1 Timothy 1:12
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.
I once heard of an old Jewish tradition that people should carry around two pieces of paper in opposite pockets. In one pocket would be the reminder that, "I am but dust and ashes." In the opposite pocket would be the parallel reminder, "The world was created for me."
The papers are to remind a person that all humans should be marked by humility and dignity. The Apostle Paul managed to maintain this balance.
One of the cruelest traditions in grade school is assigning two captains to pick kids to be on their team. Inevitably, someone is picked last or not at all. It's better to get beamed in the face by a dodge-ball (another barbaric practice) than get rejected by your peers. But for the person picked first there's a feeling of importance. I was picked because I'm the coolest or cutest (it's rarely because you're actually any good at the sport).
Paul says that he's over the moon excited that God hand picked him. A pastor may be appointed by people but they are anointed by God. The temptation would be to struggle with arrogance. Out of the millions of people God could have chosen, he tapped on my shoulder and said, "I want you."
How does Paul maintain humility? How does he maintain confidence without arrogance? He has a sober perspective of who he is. Listen to his next statement.
1 Timothy 1:15
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
In spite of Paul's calling, competence and accomplishments, he recognizes that without God's grace he's a fatally flawed sinner. What strikes me is that this statement is not in the past tense. Paul doesn’t say that he was a sinner, he says that he is a sinner.
When I was praying recently, a name came to mind. It was someone who I had grown to despise. Every time I saw them my knee jerk reaction was to run the other way. They had done so many reprehensible things that I just had no like for them. While praying, God challenged me with the thought that I needed to believe that they still had good within them. They were someone still worth fighting for. As soon as I felt that challenge from God, they text messaged me. I know that without God's grace my shadow side would become my only side.
I'm convinced that God puts things in our life to reinforce humility: a question we can't answer, a health problem we can't control.
Humanities shadow side has been amplified by Charlottesville this past week. While it's tempting to pretend that racism is a part of our polluted past, we are constantly reminded that the emancipation proclamation changed laws but not hearts. Hatred, like tectonic plates, rests under the surface waiting for just the right amount of tension before causing catastrophic damage. As Karen Pollock from the Holocaust Educational Trust said: "The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers, it started with words; with hate-filled rhetoric."
As people created in God's image, racism, sexism and ageism should not exist. All humans are beautiful and broken. We are a tension of strengths and weaknesses. We all carry two metaphorical pieces of paper, "I am but dust and ashes," and "The world was created for me."
We need to fight to make sure no one feels like they are picked last or not at all for we are all equally loved in God's eyes.