How Dreams, Visions, and Convictions Come and Grow
By Fred Carpenter
Mars Hill was founded in 1977 by Fred Carpenter and Larry Kreider. Together they shared a vision for the potential of ministry through media. In this year, marking the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions, president, Fred Carpenter is taking the time to recount the important lessons God has taught us; lessons that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.
“That’s a good idea!” Have you ever heard or said that? Most likely you have. But, consider this, while every “idea” that comes from God is “good”, not every idea that is good according to people, is a “God idea.” When it began 40 years ago, the ministry of Mars Hill was not just a “good idea.” It was something more. In today’s devotional we discussed this, and began our conversation about dreams, visions, and convictions by reading the following scriptures from The Bible:
Genesis 37:5-8 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
Habakkuk 2:1-3 I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.”
Hebrews 11:1 Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Read the full chapter of Hebrews for examples of faith.)
“Convictions of Things Not Seen” That Have Shaped the Ministry Path of Mars Hill
Beginnings. The year 1974 was significant for me in 2 ways, I became a follower of Jesus Christ and I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Film. Even though I was young in my faith, I had come to Christ after much searching, and I was quickly coming into the strong conviction that I would not be pursuing a film-making career in Hollywood. In fact, I had lunch with some friends from school and as we exchanged plans for our futures I told them, “I’m going to make films to introduce people to Christ, but I don’t think they’re going to look like anything else out there.” Even as I spoke these words I thought to myself, “Where did that idea come from?”
Though I did not know what these films would look like, God was growing His idea in me, and preparing others in the Body of Christ to connect with it. I needed only to follow His call and lead, and be patient. Having been introduced to the Executive Director of the Houston Area Youth for Christ, Larry Kreider, we envisioned how media could be a powerful tool for communicating truth to teenagers. This “God idea” was blossoming into what we would call, a discussion-starter film; a short film that presented a dilemma, but left viewers with no solution – only unanswered questions. This would be the perfect set up for a youth leader to help young people discuss and work through the issue and explore the Bible for answers.
I joined the staff of Youth for Christ in 1977 and three short discussion-starter films came in rapid succession. The first two films were only marginally received, falling short of my expectations, and I began to doubt the path I was on. In 1980, I was invited to Los Angeles to show our third film at a youth leaders’ conference and I decided that while I was there I would explore the possibility of graduate school in LA.
Face Value premiered at the national YFC staff convention. As the 10-minute film (dealing with peer-pressure) concluded, the audience sat motionless. My first thought was that they didn’t get it. But then the room exploded with applause. Having been introduced before the film, the session speaker, Chuck Swindoll, walked up to the podium, waited for the applause to die down, and then said, “Wow! If that’s the kind of thing you guys are doing at YFC – KEEP DOING IT!” While everyone else in the room was hearing a word from Swindoll, I was hearing a word from God – “Fred, keep doing what you’re doing!”
Face Value went on to win 6 International film awards, which earned it the right to compete in the short subject category at the Academy Awards. It set the trajectory for other award-winning, discussion-starter films from Mars Hill. A subsequent discussion-starter film, The Question, dealt with the question of meaning and purpose in life. It was used in public high schools across America. I was so very blessed when the pioneer youth ministry leader, Mike Yaconelli, said of The Question, “Finally someone has figured out how to make a truly Christian film.”
This process of recognizing a “God idea” and giving Him room to grow it became a foundational lesson for the next 4 decades of leading the ministry through numerous projects. It is just as important today as it was 40 years ago! Our most recent project, The HOPE is the perfect example.
The HOPE began with something more than just a “good idea.” From the onset, I had the conviction that “we were supposed to create a media tool that could easily be adapted for any culture or language group and used around the world to share the Gospel.” But, what did that mean? What was it supposed to look like? It was a deep conviction of things not seen, though it was not at all concrete at the time. But as I had learned from earlier days, I needed only to follow His call and lead, and be patient. Eventually, the idea for The HOPE became tangible. And now it is in almost 70 languages and is being used around the world for evangelism and discipleship.
My Observations about Dreams, Visions, and Convictions from God
- What is the difference in these 3 ways that God gives us ideas?
- Dreams are God-given while you are asleep – as in Joseph’s dreams that he would become an authority figure that his family would bow to
- Visions are in and from the Holy Spirit – as in what the prophet, Habakkuk saw in the passage above or when the Apostle John received the vision of the Revelation
- Convictions can come anytime God chooses to give them. Hebrews 11:1 speaks of the ‘conviction of things not seen.’ The convictions I described above regarding The HOPE did not come in the form of easily identifiable images
- Usually, “God ideas” come through an individual, not through a group; though they may be confirmed and are often grown through a group.
- The meaning of dreams, visions, and convictions may not be clear at the onset, but it doesn’t mean they are not real. Joseph’s dreams and John’s vision on Patmos were very symbolic.
- They often involve a new thing, and they are not immediately grasped by others. Allow God to take you outside the box even if it’s uncomfortable. Remember, Joseph’s dreams were rejected by his family.
- It is one thing to have a Dream, Vision or Conviction from God, it is another to live it out. Give it time. Don’t try to help it along with your own methods. For example, Abraham tried to help fulfill the vision God gave him in Genesis 15:12. By contrast, Joseph lived out his dreams one day at a time which is a great example of Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.”
- A Dream, Vision or Conviction from God may be the overriding theme of your life story, but it is still just a part of a bigger story; God’s Story!
- Be on the lookout for confirmation and clues from God, and be open to “new/different things.” A course correction may seem small, but over time, it can be huge! A word from God, heeded, can make a universe of difference. e. – the word from Chuck Swindoll
A “God idea” is always a good idea, but a “good idea” is not always a “God idea.”
When you “hear” from the LORD, start right where you are and blossom – let God lead you to the next step or place. Don’t try to “leap-frog” over the next step in His plan.
Allow God to redefine the canvas…not just what you are painting on the canvas!
The true blessing of it all – Just knowing you’ve heard God and have been used by Him; this is a greater blessing than all He’s done through you. Psalm 90:17, Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.