It is hard to imagine there is anyone who hasn’t heard MercyMe’s double platinum song, I Can Only Imagine. Released nearly 20 years ago, the song has become a favorite among listeners in nearly every genre of mainstream music.
It is even harder to imagine the song’s inspiration came as Bart Millard, the band’s lead singer, reflected on the life and death of his father. Who would have ever thought that a little boy who suffered from domestic abuse, at the hands of an alcoholic father, would ever find a way to turn such amazing pain into such a touching song? There within is the power of the song. There within is the power of a life changed by Jesus.
Despite a rough and awful childhood both Bart and his father ultimately found new beginnings as followers of Jesus. Through the love and forgiveness, they discovered in their faith, they learned to love and forgive each other. When Bart witnessed such an incredible life change in the monster of a dad he had feared, he couldn’t resist spending time with his dad during his final days on earth. Their relationship was reconciled and found a new beginning. Hope was discovered in a new journey they both shared with Jesus. I Can Only Imagine became an outward expression of what Bart imagined his father must have been experiencing in heaven following his battle with pancreatic cancer. Surely, he never could have imagined a song about his father in heaven after having lived through the horrors of such an abusive childhood. However, he now recognizes the impact the gospel can have on all our lives.
Bart’s story was not too unlike my own. I have also survived domestic abuse at the hands of a drunken father. I wanted to believe he loved me but it was hard to imagine given he had tried to take the lives of my family and me on more than one occasion. Eventually, years and geography separated us but the painful memories lingered close to my heart. I could never have imagined forgiving him or seeing him again. But like Bart’s story, my father and I were both touched by the love and forgiveness we found through faith in Jesus. It ultimately led us to reconciliation and I too found myself spending as much time as I could with my former monster of a dad.
My wife and I were attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. when I got word that my father had died. Amazingly, Bart was sharing his story from the platform with the President of The United States at the very same event. I couldn’t help but sense the irony of it all. A God wink for sure as he sang, I Can Only Imagine, within hours of my father’s death. Here we were, two boys who had been hurt and abused together in a sea of a thousand onlookers, both reflecting on their daddies, as my dad and his, were no doubt being introduced in heaven by the one who brought us all together.
The song has now become a movie. If the shared experience in Washington D.C. wasn’t enough, the film was also shot in Oklahoma. I had the opportunity to meet Bart personally, my son worked on the production, the movie was shot near my hometown and the opening scene was shot at The Cedar Gate, where I am the president of Oklahoma’s premier leadership retreat center. Who could have ever imagined two lives could intersect in so many ways!
I have experienced firsthand the message behind this film. I Can Only Imagine beautifully illustrates how no one is ever too far from God’s love and redemption. Because I am so passionate about bringing leaders together, who want to use their influence to impact the world for good, I wanted to find a way to help bring MercyMe’s hit song to the big screen.
At the Cedar Gate we decided to challenge the leaders we serve to join us in buying out movie theaters and blocks of tickets for the movie. The response has been overwhelming! No one can do everything but together we have discovered we can do more than we ever could alone. We are excited about the impact this film is having in the lives of so many.
Can you imagine what might happen if we came together and encouraged our families, friends and co-workers to experience this film? Without question it would be life changing. I believe this movie could be the catalyst to bringing healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to hundreds of thousands of broken relationships.
Below is a link to information as to how you too can get involved. I hope you will and by all means, go see the movie on opening weekend. I Can Only Imagine will be in theaters nationwide on March 16. See you there! Imagine that!
Click here to see the movie trailer and to learn more about I Can Only Imagine.
Photos: My dad and I as a little boy and My dad and I a few days before he died.