If any of you out there feel the need for a good, swift slap, come talk to me about ‘The New Normal”. This tedious phrase keeps cropping up everywhere, a sign of the wearisome and stressful times. Here’s the thing. I’m not interested in the “new normal” because the old normal never held any huge attraction to begin with! Is that the highest we aspire to? Don’t give me normal anything. I’m hunting the new exceptional.
If, like me, the thought of exceptional excites you, 2020 ought to make you ecstatic. Nothing about this deviant year has followed the regular pattern as it burst of the gates like a racehorse demented. The bell clamored with a royal appetizer of scandal, followed by a main course of pandemic pandemonium, chased down with racial rioting and financial upheaval. After the turbulent debate of educational and social re-entry, brace yourself for the insane climax of US elections! If we survive, it’ll be up there with ‘The Dirty Thirties’ for stories to tell your grandchildren.
Let’s face it: exceptional is difficult because it’s just plain abnormal, disturbing and unpredictable. Volatility offers no comfort. Exceptional may be indeed superior to the ordinary - but that doesn’t mean it is automatically recognized as such, or welcomed. Exceptional is a unicorn that simply can’t be saddled.
In a way, these times are a bit like the glory days of the Gospel. There was Jesus, roving around, causing an uproar and unseating the status quo everywhere. He didn't only leave the sweet aroma of the Kingdom of God behind Him, but also a trail of controversy, offence and deep perplexity. The visitation of the Messiah was not a simple thing. He was a paradox and a refutation that allowed no place for the mind to land. Occasionally, Scripture pans the camera onto the crowd…and the reviews are mixed. Jesus heals the paralytic by declaring to him that his sins were forgiven, a heretical statement that tipped the theological tea-cup, and nonplussed all.
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today”. Luke 5:17-26
We’ve had a surfeit of ‘strange things’ recently. Way too much contrariness for consideration. We’re in a raging wildfire that turns here and there erratically but can’t quite be quenched. Psalm 12:6 caught my spirit.
The words of the Lord are pure words: Silver refined in a fire in a furnace on the ground, seven times.
If there is one thing, this year is, it’s a crucible. Conflagrations of incredible heat and continuance are testing the mettle of everything, and reducing the inferior to ashes in their wake. Governments, institutions and long-standing social bulwarks are not immune. The Church itself has never seen the heat or pressure of this kind of testing, and we’re not even really being persecuted! There’s transformation and purification in this process; we just don’t recognize the unusual way the fire is burning. Count on it – incomparable things will be forged from this furnace of affliction. Wonderful breakthroughs are not far away. I plan to emerge unscathed.
Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the refiner. Proverbs 25:6
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20-21
This is a prime moment to stand still in the fire and let it kindle on you. I know it’s counter-intuitive and even irrational, but don’t be afraid. Ask yourself what needs to be consumed in your heart in order to separate the ordinary from the exceptional. Listen to disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment and despair. Even negative emotion is telling us something singular right now with a clarity that may never be recaptured. What is really getting tested in you right now? Where is it feeling a little toasty? What’s painful? That’s just dross being consumed.
As people, we expect the worst. Normal, after all, is simply the collective experience of fallen, human nature that overtakes statistics. The Lord, however, always defies what we expect, redeems what we’ve lost, resurrects what got killed and restores what was broken. He’s the exception that makes all this trouble worthwhile.
His eyes are a flame of fire and there are many diadems upon his head.
There is a name written upon him, known only to himself. He is dressed in a cloak dipped in blood, the name by which he is known is the Word of God. Revelation 19:11-12
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