laodicea

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” Revelation 3:15-18

This beautiful, busy city. Just last week was my three month anniversary of being out here, which is so crazy. Some days when I walk around, it feels like I’m playing pretend, that I don’t actually live here, and I’ll get back on a plane for Dallas soon. Like I’ll wake up somewhere safe and secure and well within my comfort zone.

Others, I get irate when someone stands on the walking side of the escalator, or opt to walk instead of taking the subway, and it feels like I’ve been here for longer than 90 days.

I talked a bit about this in my first post (linked here!) but the things that make this city so beautiful make it so scary. Everyone here is working, hard, and doing the most they can to make their dreams a reality. There’s this eyes-on-the-prize mentality, and people have such devotion to their goals. There’s an energy that runs through this city — go, be, do —and the constant reminder that you are in the greatest city in the world. It’s busy, it’s hungry, it’s energetic and it is intoxicating. I don’t mean in the pretty sense of the word, like I’m selling New York like I’d sell Chanel No. 5. I mean it’s addicting and distracting, and as a Christian, addicted and distracted are two things you never want to be.

It’s a beautiful city, but it reminds me a bit of a city in the Bible—Laodicea. Bit of world history lesson for ya: Laodicea was a city built on a river. It started out small, but found its stride under Roman rule. Found its stride is actually an understatement—Laodicea was such a profitable city that when it was completely decimated by an earthquake and Rome offered help, she waved away the proverbial hand and rebuilt herself. The city was that wealthy. Culture follows affluence and soon it was not only a rich city, but an Artistic™ city.  There were stadiums and monuments and aqueducts and gymnasiums and senate houses and theaters and a medical school —everything that someone else could look in and say ah, so this is Rome. It fell like the rest of Rome, but in her glory, Laodicea was a glorious city.

But she was empty.

I know Revelation is one of those books we don’t talk about very much, but there’s quite a lot in here. Laodicea is the seventh church to which John writes a letter, in Revelation 3: 14-22, and it’s not a light and uplifting missive. And it’d be so easy to read this and be disheartened, but there’s so much there to give hope to those of us in cities. Let’s get into it:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  Jesus knows the church, His church. He knows their deeds, He knows the heart behind them. In the light of all that gets said in the next few verses, I usually skip this part, but it’s huge. We are known. For good or for bad, we are known, beneath a surface level. God isn’t reading our actions, He’s listening to our hearts. 

 I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. It’s almost redundant to restate this here, but it’s a pretty necessary. God is not a God of passivity. He moves with power, and might, and love stronger than any force on earth, and there is no room in His ranks for people that don’t share His ardor for bringing people to Him. 

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  The issue isn’t having money, it’s the blindness that comes with it. Money is just a thing — yes it gets you far, and you can do cool things with it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a currency, and a means that shows your heart. How easily we associate wealth with comfort! Money = success, money = stability, or even money = God’s favor. Let me be clear: the money in your wallet is not an indication of how much God loves you. It’s not a reward for doing well, or a wrist slap for lying in third grade. God gives, and He takes away; it’s just a thing. Some people use the thing for good, some people use it for themselves. Did you catch that? The opposite of altruism isn’t evilness, it’s self-interest. Your bank account might not show you to be a ‘bad’ person…but does it show you to be a Christian? Are you honoring God with your finances as easily as you are with your Bible study?

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…  Likewise, richness here isn’t an excess of wealth. It’s an abundance, and of something not measured in USD. What does spiritual richness mean? Well, what is the fruit of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. Can you imagine being rich in love? Being radiant in goodness, resplendent in kindness. Having peace to spare, more patience than you know what to do with. Such a woman would be a beacon of God’s kingdom; think of the example she would send! 

…and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness…We like to hide. We inherit that trait straight from Adam and Eve, the instinct to cover rather than reveal. When we mess up, we retreat. I’m ashamed; He must be too. I can’t undo this; He could never. I am naked, I am dirty, I am unclean; I am not worthy. God doesn’t hand us a rag, point to the showers, and say ‘get to work’. And you know what that is? Because we cannot wash away our sin. No matter how long we scrubbed, no matter how raw our skin, we could never cleanse ourselves of our sinful nature. So Jesus clothes us. He does it. The action is His, the righteousness is His. It’s not born of our good deeds, our efforts, our cowering. When we discover our nakedness, our instinct is to retreat. God calls us to Him, because He has something better, and something new. 

and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Salve is such a healing word. It just sounds soothing, and it’s more than an ointment. This isn’t a ‘stop the symptoms’ solution, it’s a healing one. In Laodicea, they sold a physical salve that helped with eye sight, and Christ offers spiritual clarity. Savor that thought: spiritual clarity. Trust in God’s plan. Perspective on your own path; renewed empathy towards His children. Closeness to the heart of God; vision that aligns with His. What a gift God offers us! Restored vision, to revitalize our hearts, to clear the way for His church. A view of our loving Father, clear as crystal.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. For years, Christians have grimaced when reading this passage. We don’t like the thought of reprimand, even if it’s for our own good. But fam, remember why Christ disciples. It’s not to be condescending, or just for kicks. It’s because He wants eternity. God wants to spend the rest of time with you, wants to walk with you and know you. The hands that have clung to sins, the feet that have stumbled away from God’s path, the arms that haven’t extended to help a brother in need…He wants to hold, rest, enfold. He wants eternity with you, and that’s why He disciplines.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. He is seeking. He’s not even saying catch me if you can or playing marco polo, He is as close as He can be, while still respecting our right to chose. Do you think of Him being near? He’s not far away thinking ‘I haven’t heard from her in a while; is she in Dallas still? Wait, no, I remember hearing something about New York…’ Fam, imagine Jesus at the door of your heart. Imagine Him standing there, despite the ugliness around Him. Imagine Him waiting patiently, heart aching as you run around, busy with the world. Time stretches on; He waits. You postpone quiet time; He waits. A word slips out that shouldn’t; He waits. He is here, fam, waiting for entrance. 

If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. And still He loves us. Though we are blind, though we are ashamed, though we try to build our own riches. Though we keep Him waiting at the door, though we prepare meals for everyone other than Him. Open the door. Sit down to dinner with your Creator. Stop trying to make yourself righteous. Stop trying to amass your own wealth. Stop trying to see without Him. Accept His righteousness, His vision, His wealth. 

The Laodicea letter is a love letter. It doesn’t read like one, not at first glance, but it is. It’s to people in beautiful cities, in comfortable straits, in good company. Intelligent people, competent people, artsy people. People who live perfect lives, lives so polished and curated that there isn’t room for a Savior. They’re resting on laurels they’ve grown and crowned themselves.

Oh I can relate. I’m a do-er. I like to check things off my own list, find assurance in completion. I believe in hard work, in long hours, in late nights; I accept pressure and anticipate stress. I like to ‘handle’ things. I’m building a career that I’m proud of, and I like the challenges of my job. But in the middle of that, in the middle of this city, it’s alarmingly easy to look around and say My, how lovely these robes are. How pretty this gold is, how soothing this salve that I’ve made. And I’m so pleased with the table I’ve set, with the gorgeous centerpieces and carefully-planned-out menu, that I carry on with my planning, with my doing, not realizing that Jesus is outside, knocking.

He offers much more.

He offers righteousness beyond what we could imagine. Purpose beyond our wildest dreams. Character crafted after His. Your heart that is placated by the shiny things of this earth, that heart could know its Creator, and be full. Shake off ill-found comfort, refuse to be satisfied with the prettiness in front of you, but strive towards Christ.

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