Author Interview with Michael Graham

Today’s author interview is with Michael Graham. He is the author of our new release, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller.

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Bayou La Batre—a coastal fishing village in southwest Alabama. From the age of six, I worked in the net shop of the family seafood business threading needles with twine for the workers who repaired the nets on a fleet of shrimp boats in between their trips. We really didn’t have spare time to speak of, and I still struggle with understanding that concept as an adult. Every summer, holiday, and school break (including college), my siblings and I would work in some capacity for my father’s business. My favorite job was the three summers I spent as a teenager on the Silver King III—a charter fishing boat that took parties from around the southeast to the Chandeleur Islands to fish for three- and four-day trips.

  • When did you first want to write a book?

Actually, I stumbled into writing a book. It was not something I ever dreamed of doing. As I look back, I learned to write after I graduated from college. I was supposed to work for the family seafood business developing the international side of things—or at least that was the plan. Dad, however, did not have an assistant of his own, and since he was the boss, in reality I became his personal assistant—which mainly involved writing all of his correspondence. Though I chafed against this work, which was outside the scope of my assignment, it was in the school of writing and editing my father’s letters, projects, brochures, and specifications that I actually learned how to write.

  • Which writers inspire you?

My wife, Vicki, is the one who really got me into reading. Until I met her, I didn’t have the time or patience to be a reader. Now I am reading, and thinking about what I’ve read, all the time. Easily, my favorite writer is Mark Twain. I simply love the way he turns a phrase and makes me laugh so often. Among Christian writers, I greatly enjoy C. S. Lewis, Tim Keller, John Piper, J. R. R. Tolkien, Paul Miller, and of course Jack and Rose Marie Miller. 

  • What inspired you to write this book, about this topic?

In 2015, I had gotten permission to access the Jack Miller archives at the PCA Historical Center in order to research a paper on corporate prayer and leadership. After I finished the research and wrote the paper, I emailed the Miller family to thank them for granting me access and strongly suggested that they engage someone to write Jack’s biography. When I wrote that email, I had never considered in a million years that I would be the one to write Cheer Up! Fast forward six months, to a doctoral seminar I had with Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which was when he first learned about Jack Miller and recommended that I write a biography on his life and ministry while so many people Jack had influenced were still alive. I knew that Jack’s biography needed writing, but I also assumed I would be the very last person in the world to write it. I’m still amazed at how the sovereign Lord brought together such a team of people to make Cheer Up! a reality. 

  • Do you have a specific spot where you enjoy writing most?

I am intense and often find it hard to relax and focus. When I worked on the Silver King III, I would haul my mattress from the forepeak down in the bow of the boat and place it on the deck next to the anchor bit. I loved falling asleep listening to the waves pat against the boat’s hull at night. The same sense of calmness comes when I am on a balcony of our vacation rental in Panama City Beach listening to the waves break against the shore, which is where I wrote almost all of Cheer Up!

  • Other than the Bible, do you have a favorite book? 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  • Favorite sport to watch?

College football; Alabama Crimson Tide. I had the privilege of playing for several years before being injured.

  • Favorite food? 

A toss-up between New Orleans shrimp boil and South Indian dhaba (roadside) food.

  • Tea or coffee?

Definitely coffee brewed in a Swedish Moccamaster coffee maker.

  • What famous person (living or dead) would you like to meet, and why?

Jack Miller—so I could talk to him about Cheer Up!, everything I learned from him, and especially all the important things I missed.


ORDER Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller

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Excerpt taken from The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice


Here is a short excerpt taken from pages 81-83 of The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice.


The King in a Manger

Every person has a birthday, and most birthdays are remembered at least by the person himself and usually by his immediate family. But no birthday has ever been remembered so widely as the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We know that there is no real evidence that He was born on December 25. In fact, the one small bit of evidence we do have goes against that date. We are told that an announcement of His birth was made to shepherds when they were in the fields with their sheep, and that is normally true only during the spring and summer months, between late March and September. Actually, we observe the birth of Jesus on the day we do because this date was established by consensus during the first Christian centuries and has been preserved by tradition. But that is relatively unimportant. The important thing is that Jesus was born, and the interesting fact is that so many remember His birth.

Why is this? It is true that many remember the birth of Christ because they are Christians and therefore love and cherish Him. But millions of others are not Christians and yet also celebrate Christmas. Why has the birth of this one man so seized upon the minds and imaginations of men and women?

Christmas Paradoxes

Answers to that question are found in the paradoxes of the Christmas story, one of which we want to look at in detail.

One obvious paradox is of purity in the account of the birth of a child to an unwed mother. The birth of a child to a girl who is not married is not surprising or even remarkable, though it is tragic. It is a story known to any preacher—the girl, quite often deeply distressed; the parents, frantic with grief and indecision. But the tone of distress and grief we know is not the tone of this story. Rather, there is purity: the purity of Mary who, we are told, was troubled by the angel’s announcement and asked in innocence, “How will this be . . . since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34); and the purity of Joseph, who was not the father but who believed the announcement of the angel and so shielded Mary by marrying her, though he did not have intercourse with her until after Jesus was born.

A second paradox follows that one. It is also a story of joy in what would normally be a tragedy. Under normal circumstances Mary would have been in danger of vicious public exposure and even death, for stoning was the penalty prescribed for fornication in Israel. She would have been distraught and in anguish. Yet when Mary came to her cousin Elizabeth, to whom she had gone to share her unbelievable news, Elizabeth at once broke forth in praise to God and in ascriptions of blessings on Mary, and Mary responded with that great hymn of praise known as the Magnificat.

There are other contrasts in this story. There is the announcement of the birth of the baby to shepherds, those from the lowest levels of ancient Jewish society, by angels who are certainly figures of great stature and glory. There is the neglect of Jesus by His own people, while Gentile wise men came to worship Him. Even the baby is a paradox. For unlike other babies, who are born to live, this child was born to die.

And yet, in this great story so filled with paradoxes, there is one paradox that stands out above the rest, and perhaps more than any other commends the account to many people. It is that the one born in such lowly surroundings—in a stable, of poor parents, laid in an animal’s manger—was nevertheless the God of glory, whose splendor before the incarnation surpassed that even of those heavenly beings who announced His birth to the shepherds. Here is a baby. But He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is God in a stable. He is the supreme potentate of the universe among His own lowly cattle.

That is the paradox of the incarnation: Immanuel!


NEW RELEASE TODAY—Cheer Up! by Michael A. Graham

Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael A. Graham

256 pages | $24.99 | SAMPLE CHAPTER

About

Through the New Life movement, pastor and author Jack Miller became the pioneering captain of an expansive network of gospel-centered, Reformed leaders who taught in seminaries, planted new churches, revitalized existing churches, and recruited and trained missionaries who were sent around the world. His influence is felt today through their work, his writings, and ministries such as Serge (previously World Harvest Mission) and the Sonship curriculum.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Jack’s friends, family, colleagues, and critics, as well as archival material, biographer Michael Graham gives us a full picture of Jack Miller—from his difficult childhood, early atheism, and conversion to his later teaching and ministries—showing how he pressed through grave challenges to bring the joy of God’s omnipotent grace to some of the most influential leaders in the church today.


Endorsements

“Jack Miller . . . taught me how to preach grace. Whatever the subject and whatever the text, people were being changed by being brought into connection with the work of Jesus Christ on their behalf. He taught me to preach grace no matter what the text. . . . There would never have been a Redeemer Church in New York City without the impact of Jack and Rose Marie Miller on our lives and hearts.” 

—Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan; Chairman and Cofounder, Redeemer City to City (CTC)

“You are about to meet one of the most amazing people of the twentieth century.”

Dan B. Allender, Professor of Counseling Psychology and Founding President, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology

“In this remarkable book by Michael Graham, you’ll see how joyful zeal and sturdy doctrine should always reside together. I give this wonderful work on the life and teachings of Jack Miller a double thumbs-up!”

—Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

“The writings of Jack Miller have had a profound impact on both my personal spiritual walk and my ministry as a pastor. . . . This book tells the story of Jack’s life and ministry, and it’s a wonderful read for anyone desiring to dwell in those secret places of the Most High.”

—J.D. Greear, Pastor, The Summit Church, Durham, North Carolina

“[Cheer Up!] is a vivid and accurate portrait of a . . . repentant sinner whose heart was captivated by God’s grace in Christ and by the powerful presence of his Spirit. . . . I’m glad that, through Pastor Graham’s research—especially his interviews with those close to Jack—many others can now meet this extraordinary, controversial trophy and ambassador of divine grace.”

—Dennis E. Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California

“Michael Graham has engaged in an epic journey of research into the historical events and personal experiences of Jack Miller to capture an era of the church, the spirit of the man himself, and the grace of God that made this jar of clay such a vessel of influence for the advancement of the glories of the gospel.”

Bryan Chapell, Senior Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois


The AuthorM

Michael Graham (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary; PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor at Hickory Grove Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and director of The Jack Miller Project.



Cheer Up! — Excerpt taken from the Introduction


The following is an excerpt taken from Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael A. Graham.


Over the course of his life, teaching, and ministry, Jack challenged Christians to address a key question found in Galatians: “What has happened to all your joy?” (Gal. 4:15 NIV). He explained this question by saying that “I relate to it because many times I have lost my joy. . . . I have forgotten the power of grace, the joy of sonship.” In that spirit of gospel joy, Jack memorably declared, “Cheer up! You are far worse than you think” and “Cheer up! God’s grace is greater than you’ve ever dared hope”—connecting pervasive depravity to irresistible grace.*2 “The best news you ever heard,” he said, “is that original sin is true. If original sin (the curse) is true, then the grace is true. The love of God is shallow unless there is depth to which it reaches.”

Several other “cheer up” statements are equally important to an understanding of Jack Miller: “Cheer up! God’s Spirit works in your weakness,” “Cheer up! God’s Kingdom is more wonderful than you have ever imagined,” and “Cheer up! Come on, let’s die together! It’s a great way to come to life.” Together, these statements are a fitting way to understand the whole of Jack’s life, teaching, and ministry. 

This book fittingly begins with grace. Chapter 1, “Cheer Up! God’s Grace Is Greater Than You Ever Dared Hope,” introduces readers to Jack Miller’s early life through 1949. During this time, Jack discovered that “faith alone” means “faith all the way,” in the sovereign preeminent Christ, for the glory of God’s omnipotent grace. 

Chapter 2, “Cheer Up! You Are Far Worse Than You Think,” covers events that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, as a teacher, church planter, pastor, and scholar, Jack developed a critical theological and cultural apparatus that uniquely qualified him to serve on the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). 

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 form the heart of this biography. Chapter 3, “Cheer Up! God’s Spirit Works in Your Weakness,” focuses on the joy that Jack experienced as God’s Spirit worked through his weakness and, as a result of that work, magnified the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ all the more. Chapter 4, “Cheer Up! Justification Is by Faith Alone, Even in the Twentieth Century,” shows the theological development that took place within Jack during the controversy that raged from 1974 to 1981 over Norman Shepherd’s teaching at WTS regarding the role of works within justification. Chapter 5, “Cheer Up! God’s Kingdom Is More Wonderful Than You Ever Imagined,” focuses on Jack’s rapid expansion of his ministry activities and covers several new mission fields that he opened in the 1980s. 

Chapter 6, “Cheer Up! Come On, Let’s Die Together; It’s a Great Way to Come to Life,” ends on the highest note as Jack Miller, a dying man, preached God’s amazing grace to dying men. 


Pre-Order Cheer Up!


*2. Timothy Keller, in turn, often repeats these two most familiar of Jack’s “cheer up” statements—for example, he has written, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York: Dutton, 2011), 48.

Angels, from the Realms of Glory — Excerpt taken from 40 Favorite Hymns for the Christian Year

Angels, from the realms of glory,

Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story,

Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

———————————————

Shepherds in the fields abiding,

Watching o’er your flocks by night,

God with man is now residing,

Yonder shines the infant Light.

———————————————

Sages, leave your contemplations,

Brighter visions beam afar;

Seek the great Desire of nations;

Ye have seen his natal star.

———————————————

Saints before the altar bending, 

Watching long in hope and fear, 

Suddenly the Lord, descending, 

In his temple shall appear.

———————————————

All creation, join in praising 

God the Father, Spirit, Son; 

Evermore your voices raising

To th’eternal Three in One.

———————————————

Refrain

Come and worship, come and worship, 

Worship Christ, the newborn King.


We can grasp the game plan of this poem’s author at a glance by looking at the opening words of its successive stanzas. The paradigm on which the poem is built is that of addresses that are directed to separate entities, each of which is accompanied by a directive for that entity to perform an action. Simply listing the groups that the stanzas address reveals that they were the key players in the drama of the first Christmas and its aftermath: angels, shepherds, the wise men or sages who followed a star to the manger, saints who were waiting for Christ, and all creation. Whereas most Christmas poems have a specific focus, this one is expansive and includes as many groups as possible.

The poetic technique that underlies this strategy is called apostrophe—a direct address to someone who is absent as though he or she is present and capable of hearing and responding. It is a standard way to express strong feeling. What all the addressees in this poem share is that they are part of the Christmas story in some way. With that constant factor firmly fixed in our minds, our attention naturally turns toward seeing how the poet matches the content of the addresses to the specific group that each one names. As we explore the logic of the different stanzas, we can see the skill with which the poet carried out his plan.

The poem opens on a soaring note by addressing the angels, who are described as coming from “the realms of glory”—an epithet for heaven that fires our imagination and awakens our longing. From time immemorial, angels have been viewed as winged creatures that fly over the entire earth on missions from God. Just as the angels sang at creation (see Job 38:7), it is fitting for them to proclaim an even greater act of creation: Christ’s birth. The second group that is addressed, the shepherds abiding in their fields by night, keeps our imaginations rooted to the original Christmas night. The shepherds are not explicitly commanded to do anything, but by pointing them to the light where the Christ child lies, the poem implicitly directs them toward Bethlehem. In the meantime, we the readers are reminded that the significance of Christ’s birth is that God is now residing with people (the God with man theme).

Next this pageant of snapshots from the nativity shifts to the wise men from the East. They are commanded to leave their accustomed practice of searching for wisdom and instead to follow the star of Bethlehem to the Christ child. Imagery of light informs this stanza. The pageant continues in the fourth stanza with a reference to pious Jews like Simeon and Anna, who lived in anticipation of the appearance of the infant Jesus (see Luke 2:25–32, 36–38). The statements they made when they saw Jesus in the temple sweep into our awareness here.

Just as the nativity story in Luke is permeated with cosmic imagery, here the poet commands all creation to praise the triune God in the final stanza. In keeping with the expansive vision of the poem, the entire Godhead is brought into the address and time expands to all eternity.

The poem is carefully crafted, and we can relish the simplicity of its scheme. It exhibits a balance of complexity and subtlety in its five apostrophes as it molds the content of each one to a specific group and ties in evocative Scripture references. This poem exhibits the virtue of being carefully thought out.

Because this poem keeps shifting its frame of reference from one part of the Bible to another, it is a little arbitrary to choose a single part of Scripture as a corroborating text for it. Hebrews 1:1–2 follows the same pattern that the poem does of presenting Christ as the fulfillment and replacement of earlier things:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

—Leland Ryken, 40 Favorite Hymns for the Christian Year