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Charting Your Course!

Mark 1:1-13

As we begin this new year, it would be a good time to talk about personal identity and spiritual integrity.
How shall we chart our course for the days ahead?

The best way we can do this is to take a fresh look at the starting point of Jesus' own pilgrimage -- His earthly ministry.
After Jesus is baptized, He goes away into the wilderness for a while.
After a period of time, He reemerges to begin His ministry.

We could say that His baptism was His inaugural.
It is here that He accepts His mission.
He confirms His identity.
He sets His direction.

There are some valuable lessons and directions that we can gain from Jesus' experience as we prepare for the new year.
The essential question of life is here.
Though this is not a baptism of repentance for Jesus, it is certainly a turn toward the future for Him.
It is the decision about life's meaning and direction.

The challenge we face is to put life to some greater purpose -- great goals -- spiritual values -- and important relationships.

For Jesus, the experience of baptism and the retreat into the wilderness were days of facing forward.
He determinedly followed the Father's purpose for His life.

It may be that this is the invitation that you and I need to hear and heed in this coming year.
Perhaps, this is the essential decision that we must make.
The essential decision is what and who will reside at the center of our life.

There will be many choices we will be required to make.
We can live for things, for power, for self-interest, for pleasures, or for the expectations of people,
but none of these will make our life meaningful.
None of these will fulfill our needs.
Only a right relationship with God can do that.

The important lesson of Nazareth is also here. (Verse 9)

"Nazareth... of Galilee" was so small that Mark thought it necessary to identify the province as well.
But Jesus was from Nazareth, and His life had been forged in that little village -- in the carpenter's shop
-- by His family -- and by His hometown synagogue.
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel asked, and Philip said, "Come and see." (John 1:46)

That is the lesson of Nazareth.
Never underestimate what God can do with an insignificant, ordinary person, church, or city.

When you put your life in the hands of God -- watch out!

Years ago in a shantytown near Johannesburg South Africa, a young school teacher saw
a white man tip his hat to a black woman.
He'd never seen that sort of gesture from a white man.

That woman was the young school teacher's mother, and the white man was a white clergyman named, Huddleson.
The school teacher and the clergyman developed a friendship.
In time, the young school teacher also entered the ministry.

He became a bishop in 1976, and became a voice against apartheid.
In 1984, Bishop Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize.
But it all started in a shantytown with a passing gesture of courtesy and respect.

The important lesson of Nazareth is that God can use us where we've been, where we are, and who we are.
God will shape our identity and our service in Christ.

The creative power of God is also seen here.
The Spirit descended "upon Him like a dove." (Verse 10)
Jesus saw the heavens open.
He heard the voice.
He knew that whatever He had to do, the Father would provide the strength and the resources to do it.

The dove not only symbolizes God's Spirit in bringing purity and peace,
but it reminds us of the second verse in the Bible, where we read:
"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters
Hovering, brooding, creating, bringing to birth something of significance.

As we open our lives to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we receive the grace to do
what God has for us to do on our pilgrimage on earth.

One last point -- the first sign of integrity is here.

The wilderness came after the baptism.
The first sign of integrity will always be struggle. It would last through the years to His tears in Gethsemane and to His cry from the cross.

For us, as for Jesus, the testing will come early, late, and at all points in between. Jesus never said that the Christian life will be easy.
He did not say, "Believe and life will be simple."
He knew better. We must start taking one step -- then another -- then another.

Frederick Buechner has said: "We always answer with our feet.
We get up and start following. Or we did not

Maybe, we just plant our feet squarely on the ground, and pretend we did not hear.
Or, we move them, but in another direction.
But, if we decide to follow Christ, we follow with our feet. Jesus calls us, "If any will come after Me..."

Let's follow Christ throughout the new year!
Let's keep following Christ come what may!

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
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