On Thursday morning, June 11, 2020, Jon Blessing Simmons died of a sudden onset heart attack. He was a Hoosier through and through, born in Indianapolis to Walter and Madge (Blessing) Simmons on October 13th, 1955. Just a day before his passing, Jon joined us for Wednesday night fellowship via Zoom. We (Woodruff Place Baptist Church) heard his spirited laugh and enjoyed his insights into scripture as we shared our time together. Jon loved to be with his church, loved the stalwart hymns and Scripture, loved hard work, and deeply loved his wife Rosita. They were married for 19 years.
He made meaningful deep friendships with many whom the world seemed to overlook. Once you had Jon as a friend, you had a faithful friend who would go with you to the gates of hell and back if need be. HIs reputation in the community was such that people said, “Jon will bend over backwards for you more than anybody.” He was the biggest penny pincher many of us ever knew yet incredibly generous. He always had money on hand in case someone needed a helping hand. He was generous in a way that built mutual friendship and trusted the Holy Spirit to work in the relationship. To many Jon was a father figure where advice and support was found.
Jon loved to travel, and he found in his wife Rosita a companion to enjoy the world. In their travels they always remembered home and would bring gifts back to share with their friends and family. Yet in all his travels Jon loved Woodruff Place neighborhood best. Not just because this was where he lived and where he had fond memories of his youth, but because of the many expressions that are Woodruff. The diversity of people, the close fellowship in the community with his church (just across the street from his apartment!), and the beauty of the four seasons highlighted by the architecture, fountains, and tree filled median. To Jon, Woodruff Place was the best neighborhood in all the world and Jon saw much of the world.
Jon was the owner, property manager, and tenant of Woodruff Place Apartments. He and Rosita embodied a management style that humbly gave dignity and worth to an incredibly diverse tenant population. Many community development organizations try to model something like what Jon and Rosita did in their humble way. What is not mentioned in the leasing agreement, but many found true was that once you leased with Jon Simmons you had a friend who would have your corner for life.
Jon had a deep and profound love for his Lord and that was evident to all who knew him. Jon wrote of himself to his wife Rosita before they were married of this relationship as follows:
My spiritual journey has been very gradual for the most part. A somewhat Christian home. Went to church every Sunday. Read the Bible every day since the age of 12. But something happened to me when I got baptized (very late in life, age 27). I really started to mature as a Christian, and mark you, maturity is often painful and difficult. But if I had known that God would have taken such an interest in me after baptism, I would have done it earlier. I would say that 80% to 90% of my Christian character has been developed since my baptism, and with this, my personal relationship with Jesus and my responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Also, my knowledge has grown. I am a lover of all things Christian. These include hymnology (*the study of hymns), church history, theology, and apologetics (=Christian debate or advocacy).
Jon was one of those people who used his mind and thought/read through many things. He was an excellent teacher and loved to think outside the box. Case in point: he posted many of his thoughts on the world and the Christian life on a website he personally ran called jonforpresident.org.
Jon will be dearly missed. We grieve that Jon is no longer with us, but we celebrate he is in the presence of our Heavenly Father and we will see him again. Jon’s witness lives on for Woodruff Place Baptist Church and those who knew him. He joins the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on to run the race of life, to live full of life, generosity and love, and to finish well.
Jon’s memorial will be during the regular worship time of Woodruff Place Baptist Church (1739 East Michigan Street, Indianapolis, IN, 46201) on June 28th, 2020 at 11am. With the reality of COVID-19 the church is taking precautions for gathering. Please refer to our Facebook page facebook.com/woodruffplace for updates and information about the memorial/worship service.
On Wednesday I had a lot on my mind after putting the kids to bed. My mind was all over the place. I’ve heard it described like having monkeys playing around in the head and call it “monkey brains”. Well I get that a lot and need to find ways to step away and process it all. I often take walks but on this night it was raining so I went down to the church gym to play some basketball. As I was shooting and praying and processing life, I got to singing. Now I don’t know most Hymns by heart so I tracked down a Hymnal and with a Hymnal in one hand and a basketball in the other I got to singing. I sang, “How Great Thou Art” and then made up my own verse.
“When thro’ the hood and all the streets I wander and hear the train blaring down the way. When I look down from Highland Park’s grandeur and see the city in all its shiny lights… then sings my soul my Savior God to me….” Yes, in our city surrounded by what people made and not the beautiful forest and nature described in the original Hymn. But are not all these human creations and institutions an expression that we are made in the image of God, yearning to create and express ourselves on this world? Are there not images of God simply walking around us if we have eyes to see and the ears to hear? Are there not as many wonders in this concrete mixed forest as there is in Brown County State Park?
So I sang How Great Thou Art in the gym, I played basketball, I prayed and all the while I was drawing near to God.
Much of my connecting with God is simply getting myself to a place of surrender (in a good way)—receiving God’s grace and love— then to simply trust and obey…
In our first message of our series Pastor Ron talked about how we can move past mental barriers- when we don’t understand God’s word. Then he addressed emotional barriers- what do we do when the feelings are gone, then the worries barrier because when we worry more, we worship less.
Today as we look at the last seed illustrated in the Parable of the Sower where God’s word is received into good soil we see a simple picture. The seed lands in good soil and finally grows to produce a crop. Our faith in God is also not very complicated. Receiving God’s word is simply to trust and obey… The Christian life is not that complicated, but it can’t be broken down into a list of rules and regulations to follow. When we say trust and obey, we are trusting and obeying a living Lord that is actively speaking into our lives with his word. Following Jesus and obeying him is not a check list but a continual relationship of listening and obeying… Letting the seed put deep roots into our lives.
Remember the song… Trust and Obey, say it with me…. For there’s not other way to be happy in Jesus then to trust and obey.
Now… What’s the two questions Ron is challenging us to ask?
What is God saying? What are we going to do about it?
After the first message, about the seed that fell on the path and the bird ate the seed, I asked my son Samuel, “What is God saying to you?” He said, “It went in one ear and out the other.”
Yesterday our family had morning devotions and we read the next parable to this farmer scattering seed one in the book of Mark. It’s called the Parable of the Lamp and is found in Mark 4:21-25 in case you want to read it later. The last two verses say, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given- and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”
To this devotion time, Samuel said, “It went in one ear and is doing this.” (waving hand around the brain)
We also talked in yesterday’s family devotions about how there is two different kinds of listening. There’s one kind where you are hearing what someone says to understand their perspective. There is another type of listening where you may be listening to you parents, God, a teacher and you hear what they say, understand it, then follow the instructions.
When we disobey God’s instructions we miss out on what God has for us. Disobedience can slowly chip away at your relationship with God and sense of his love… When we could be enjoying a rich relationship with God, disobedience can lead to depression, as the Psalmist said, a feeling like you are rotting away… but then the Psalmist mentions the joy of confession and turning back to God and finding that his arms are open to receive you.
Even the devil understands aspects of God, right? He’s heard it before but it’s the believing and obeying part that he lacks. Instead, he fights to prevent us from believing and obeying. He wants to challenge God’s authority in our lives.
In our culture as well, we are often taught to challenge authority. A healthy skepticism is often helpful but if we don’t learn to trust and obey God’s authority we will never grow in good soil.
Too often the words we hear go in one ear and out the other. Some of this is good because much of what we hear is not worth listening to anyways, it’s just background noise. It’s a challenge in this fast-paced society to slow down and be present to the voices that matter and are not background noise. Hearing the voice of God is also hard. We live in an age with an abundance of information but not so much understanding. When there are so many voices screaming at us how can we hear the still small voice of God? I find it helpful to disconnect from Facebook or other forms of media so I can hear God better. Is God telling you to do the same thing? It’s an art really to learn to hear from God when the world and information are flying by at a record pace. Too often the words we need to hear go in one ear and out the other.
Don’t you find it amazing how little the disciples understood of Jesus while he was walking and talking with them. Even at the last supper when Jesus said, “ I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” It wasn’t like they seemed to get what he was saying. It took time for them to process it and for the seed of his words to grow and shape their understanding.
Also at the last supper, Jesus said a beautiful thing about what obeying God’s word does in our lives.
John 14:21, “Those who accept my commandment and obey them are the ones who love me and because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
This verse explains how spiritual growth happens… Ron calls it Invitation and Challenge…
First, we hear the words of Jesus and his invitation to life with God, which we were created for though we may not have even known it. (Gospel)
Then there’s the challenge part, which in John 14:21 we are challenged to accept and obey Jesus’ command…
And at this point the verse gets really interesting… What happens as we obey? I will love them and reveal myself to them… Jesus deepens our identity in him. This is a beautiful description of spiritual growth… Jesus invites us into his love and we are challenged to obey… as we obey he reveals more of his love… it forms a type of perpetual triangle… God to our identity in God, to obedience to God revealing more of himself and his love.
What does this look like in our lives? It looks like lives that are empowered through trials and tribulations to honor Jesus and walk in his strength. Jason, Stephanie, Vincent, Marianne… others not see in themselves… Dave and Claudia
In the end love is the defining attribute of our spiritual growth and obedience… It starts and ends with love… that is the crop God desires which is the very seed he plants in the soil of our hearts through his word.
Here’s some questions to reflect upon. How do you find ways to hear God’s voice everyday? What gets in the way?
What is God saying?
What are you going to do about it?
Most of us have probably heard Billy Graham passed away this past week. I think Billy Graham’s greatest legacy is not the amount of people that came to rallies, it’s not the number of people he led to the Lord, or even his powerful preaching. His greatest legacy, faithful obedience. A long walk in the same direction. As he obeyed, the Lord revealed more and more of himself…. We may never produce as much fruit as Billy Graham but that’s not what Jesus is calling for us. If we could follow Billy Graham as he followed Christ I believe the defining quality to that walk would be obedience. That obedience would bring a further revelation of God’s love through the Holy Spirit as Jesus reveals himself to us.
I heard yesterday an illustration I hope to take to the grave with me. Is he in us like a pebble is in a glass of water…. Or is he in us more like a chocolate chip in a cookie… no… He’s in us like the ocean is in a wave…
Let’s let the ocean of God’s love and presence shape us as we obey, grow, and through us may God produce a mighty crop.
What is God saying? What are we going to do about it?
2016 was a year of transition for us as we at WPBC regrouped after Tom Eden’s long tenure as pastor. We called 2016 a time of “liminal space” and within this space we looked for how the Spirit of God would move and direct us. As much as we wished God would lay out a clear path so we would know what lay behind every bend in the journey, he did not. Instead we learned in new and marvelous ways how God leads his children by faith. When I look back at 2016 and all that God had done- during all the uncertainty and the many decisions- I have one word, Awe. God’s work in our lives was amazing. God took us down this journey to grow us up, prepare us, and raise up new leaders in the church. He has prepared us for the next chapter. But most of all, we testify that this liminal space has brought God glory.
God desires to use this weak rag tag group of Woodruffians to shine his light like crazy to proclaim his kingdom. We testify that when we are weak, he is strong. The fact that we have been in our changing community for over 120 years and have thrived through this transition is a testimony to the Lord’s strength and faithfulness. It is lesson to remember as we embark on our next chapter. We have been called to leave this liminal space for yet another liminal space. Such is the adventure of faith. Are we all not called to live outside our comfort zones, in liminal spaces, so we would lean more on Christ? May we never get lax in our faith!
In 2016 God blessed us with a wonderful year of renovation. Our building renovation is a physical expression of what God has been doing in our congregational life. Several groups assisted us with repairs, like First Baptist Church of Douglassville who refurbished our church sign and installed lights for it. The renovations helped us welcome back Youthworks for the summer. Together we provided a dynamic opportunity for hundreds of teenagers to grow deeper in their faith while staying in our church building. It was wonderful to build some great relationships with the young staff and provide for them a context of incarnational urban ministry.
At the end of 2016, we have welcomed our new pastor, Ron Nunez, who moved from the San Francisco Bay Area. (That’s another faith journey I’d love to tell share!) Our church stood ready and expectant for what Christ will do as we embraced Pastor Ron and his family and showed them true Woodruffians hospitality. The church rallied behind the process and we had a lot of fun getting their new home ready and welcoming them to Indianapolis. We joked at their willingness to move from the warm Bay Area in the middle of our cold Midwestern January. But such is faith, it has us do some strange things.
Pastor Ron’s background is diverse and urban. He has straddled social and racial differences in the two churches he has pastored while navigating those churches toward community and outreach. In addition, he has spent the last two years working with people who have mental illness to guide them in their life choices. God has prepared his heart to value how we model our ministry in Christ through intentional community. This was immediately apparent upon their family’s visit. It was if they had come home.
Pastor Ron has already called us further into discipleship. He has the experience to engage our extremely diverse context- smack dab in the middle of the city. He also has the attitude to listen and learn as he takes on a new leadership role. Please pray with us for the new liminal space we have entered with our new lead pastor.
The high call of ministry on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis is a wonderful privilege for us. We delight in the ways God is working in our church and neighborhood. We proclaim there is a still small voice that endures through our bullhorn sounding culture. Indeed, the mustard seed revolution will have its way. The word of God will not return void. We sing that truth loud and clear in our worship. We are the people who sing- who love to sing with our lives the gospel story. Together we praise God in our Woodruffian way.
Pastor of Community Outreach, Woodruff Place Baptist Church
Our prayer walk yesterday came about because we wanted to respond to the violence in our community. It was only after planning the event that I realized it was the International Day of Peace. We began our prayer walk at the church building and made several stops along the way to pray. We sat together in a backyard and prayed together. We read Scripture together. We sang together. We ended the prayer walk where there was a recent murder. It was here the words below were said and prayed. May they come true! Peace is found in the deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ!
We face today in our nations, in our homes, and in ourselves a spiritual poverty that encourages violence and rebellion against each other. In the Bible story of two brothers, Cain and Abel, Cain murdered Abel, and the blood of his brother cried out to God from the ground. Cain proclaimed against God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain denied his responsibility- his actions as they grieved the Lord. We proclaim today- not to sweep under the rug the death and violence in our midst and to hope it goes away. Nor do we shrink back in fear and let our nightmares overcome us. Neither do we seek to strike back with a vengeance of our own. We are here to proclaim Jesus as Lord. He is the Prince of Peace. We are here to proclaim his reign. We pray that he would be proclaimed in our neighborhood. We pray for the families devastated by violence and unnecessary tragedy. We pray that respect would be held for law enforcement and that our officers would be just and fair. We pray that all will know, we are indeed our brother’s keepers and we have a responsibility to watch out for one another. We pray that his love will penetrate the darkest corners and his light will shine in every heart, in every home, and indeed in our nation today. Only then will there be peace.
As the blood spilled in violence and injustice defiles our land, so we anoint this land for God’s purpose and his will. We proclaim God’s victory even in this. We grieve but we also rejoice in the peace Jesus gives us.
The land is anointed.
(Let us remember that love compelled Christ Jesus to give his blood for us and by his wounds we are healed.
Woodruff Place Baptist Church (1739 E. Michigan Street) is hosting a non-stop Bible reading to bring in the New Year. We believe reading the Bible through is a great way to bring in the New Year!
We will start at Midnight on New Year’s Day 2016 and we expect it to end sometime on Sunday January 3, 2016.
We won’t stop until we are done!
Everyone is welcome to come through our sanctuary doors and hear Scripture being read day or night.
And if you feel adventurous you may also participate with us. You will need to sign up in advance for a time slot.
We would love to have other believers and churches from the Near Eastside represented as we read Scripture together.
For more information contact Woodruff Place Baptist Church at 327-639-2501 or feel free to email Joey Newsom, Interim Pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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