Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Psalm 1:1-3
One of the blessings of being old is being able enjoy rich friendships for a long time. Ed and Margaret Eliason have been our dear friends for over forty-five years. More than that, we were family. From the time we became their youth pastors in Elyria, Ohio, in 1968, we felt and were treated like family members. So, when I heard that Ed had been elevated to heaven, I made up my mind to be a part of the celebration of his life. Encouraged by my dear wife Barbara, I made quick plans to leave Malawi, Africa, for Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his memorial service.
Two things immediately drew me to him. First, he was like my dad. He loved Jesus and his Word, like my dad. He loved serving his people, like my dad. He was the same in the pulpit as he was in the parsonage, like my dad. And, he was a man of integrity, like my dad.
Second, he loved his wife like I love my Barbara. He really cared about Maggie [my favorite name for Margaret]. She was “number one” in his life, where she should have been. She responded by being that faithful and loving helper that we all need to be the man God intended us to be. One of my favorite moments, one that I will never forget, was when we were eating popcorn and playing our favorite card game, Shanghi. In between hands, Ed was doing what he usually did, telling one of his many stories, and Margaret was doing what she usually did, correcting his details. In that moment, he looked over at me with a smile on his face and we communicated perfectly without words. “Sometimes they are irritating, but what would we do without our ladies?”
We shared so many precious moments and memories together. We traveled to Israel, vacationed in Florida, went on a family fishing trip to Wawa, Canada, and attended numerous denominational meetings, together. But, it wasn’t where we went but who we were with that was so precious to us. In our later years, we simply enjoyed a quiet night out on Ed’s pontoon, fishing, snacking, playing cards and watching the beautiful Michigan sunsets, together.
I can identify three unique qualities that set Ed apart from most other men. First, he had an easy-going, sweet spirit about him that moved me to nick-name him “Easy Ed.” When under pressure he never seemed to “lose his cool.” I suspect that had something to do with his childhood and his faith in God. His father, an evangelist of some sort, deserted him and his mother when he was a young boy. Raised in poverty without a dad had prepared him for the moment when he would meet a Heavenly Father who never leaves and always generously provides for his children. I never once heard Ed express anger or bitterness over his impoverished beginnings. The grace of God resting on his life just would not allow those destructive attitudes. Life was too short and his Lord too great for him to waste his life on trivial pursuits.
The second characteristic that made Ed unique was his special ability to make friends with anyone. He seemed to know somebody everywhere. It made no difference if we were walking down the streets of old Jerusalem, the corridors of the Big House or one of the concourses of O’Hare Airport. We would hear somebody yell out: “Hey Ed.” He was the most gracious person I have ever met. He never met a stranger. When we would be hungry after long sessions of denominational gatherings, the girls and I would literally have to drag him out of the building, for there were always, professors, preachers, evangelists, superintendents and pastors vying for his attention, calling out, “Hey Ed.”
But, the most distinguishing feature of his life was his love for Christ and his Word. One recent incident stands out in this regard. I was excited to share with him one of the precious jewels I had uncovered while studying the Scriptures. His response was so spontaneous and so revealing. He simply exclaimed, “Oh Gary!” It meant, “Oh Gary, isn’t God’s Word precious?” “Oh Gary, Isn’t Jesus satisfying?” Oh Gary, isn’t serving Him awesome?”
Psalm one perfectly describes my friend Ed. It speaks of the blessed man who forsakes the wisdom of the world for the wealth of God’s Word. It speaks of the man who so delights in God’s law that he meditates upon it day and night. He is like a tree, not a weeping willow but a tall, strong, northern oak. The roots of his life go down deep into the truth of God’s Word so that it stands in all kinds of weather. In drought or storm he remains fruitful and prosperous because his strength does not depend upon what is happening around him but what is happening in him.
The memorial service was a testimony to the truth of that psalm. The church was filled with people who expressed their gratefulness for the way Ed had impacted their lives. The most telling moment was when his eleven grandchildren stood on the platform and gave testimony to his influence upon them. Three sons followed in the steps of their father and married three precious ladies who raised great kids, largely because this man loved and lived the Word of God.
I would not be telling the whole story if I did not point out that there were some clinkers. Not everyone was satisfied with having a godly, caring Shepherd. In the modern church “come of age,” what is often more desirable in a leader is that he operates more like a C.E.O. than a shepherd. Many have concluded that in our modern world it is more important to have a leader who knows how to formulate church programs, manipulate church growth and operate entertaining services than to have a God-entranced, Bible-loving, people-serving Pastor.
But, in the end, what lasts and what really matters is not the church’s programs nor church’s statistics nor church’s reputation, but lives changed by the power of God’s Word. As I sat in the memorial service, as I listened to the testimonies of family and friends, I understood more clearly the nature of the prosperity that is promised in Psalm One. It is not money, or houses or fame. It is a wonderful heritage of changed lives. A wife, sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, peers, friends and strangers, forever changed because this one man, Edwin E. Eliason made a difference. His love for Jesus, his love for the Word and his love for people left an eternal mark on the lives around the world.
I am so honored and so blessed to have had this man as my mentor and my dear friend. Although he has left this world he has not left our hearts. By God’s grace, his influence still moves us on and points us in the direction of the One who captured his heart and made him such a blessing to so many people. Thank you Jesus for giving us this man of the Word, Edwin “Easy Ed” E. Eliason.