FIRST-PERSON: Then his mind began to cloud

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- My pastor friend Tom had one of the keenest minds I've ever encountered and he used it to glorify God.

Tom was a master Bible teacher. He loved nothing more than exploring a passage of Scripture and shining light on its hidden depths for the edification of his flock, whether in the pulpit or the classroom. I marveled at his insights.

When one of his students grasped a new truth from the Word, Tom's eyes gleamed. He would grin in delight, as if he were learning the truth for the first time himself. Many a disciple emerged from Tom's one-man Bible school.

Then his mind began to cloud.

He couldn't remember things, or people. It was a form of dementia. Not severe, yet, but significant enough that he could no longer do what he loved: teach the Word. He reluctantly left vocational ministry.

"Why?" I asked God. To silence such a teacher in his prime seemed cruel -- like Beethoven going deaf at the height of his musical powers.

That was several years ago. Tom still lives nearby with his wife. Physically, he's probably in better shape than I am. A dedicated runner, he jogs around the neighborhoods and the local park. He still flashes that toothy grin and waves at every passing car and pedestrian. We pass from time to time and he smiles at me, too, though he no longer knows my name.

One morning recently I pulled into my driveway. I parked the car and got out just as Tom was jogging by. Instead of waving and running on, he stopped. He had a quizzical look on his face, as if he were trying to remember an important message.

"I'm supposed to tell you something," he said, catching his breath.

"What's that, Tom?" I replied.

He thought for a minute, then brightened.

"Did know that God loves you?" he asked. "He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to show you that. I'm a sinner. But He died for me...." His voice broke and his eyes glistened with tears. "And He died for you, too!"

Tom pulled out an evangelistic tract and handed it to me as if it were hidden treasure. "Thanks, Tom," I said. No need to remind him I was a believer.

I stood for a while in the driveway, watching Tom as he disappeared into the distance. I began to realize something: Tom is still teaching the Word -- on a simpler level, perhaps, but the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.

I also asked God to forgive me for my unfaithfulness. Tom suffered a great and heartbreaking loss, yet he continues to love God with all his mind and all his heart. Can I say the same about my own life?

The Lord gives and He takes away, Job said. Sometimes we struggle to understand why. Perhaps we discover His purpose in time, perhaps not. Either way, we can bless His name if we so choose. Who knows? Tom might make a bigger impact for the Kingdom in his latter years with his roving "street preaching" than he did as a Bible teacher.

When the Pharisees asked the greatest teacher of all to name the great commandment in God's law, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:37-40 NASB).

Thanks, Tom, for teaching me that anew.

Erich Bridges is a writer based in Richmond, Va., with 30-plus years in Baptist journalism.
Download Story