Aside from my father and two grandfathers no man influenced my life more, and more positively, than C. John Miller.
John was my friend, mentor, and confidant, sometimes amazingly even my fan, and certainly always my most faithful prayer supporter.
Last week, this twenty-plus year hero in my life went to be with the Lord. He was 82 and as the Scripture said of King David, “He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor” (1 Chron. 29:28).
I think John also fit God’s description of David as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
I met John in 1991 when he was Chairman of the Board at Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary (later Cornerstone University) and I was a young and untested candidate for the institution’s presidency. He and others gave me a chance to run that race and run we did. It was a good run and I enjoyed every minute of it, in part because John was running with me.
I’ve been privileged to work with many trustees and supporters in several nonprofit organizations, including three in which I was charged with a leadership role. John ranks as the best trustee I’ve ever witnessed. He’s the best because of the total package he brought to the task:
- faithful—he always showed up
- optimistic and positive—he was always “up”
- proactive—he was not only open to new ideas, he looked for initiatives and helped cast vision for what could be
- spiritual and ethical—he was a Christian who wanted to live and act in a godly manner, personally, professionally, organizationally
- generous—he gave with an eye toward the good his gifts could do for others.
John was a quintessential leader. He led with respect and love for others. He really never tried to stand out, but he always stepped up and stepped out, and when he did, because of his character and example, others invariably followed.
John liked to say he was “just a kid from Kentucky,” but his affable personality, talent, work ethic, and genuine Bible-based spirituality helped engage his fellow board members and others in a desire to increase the academic quality and spiritual effectiveness of the institution, see it through a tipping point name change, and support the idea that a small school could dare to be more in a transition to university status.
John’s leadership helped reposition the “little school on the East Beltline that wanted to be left alone” into a truly Christian institution of higher learning capable of excellence. Why? For John it was always so students could learn to love and live for the Lord. John’s positive influence upon Cornerstone University lies deep yet today in the university’s DNA and it will for years to come.
John blessed more than the university. His family, friends, and those he touched can tell stories without end about John’s generosity with his time, talent, and treasure. I always believed God entrusted John with much because John was trustworthy. He was a faithful steward who didn’t wait for needs to appear at his door. He went looking for them, without need or desire for recognition. I know of seminary students, missionaries, pastors’ families, Christian educators, family and friends, business associates, and more who benefited from John’s helping heart and hand.
I know people, including me, who visited John primarily so they could unload their cares. He would listen, sometimes at great length, then talk about what could be done and, more importantly, what the Lord was doing or might do. He trusted the Lord and he helped me trust him. John was upbeat in the face of trials and he helped strengthen my resolve. John told stories of drilling several dry oil wells in a row and what God taught him during this stress, and then he helped me learn the same lessons. So it went, John sharing godly insight in a way that fit the situation at hand.
God gave John a sense of humor, a leadership talent he coupled with impeccable timing to disarm potentially volatile or paralyzing discussions. We’d be sitting in a board meeting getting stuck on an issue and John would say something about backing ourselves into a corner where “We had to vote on whether to mow the grass.” Or to put in perspective a group of churchmen’s rather egregious behavior toward the university John wryly observed, “Those guys couldn’t run a two-car funeral.” He laughed easily not because he was always happy but because he was always joyful.
John achieved both vocational and avocational success and received many accolades from a variety of business, political, civic, and religious sources. But he never forgot that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). I remember John telling me more than once about driving by himself along an interstate, thinking about his life, and suddenly it would hit him anew how much God had blessed him. Then he’d tell me about welling up in tears and praying and praising God for this unmerited favor called grace. If anything, John’s humility became even stronger with age and accomplishment.
John was a good, forever friend. As Board Chairman, the first thing John ever said to me was “I want to be your partner in this.” He never wavered in this commitment.
Years later in the midst of a trial John said something I’ll never forget: “I’m walking right beside you.” I cannot put into words what this meant to me other than to say it was one of the most moving moments of my life. I cannot repay him for this, but I’ve tried to pay it forward by writing or calling others in the midst of their trials.
During what turned out to be our final discussion, the last thing John said to me was “How can I help you?”
This was C. John Miller. He was quite simply the finest man I have ever known.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2014
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