Thanksgiving: Count Your Blessings!
“Count your blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done,” goes the old hymn. Until we follow those instructions, life can seem like a grueling marathon, but when we add up all those golden memories where God carried us, life looks more like skipping up the yellow brick road!
This article is not much more than a potpourri of capsulated stories, but hopefully they will be a sweet smelling fragrance to God. These true tales sort of jump all over the place because that’s how I lived as a Christian until I began to really understand my eternal purpose and that got me a whole lot more focused, centered, and thankful to realize that under the watchful eyes of Our Eternal Shepherd, even the bad things work together to bless us and make us a blessing.
To be brief, I will not tightly sort out the exact chronological order of every event. I want to show how a very average guy lived a very extraordinary life, and illustrate how silly it is to suppose that God has stopped doing miracles! (As if it was possible for the one who hung the stars in space and created the great whales, quarks, love stories and hope for the hopeless could cease to express Himself.)
God has been coming with His Kingdom for a very long time and He speaks of “tasting of the powers of the world to come.” (Hebrews 6:5) We are not only witnessing the end of a tired old age, but the beginning of a new one, spoken of by all His Holy prophets ever since the world began. These stories are merely the days of small things in one man’s life, but I do not for one moment, despise them. They are just tiny seeds, like those gathered in the hearts of millions of others, which will sprinkle the virgin soil of the new earth…like violets emerging after the warm spring rains.
As I look at my entire life, I realize today that a very transformational miracle occurred sixty years ago, when I, as a little boy decided there was only one path for me to keep on even though I wasn’t good at walking it for a very long time and that path is called creativity. God is the Great Big Creator and He made us all little creators in His image. I was long ago taken to task by a church leader in a church I attended for about ten years. He often preached that God wanted those in the church to be “inseparably identical...” Millions of those followers believed the same thing. One day, this leader came over for dinner and I drew a lot of square boxes within a circle. I told him, “You say this is the church.” I then drew another circle with shapes like the stars, moon, sun, leaf shapes and others, adding, “This is what I say is the church: Christ holding together all sorts of very different people.” He said I was obviously wrong and left. A year or two later he came by and asked me if I remembered that conversation, then said to me, “Your picture was the correct one.” My point is we are all different, but we are all filled with our own creative gifts and if yours weren’t needed, God wouldn’t have breathed into you the breath of life. In fact, your uniqueness qualifies you to solve some problem no one else can.
If you have invited Christ into your human being, whether or not you have discovered it yet, you are complete in Him and all that you will ever need is right inside you, where His spirit connects with your spirit. He is our hope of glory which means Divine Manifestation, He always completes the work He begins in us…and He always saves the best for last!!
I warned you this might not be chronological and it is turning out that way! Right now I am working on a book that will change the world for a whole lot of folks: human and otherwise! The fact is if the human ones had snuggled up with The Heavenly Father, listened to His voice and studied His Word, my book wouldn’t be necessary! I’ve been a professional writer for less than 20 years, and for much of my life, I was a landscaper, an itinerate preacher, a missionary, and a student of life. About the only thing I have consistently held to, beside Jesus Christ (and Him just since my conversion from heathenism), was not allowing money to make any of my decisions. That concept has been a costly one, but it has served me well. I operated a landscape business to feed and clothe my family and to keep a few new Christians employed. I’ll just focus on those days for the rest of today’s story.
When God and I agreed I needed to get out of the gambling industry I left it and sought Him about what new work I was to do. Since He had recently become my Savior, I trusted Him to get me a new career. He directed me to those wonderful scriptures that say, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Through that, and because I was a city dweller, I understood I was supposed to become a landscaper. The next day I took a test with a company looking for a landscaper. I had no prior experience but passed the test and was hired on the spot. I was told to start at the beginning of the week with these words, “Show up Monday morning with your long hair cut off along with that beard…if you want the job!” I reported on time but God had told me not to cut the hair or the beard! Many times I saw other men fired or threatened with firing if they reported to work with even a little stubble, but in all my time there, no one ever said a word about my hair.
During those early days, I spent a lot of free time street preaching and met an angel, who came to stay with me for perhaps ten days. During that time I learned the importance of knowing God and His word above all else. I also observed that the angels in the majority who did not forsake the God of Heaven for the Cast Out One, greatly hated what Satan had done to this planet and its occupants and therefore wanted never to disobey or disregard God in any way. Soon after that visitation, my employer sent his supervising son to ask me to pray for his adult daughter who was ultimately healed from incurable leukemia. Even before God showed Himself powerful on her behalf, I had gotten fired…well, sort of.
That story went like this. I had use of a company truck and used it on weekends when I led a Bible study at some condominiums way across town. One Sunday night, all my college aged friends and I stayed up until the wee hours pouring over the word of God. We all fell asleep simultaneously where we sat, and I drove into the company equipment yard two hours late on Monday morning. I got a stern warning. The following week, I begged God to never let that happen again, but it did the very next weekend although I was diligently watchful! I was scared I would be fired for certain and so embarrassed I was visibly ashamed. I was told if there ever was a next time I just needed to get off the property, out of my free house and return the truck keys. There would be no conversation, I was assured.
The third week I, along with these young people who I was teaching, felt led to sing the spiritual ditty, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” It was around 1 a.m. when we all locked arms and in something like a Jewish dance, moved in a circle clockwise and then counter-clockwise singing the tune. Although we never planned this, we repeatedly sang unto the Lord, the lyrics I just quoted. After perhaps half an hour, the Holy Spirit fell upon us erasing every particle of anxiety, concern, and burden carrying to the extent that we were fully like a group of little children loving one another. We sang and giggled until we all fell down like tired little Teddy bears.
It was 10 a.m. when my boss beating at the door awakened us out of our sweet sleep. To this day I’ll never know how he discovered where I was teaching or the location of his truck. He informed me to get out of his house and that he was probably going to have me arrested for stealing a company vehicle. I was shaking. When I got to “my house” I was nearly sobbing and felt like I had totally failed the Lord, as I tossed the most essential necessities into boxes. As I began considering how I would move my belongings, a knock on the door startled me. It was the son of my boss very sweetly and kindly pleading with me not to leave and that his dad was sorry for his display of anger.
Several years later, my wife and I and our growing family, moved to another western state to begin our own landscaping operation, and to live at a Christian Commune. Two businesses supported the ministry, and ours was one of them. The other was a bakery. Several of the leaders called a meeting with any parents to be to let us know they were taking out insurance to fully cover everything associated with child bearing. When my wife went to the hospital to deliver, they wanted to see the policy first. I convinced them to admit my wife and I would run right over to my pastor’s house to get the policy. As circumstances would have it, my pastor said no such insurance existed and they had let us all know that they could not afford such coverage months ago. (I had to work and missed that meeting so I never knew we did not have coverage!) As I left the pastor’s residence he placed an arm on my shoulder and said, “I know this is a bad time to say this, but the bakery is failing and we are going to need all of that check you are getting from that big landscape job immediately just so the bakery can survive.”
I drove to the next community where the Newspaper Publisher had his wonderful and newly re-landscaped country estate to pick up the final check. He gave me all that was owed and thanked me. As I thanked him and prepared to drive off, he said, “Oh, I almost forgot.” Handing me an envelope, he added, “Here is a small tip for all your hard work.” I thanked him and the Lord so much, because, at least I would have a few dollars to stave off facing down the business department of the hospital’s attempt to get blood out of this turnip. I thanked God and cried all the way back to my worried wife to whom I handed the unopened envelope. That tip turned out to be big enough to cover all the birthing expenses!
Before I finished that landscape job, I discovered that my experience at hard-scaping wasn’t yet ready for all the meandering sidewalks and patio I had designed. Either I would have to go over budget enough that we made zero profit or spend weeks beyond the proposed finish date mixing an outrageous amount of cement in wheelbarrows. The day after I realized the dilemma we were in, I shared the gospel on the street near the bakery with a 30 year old stranger. He immediately began to weep, confessed that he had walked away from the Lord and suddenly discovered nothing had been working in his life. He wasn’t bluffing at all as he asked Christ to forgive him and give him another chance. I invited him to spend a while at the commune until he got his bearings. We went back to the house together while I explained he could stay as long as necessary if he was sincere about developing a close relationship with God. I’d like that he said, but the first thing I need to do is find a job. I asked him if he had a profession and he replied, “Yes I do, I am a concrete contractor.” He did excellent work for far under what we could afford to pay or he would accept. All the hard-scape turned out magnificently. “I got some helpful ministry,” he said in the letter he left us the day after he was paid and the hard-scape was finished, but indicated he had to move on! It appeared that God had sent him our way just in time to complete that project, and I have faith that God is still completing one in him.
I had grown enough spiritually that I could no longer endure the dryness of that communal outreach. I still have friends from that ministry who have also grown greatly in the Lord. In those days of long ago, if you left that ministry, it was a given that you must be some kind of backslider, so I told God that even though I knew He wanted us to leave, I would not do so without the blessing of the head of the entire worldwide ministry. As far as I know, such a blessing would have been unheard of then. Shortly after that, this great man of God and Jesus Movement Leader sent word that every other ministry he had started was at the direction of the Holy Spirit, but this one was the result of human persuasion: people he knew in that community complaining to him that there was no effective church there to reach their teenagers and keep them off drugs. So…he explained, “I want everyone to come back to the ranch for additional training, a time of spiritual refreshing and redeployment.” Then his message kissed me with, “If anyone wants to leave this ministry at this time, they may do so with our full blessing and prayers.”
Since God had already told me the place we were to move to I decided to travel lightly on an exploratory trip there and a sister in the Lord who was also a near family member wanted to go with me since she knew nothing of this type of “Christian activity,” especially the hitchhiking part! The trip was about 65 miles and some of the highway was very remote. She really didn’t know any modern day ministers who lived this way and perhaps was a little eager to prove me “outside the box.” About halfway there, the stars got close enough in the black night sky to touch them, but there was no traffic at all. This was definitely another one of those roads less traveled, and I was enjoying walking part of this one. My sister in the Lord always called me “Young David,” a little sarcastically and suddenly asked, “Young David, if God wanted us to take this trip, why don’t we have a ride?” I said, “I don’t know why we don’t have a ride, but I’ll ask God.” When I got my answer I gave it to her: “God said we have not, because we ask not.” We huddled and prayed if it was God’s will for the trip that He would give us another ride.
As we were praying it seemed as if some motor vehicle was coming up the mountain. Just as we concluded with “In Jesus’ Name, Amen,” we turned to see a huge and luxurious motor home parking next to us and our back packs. The driver exited without a word, bowed, and extended a welcoming arm as if he were the doorman at some posh hotel. He grabbed my friends pack as we boarded and announced: “The fridge is full, eat or drink anything you like and I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
It had been a long while since I had been an employee at that landscape company in Nevada. My wife was excited about our move from the commune to this new place where I and the two college guys who owned the property were going to start a Christ centered ranch for others our age who wanted to get as close to God as possible. It turned out to be a distasteful situation. Even though they were wonderful people, their pastor only believed certain parts of the New Testament. Just before we made the move, with all our belongings on a big flatbed truck covered with plastic, we checked with them to be sure all systems were “go.” The trip took a couple hours and we arrived to discover that one of the two houses on the land had burned to the ground, so there was nowhere for us to stay in any reasonable sort of way. Exhausted, all three families crowded into one house for that night prepared to discover another plan when we were more coherent. We parked our truck after crossing the private bridge to their home and went into the house that now needed a sign: “Give us your huddled masses.”
We all slept too soundly and discovered it had stormed all night. The bridge which had lasted “forever,” was twisted wreckage in the middle of the stream and far from its foundation. I had a new job in town, but couldn’t even unload our belongings so I could drive to work. Their pastor came out and said you men ought to go to town with me and buy supplies because a series of storms were now forecast. I chipped in big time so we had abundance even though I had no more money and hadn’t reported to my new job.
One day one of the guys waded across the stream and brought me back a letter from the mailbox. We had not yet changed our mailing address and no one but our parents knew our new rural address. I opened the letter. It had bounced around to a couple addresses I was unfamiliar with and arrived, like a gift from the twilight zone. It was a substantial check from my beloved first landscape employers in Nevada who should have fired me according to human reasoning, three times over. They had been so good to me, paid me more than I was worth, and been very gracious. The letter read something like this: “We did not have any current address for you, so we hope this letter finds you. We were going through our records for year such and such and discovered that we had significantly underpaid you by this amount. Please forgive our oversight.” I still love those people!
With the truck still on the wrong side of the river, I decided to wade the stream and walk to town half a dozen miles away to cash the check and see if I still had a job. I was terribly distressed by what I was learning about what the pastor of these two brothers was teaching in opposition to God’s word and how uncomfortable the situation was. The country road was surrounded by beautiful trees, sunshine and singing birds as I told my feet, “just five miles more.”
Suddenly a minister I had only met briefly in the town where I had been hired pulled up in his car and stopped. He was very seriously looking into my eyes. His name was Frank Long and he was one of the most Godly and precious holy ones I have ever known. Frank said, “Brother, when I was communing with the Lord this morning, He told me that you and your family are to move in with us.” (He knew nothing of our current dilemma.) The several years we spent standing with Frank and his beautiful family in truth and love is one of my most precious memories and he is right in line behind Jesus on the list of people I long to hug.
There are many stories in The Naked City and there are many to be thankful for in The Clothed City too. All stories that have a transformational upside may also have a downside, but they all are followed by the song, “What Need or Grief Ever Has Failed of Relief, Wings of His Mercy Hath Saved Thee.”
In eternity future, we may not recall the former things, but these blessings that have made us thankful beings will have directed our feet onto the streets of gold.