Ed Strong. Even the name conjures up images of some kind of super hero.
At least it did for me as a pre-adolescent pastor's kid when Ed moved into my parents' home as a 21 year old. His bulging biceps, Yamaha XT 500 and singer/songwriter skills clinched the deal for me. I had my very own super hero.
As if that weren't enough, Ed was a new Christian who had more spiritual fervor than anyone I'd ever known. Seriously.
He would come home from the building site where he worked as a plumber, close his bedroom door and pray and read the bible for what seemed like hours! He was probably the first guy who made being Christian seem cool. This, for me, at that age, was immense.
It was no surprise then, that after marrying his beautiful wife Heidi, they planted a church and it began to flourish. Ed made church planting seem fun. Appealing. Even possible. They were a model couple living a ministry dream.
He was the Master of Ceremonies at Rynelle and my wedding in 1994,
and it was in that same year that he told me over lunch that he'd had an affair.
I was not just surprised. I was devastated.
Devastated for Heidi, their children and the church, of course.
But devastated for me too, if I am completely honest.
My hero had failed me. He was tragically flawed.
Ed Strong was no longer strong.
Watching Ed walk through a process of repentance, discipline and restoration felt like watching Jacob wrestle with God. Except it wasn't just for a night.
It was more like a decade-long, dark night of the soul.
I only caught glimpses of it, but I knew enough to know that Ed was completely undone by what he’d done. Redemption from a broken covenant is seldom steady, sure-footed progress. It is normally a faltering forward stumble, weighed down by shame, consequence and regret, coaxed gradually onward by Grace.
Ed will tell his story better than I could but from my vista, when he slowly emerged from his long dark night, he emerged with an utter brokenness that was somehow more whole than ever before. God had unmistakably restored him, his marriage, family and ministry but his gait was more limp than swagger. He had learned to lean upon God like Jacob leaned upon his staff.
I suppose God redefined 'strong' for me through Ed Strong.
I began to observe a strength in him that came from repentant, desperate dependence. I begrudgingly had to admit that this was probably a more true definition of ‘hero’ than the one I had before.
Someone wise once said, "Never trust a man without a limp."
I trust Ed. You don’t entrust the leadership of a church that you have loved, led and nurtured, to a man unless you trust him. Ed and his remarkable wife, Heidi, have led London Road Church since 2007. Their marriage and family are a trophy of God’s redeeming grace and under their watch, Jesus has grown the church from health to strength.
Knowing Ed and his journey though, it will never be a swaggering kind of strength. It will always be a strength that leans more on God's power than man’s ingenuity. For that, I’m deeply thankful.
If you’re looking for a book to make you feel better about yourself, I don’t suggest you read this one. But if you are desperate enough to wrestle with God like Ed did, I commend this book to you. I am persuaded that through it, Christ will redeem your weakness and redefine your strong.
("It Happened" Ed Strong's book will release later this year. contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.)