During the hot summer of 2009, God opened a door for me to work and study in Turkey for the first time. It was almost the end of that summer when I started my trip to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I began with Smyrna, hoping that God would speak to me through what I would see at each site. Following the scripture and reflecting on what God spoke through the author along the trip was a true blessing. However, I was still not definitely confident on why He had sent me to see these sites until visiting the last place, Laodicea.
It was a hot day in early August, and I was excited to visit the final destination of the trip. As the author mentioned in Revelation 3, Laodicea was a wealthy place, and without trouble, I found ruins made of stones showing how prosperous this place was. I kept walking and saw a huge tree standing among the ruins, showing its precious life with colorful green leaves. After seeing this tree, I suddenly realized what God was trying to show me. The glory of this world is just a stone building that will eventually become a ruin, but what He has prepared for believers is the crown of eternal life through the cross of Jesus Christ. God used this tree to remind me that it is eternal life that I need to strive for, not the stones that mean nothing in eternity. I remembered how self-satisfaction based on wealth made it difficult for Laodiceans to see that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and naked (Rev. 3:17).” The tree was also a reminder that God gave me to show that whatever I have apart from Christ might hinder me from seeing how I am a sinner who is not worthy to be saved.
Even now, this tree is a reminder to me as I face my own sinful nature every day. Being a professor at a Christian college is a great blessing, but it is easy for me to become a proud and arrogant man — a man who cannot see his sinfulness, as these stones of self-satisfaction can easily be idolized without knowing. I now am in great danger of self-complacency dragging me to sins I want keep away. As I know that without His mercy I’ll never be able to see myself as one who deserves eternal death, I need to keep seeking the light, Jesus Christ, so that I am reminded of who I am before Him — a sinner who deserves the death on the cross for my sins. Ironically, knowing that I am the worst sinner leads me to true peace. My unworthiness is not the end of the story. God continued that story by having His Son crucified on the cross and defeating the power of death through the resurrection of Jesus, and I know this is the only truth that will lead me to His rest.
“For what am I pursuing this?” This question to myself often helps me evaluate my intention and avoid pursuing the self-congratulatory stones which are sometimes attractive to my sight. However, there are times when I forget the most important things and waste my time and energy for something that is irrelevant to Christ. I now pray that God would bring me back to the cross of Jesus Christ whenever I try to pursue these stones in my life. I also pray that God would remind me every moment that I am an unworthy sinner; that Jesus died on the cross for my sin and was resurrected, so that I could become a humble servant who is not lukewarm but zealous for his master. Finally, I pray that God would help me to keep remembering that hot day when I visited Laodicea and the moment when He used that tree to remind me what truly matters in eternity.