One of the most well known of Jesus’ parables is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A father has two sons, one of which asked for an advance on his inheritance. He then ventures out into the wicked world to indulge in all sorts of worldly pleasures until he runs out of money. With nowhere else to go and head hung low, he returns home to beg for his father’s mercy.
As the parable goes, his father is overjoyed at his son’s return and orders the boy’s brother to get him cleaned up with new clothes and to prepare a feast for him. Understandably, the brother can’t believe that his father was not only allowing the prodigal, or reckless, son to return to him after wasting all of his inheritance, but was celebrating him! There are three points of view to this parable; that of the prodigal son, the brother and the father.
It’s clear to see that the father represents God and the brothers represent mankind. Many of us may think that we are the “good” brother, but in reality, we are all reckless with the inheritance that we’re given and require the mercy of a loving Father. For Norm Miller, he was all too eager to indulge in the pleasures of the world.
Norm was born and raised in Galveston, Texas, and his father owned a successful gas/service station in the middle of town. Although he was a hard–working, industrious man, he had a weakness for alcohol. Norm was a mischievous young man whose primary focus was when and where the next party was. Norm wasn’t really interested in school but realized that if he wanted to avoid being drafted into military service, he would have to go to college: the lesser of two evils in his mind. He enrolled in North Texas State in Denton, Texas after a friend of his told him what a great party school it was.
North Texas State was located in a “dry” county (selling alcohol was prohibited), so he and some of his buddies had the brainstorm that they could make money by buying alcohol in the neighboring county and reselling it in Denton for a premium. Norm had a keen eye for seeing lucrative business opportunities.
Their operation was an immediate success and soon grew to the point that they needed to expand. They rented the local armory hall for “dances” to front their burgeoning business named the “Hi-Low Club”. It eventually grew too large and was forced to shut down. It was during his college years that he met his future wife Anne. She was also from Galveston, and they immediately hit it off.
Norm graduated from college without much of a plan for his future and wound up selling encyclopedias door-to-door. His father sold his service station and asked if he would join him in opening a battery distributorship in Memphis for Interstate Batteries, that had just started their national distributorship program. Norm jumped at the chance and moved to Memphis.
Norm and Anne were married and settled down in Memphis, and she began to realize the extent of his drinking problem. He would travel extensively as part of his job as a salesman for Interstate, and his nights were spent partying. His daughter Tracey was born in 1964 and Anne was practically raising her on her own. His life was starting to tick, unfortunately, just like a time bomb.
At Interstate Batteries, Norm’s gift of salesmanship was shining. He was working hard, and the home office in Dallas took notice and offered him a position there. It was a terrific opportunity for Norm, so he and Anne relocated to Dallas. The more that Norm dove into his work, the more release he sought in the bottle. By the time his son was born in 1968, not only was he drinking heavily on the weekends, but he was also hitting the bars on the way home from work. Norm felt his personal life spinning out of control even as his professional life was skyrocketing.
Out of Control
One night in 1974, he was drinking well past midnight and was driving himself home when he was stopped by a sheriff. Through some fast talking and fortunate circumstances, he wasn’t arrested. He already had his license suspended in Texas for two DUI’s but was carrying a Tennessee license. He made it home and woke up a few hours later, too hung over to go to work, so he called in sick. As he lay in bed, he realized that his drinking was destroying everything that was precious to him; his wife, children and his career. Although he had tried to stop drinking in the past, he was never able to stop; he was an alcoholic. In that moment of realization and desperation, he cried out to God to save him and to completely remove the compulsion to drink from him. In that instant, he felt the presence of God overwhelm him and release his burdens. Two days later, he started attending AA meetings and never had another drink of alcohol.
Norm met some people in AA who began to talk to him about his spiritual life. Although he had gone to church as a child, it never became a part of his life. He was initially skeptical of the concepts of the Bible, but after reading More Than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, both by Josh McDowell, he began to understand the truths that were contained in God’s Word. He then began to read and study the Bible incessantly; the more he read, the more it made sense to him that every word of it was God’s inspired word, and it was coming alive to him. He started attending a Bible study, and one night after the study he talked with the leader about being born again and surrendering his life to Christ. He felt the prompt of the Holy Spirit, prayed with the leader and made Jesus Christ the Lord of his life. It was a pivotal moment for Norm. He was born again spiritually, and his physical life was experiencing a rebirth as well. He rededicated himself to his family, and his home life blossomed with his wife and children all giving their lives to the Lord.
John Searcy was the founder of Interstate Batteries and was a devout Christian. He and his business were guided by biblical principles: the most prominent was the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Norm’s brothers Tommy and Jimmy had joined the company while their father was a distributor in Memphis, and they all moved into senior management roles within the company, with John Searcy providing excellent mentoring and training to prepare them to one day take over the company.
Leading by Example
In 1978 John Searcy felt that it was time for him to retire and hand the reins over to Norm. He had been with the company for over twenty years and was ready to follow in the path that had been prepared for him. His creative energy would propel them to the leading replacement battery in the nation. They became the sponsor of The Great American Road Race, a cross country trek from Los Angeles to Indianapolis for cars produced prior to World War II. They coordinated the end of the race to fall on the Friday evening before the Indianapolis 500 and arranged for the cars to circle the track upon their arrival. It was a marketing stroke of genius! In subsequent years it grew in popularity and was covered by all of the major news networks, spawning a whole logistical team just to handle that annual event.
As the company grew to include over 200,000 distributors nationwide, Norm and his management team were diligently seeking the Lord’s will for their business and sought to honor Him in all that they did. They started a corporate chaplain program to address the spiritual needs of their employees and distributors and sponsored mission trips locally and abroad. At their bi-annual distributor conferences, they end on a Sunday, which gives them a chance to invite an influential Christian leader to speak to the group. Over the years, thousands of men and women have given their hearts to the Lord at their conferences.
One of the most prodigious relationships that Norm developed was with Joe Gibbs. Joe contacted Norm in 1991 with an offer of a partnership on a racing team that he was thinking of assembling. Not only was it a tremendous business opportunity to partner with a winner of Joe Gibbs’ caliber (he is a four-time Super Bowl winner), it was an opportunity to partner with a fellow believer. The Joe Gibbs/Interstate racing team, with its neon green and black #18 car, won its first Daytona 500 in 1993 in what may be the most exciting finish in the history of the legendary race, with Dale Jarrett edging out Dale Earnhardt for the victory.
His Second Act
While Norm is no longer the president of Interstate Batteries, he still remains as Chairman of the Board and actively pursues evangelical outreach opportunities. As part of his daily devotions, Norm has read My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers for over seventeen years. Each day that he read the devotion, he would write down where he was that day along with a few notes. In March of 2008 as he wrote, Norm recalled, “It occurred to me that I would soon be turning seventy years old, and I began to wonder if I had been giving my all to reach people for Christ. The bible verse Acts 1:8 kept echoing in my mind; ‘but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
He considered his Jerusalem to be the Dallas-North Texas region and thought to himself, “Well, I’ve been a pretty good witness; I’ve discipled people, given copies of the Jesus Film out door to door and volunteered with numerous ministry and outreach organizations. I’ve done pretty well in my ‘Jerusalem’.” The next thoughts that occurred to him were,
"Have you gone for broke? Are there still people that need to hear about the Lord? And is there something more that you can do?"Norm Miller
Norm realized that he hadn’t “gone for broke” for the Lord and that maybe he could find a way to reach more people.
As he dug deeper into the idea, he thought “If I were to do this, what would it look like? What would I do if I wanted to try to sell more batteries?” He reasoned that if he wanted to sell more batteries in today’s society, he would launch a media campaign. He then contacted his friends at e3 Partners Ministry, who he had worked with for over twenty years. They had recently hired a man who had been a national advertising executive. Norm met with them, and his idea was met with instant enthusiasm. Within a few weeks they developed the lead line “I Am Second”.
They decided to approach some people that they knew collectively to record their testimonies on video with the idea of hosting them online. Some of the first included Norm’s friend Joe Gibbs and Tony Dungy as well as Stephen Baldwin and Josh Hamilton. The dramatic cinematography coupled with the gripping testimonies were an instant hit, reaching viral status. Connections started rolling in with testimonies from celebrities and sports heroes to everyday people, each with a compelling story to tell and a message of how God had helped them through some of life’s most dire circumstances. To date, the “I Am Second” web site has been visited over ten million times in over 56 countries. They now also offer devotionals, group study guides and other ministry resources. For Norm, it’s about being obedient to what God has called him to do and relying on God’s almighty power to see it through.