By Mark Ellis –
Bill Miller was raised in a strong, upper middle class family, with an Irish Catholic mom and a dad in the movie theater business who worked most Sundays.
After 12 years in Catholic school in Sterling, Colorado, Bill says, “if I did hear the gospel, I didn’t hear it clearly.”
A standout in high school football, he won a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska, but left the team after his first year somewhat discouraged because he sat on the bench. “I was a kid from a small town. At the end of that year I had enough. Football took a lot of time and I was about ready to flunk out.”
He pulled his grades up after he left the team, but when he joined a fraternity, another problem emerged. “I thought the more you could drink the better party boy you were. I got hooked on alcohol. It affected a lot of things in college, but still I got through.”
In college, Bill was in the ROTC program and after graduation he spent the next two years in Augusta, Georgia as an instructor in the military police school.
“The fraternity system was bad for drinking but the army was worse,” he recalls. “Five p.m. in the army in the officers club was like New Years Eve.”
Bill met his future wife, Kiley, and the two married. He eventually earned a doctorate and became a business professor at Arizona State University. Despite the drinking, he was able to maintain a respectable career.
“In 1972 I was 40 years old, holding down a job but drinking every night, and drinking heavily on the weekends,” he recalls. “Kiley had just about had enough.”
Then something surprising happened. A Baptist woman who lived in the neighborhood knocked on their front door and shared the gospel with Kiley.
“She was very open to it because she had a much deeper spiritual dimension than I did.” Kiley received Jesus as her Lord and Savior and was born again. Soon there were Bible studies meeting at their home.
Bill was apprehensive about what was happening. “I would attend reluctantly and occasionally,” he admits. Sometimes he came home from work and secreted himself in another part of the house.
“Kiley, what are you getting into?” he asked her one day. “We’re Catholics; we’ve been baptized and confirmed. Were doing the best we can spiritually…”
“Well, I know there’s more and I’m going to find it,” she replied.
Bill began to wrestle with God. After one of the Bible studies, a young man confronted him who knew about his drinking problem. “Bill, if you put your faith and trust in Jesus, your life will dramatically change. If you want that you have to accept Jesus as Savior, admit you need a Savior…you have to repent.”
He was taken aback by the word repent. “What do you mean by repent?” Bill asked.
“You have to change your mind, change your heart, change your behavior,” the younger man explained.
Bill recognized he had a problem. He made an important admission when he said, “Yes, I want to change.”
He realized at 40 years old he was still confessing the same sins he had decades earlier. What is going on here? he wondered.
That night, before he went to sleep, he prayed to God:
“God, I don’t know about this…as a Catholic I’m having trouble understanding this born again experience, but I want my life to change. I want this desire for alcohol to be taken away. If you will do it, as this young man says you will, I will serve you.”
That night Bill had an unusually vivid dream. “I found myself lying on a beach with waves rolling over me and my past life and problems were being washed away,” he recounts.
He woke up feeling refreshed, better than most mornings. He went to work and came straight home, without making his usual stop at the bar. Wait a second, he thought, I didn’t stop for drinks.
A few days went by without a drop of alcohol, then a couple weeks. “I had been delivered from a spirit of alcohol,” he exclaims. “I had a total deliverance!”
He was born again and filled with the Spirit. “I began to read the Bible and that’s when my life began to change. I believed it was the Word of God…and I began to witness.”
Like a baby hungry for the milk of the Word, he read through the Bible cover-to-cover three times. On the third time, one verse jumped out in his mind, Titus 3:3-9.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another;
Wait a minute, he thought, that describes me. Then he noticed a very important word inserted by Paul, the word but…
“but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
That Scripture deeply touched Bill’s heart. “The words from “Amazing Grace” also impacted him. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” he exults.
“To proclaim that Jesus took my sins away on the cross, he gave his life for me — that finally got into my spirit. Jesus gave his life for me so all my sins could be forgiven. He rose from the dead for me, so I could spend eternity in heaven with him.”
Bill went on to become the founding academic dean of a hotel restaurant school at Northern Arizona University (NAU).
At 87-years-old, Bill looks like a much younger man. He gets up a half hour before Kiley to read the Scripture, and then they pray together and take communion. They usually read Psalm 103. Then he reads Aaron’s priestly blessing over his wife.
“He took all our diseases and he is renewing our strength like the eagle’s,” he says.
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