Sunday Morning, October 28, 2018

10-28 Sermon

 TEXT: Exodus 15:1

 INTRODUCTION: Imagine what it must have been like that first morning when the people of God, for the first time in hundreds of years, knew what it was like to be free. It wasn’t long ago that they feared for their lives. There was nowhere for them to turn. The Red Sea was before them, the Egyptian army was behind them and there was a mountain on either side of them. They obeyed the voice of the Lord, stepped into the water, and God allowed them to cross on dry ground. Behind them they could hear the galloping of the horses and the clanging of the swords, knowing that those soldiers intended to kill them.

Now, it’s a new day. Pharaoh’s army and its horses have been destroyed. There is a tranquil calm. The people of God have a new land and a new life before them. Now, Moses and the people begin to sing. I don’t know what tune they sang, but I know the lyrics. They are recorded for us in Exodus 15. Let’s take a closer look at the song these people sang to the Lord.

MY PAST IS BURIED

In Exodus 15:4-5 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them; they sank into the bottom as a stone.” Understand what that means. For a long, long time, these people had awoken each day to the reality that they had a nemesis. They were living in a strange land under strange rule. Now, that nemesis is gone!

What a joy it is for the child of God to know that God buries his past! In Micah 7:19 we read, “…He will subdue our iniquities; and thou will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” In Hebrews 8:12 we find that God not only buries our sins, He forgets where He buried them! “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”

MY PRESENT IS BLESSED

Not only can I rejoice because my past is buried, I can rejoice because my present is blessed. Exodus 15:2 states, “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” As God’s child, I can rejoice in the fact that He is my God…today!

 It won’t be long before the Jews are going to be facing some extremely difficult circumstances. They are going to find that there are giants in the Land of Canaan. They are going to have to face the reality that life isn’t a bed of roses. However, at this particular moment when they start singing, they sing about the fact that they are currently living in the presence of blessing, provided by their Father.

HIS POWER IS BOUNDLESS

Notice what is stated in Exodus 15:6-7   “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee; thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.” These people realize that the victory they are enjoying was not due to anything that they had done, but was the direct result of the amazing power of God. God had done this for them!

What do you need from God today? Can I remind you that it is within His power? There is nothing too hard for Him. He has never failed. God asks the question in the book of Jeremiah, “Is anything too hard for me?” The answer is an emphatic “No!”

HIS PROTECTION IS BEAUTIFUL

The Jews knew that they had an enemy. They also knew that their enemy sought their destruction. In Exodus 15:9 we read, “The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.” The Egyptians didn’t want to simply complicate the lives of God’s people; their desire was to destroy them!

In much the same way, our enemy desires our destruction. Today, he is walking about as a roaring lion, and he is seeking those whom he can devour. Like the Egyptians’ desire could only be satisfied by the destruction of the Jews, Satan will only be satisfied when you and I are destroyed. Jesus told Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you.”

 Thankfully, we are protected! In Exodus 15:10 the Bible declares, “Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.” How easy is it for God to protect us from our enemies? He just blows upon them! He declared through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not: for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will upohold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” What a beautiful thing it is when God protects His children.

HIS PLANTING IS BEST

 God didn’t just bring His people out of Egypt, He is going to bring them into the Promised Land. God is taking these people somewhere. In Exodus 15:17 we read, “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.

The best place you can be today is the place where God has planted you. There is not a better location, a better relationship or a better occupation than the one God has chosen for you, the place where you’ve been planted. God doesn’t just want to deliver you from your problems; He wants to give you an “expected end”.

No wonder Moses and the people broke out into song. As their hearts were overwhelmed with the Lord’s goodness, they couldn’t help but sing. May we too, contemplate God’s goodness in our lives and may we offer Him praise for His wonderful works to the children of men.

Sunday Night, October 21, 2018

A Life Worth Remembering

 

INTRODUCTION: How will you be remembered? When your time on earth has concluded and you have gone on to Glory, what will be your legacy here on the earth? The older I get, the more important that becomes to me.

In Mark 14, we read of woman referred to as Mary of Bethany. She is a part of a group of people sharing a meal at the house of Simon the leper. During the meal, Mary approaches Jesus, breaks open a box of ointment, and anoints her Saviour. In verse 9, the Word of God declares, “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel is preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

Evidently, the actions of this good woman got the Lord’s attention, and He made it clear that hers was a life worth remembering. Let’s take a closer look at why.

SHE IDENTIFIED WITH SINNERS

 Notice a distinction that is pointed out in Mark 14:3. The Bible makes it clear. She didn’t just have supper at Simon’s house, she had supper at the house of Simon the leper. Most students of the Bible know that lepers were ostracized by society. I can imagine that even healed lepers were stigmatized to some degree. Here was a woman that was not afraid to be identified with a man whom others might avoid.

As believers today, it is important that we not isolate ourselves from people in need. When the Pharisees and publicans criticized Jesus, they actually complimented Him. They said of Him, in Matthew 11:9, that He was a “friend of publicans and sinners.” If we can’t be involved in the lives of people in need, we’re really not a church, we’re just a religious organization.

 SHE INSISTED UPON SACRIFICE

 For Mary, just being with Jesus wasn’t enough. She takes a box of ointment, called spikenard, and she approaches the Son of God. Notice some things about this ointment.

It was expensive

 Later in this passage Judas states that the ointment was worth 300 pence. A penny was the equivalent of a days’ wage, so it would have taken Mary almost a year to earn enough money to purchase the ointment. She didn’t give the Lord something that was ordinary. She gave the Lord the best! Too often, Christians are guilty of not giving God what is right, but what is left. He is worthy of the best years of our lives, the first fruits of our increase and the early hours of our day.

It was expected

 John’s account of this story tells us that she had kept this ointment for just this occasion. In John 12:7 we read, “Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” Mary worshipped Jesus because she planned to do so. It didn’t just happen. It was not an accident. It was a pre-determined plot that had been established in her heart and mind some time before.

It was exhausted

 Verse 3 tells us “….And she brake the box, and poured it on his head.” Notice that she didn’t open the box, she broke it. Notice that she didn’t sprinkle the ointment on Him, she poured it. Because Mary recognized the worth of her Saviour, she determined to give Him everything.

 SHE WAS INDOMITABLE TO SARCASM

Mary wasn’t going to be stopped by her critics. Judas was quick to condemn her. In verses 4-5 he did so publicly. As I read this, I considered how many times I have hesitated to do the right thing, the thing that God has impressed me to do, because I didn’t want to be questioned, scrutinized, criticized or ostracized. Thankfully, Mary didn’t let those concerns hinder her from doing the right thing.

Where did Mary find her boldness? Do you remember the time when Jesus came to her home? Martha was consumed with the busyness of hosting Jesus, but Mary was content to sit at His feet. She had a real relationship with the Saviour. She had gotten a good glimpse of who He really was. She didn’t care what Judas declared because she understood what Jesus deserved.

SHE WAS INVOLVED IN SERVICE

Simply put, Mary did something! She didn’t just sit and stare. She didn’t find satisfaction in simple association. She stood to her feet and demonstrated her love for the Saviour. Notice the action verbs in verse 3. The Bible states that she came, she brake and she poured. Her actions were dictated by her love for the Son of God.

As God’s children, we don’t serve Him in order to earn anything. I don’t serve to be saved, I serve because I’m saved. There is nothing that I can do to gain any more favor from the Lord than what I already have, but that favor that I enjoy provokes me to do what I do.

What did Mary do for Jesus? Verse 8 states that she simply did what she could do. That’s all that He expects of any of us. He wants us to do what we can for Him. He desires that our realization of who He is and what He’s done would provoke us to love and to good works.

Why did Mary’s actions so resonate with Jesus? Maybe because the things that she had done were consistent with things that He had done for her. He had proven His love for sinners. He too, insisted upon sacrifice. He was undaunted by the sarcasm and criticism of the many who questioned His identity and deity. Finally, He proved His love by His body being broken and His love being spilled out on the cross. Of course, we understand that His life was certainly one to never be forgotten.

Sunday Morning, October 14, 2018

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Introduction: During the past thirty years in the pastorate, there have been numerous times when I have been with a family at the moment a loved one has taken his or her last breath. What a difficult time that is! Oftentimes, I have found that the grieving family really has no idea what to do. Again and again it has been my privilege to make a call, on behalf of the family, to the funeral home, to inform them that a family needs their services.

I was recently in a service where Pastor Tim Cruse was preaching, and he referenced a verse that I had never noticed. The verse, found in Isaiah 38:14, states: “Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.”

In this passage, the prophet Isaiah has given Hezekiah a death sentence. Upon hearing the news, Hezekiah turns to God and cries out for mercy. God hears, and answers the prayer of Hezekiah.

THE DEADLINE THAT IS EXPECTED

 In Isaiah 38:1-2, Hezekiah is given some awful news. In no uncertain terms, the prophet predicts, “…For thou shalt die, and not live.” How many times have we received news that causes us alarm? Maybe the news was from a doctor, an employer, a disgruntled spouse, etc. When those times come, we need to do exactly what Hezekiah did. We need to turn and cry out to our God!

THE DEVELOPMENT THAT IS EXHIBITED

 In Isaiah 38:2-3 we read of Hezekiah’s petition to God. He reminds God of his testimony. He speaks of his continuing walk, his perfect heart and his good works. God listens to Hezekiah’s cry, and then He responds through the prophet. In verses 4-5 we read of that response. God tells Hezekiah:

I have heard

 Isn’t it a wonderful thing to know that God hears us when we cry? We can testify with the penman of Psalms 34:6, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”

I have seen

 Not only did God hear Hezekiah’s cry, God saw Hezekiah’s tears. Your God knows what you are going through today. He knows and understands your burdens and frustrations.

I will add

 What happened when Hezekiah cried out to God? God heard him, God saw him and God responded to him! Your prayers matter to your Father. If you pray, He will answer.

THE DECLARATION THAT IS EXPLAINED 

 In Isaiah 38:14 Hezekiah exclaims to God, “…Undertake for me.” That sounds both exciting and desperate simultaneously. What does it mean? If God undertakes for us, how does that help us?

To determine that, we need to take a closer look at the word undertake. The word means to pledge, to mortgage, to engage, to occupy, and to make surety for. When Hezekiah asks the Lord to undertake for him, it is much like a son asking a father to co-sign for a loan. When the father co-signs, he is committing to paying anything that the son cannot pay. When the son has done all that he can, and it isn’t enough, the father is committed to making up the difference. He is committed to undertaking for the son.

Isn’t it good to know that Jesus is our undertaker? When our good works are not enough to save us, His righteousness makes up the difference. When our strength is insufficient to sustain us, His power makes up the difference. When our human reasoning is not adequate, His wisdom makes up the difference. He is committed to being our undertaker, our co-signer.

If you feel overwhelmed today, call the undertaker. That doesn’t mean that you have lost your will to live, it simply means that you’ve realized that you don’t want to live without Him!

Sermon Outlines Soon To Come…

First of all, let me ask those of you who follow my blog to forgive me for my negligence in writing and posting materials.  To be honest, it is sometimes difficult for me to prioritize writing, with all of the other things that are going on in my life.  Recently the Lord convicted me about this, and He even went so far as to give me some direction in things that He wants me to post.

Much of my time is spent preparing sermons.  For more than thirty years, I have written at least four sermons, or lessons, just about every week.  It is my passion, and a responsibility that I take very seriously.  Not long ago, I felt as if the Lord was directing me to publish some of those messages.  He used a few younger pastors to provoke this line of thinking in my mind, and He confirmed it through prayer and input from friends.

Before publishing the first message, I want you to know that I make no claim at originality.  “There is nothing new under the sun”, and pretty much everything I have was given to me, or borrowed from someone else.  I am in constant pursuit of truth for sermons that will help my people.  I read sermons and listen to sermons,  and am not too proud to glean a seed thought from another man.  Someone once told me of a statement made by the late Dr. John R. Rice.  When asked about using truths learned from others, Dr. Rice supposedly said, “If you throw a rock, hit the devil and hurt him badly, I’m not going to be hesitant to pick that rock up and throw it at the devil again!” While I have found it difficult for me to “preach another man’s sermons”, I do glean truths from others and use them gladly.

The published sermons will be basic outlines with minimal elaboration.  If a reader wants the entire message, our sermons are video archived on YouTube, and the messages can easily be viewed there, in their entirety. They will be posted here on WordPress, and then shared to social media.

My plan will be to post one of our Sunday sermons each week.  It is my sincere prayer that the messages will be helpful to pastors, Sunday school teachers, ministry workers and believers who just want to learn and grow.  As you read them, please remember that the sermons were written for, and delivered to, the people of Fellowship Baptist Church.  It is not my intent to pastor anyone else’s people, nor is it to make statements about other ministries outside of my own.

Thanks for your interest in our ministry here in Durham.  As the messages are posted, I’d love to know if you find one helpful.  God bless you for your friendship.

People Really Need To Be Loved

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Our Lord is coming to the close of His earthly life and ministry.  He shares a meal with His closest followers, girds Himself with a towel, draws a bason of water, and kneels to wash the feet of His friends.  It is a wonderful lesson on humility that convicts me each time that I read it.  It is my desire to be that kind of a servant.

As we consider John 13 and John’s account of this impactful event, I think it is important that we not overlook the very first verse of the chapter.  I believe it holds a key to why Christ did what He did with that towel and bason of water.  In that verse we read these words:  “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”   Jesus served these people because He loved them!

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The love that Jesus had for others is what compelled Him to stoop down and do what most would not be willing to do.

Many years ago I voiced my concern to Bro. Darrell Cox from Mocksville, NC about a man who had accepted a pastorate.  At the time, this man was not a very gifted pulpiteer.  Bro. Cox said to me, “He doesn’t have to be a great preacher as long as he is a good lover.  People will put up with poor preaching if they get good loving.”  I have never forgotten that statement, and I have tried, for more than thirty years, to be sure that my people have received “good loving.”

We can determine in our hearts to serve, and we can run on that fuel for a while.  Inevitably, serving will become laborious and we will eventually find ourselves operating on fumes.  The alternative to that motivation is to love people.  If you love people, you do not mind serving them.  Kneeling down at someone’s nasty feet is not such a difficult task, if you love the people to whom those feet are attached.

Jesus operated from a heart of love.  He genuinely cared.  He did not weep at Lazarus’ grave because Lazarus was dead.  He wept because Mary and Martha were broken-hearted and He loved Mary and Martha.  Jesus did not have to force Himself to spend time with the crippled man by the Pool of Bethesda, He approached that man because He cared about him.  Jesus had to go to Samaria.  He did not have to go because He was making Himself go, He had to go because there was a woman there for whom He cared.

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Loving people who have lost their way is not always easy, but it may be the one thing they need to make it through.

I would rather be good at loving people than to be a good preacher, a good administrator or a good supervisor.  It is compassion that makes a difference, not so many things that we think make us more effective.  Love is powerful.  Love is impactful.  Love is necessary.  However, there is more to this passage than just the statement that Jesus loved the people.  The Bible states, “…He loved them unto the end.”

Too often, we claim to love people, and we do love them as long as they behave like we think they should.  Over the years, I have seen many ministry workers who obviously loved the loveable.  As long as those to whom they ministered “toed the line”, they were quick to express their love to them.  Thank God, that was not how Jesus loved.  Jesus loved unto the end.  Of whom was John 13:1 speaking?  It was speaking of His disciples, including Judas.  He did not love them as long as they did the right thing.  He loved them unto the end.  He did not love them as long as they dressed a certain way, walked a certain way, talked a certain way or lived a certain way.  He loved them unto the end.  He did not love them as long as they kept the rules at the Christian school.  He loved them unto the end.  He did not love them as long as they took a stand for what was right.  He loved them unto the end.

Yes, Jesus loved them unto the end of His earthly life, (and beyond).   He also loved them unto the end of themselves.  When they came to the end of the dead-end road that led them away from the Saviour, He still loved them.  Much like the father loved the Prodigal when he had gone as far away from home as his conscience would allow him to go.  From the pig pen, the wayward son knew that his father loved him.

When our young people disappoint us and rebel against all they have ever been taught, may they know unto the end, that they are loved.  When our church members allow temptation to overcome them and sin to take up residence in their hearts and lives, may they know unto the end, that they are loved.  When those in whom we have invested the most seem to appreciate it the least, may they know unto the end, that they are loved.  May we love them the way we will want to be loved if we walk away.  May we love them the way we will want someone to love our son or daughter if they are overtaken in a fault.

Over the past three decades, I have been let down too many times to count.  People for whom I had the highest hopes have driven me to some of my deepest disappointments.  I have watched some of our Christian school graduates make tragic decisions that have destroyed their lives.  I have watched faithful church members walk away from the Lord in betrayal, and in some cases, denial.  Again and again I have felt so helpless.  I have felt that there is nothing that I can do to make any difference whatsoever.  Then I am reminded of John 13:1.  There is something that I can do.  I can love them unto the end!

Rick Finley

Burning Bridges Is Bad Business

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We have all heard the term “burning bridges.”  It means to do something that cannot be easily reversed or undone.  There are times in our lives when bridges need to be burned, but there are other times when burning bridges is bad business.

As a pastor, there are times when people choose to leave our church.  I am not so foolish to think that God never leads people away.  Neither am I so gullible as to believe that He leads people away as often as He is blamed for doing so.  I have tried to love our people with a jealous love, so I am never happy when people choose to leave FBC.  It always hurts and I always feel as if I have failed.

Sometimes people will approach me to tell me that they are leaving.  Sometimes they call.  Sometimes they just leave without so much as a goodbye.  (That one has always amazed me.  I guess the relationship meant much more to me than it did to them.)  In spite of my hurt, disappointment, feelings of failure or bewilderment, I always try to let people leave on “good terms.”  Most often, I send them a letter, thanking them for the time that we were able to serve together.  After all, they did invest in the work that the Lord will continue to do in our church.

I have heard of pastors who have handled things very differently when people left their church.  Folks have told me they felt like they had to leave without a goodbye in order to escape the condemnation that they felt would come their way if their impending departure were realized.  I have had people tell me that their previous pastor told them that they would be cursed by God if they left their church.  (You really cannot make this stuff up!)

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I never want to burn bridges between a departing member and myself.  When I see our former members in the community, I always try to be gracious and friendly.  There have been times when I’ve dropped them a note a month or so after their departure, especially if I know that they have yet to plant themselves in another church.  I always want to keep that door open.  Over the years, there have been numerous former members who have returned to our church.  Sometimes it is within months; sometimes it has taken years.

I do not want to burn bridges between another preacher and myself.  Over thirty years of ministry, I have known fundamental preachers who have publicly condemned other pastors over issues of preference.  That condemnation has come from conference pulpits, periodicals and posts on their blogs.  I have never understood how anyone wins in those situations.  I do not believe anyone does.

When I was a younger pastor, I remember some preachers who became very negative toward a certain group of preachers.  Those preachers, and the conferences that they frequented, were oftentimes caught in the crosshairs of their mean-spirited attacks.  Several years passed.  One year I happened to attend one of those conferences.  Much to my shock, I saw a handful of preachers in attendance, who years before had been very hateful toward that group of preachers.

I can remember my Daddy saying to me, “Son, when you climb a ladder, don’t get the rungs dirty.  You’re going to have to come back down that ladder the same way you went up it.”  I have never forgotten that advice.

When a preacher falls or begins to drift, I want to reach out to him in kindness rather than in condemnation.  That does not mean that I condone or endorse his actions, his position nor his direction, it just means that I continue to treat him with respect and dignity.  I do not “burn the bridge” between he and myself.  Should he ever desire to return, I want the way back to be intact.

If you are saved from a life of sin, it is a good idea to burn the bridges to the places and things that you have left behind.  If someone hurts you, disappoints you or walks away from you, it is important to leave those bridges in place. Someone might need them some day.

Rick Finley

Friends Are Important

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Serving the Lord is an amazing life!  I’m not just talking about those who are paid to serve Christ. When I talk about serving the Lord, I am talking about those who live their lives to bring glory to God, regardless of how they make their living.

In my mind, one of the greatest things about serving the Lord is that you get to spend your life alongside some of the most wonderful people to be found anywhere.  Christians certainly aren’t perfect.  We’re all sinners, but thankfully, some of us have been forgiven because of our faith in Christ.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see one of our brethren succumb to temptation.  When that happens, it’s easy for us to forget when we were the ones over whom the Tempter had gained the victory.  In spite of their faults and failures, those who’ve been redeemed by the blood of Christ are a special lot.  We are special; not because of us, but because of Him.

When you travel this road for decades, you meet a lot of people and you build a lot of relationships.  Some of those friendships that were established forty years ago are still strong today.  Many of those with whom we once walked have departed from the path.  They have little interest in the things of God and the bond that we once shared no longer exists.  It’s really difficult for two to walk together whenever they don’t agree.  Don’t misunderstand me, because someone changes don’t mean that I am no longer their friend. It simply means that we are not able to help each other as much as we once did.

Many of my friends attend our church and we spend many hours together each week. Some of my friends live on the other side of the country or in a distant corner of the world. We seldom see each other in person, but our friendship remains strong.  My friends are important. Their testimonies challenge me. Their faithfulness encourages me.  Their love strengthens me. I don’t have to share a meal with them each week to share their burdens, and for them to share mine. The distant that separates us is irrelevant.

As I think about my friends, my heart is filled with gratitude for how God has manifested His goodness to me. Dr. Jack Hyles once mentioned that if a man, in his lifetime, had five true friends, he was a blessed man.  If that is true, I am very blessed. God has surrounded me with wonderful people that have proven to be true friends.

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Continuing on in ministry, I want to be sure that I don’t just have friends, but that I am a friend.  I want to be an encouragement to others.  I want to love others, even when they seem to be unlovable.  I want to strengthen others whenever they are weak.  I want my relationship with my friends to be one that is reciprocal. I don’t just want to be blessed, I want to be a blessing.

As I begin my fourth decade in the pastorate, I am challenged by this matter of friendship.  One thing is certain, I don’t want to disappoint those that consider themselves to be my friends.  I know the hurt that comes from that, and I don’t want to impose that on anyone.  I want to stay close to Christ, because He was the reason most of my friends and I were drawn to each other.  As I followed Him, and others followed Him, our paths crossed. I want to stay true to the Word of God because it instructs me in how to be the kind of friend that I need to be.

Having a relationship with Jesus is the greatest things in all the world. Having relationships because of Jesus is one of the wonderful by-products of being a Christian.  If there were no Heaven, if there were no Hell and if there were no eternity, I would still want to walk this journey because of the great people with whom I get to walk it.

Rick Finley