My Big Dreams 20 Years Ago, My Big Dreams Today. . .

think big, dream big concept on blackboard

20 years ago today, I drove into Ann Arbor, Michigan to begin a new life.

I was thinking big. . .dreaming big.

My wife and our three sons stayed back in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the boys to finish out the school year and join me two months later. I came to Michigan to be the new pastor of a small church and see it grow. We had such a great life in New Mexico but we felt God was leading us to make this major move as part of His plan for our lives.

I still remember driving across the Huron River bridge into my new city that day – April 1, 1994 – (April Fool’s Day) and wondering to myself:

“Am I a real fool to leave such a great life to make this move or will God do big things through me here?”

20 years ago, I had a lot of dreams. A lot of them were quite good. God honoring. But too many of my dreams were just – I confess – “big.” You see, in my mind, I always thought “bigger was better.” I was convinced that this small church would not stay small for long – not with me as the new leader! It would be big. It would impact the city, change the world.

20 years later I can see how so many of my “big” dreams were really about. . .me.

I had a need that almost consumed me. I wish I could say that the only thing that consumed me was to love God and bring Him glory but that just wouldn’t be true. No, I had a consuming need to “be somebody” – to have a large and well-known church, to write books, to travel nationally and internationally and speak to huge crowds of people. I had hoped for a long time to one day be on television or radio. Honestly, I wanted to be famous – famous for God, but nevertheless, famous.

I loved God. I wanted to make Him known.

But I also loved. . . me. And I wanted to make me known.

I thank God that He did not answer so many of my prayers. I thank God that He did not let so many of my “big” dreams come true.

I can see so clearly now that fame would have killed me. It would have ruined my marriage, my family, my integrity.

I can see so clearly now that “bigger” is not always or necessarily “better.”

He doesn’t necessarily want famous people. He wants faithful people.

I see now that God uses the small, the invisible, the humble, the quiet to accomplish His big purposes in the world.

I learned these things through:
#1 – Failure
. Our church did grow. It had impact in our city. But later, we experienced hard times and I experienced depression. In that failure however, I saw what success really meant. I saw what mattered to God.
#2 – My wife. I had a wife that understood God and His ways far more than I did. She stuck with me, suffered through my selfish and egotistical ways, and modeled what “bigness” really is – a life of quiet, invisible service to God and others.

20 years later I have new dreams, better dreams – you might even say “bigger” dreams (in the right sense of the word):

* I want to die with my wife proud of me. I want to be famous to her and faithful to her.
* I want to die with my wife knowing that she was loved and more important than anyone else on face of the earth to me.
* I want my sons and their wives – and their children and grandchildren who follow them – to be faithful in living for Jesus until he returns.
* I want to tell as many people as I possibly can about the greatness of God – His love, His mercy, His faithfulness, His holiness, and His gracious plan to save sinful, helpless, hopeless humanity. In short, I want Him to be glorified.
* I want to tell as many people as I possibly can about the story of Jesus – his love, his miracles, and his unbelievable sacrifice for us. In short, I want him to be satisfied.

Like the John the Baptist in the Injil, (The Good News of John, chapter 3, verse 30), I want:

More of Him.

Less of me.

These are my dreams. . .my big dreams. . .20 years later.


(Postscript: whether you call yourself a Muslim or a Christian, what were your big dreams 10, 15, 20 years ago? What are they today? How have they changed?)

42 thoughts on “My Big Dreams 20 Years Ago, My Big Dreams Today. . .

    • Bruce,

      You and I were in the same hospital when we were born. We both had dreams back there in western Kansas!

      What were your dreams when we were growing up back there? What are they now? How have they changed?

    • I never had great big dreams like wanting to become rich or famous. In fact I think I wanted mostly to be a good husband and father like my father was and perhaps to achieve some kind of honor and acclaim like my parents, particularly my mother did. My dreams haven’t really changed. Twenty years ago I was turning 40 years old. My parents were still alive and had retired not too far away in Toledo and I was looking forward to spending many years with them since they had lived overseas for most of my adult life. I had two daughters and a marriage of 10 years but there were already a lot of problems in that relationship and my wife had started talking about divorce like it was a settled issue. I had a career in a company that I enjoyed, a division of that company that I had pretty much been allowed to create and direct with the strong support of at least one of the two owners of that company but that was soon to end. Our marriage did break up, my kids were only in elementary school and I was heartbroken. I struggled off and on with jobs and careers although I did eventually have a second and third career in two unrelated fields, a few times I would have been homeless if it wasn’t for friends. I stayed connected with other Christians and involved in church most of that time. I did get to spend a lot of time with my parents. I stayed near my daughters geographically and was very involved in their lives even though I was no longer married to their mother and it really paid off. In time by God’s grace I was able to actually forgive my ex wife and that was a tremendous turning point in my life. About nine years ago I met my current wife and seven years ago this month we were married. Now I relate to my daughters as independent adults as well as to my two independent, married adult step children and their daughters, the two girl cousins are my granddaughters. In many ways I have had my dreams fulfilled, a wonderful, Godly and supportive wife, children on their own and grand children who are a joy. I even have a job that challenges me, pays the bills and gives me some honor. My dreams surround my wife and family, personally I have been able to work at jobs that are hard, challenging, where I have a lot of autonomy and can use my creativity and when I had lesser jobs I was still able to bring those values to the task.

      • Tim, my friend, thank you for taking the time to respond – and to really share your heart. You got pretty transparent. We need more of that don’t we? It would make for deeper, stronger relationships and fulfill the “one another” passages in the New Testament.

        I have not hit the big 60 but I am close. One thing I hear in you is how family has always been part of your big dreams and that it still is. In spite of the pain of divorce, you mentioned a huge life turning point: forgiveness.

        Tim, may you continue to follow Jesus. May your descendents be righteous and loving – like Jesus, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

        This is truly a worthy dream.

  1. Mark, thanks for such a refreshingly honest post. The similarities between your story and mine are considerable. What you’ve written is just so ‘true’. Blessings be yours brother!

    • Richard, you are a precious brother. I liked you the first minute we talked!

      You have a humble, kind, Jesus-like spirit and I know you are “big” to our Father in Heaven!

      What were your dreams 20 years ago? What are they now?

  2. You serve a BIG God, so you may be a fool, but you’re a fool in the court of the King of the universe. I am happy to play a bit part with you in bringing hope to the nations.

    • Mert,

      Yes, God is BIG! I hope I can be what the Injil calls “a fool for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10) – someone who looks like a fool to people but someone that God is proud of because of complete devotion and love for Him.

    • Jim, I appreciate that you read the post. Thank you!

      Can I ask you, “What were your big dreams 20 years ago and what are they now?”

    • Thanks, Sam!

      Let me ask you if I could, “What were your big dreams 20 years ago and what are they now? How have they changed?

      I would like to hear responses of people about our age.

  3. What a timely word you have given. I know I have had a very similar experience, though not as a pastor. God sort of pulled me out by the roots about 5 years ago to show me that my “big plans” were not His plans. As someone who has been a Christian since a young child, I fell into the routine of serving God in my way, the way I thought it should be and wound up really serving myself. Through God’s love, my wife’s love, a great pastor and many others, I feel like finally, in my late 50’s I am really seeking God first, His kingdom and letting the other things fall as they may. You and Mary Jane have also been a great inspiration in your visits to our church and through your communications. Thank you again for this timely reminder.

    • Steve, thanks so much for reading and responding.

      Aren’t we blessed that God knew better than we did what we needed, what we didn’t, what could have destroyed us? Such mercy, such grace.

      I had a college friend that became quite famous and then had a major fall that was all over the national news. After his fall, my wife and a friend both said to me, “Do you still want to be famous?”

      Now, I just want to be “big” to my family and to God. Better for me to be “small” to people.

      Keep seeking God first, Steve!

    • Mert, it is clear that this is one of your big dreams. I am so glad that you got to go there at least once in your life.

      But now, I have seen you reach out to the Yemeni men who have come to America with love, kindness, and friendship. God brought them to you here since it has been impossible for you to go to them there! It is amazing how He can satisfy our deepest dreams and desires – especially when they come from Him!

  4. Hi Mark! 20 years ago I was struggling with my dreams. God was showing me that I probably wasn’t going to be famous no matter how hard I tried. I had considered ministry, but was discouraged because of some setbacks with my health. Gradually, the Lord began to mold his plan in place for me. I began to catch a vision for ministering in Asia. Eventually I married a Japanese woman, and we have been married for 10 years now, and have been serving in Japan for 7 years. God has blessed us beyond what we could have imagined, and we are happy to be involved in music and ministry without all of the baggage that goes along with being famous.

    • My brother, your words touch me deeply.

      I wonder – I just wonder – how many of us had a dream in our hearts that involved being “big” in the eyes of the world. Of being famous. I sense in you what I have experienced in “mid-life” – a wonderful contentment.

      I know this contentment we now enjoy is not to be confused with a carefree, lackadaisical, lazy, emotionless, visionless, passionless life. It is not lethargic or apathetic. No! It involves vision and vigor, drive and determination, emotion and enthusiasm, and even greater passion.

      But it is not just our dreams that have been changed. We have been changed, haven’t we? As Jesus said (in John 15:1-2, 8), we have been “pruned” so we could actually bear more “fruit” – fruit so that God might be glorified.

      Yes, that is the key difference in our dreams now, isn’t it? That God might be glorified – that He might be seen for all that He gloriously is.

  5. 20 years ago I was 5 years into working in Hollywood on Network sitcoms. My dreams were to continue to make inroads in Hollywood & work on many different type TV shows. Today, I am still doing sitcoms, but for the Disney Channel, & continuing to do sports productions for ABC & ESPN.

    • Thanks, Michael! You have done well! But hey, part of my question is how have YOU have changed in these 20 years. For example, is there a way your dreams are more about God now than they were 20 years ago?

  6. Yes Mark, In spite of the fact that I have a lot to do now, but your question (request) is attractive and it appeals to me. Any way, my dream 20 years ago, or more than, was to get phd in Economics and take over the position of “Minister of Economics”. Day by day, and due to the difficult situation the Palestinian people live, my aspiration started to change, but within the same scope. I have many goals. I started to think with once in the specialization of International development, once in Political Sciences, once in HRM. All these wishes are covered with a dream to be a Millionaire. Being so, this will open a very vast horizon in front of me. I dream to open a complete compound composed of approxt. 10 stories; one of them is dedicated to be a multi-function hall for training, big meeting, adhoc meetings, restaurant to serve the pool, festivals .. I thought with opening a very big store for painting tools, I love oil/acrylic painting very much. Since I was very young, I used to draw and paint on walls, papers, and canvas. I dream to be a resourceful preacher, because of that, I used to buy books long time ago.

    Yes, the money is not every thing, and it could be nothing for some people in a specific point, but it enables you (after the help of Allah) to do much not only for yourself, but also for others: poor people, students, patients, academic bodies, environment, people you love, people you met before and did favors for you, like Mark e.g.,

    My biggest dream is to get the bless from Allah.

    • Khaled – marhaba, habibi! Shukran for answering my question so fast and so well. I really appreciate it!

      I believe your dream to have a lot of money can be very, very useful – if it doesn’t change you or consume you or control you. The Injil says, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

      Isa – Jesus – said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (the Injil, Matthew 19:23-24).

      If money is not an idol in our lives – if we receive it as a gift from God and use it to help people and bring Him glory, wonderful! But. . .for most people, having a lot of money changes them. They no longer think they need God. They become arrogant – full of pride. They forget the poor. If God gives you money and you used it for the dreams you mentioned of helping the poor people of Palestine, I know He would be very happy because He cares deeply for the poor.

      Khaled, may God bless you my friend! And may God bless the Palestinian people!

      I know He loves them. We do too.

  7. Mark, this was an excellent post. In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Thank you for obeying God’s call and coming to AA. You have impacted my life greatly; and you are “famous” in my eyes.

    Back in 1996, as Christina and I came to AA, we wanted to “transform lives and transform the world.” But with each passing day, I am realizing that the most important transformation has to occur in my life. Some of those “big dreams” that I prayed back in 1996 were more in terms of breadth and extent. Now, the dream has shifted to more of depth and length.

    My prayer has changed. I am praying that every person God brings my way, I can go deeper and stay committed to them for the long haul.

    When everything is said and done, we will all lay down our crowns to the One who alone is worthy to receive all the praise.

    • Brother Seth, your message gives me great joy.

      May I say – as an older man – how proud of you that I am? Not because of all your accomplishements. Truly, those are wonderful and there is much that God has done through you to be excited about. But my joy and pride in you is related to what you wrote about: “the dream has shifted to more of depth and length. . .the long haul.”

      There is gravitas in you, brother. You are not just a young pastor rock star. You are a man of God with integrity.

      I am proud to be your friend.

      May the Lord we worship and serve keep us faithful. . .to the end.


        • Thanks, dear brother. May we finish well for His glory. As we finish, may people see Him:

          “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us (2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message).

  8. Mark
    Twenty years ago we were leaving Calif to start our daughter in school. So my goal was to get our family transitioned to Kansas while I began working a new job … We found a great church and good schools We know we made the right choice. Raising the kids in So. Calif. was not the best idea…. God has continued to help us as we consider where to move now that the kids are out of the house. Daughter a scientist at Vanderbilt/Nashville and our son at KU. Should we go to Nashville? Our dream was to move to KC area but God has other plans. Maybe back to Calif?

    • Stan, great to hear from an old college classmate!

      I think I hear that the well being of your family has always been a primary dream and goal in your life and that pouring yourself into that dream has paid off wonderfully.

      I also hear a heart that is currently surrendered to God’s plans vs. your dreams. That is the kind of heart He loves to bless!

  9. 20 years ago I was working in computers for the U of M. I was leading a Bible study at work that was consuming me because I was so blessed by leading it. I wanted to understand His word better and better. It was all making so much sense to me and fitting together like a seamless garment. I was deeply involved in building complex systems for the U of M that would help them to perform their various administrative tasks. It was interesting and challenging. I was loving my sweet wife and enjoying our relationship. I was involved in church and in the Word of God and was very committed to that as well. I prayed fervently every day and felt that the Lord was with me and was leading me in my life.

    Today I am retired from the U of M. I have just completed writing a 200 page book on the “End-Times” that explains the insights into scripture that the Lord gave to me over the past 35 or more years. I think that it was the leading of the Lord that I write this. It has been a blessing to put down in a systematic way the insights and to see how they all fit together to make a glorious panoramic picture of the end of this age and the establishment of the next age, His kingdom on earth. I am working on some stuff for the Word of God and for Christ the King and also attend a Bible Study with some lovely brothers and sisters at Dexter Gospel Church. I pray daily and I definitely believe that the Lord is leading me in my life. I love being home with my sweet wife and look forward to getting up each day. I am getting old …. my body is wearing out. But my spirit is being renewed within me daily. I thank God that Jesus saved me from a life of debauchery and hopelessness and has allowed me to know Him and to love Him and to serve Him all these years. I look forward to an eternity with Him in unbroken loving fellowship together with the saints and angels. Amen! I would say that as the years have passed there is one thing that has constantly risen before me as a certainty in my life with Him: He is Himself my heart’s desire, the only thing that I want, the only One Who can satisfy me. All else is a passing illusion. He is my portion and my cup, the delight of my soul, my Beloved.

    • Wow, Mike, your love for Jesus is wonderful. Your passion for him is evident.

      One thing I think I hear in your story is that a life well lived brings great peace and fulfillment as one gets old. When one has lived all out for Jesus, there are few regrets that haunt and hurt.

      When our dreams are focused on God and His Kingdom, one can die with joy.

  10. Twenty years ago I was gearing up to start a new church here in the Seattle area. That church began in the fall of 1994. What an exciting, scary, wonderful, difficult journey that was. I felt called to leave after 13 years of pastoring that church and have moved on to other ministry responsibilities. The church we began in ’94 is thriving under new leadership. My primary desire then and now is just to be found faithful in that which the Lord has put before me. I am so very privileged to have served in full-time ministry for 36 years and want to keep on keeping on and to finish well.

    • My dear friend Mark, I think you are the epitome of a faithful man. You always have been.

      I so often think of people like you being rewarded abundantly in Heaven – people who stuck it out, lived for God through all the ups and downs, pursued His glory vs. their own, served others more than themselves, worked without notice or praise, etc.

      May we both finish well. . .

  11. 20 years ago, we were living in a small house, the kitchen was so small if more than 3 people were sitting at the table, and one of them tried to get up, everyone had to move. In the bedrooms, you had to sit on the bed to open up the dresser drawers. 2 years latter we moved into a larger house. That same year my mother died. The next year my mothers brother died, they were both in the mid 70’s. Long life is does not run in my family. My goal was to live longer then both of them.

    3 years ago, we never thought we would end up in Tennessee. Last year, I was diagnosed with cancer. What a surprise. I am only in my mid 60’s. This was not suppose to happen to me. I will be a “cancer survivor” for 1 year in a couple of days.

    It does not matter how long you live, but how you live. I long to be faithful and an encouragement to those I meet, and tell them of God’s faithfulness.

    Proverbs 30:8-9 Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches, Feed me with the food that is my portion, Lest I be full and deny Thee and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.

    • Keith, thanks so much for transparently sharing some of your journey.

      It has obviously not been easy but it seems like your dreams/goals have deepened through the pain of your cancer – from the goal of a long life to the goal of a faithful, meaningful life. This sounds like the changes God makes in us as we either suffer, mature, or both.

      Congratulations on your 1 year anniversary! I pray God gives you a long life filled with service to Him. No matter what, He is faithful.

      God bless you, brother!

  12. Hmmm, well, 20 years ago, if I do my math right that would have been 1994. I was fairly fresh still in the Active Duty USAF and seeing myself progressing in my career, doing some incredible ministry, and making a difference in the lives of airmen around the world. My big dreams today? Well, let me see; I want to continue to make a difference in the lives of the chaplains that have been entrusted to me, and help to ensure that their dreams are realized as they serve the Lord in countless ways in the chaplaincy whether military or civilian. I also want to make a difference in all the young lives that I’m having an opportunity to impact as a teacher. Also, though I won’t go, I can’t wait for us to step foot on Mars!! Thought I’d throw that last one in.

    • Thanks so much, Mark! It seems like your dream today is to make others’ dreams come true. That seems mature to me. Like Jesus.

  13. Interestingly, I can’t answer your question very well. My life has been sort of like the Woody Allen quote, “80% of success is showing up.” I’ve been a show up and see what happens guy.

    And every important good thing that happened to me in my life was a surprise: I didn’t set out to find Jesus, marry Jill, father Mae, work in Africa .

    Now at 70, I dream and pray for one thing – for our many unsaved family members and many of the peoples of the world that God has surrounded us with (the location in our neighbourhood is perfect – and another surprise) to become followers of Christ.

    • Michael, I love your answer! Your practice of “showing up” is inspiring to me. I think in God’s eyes, when we show up day after day, year after year, He calls it “faithfulness.” And He is pleased!

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