Unrepentant Surrender

Sunday, January 22, 2012 6:39 PM By crosswaysnet , In ,

On the passing of J. Keith Miller...
Keith Miller has been tapping energy for 60 years. Today he tapped into the mother lode. He went Home this afternoon at the age of 84 in the arms of his wife, Andrea, and at the insistence of an enemy - pancreatic cancer. He died faithful, and in the only kind of faith he believed worthy - Expectant. He pursued a surrendered life with a maddening obsession at times. He expected God to meet him when he did. He chased after God passionately, sloppily, even in anger. And he journaled his failures. Later in my own life, I came to understand how merciful God is to me by watching Keith crawl back to the foot of the cross after some spectacular personal crises.  Expectant faith is desperate. It was the only kind he ever seemed to live. It is the only kind that matters. When it came to surrender, Keith was adamant and unrepentant. It shows in his final blog entries.

Once upon a time, Keith drilled the earth of Texas and Oklahoma looking for his meaning as a man. As an unsettled, lonely and driven member of the 'Greatest Generation' he doggedly pursued wealth and the American dream across the American South as an entrepreneur in Oil Exploration. He worked for the biggest names in Energy and launched a number of successful related businesses.

By the late 50s, he was on his way to the top. And he found it profoundly meaningless...

The spiritual journey of Keith Miller was troubled, honest, and epic. He was one of the first professionals to reach out to the international business community with an open, genuine and candid gospel. He did it through words too blunt, actions too bold, and faith too irrational for the times. Along the way, he unleashed real power on every corner of the Christian Church. His work, witness and writing changed the world. If you don't know of him, someone you admire does.

Two important things happened for me in 1965. The first rather obvious - I was born. The second was less conspicuous (to me) - Keith published his first book, "The Taste of New Wine." It's now regarded by many editors, theologians and pastors as one of the most important spiritual books of the 20th century. It was practically scandalous at the time. The language was so plain, the confessions so crude that it was dismissed by critics as amateur and immature. The elites looked down their long, polished noses. The book also sold like gangbusters and radicalized a generation tired of pat answers and dull religiosity. I'm taking no risk here in saying if there had been no Keith Miller, it's unlikely we'd have seen the likes of Philip Yancey, M. Scott Peck, Richard Foster, or our current road poets Don Miller, Francis Chan, Wayne Farley or even Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.

I don't mourn for the man. He's drinking deeply of the cup that overflows with the New Wine he's been sipping for half a century. It's a libation that never spoils, never dulls and always envigorates. I mourn for myself. I had only just begun a thrilling chapter in my life as he mentored me in my writing. I had high hopes for the relationship and it was, admittedly, selfish. I have no idea what I could have offered him in return, other than my gratitude.

A major medical event interrupted my plans, and I was the one to fall. When a stroke leveled me in 2009, I didn't know if I'd ever regain the ability to think clearly, much less be creative and productive. As soon as he could get to my room in the rehab unit, Keith sat with me for two precious hours. His vocabulary doesn't include many 'ifs' and I didn't hear a single one. "When you get out of here..." "When you return to work..." I hung on that perfect and prophetic word. "It's going to be incredible, Bram. This whole experience will make you stronger and open up new possibilities." He gave me one of his books on how to plan for the next Big Thing in your life. Then he positively lit up when I asked him about his current project. "I really can't tell you much right now, because it's bigger than anything I've ever attempted and I'm not sure I'm ready to share it. But I can say that it will cover every major character in the bible."

"Sounds ambitious!" I said, in my half-frozen, slurred speech.

"God's ambitious," he replied.

I asked him about his health. He admitted after some prodding that he was dealing a with a little indigestion. I could see that he'd lost some weight. When he left, I began to pray earnestly that everything God had for Keith Miller to accomplish in this life would be completed. He went public with his pancreatic cancer just a few months ago.

I broke bread with the man one more time, and had the pleasure of hearing from him a few times after that. His number would pop up on my caller ID and I'd immediately stop what I was doing to answer. His crackling half-useless cellphone would hit my eardrum. "Bram! How are you boy?! I'm on the road right now and I was thinking of you. If you have just a few minutes, Id love to hear how you're doing! Are you still improving?" I was always happy to tell him how God had restored - even resurrected - the things that I had thought were lost. "That's good, good... He's not done, you know? So what are you writing these days?"

I so wish I had those conversations recorded. I'll have to wait for his final words to me on paper - which means, of course, on my Kindle. (And yes, J. Keith Miller embraced the new technology.) I understand that he and his wife continued to work on his final project until this very month. I will pray for Andrea as she completes the work, and that many eyes get to savor Keith's last testament to the world. This generation needs it.

Here are links to some of Keith's important books:


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