I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
You may have seen this week’s news about the Forbes Celebrity 100. Like other star-struck lists, it always raises a blip of interest. This year’s got a bit more play because Oprah Winfrey, who (evidently) has roosted atop the magazine’s roster of powerful pop figures, slipped a notch. Per Forbes’ calculus, Angelina Jolie has more clout these days. I skimmed the story for all of 30 seconds—twice as much time as it was worth—and then, at the end of the piece, I actually felt a slight pang to read Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Johnny Depp, and Tyra Banks fell from the list. While I’m aware these “Who’s Hot/Who’s Not” tallies hardly faze celebrities (if you’re famous enough to make the list, you’re too tough-skinned to take it seriously), it’s hard not to imagine JT and J-Lo, Johnny and Tyra weren’t a tiny bit stunned at being dropped. I certainly was. None of their careers is in trouble. In the last year all four have avoided public scandal and artistic embarrassment. Entertainers quip, “You’re only as good as your last show.” Evidently, that’s not enough for Forbes, because one way to lose your rank is not staying hot.
The Revelation must knock believers at Laodicea for a loop when they read they’re on the brink of getting dropped. Christ has instructed John to write this to them: “You’re not hot, you’re not cold, and I wish you were one or the other.” And He adds this not-so-subtle warning: “Because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3.16) What in the world have the Laodiceans done to deserve such a reprimand? According to the next verse, they’re self-satisfied and content to rest on past laurels. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,” Jesus says. “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” The Laodiceans aren’t working hard to stay hot.
The church at Laodicea stands in the shadows of more famous ones for which Paul’s epistles are named. Outside of this rebuke, we have little to go on regarding its character and evolution. What we know of Laodicea lends credence to the criticism leveled at it, however. It's a river city in Asia Minor (Turkey) prominently placed on trade routes. Its merchant-class populace enjoys comforts other townspeople only dream of. It rises as an art and learning center boasting one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. Thus, it’s possible the church may be comparatively stable from the first, given the city’s absence of cultural conflicts and likelihood a predominance of Jewish converts quickly establishes the church’s doctrine and liturgy. If this is correct, The Revelation makes sense. The Laodiceans, like all churches, read circulating epistles—in fact, Paul tells the Colossians to exchange letters with them—and it’s not hard to imagine learning of others’ problems instills a sense of smugness in them.
Through the Motions
When the going gets good, going through the motions gets easy. This is the Laodiceans’ problem. They pull back from God’s refining fire. Impurities filter into their worship. Their value decreases. Self-sufficiency blinds them to their unsightly appearance. In verse 18 they’re told, “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.” Christ’s tone rings with condemnation similar to the “shape-up-or-ship-out” warnings issued by Old Testament prophets. Surely this resonates with the Laodiceans, the majority of whom embrace Jesus as their Messiah. The rapid-fire metaphors remind them how far they’ve slid back to former lives of complacency. Once their eyes clear and they see themselves, they don’t look so hot after all.
We may not care about celebrities, but God most certainly cares who’s hot or not among His people. Resting on laurels and assessing progress relative to others are dangerous habits to fall into. Fervor and commitment don’t automatically carry over from one day to the next. They must be renewed every morning and maintained minute by minute. We say this over and over here because it can never slip from mind: following Jesus is an unnatural lifestyle. It demands constant thought and belief. It defies all human instinct and logic. The moment we presume we can love God and our neighbors on autopilot is the moment we step away from the fire. The cooling process begins and the longer we go through the motions, the cooler we get. Each day starts with taking our temperature—testing the intensity of our resolve to please our Maker. If we’re edging toward tepidness, we rush back to the fire, asking God to remove any impure thoughts and habits impeding His expression through us. Malachi 3.2 says, “He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” A pleasing temperature and appearance before God will keep us from dropping off His “Who’s Hot” list.
Celebrity hot lists don't carry much weight with stars or most of us. But how hot we are in our fervor and commitment matter a great deal to God.
(Tomorrow: The Light of Day)
Postscript: Weekend Gospel
Just Wanna Say – Israel Houghton and New Breed
Israel Houghton and New Breed resist categorization. They blend rock-solid gospel grooves and high-power pop to generate some of the most rousing praise and worship sounds currently wafting through gospel churches. This fairly recent hit bursts with fun and excitement, but it’s not as fluffy as it initially seems—or the video’s cutesy intro leads one to expect. The song gets into your system and days later you find yourself humming its hook: “I just wanna say I’m not afraid. I know that You are with me.” Take a few minutes and let that sink in.