Worshiping with Yokels in Hicksville

FBCHVIt was a comment on my blog that gave me eyes to see.

Before that comment, I was feeling discouraged about my limitations. But as God rolled the reader’s words around inside my soul like a tumbler polishing a stone, He showed me why I, why all of us, should have all hope,

no matter where we are.

This is what the reader wrote: “When I first encountered your blog and saw that you are from Rhode Island, especially that you hailed from that town, I thought, what good can come out of Hope Valley? But when I saw that you know Jesus; all that changed.

I understood.

Growing up, I knew we lived on the wrong side of Hopkinton. “Hope-less Valley” is the term even some of my fellow residents used for our little village. I didn’t care because my intent was that this place would one day be a footnote on my Wikipedia page – the place that I was from but escaped. The place I outgrew. The place I overcame.

And for a while, that’s what it was – well, all except the Wikipedia page because I’ve never done anything worth Googling.

Then God brought me back to these 3.5 square miles, population 1649. Famous statewide for our bismarcks, a country singer named Billy Gilman, and the notoriety achieved when RI’s state police colonel said he wouldn’t station female troopers in our town because we were a bunch of illiterate woodcutters.

My hometown is not an aspiration or a destination; some say (wrongly) it lacks imagination and inspiration but it’s where God has placed me, my home. More than that, it is one of the ends of the earth.

Before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

That is where I live – at the end of the earth from Jerusalem – and that has mind-blowing implications. The reader’s comment echoed Nathanael who said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus hailed from a hopeless place but transformed it by His arrival for those with eyes to see. Open-eyed, I went to worship in my church in Hope Valley.

We’re nothing to write home about, me and my fellow worshipers. We don’t get it half the time – okay, more than half- but we do try. No one is writing articles about our methods of outreach or interviewing us about our creative approach to engaging the next generation. We fight amongst ourselves about petty things and get annoyed when the service runs long. During the length of a sermon, you could easily compile a list of one hundred ways we need to improve.

But with eyes opened to the idea that I live in Nazareth, that it’s just as likely that hope could be born here, and that the power of Jesus back in Jerusalem sent out the wave of gospel transformation that reached even this end of the earth, this Sunday I inhaled God’s vision for even us, clueless and small-town as we are.

With open eyes, I saw the disciples worshiping in our midst. There was Peter with his burly arms around our church school superintendent whose faith spills into the aisles. Thomas was there whispering encouragement to our pastor who loved to argue with believers before Jesus overtook Him and he became one. There was Matthew counting his blessings and the Sons of Thunder singing harmony on the hymn. Even Paul was with us, grating on our nerves a little but always trying to help us hit the mark. Across the aisle sat Martha, making a list of things we need for the Christmas boxes beside Mary singing, hands raised high, annoying her sister because she won’t sign up for a turn in the nursery unwilling to miss the sermon.

I see Him, too. He’s here with us. The Nazarene. He smiles as if to say, “I know what it’s like to come from such a place, a place for which others have little expectation, a place that many deride and dismiss, a place the world rejects as too small to be a vessel for hope.”

I laughed aloud because suddenly I understood there are no minor prophets.

I never needed to escape my geography, I only needed to see where Jesus was at work there. And we don’t need to be people about whom others write headlines in order to change the world – we just need to invite Jesus to move in with us.

The disciples were nothing special. Just a bunch of yokels, hicks really, small-time sinners like the rest of us. But Jesus got a hold of them and now, here I sit, at the ends of the earth, seeing Jesus in the town where I live because some fisherman’s soul caught fire, cast his net into the ocean of humankind, and hauled me aboard with the other salty souls gulping freedom at last.

Maybe you know what it’s like to be from Hicksville, nowhere, Podunk, dead-end street, not even a stop light don’t blink or you’ll miss-it-ville. Or maybe you’ve worshiped with yokels and wondered how, just how, is God supposed to build His kingdom, reach the lost, gather the faithful, battle against the darkness, and harvest the fields with this lot?

Maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of your own roughhewn self in the mirror below decks and wondered how you could ever fish for men.

Let me tell you – the man from Nazareth understands the soul of rejected places. He’s looked around the table at a bunch of clueless sinners who argue about who’s the greatest and fail Him when He needs them most. And He loved them. He loved them and desired their company on an adventure that changed the world.

He’s invited me on that adventure, too. And my little church in this small valley of Hope.

Have you heard His invitation, too? What good can come from where you live? Ask Jesus. I dare you. Invite Him to open your eyes. Look around to see where He is at work in your Nazareth. See the work He is doing in your small town soul.

Dare to join Him and then listen. You’ll hear His laughter ringing to the ends of the earth.

Where do you see Jesus at work where you are? How have you seen Him change lives in your end of the earth? Share your story. Let us encourage one another.

Think we could be friends? Find out more about me on the Know My Heart page. Tell me more about you! Click “I’m In” to read what I know about you and leave me a message telling me what I’ve missed. Contact Me if you need prayer or specific encouragement. We all need company on the narrow road.

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    The Conversation

  1. Paul Vickers says:

    I enjoy your blog! I was born in Chepachet, so I understand the “small town” thing. I stumbled across your blog and have enjoyed it as I am on my journey of spiritual recovery!

  2. Carla Allaire says:

    Amen, Lori! We had moved around a lot when I was little. I went to 11 different schools by the time I was a sophomore. When we had children, I vowed we would keep them in the same school til they graduated. We lived in the same house for 25 years, and I would smugly say the only way I’d leave my house was feet first. Well, the Lord had other plans for us. We ended up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Lansing. But you know what? It doesn’t bother us a lick! We were put here to show kindness to the neighbors to whom not much kindness has been extended. We are here to pray for the mother across the street taking care of her handicapped son and struggling to work full time and make sure her beloved son is well taken care of. We are here to give hope to those who have been cast aside by the world, deemed ‘not quite acceptable’. The Spirit said through Paul that not many wise, not many noble would be called. He would use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.’ At first I was a little offended by his words–‘Well! I certainly am not foolish!’ But I am, really. And if my foolish past can speak to someone and give them hope for a better ending, then THAT is my mission. It doesn’t matter what our zip code is, it DOES matter what we do to minister to the lost. God bless, Lori–there is NO room for pride in Jesus. Keep shaking the tree to keep us monkeys alert.

  3. I grew up in the military and we were on the move all the time. I’m in a small town now. Your blog has helped me see the joy God has for me here. Thank you!

    I love this song but never saw the video. I watched it, speechless, with chills and not a few tears. Especially when Jesus kissed Judas’s cheek. Amazing!

  4. Maxine D says:

    Thank you for refreshing my view of my congregation – we too are in a small town, frequently belittled by the national media, but one I am proud to call my home. We are a multi cultural town, in our congregation one morning we had 15 nations represented – but that very diversity brings it’s own richness.

  5. Cork Hutson says:

    Lori – I have been reading your blog for a while. Your posts always make me put my thinking cap and heart monitor on. Appreciate your faithfulness to write the hard things. The inspiration I receive here and a few other like-minded writers has inspired me to write as well. – Cork Hutson