By Brenda Black
Nearly 3,200 fans ticketed their way through chain link fences to concrete benches, and chairs they would rarely occupy, for a concert at the 2014 Missouri State Fair. They came to hear award winning gospel recording artist MercyMe belt out hit after hit. A top act from this genre has not graced the MSF grandstand stage since 1997. Back then it was Sandi Patty, famous for her incredible range and lilting voice. But on a balmy night more recent, five men dominated vocal acrobatics, with lead singer Bart Millard holding notes to incomprehensible lengths and never faltering from pure tones and perfect pitch. Their talent worthy of State Fair exhibition.
The band has been around since 1994, but in 2001, the world sat up and took notice when they released an original crossover single, “I Can Only Imagine.” That song helped secure a double platinum certification on their debut album Almost There. Millard's incredible talent in both his vocal and song-writing abilities – he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” on a legal pad in one sitting – continues to take the band's sound to the top of the charts. They've released six additional albums, plus a greatest hits, with four certified gold. They had 13 consecutive top 5 singles on the Billboard Christian Songs chart, with seven reaching No. 1 status. MercyMe has eight Dove Awards, numerous Grammy Award nominations and just released their latest album Welcome to the New.
With all that talent and all those trophies, surely this music man must have a peachy life, spared from all difficulties. Think again. From under the spotlight, he exposed his soul, and proves once again that, to some degree, everyone is broken. Between upbeat, drum-driven songs and heartfelt, symphonic stories, the singer/songwriter with the brilliant smile and a voice like an angel shared personal testimony of hurt, abuse, grief and confusion on his life's journey.
Michael Ging, a 23 year old fan from Sedalia could relate, “My parents split when I was only three years old too,” he said. “Bart sharing about his life, the abuse from his father, and how God redeemed those hard days, brings home the point that God is real. He loves us and He is merciful.”
From the outside looking in, we quickly surmise that people on such platforms don't struggle. In a moment when it would be easier to keep up the image rather than be transparent, Millard tore down the curtain and talked about coming to terms with forgiveness, and how he looks forward to meeting his saved and transformed father one day in heaven. He confessed difficulty over losing a cousin killed on the job, and admitted rough spots in a marriage from unresolved issues. Bart got real and it made a difference to someone going through something similar. My guess is that there were about 3,199 others also touched by his words.
Sometimes encouragement comes through a song on the radio. I am more convinced than ever that God ministers through His gifted performers. The inspiration for those hit tunes may come from one act of kindness or one thoughtful word from one man or woman. For Millard, it came from a friend who told him over and over again, “You are holy, righteous and redeemed.”
Everybody is broken. We all need a Savior. We all need understanding and support and patience and healing. We may not all have a voice like Bart Millard, but we can get honest with one another and offer help and hope. The result will take us a little closer to the heaven we can only imagine.
Try it this week. Lift someone with a kind word of “I've been there, brother. I understand. And I know what happens when the 'Hurt and the Healer Collide.'” With “All That is Within Me,” I pray you are able to say “So Long Self” and let “The Word of God Speak” through you, because “All of Creation” calls us to “Move” for God's glory.
There is definitely more to MercyMe than just music. And there's more to you and me than what we let the world typically see.
(photos courtesy https://www.facebook.com/backroadprod)