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Imitating Christ: Preaching Thomas a Kempis

Cheryl Beckett was a pastor's kid who worked in Afghanistan for the past five years with women in nutritional garden projects and mother and child health. She was also one of ten Christian aid workers murdered in Afghanistan 2010. While her aid organization was deeply grieved by this senseless tragedy, they recognized that hers was by no means a life wasted. To the contrary, hers and the lives of the others who gave up so much for the sake of serving others displayed an unmistakable beauty and goodness that is an imitation of Christ.

Granted, such a perspective is not shared by all. Online comments to the report of Cheryl's death was sharp. "Countries like Afghanistan are barbaric nations made up of people whose culture is still steeped deeply into mentalities of centuries ago," one blogger wrote. "Hate to say this but they had no business going into that region. People have to want to be helped in order for this type of mission to have any kind of success." "All I ever needed to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11. The lesson? Take care of your own."

Paradoxically, such comments only verified the sacred nature of Cheryl's service, of hers and the others' radical obedience. Thomas wrote that "To carry the cross, to love the cross, to flee honors, to endure contempt gladly, to despise self and wish to be despised, to suffer any adversity and loss, to desire no prosperous days on earth—this makes no human sense. If you rely upon yourself, you can do none of these things, but if you trust in the Lord, strength will be given you from heaven."

"Blessed is she who appreciates what it is to love Jesus and who despises herself for the sake of Jesus. Give up all other love for His, since He wishes to be loved alone above all things. Affection for creatures is deceitful and inconstant, but the love of Jesus is true and enduring. Love Him, then; keep Him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do, or let you suffer lasting death. Sometime, whether you will or not, you will have to part with everything. Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death; trust yourself to the glory of Him who alone can help you when all others fail."

Granted, few of us will venture into the mountain villages in Afghanistan. Few will even venture into the poor or dangerous neighborhoods of our cities. But there remain plenty of opportunities to imitate Christ. For Paul, the issue was a simple one of abstaining from meat that had been part of pagan sacrifices. Eager to eat it and demonstrate that there was no power in it for those who believe in Jesus, he demurred once he discovered that others might be harmed by his freedom. As Cheryl Beckett's family wrote about her, "Cheryl loved and respected the Afghan people. She denied herself many freedoms in order to abide by Afghan law and custom."

To love Christ more than all things and imitate him will bring scorn and persecution from others. But it will also bring power to confront the darkness that resides in individuals, communities, and institutions. It will provide salt to preserve what is good, and light to show the way forward. Through the imitation of Christ, our words and deeds can make plain what is truly True and truly Good and truly Beautiful.

6/24/2012 4:00:00 AM