Friday, January 18, 2013

Suzii Paynter named to lead CBF: Reflections on a friend

Yesterday it was announced that Suzii Paynter, director of Texas Baptists' Christian Life Commission (CLC) and Advocacy/Care Center, has been nominated to succeed Daniel Vestal as executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).

Suzii is one of our own, a longtime supporter of the T. B. Maston Foundation and member of our Board of Trustees. More than that, though, Suzii and her husband, Roger - senior pastor of Austin's First Baptist Church - are Maston practitioners; they live lives that are grounded in the kind of biblical Christian ethics that Dr. Maston lived and taught, that walking as Jesus walked kind of ethics, that loving and ministering to the least of these kind of ethics, that seeing Christ in all you meet and being His presence everywhere you go kind of ethics.

I'm not writing a biography here. You can get details about Suzii's life, ministry, and qualifications from the CBF press releases. For that matter, you can see her heart, her passion for ministry, in the wonderful introductory video that CBF has produced, and I urge you to watch it. It moved me, and I guarantee it will move you.

But I just want to write a brief reflection about the Suzii and Roger Paynter who I know, and I don't know how you talk about the one without talking about the other, because - as the video so warmly shows - the two of them are truly one, a part of each other.

I first got to knowing Roger in the late 1990s, after my dad joined First Baptist. Whenever we would visit Daddy in Austin, we would go to church with him on Sunday morning. In fact, my family and I were blessed on our numerous visits to get to know several wonderful people there at First Baptist. In the CBF video, Suzii talks about the privilege of getting to hear Roger preach every Sunday morning; I understand what she's talking about, because I was always challenged by Roger's preaching and inevitably took out my pen and made a note or two during his sermon.

But beyond his preaching, Roger has been a good friend to me. I always love talking with him, because I know I'm going to learn something but, more importantly, I'm hoping a little of his graciousness will rub off on me.

Where I really got to knowing Suzii was at the BGCT Annual Meetings back in the early 2000s. At that time, my wife and I were still attending a church that was lurching toward Fundamentalism, and I was struggling to influence people in that church to turn back to Baptist principles of grace and freedom. So at those BGCT Annual Meetings, I would stop by the CLC booth and talk to Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter, sharing my frustrations, telling them about my apparently futile attempts to change the church's direction. The most important thing that Phil and Suzii did was listen to me and let me know that they cared about what I was experiencing and that they appreciated my conviction. They were great encouragers to me at a difficult time. When Joanna and I finally decided, in 2004, that it was time to find another church, it was Phil Strickland who led us to Wilshire in Dallas.

Over the years, Suzii has continued to be a great friend and encourager to me. When I was asked to lead Texas Baptists Committed 2 years ago, it was a new world for me; I had never led an organization like this, had never done anything close to this. At times, I have turned to people like Suzii, as well as Rick McClatchy at CBF Texas, for guidance. Both of them are savvy, experienced, and always willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Last spring, I attended the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics - named for David Currie and Phil Strickland - at Howard Payne University. At the gracious invitation of Dean Donnie Auvenshine, I was privileged to attend not only the public lectures but the following day's sessions as well, in which the lecturers - Suzii Paynter and Stephen Reeves of the CLC, and Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance - met with students and answered their questions.

This morning, I looked back at the blog post I wrote concerning that day. In summarizing the session that Suzii and Stephen held with Howard Payne's Ministerial Alliance members, I wrote about Suzii's characterization of the BGCT as "a relational body, not an institutional body"; her emphasis on the diversity of those who are on the receiving end of the BGCT's ministries; and her description of the CLC as "a witness to the whole community."

In her message on the first day, "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible," Suzii always brought the focus back to ministry, urging listeners, "look beyond the walls of your church"; "don't start with politics; start with ministry"; and "be unapologetic about bringing a biblical rationale and theological perspective to any issue."

That's the Suzii Paynter I'm blessed to call my friend. In the T. B. Maston tradition, Suzii is always about ministering to those who need us; advocating for justice for "the least of these"; seeking mercy and healing and redemption for those who are hurting; in short, being the presence of Christ. That's exactly what CBF should be about.

If there's one thing I've learned in leading TBC, it's that no one can carry out a weighty mission like ours on her or his own. As I wrote a few weeks ago on the Texas Baptists Committed blog, it takes cooperation and partnerships. Suzii will lead CBF in the right direction, but she can't do it alone. I pray that all of us who support the mission of CBF - and the missions focus of CBF - will partner with Suzii and each other in being Christ's presence in our own corner of the world and throughout the world.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

George Mason: Will we choose fear that destroys or Jesus' love that transforms?

(NOTE: The following is excerpted from a sermon, "East Side Story," preached by George Mason, senior pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, January 6, 2013; and published here with Dr. Mason's gracious permission.)

Let me ask you, this morning: what good decisions have you made in your life that were impulsively driven by fear?

The big lie the Devil tells us is that if we are afraid, the best way—and maybe the only way—to deal with that fear is to arm ourselves against it. If we will just get more powerful, if we will just become so protected that no one can hurt us, if we will just destroy our enemies with brute force, then we will be secure.

You think? Ever consider the spiritual and psychological consequences of that reasoning? Even if you are not attacked or harmed by your enemy, you are forced to live in fear forever. You have to keep alive the idea that you are always under threat.

And if you nurture that sense that you are always on the lookout for bad people, for people who would do you harm, how do you flip the switch to suddenly learn to love your enemies and do good to them who hurt you? How do you look for opportunities to witness to the light of Christ?

It makes you a divided self. If following Jesus does anything, it should drive away fear and fill you with love in a way that transforms your very being and makes you one kind of person, not two kinds.