Preacher Miller faces death up in Kentucky

Published 6:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2019

About a week ago we lost an Ohio preacher who had preached many times here in LaGrange. In fact, Barney Owens was scheduled to be here summer after next. But he died suddenly last week, ending a lifelong journey of preaching the gospel. He was an unusual preacher who would begin his sermons in a real-low voice and then elevate soon into a crescendo that would shake the rafters, kind of like Preacher Miller.

Barney was close years ago with my grandfather and credits “Brother Miller” with teaching him a great deal about preaching when Barney was still a young man. The two men had a good many things in common, but none more than this: They preached what they believed, no matter what.

Thinking of Barney Owens a great deal this week made me think of Preacher Miller. We don’t live in an age where you fear for your life for preaching, but Preacher Miller did. And he came close to reaching the end of his journey once while still standing right there in the pulpit.

Back in the 50s, Preacher Miller went to preach up in the hills of Kentucky. Folks up in those hills back then could be pretty rough — to utilize a severe understatement. But that put them in greater need of the gospel, and nobody was better equipped to deliver it than this Georgia preacher-man.

Brother Miller had many strong beliefs, including a belief that a Christian should not be involved with certain organizations that might compromise their faith. Sometimes there was a conflict of allegiance, and a person had to decide which way he wanted to go.

About half the folks in this backwoods church up in Kentucky where he was preaching was heavily involved with such an organization, putting Preacher Miller in a position suddenly to become a very unpopular preacher. Undeterred, he announced to the congregation one night in his booming, rafter-shaking voice.

“Tomorrow night,” he hollered, “if you’ll all come back, you’ll hear me preach a sermon that you may not want to hear.” And he went on to lay out his topic.

The next afternoon – long before the preacher was scheduled to deliver his sermon – a car-load of big, country Kentuckians paid him a little visit. Two or three of them jumped out and approached Preacher Miller in the parking lot. They had a message, and that message would force the preacher to decide: “Do I want to live, or do I want to preach?” There was no middle ground.

(His decision next week.)