Category: Living

Farewell, Joan Wood

Yesterday, I farewelled my dear Nana, Joan Wood. She was a fine, Christian woman, who has been a major influence on my life. As the Apostle Paul reflected upon Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5), my faith first lived in my grandmother, and her Christian life and witness has been a firm foundations upon which my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been based.

I had the wonderful privilege of conducting the funeral service, and delivering the eulogy and sermon (scroll down to read). I also designed the service sheet (click here to view in low-res PDF) and created the following slideshow:

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Here is the text of the sermon I delivered at the funeral:

As we gather here today to pay tribute to Joan, there’s a sadness we share, knowing that we won’t see her again in this life.

We are sad that when we drop around to her house, she won’t be there to put on the kettle for us… or to laugh with us as we share our stories … or to hear her wisdom in our times of need.

We miss her, and it brings us sadness. In this time of grief, what we want more than anything is to feel love.

Where do you go for love? To whom do you turn?

What about God? Have you turned to him for love? Have you opened your arms to accept his comfort and compassion?

You might be a person who regularly prays to God, and who hears his voice in the pages of the Bible. You trust his promises, and have received his forgiveness. If that’s you, then no doubt you’ve turned to him this week in this time of need.

Or maybe you’ve never really had anything to do with God. Perhaps you’re not the praying type. Maybe it’s never crossed your mind to pray to him. You might be angry with him, or just not want to acknowledge he exists.

Well, no matter how you feel towards God, it’s important to know that God knows you, and he loves you. Whether or not you believe in God, you can know that God believes in you.

In our first Bible reading from Psalm 139, we read these opening words:

 1 O LORD, you have searched me
       and you know me.
 2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.
Whether or not you believe in God, you can know that God believes in you! He knows everything about you, more than anyone else. As it says in this verse, he even knows our thoughts.

But that’s only the beginning. Verse 13:

 13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

And verses 15 and 16:

 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

In these verses God makes it clear to us that he knew us before we were born, from the time he created us. And, he continues to know everything about us that has already happened, and everything that will happen to us in the future.

When Joan was curled up inside Rosie Higgott’s womb, God knew her. Every thought through her long and distinguished life was known to God.

And what is true of Joan is also true of you and of me. God knows everything about us. He knows what makes us happy; he knows what makes us sad; he knows our joys and our fears.

And for that reason, he is able to love us like no one else. He is able to comfort us like no one else.

This love of God is so incredible, that the Apostle Paul, in our second Bible reading, prays that we’ll somehow understand this amazing love.

Let me read his words again:

 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

God’s love is huge! It’s wide… it’s long… high… it’s deep… In fact, it’s so massive that it’s almost beyond comprehension. And did you see the irony in his prayer? He prays that we will know this love that surpasses knowledge! That we’ll know the thing that we can’t fully know!

God’s love is amazing. It is truly mind-blowing!

But what makes it so amazing is the passion with which Jesus loves us.

In the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, the viewers were presented with a graphic portrayal of the final hours of the life of Jesus. He died a violent and humiliating death. He was executed in the most painful way known to humanity.

But what is most remarkable about his death is that he didn’t deserve that punishment. He was innocent of his charges. Yet, he willingly died so that we could know his love.

How does the death of that man 2000 years ago have any impact on our lives today? How does his death show us his love?

It’s because when he died, he chose to take God’s anger upon himself, instead of us. The Bible tells us that we all deserve for God to be angry with us, because none of us, by nature, submit to his rule. None of us are born wanting to give God control of our lives. None of us naturally want Jesus as our king.

And for that reason, God has every reason to be angry with us.

Let’s imagine one of my kids, on their eighteenth birthday, told me that they never wanted to see me again. Imagine if they changed their identity, left the country, and rejected me as their father. I’d have every reason to be angry with the child I brought up. I’d have every reason to be angry at their rejection.

That’s how it is with God and us. All of us naturally reject God. And God has every reason to be angry with us.

And that’s where death came from. We weren’t born to die. We were born to live forever. Death is an appalling thing. It goes against every bone in our body. But, we all deserve it because we have all naturally turned away from God.

But, God loves us. And we know that because even though we were his enemies, Christ died for us. Do you want to know the love of God? See the crucified Jesus. See him hanging in pain and humiliation. And on his face, you will see love.

But the great news is that Jesus proved that his death was successful. It was powerful over death. He rose from the dead three days later. Death is no longer the end of our existence. There is now life after death.

When I entered Nana’s hospital room last Thursday night, I was confronted again with mortality. Nana lay in her bed, lifeless. Her body remained, but her spirit had gone. After I had shared a hug with my mum, and Julie and Simon and Bev, I embraced Pa for what seemed like ages. And then he asked me to pray.

What could I pray for? What was there to say? Nana was dead. Her body was lifeless. We were never going to see her again in this life. How could there be hope? How could I say anything that might help us in our grief?

Well, in my prayer, I went back to the love of God. That love that is so wide, long, high and deep. That was the thing we could hold on to.

Because, quite simply, Joan knew the love of Christ. During her years on this earth, she had asked for God’s forgiveness, and had received his gift of eternal life. Because Jesus died for Joan, her own death is not the end of her story.

Behind me, here, is a body. It is the beautiful body of Joan Wood, our friend. But she is no longer here with us. She is in paradise with Jesus. She is face to face with her saviour and friend, enjoying the life that we were all created to experience. She no longer sees through cloudy eyes… she no longer walks in frailty… she no longer struggles to remember the words just spoken. She is enjoying life to the full.

Do you know that life? Do you know that love?

A event like this reminds us that we all face death. Between now and that day we all have a choice. Will you accept the love of Jesus? Will you accept his forgiveness? Will you let him take God’s anger from your shoulders and place it on his own?

I speak with passion because I know that this is a matter of life and death. I learnt that in the youth group that I attended at this church in the 1980s. Nana was instrumental in me coming to youth group to hear about Jesus’ love. And, praise God, I did.

As I grew older, I never grew out of God. Nana was one of the most encouraging people in my Christian life. There were countless times that she sat me down and asked me to help her with a theological question she’d been struggling with through her personal Bible readings, or through her church women’s group, or through a Christian book she’d been reading. She longed to know more of Jesus’ love. And when I finally made the decision to leave the family travel business to become a Christian minister, she, along with David, was one of my greatest supporters. Even last week, as I read the Bible to her as she lay in her hospital bed, she became animated as she heard the word of God. “Yes, that’s right!” she cried. “Yes!” she said. Nana knew the love of Jesus. And I know that she would want to make sure that you know it, too.

Today is a sad day because we miss Joan. But it is a joyful and happy day, because we know that Nana is with the Lord Jesus.

We speak confidently about Nana’s eternal future in Jesus Christ. But are you able to speak so confidently about yours? I know for sure that there would be nothing that would make Joan happier than for all of her friends and family to know Jesus’ love. And so, I pray, as I know she would too, that we would…

   have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

   20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Baxter The Dog joins The McNeills

Baxter McNeill, our new English Springer Spaniel

This week we proudly took ownership of Baxter, an eight week old English Springer Spaniel. Ever since we saw the movie ‘Eight Below’ we began to explore the possibilities of adopting a dog. We considered several options until we found out that some friends from church had bred a litter of Springers.

Choosing a name was fairly, but not entirely straight forward. Ken, my old youth minister from many years ago had a practice of naming his animals after church leaders. So, he had Tony the dog (the first name of the Rector at the time,) Jensen the duck (after the now Archbishop–or his brother, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral,) and I recall he had an animal named Woodhouse (after his then Rector and the now Principal of Moore College.)

With this in mind, I considered options. What about Stewart, or Willis or Stanton? All worthy contenders. But what about a church leader from history? My initial favourite name was ‘Cranmer’ (after Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the English Reformer who wrote the Book of Common Prayer.) But every member of my family voted against me. Rather than enforce my powerful right of veto (after all, I paid for the thing…) I considered another alternative. And so, ‘Baxter’ was suggested (after Richard Baxter, the great Puritan), and unanimously supported by the McNeill caucus.

Baxter has brought us great joy in these initial puppy days, although we (and I expect the neighbours) look forward to him getting over his detachment anxiety (with its accompanying midnight barking and whimpering.)

Do you know of any animal names based on church figures? How did you stop your dog whimpering during the night? I’d be interested to hear your comments…

2006 McNeill Family Christmas Photo

Jodie has had a great year at work, launching and leading the new Youthworks ‘Year 13’ program. He keeps wishing it was around when he was 18, so that he could’ve avoided making his mistakes as a very young adult. He also keeps training people in youth ministry, organising the TWIST conference, and doing youth ministry and music at our church at Sylvania Anglican.  And last, but certainly not least, he loves relaxing with family and friends, usually with coffee in hand!

Mandy has been a busy mum, running a household of  three kids plus Hugo, our newborn (13 May 06.) She leads the ‘WOW’ (Women on Wednesday’) Bible study, and co-leads the youth with Jodie. As ‘Chief of Staff’ in the McNeill household, she continues to avidly watch ‘The West Wing’ for tips on how to keep the President in line.

Liana (9 in January) has entered the ‘Tweens,’ and seems only days away from adolescence. She loves to sing, dance and talk (frequently all at once) and would love a pony if she could somehow sneak one into her bedroom.

Jemimah (8 in February) is loving school, and continues to keep up with her older sister in many ways. She shares the family love of music, but has developed an uncharacteristic love of maths (drawing upon talents previously undiscovered in our DNA.)

Oscar (4 in January) loves anything with wheels. He plays with his cars 24/7, and only pauses when he stops to watch his favourite DVD…yes, ‘Cars!’ He loves preschool and continues to be a testament to the difference testosterone makes in a growing child.

Hugo (8 months) is a ‘mini-me’ version of Jodie…permanent smile, blonde hair, and an attention span that should keep the makers of Ritalin in business for years. Despite a few respiratory illnesses, he keeps smiling, and smiling…

2006 has been a great year for the McNeills. We have settled in well to our new house in Sylvania (yes, ‘The Shire!’) and are continuing to love our church, job, and spending time with our friends and family, both new and old. We are thankful to God for our health, and for the ways in which he keeps sustaining us through the normal ups and downs of life. Overall, it has been a full-on year, with a new house, child, and job responsibilities for Jodie, which has made us feel a bit too frantic at times. But we look forward the opportunity to consolidate our roles and responsibilities in 2007 (i.e. less changes… yeah, right!)

To God be the glory!

I just returned from over two weeks away on holidays in Canberra and at Callala Beach (Jervis Bay). It was a very relaxing time away with the family doing very, very little (a stark contrast to normal life!)

We spent the first four days at Canberra, doing every tourist ‘thing’ we could fit in to our schedule: Parliament House, Questacon, National Museum, Telstra Tower, Australian Institute of Sport, Cockington Gardens, Planetarium, and more! It was great to get ‘distracted’ by the destination!

The remaining ten days were spent at Callala Beach, on Jervis Bay, near Nowra. Lots of time doing very little. In fact, the most ‘productive’ activity was sorting 5,000 digital photos on my hard disk, and culling it down to 2,000. From that, we selected 300 which we then printed on paper. Quite an effort–especially considering I tweaked all the photos in Photoshop first (levels, dodge and burn, and even some desaturations into B&W).

I returned to face 400 emails, but got them down to 100 quickly. Spent a day answering them, and now I’m back on track, but feeling a bit exhausted. Maybe it’s time for another holiday…!

World Cup sleep deprivation

I think I’ve become one of the people of whom Johnny Warren said “I told you so!” I never understood how anyone could enjoy watching a game that produced such low and inferequent scores.

But the game against Japan last week changed everything. The continual tension of side against side, both desperate to hit the back of the net leaves every other code of football for dead.

The parallels with Test cricket are numerous. The high speed thrill of limited over matches never can surpass the reward of watching endless hours of a test match waiting for a century or a wicket.

Last night’s game was at an ungodly hour… 2am… exasperated by a busy day of three sermons. But even the loss to Brazil was worth it. Croatia, watch out.

Now where’s my coffee…?

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