lose those small town blessings. Always believe and trust God, who started the greatest revolution of faith in that tiny town of Bethlehem.