Championing Courage: The Chris Estrada Interview

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A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. – John Maxwell

REFlectionsChrisEstradaThe mark of a true leader is clearly identified in their character. Titles and positions will only take you so far. Character takes you the distance! In this REFlections interview, I had the privilege of interviewing a brother and leader with proven character. To modify John Maxwell’s quote above, this leader knows THE WAY, follows THE WAY, and shows others THE WAY. On public platforms and behind-the-scenes, this man of God serves selflessly and cares deeply about our generation.

Chris Estrada is the Director of the Youth Major at Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas, Texas. In this capacity, he has been afforded the unique opportunity to pour into leaders and pastors from around the world. Chris has also been entrusted to host the National Youth Leader Experience (see link after interview), taking place this weekend (starting April 25, 2014). Chris has extensive experience in pastoral ministry, business and mission work.

In this interview, it is my prayer that you hear the words of encouragement, conviction and wisdom from a friend I truly admire.

REF: What does a day look like in the life of Chris Estrada?

Chris: Everyday looks different and serves as an opportunity to journey with God. Among the traveling my wife and I do yearly, we lead a small group for leaders and pastors in our local church. I don’t want to be one of those traveling ministers that don’t have a footprint in the local church. All roads lead to the local church. I’ve learned that even with planning out my day (I’m a planner), I need to take time to reflect and praise God for what He’s done in an event or gathering before moving on to the next thing.

REF: What advice would you give leaders about valuing family?

Chris: Ryan, man…I actually learned it through a hard lesson. I went through a situation when my senior pastor made poor decisions in light of his wife’s sudden heart attack. The church was attempting to reclaim its footing after the leader made these bad situations. I learned that there were people who would say (speaking of me), “Pastor Chris will always be there for you.” However, I knew I needed to be there first for my family. At that season of our lives, we neglected our family. While others were at family BBQs, we had to be at a church. If were at a birthday party, we could only stay an hour because we had a leader meeting at church.

Now, being on staff at CFNI, I am free to say to others that I can stay for only an hour at an event or gathering because I have to go be with my family. My family is incredibly important. Nothing trumps my wife and children. I will tell my wife, “If you are not enjoying your life because of something I’m doing or involved in, I will shut it down.” I have no problem stopping what I am doing. My ego is not attached to what I do. I can go back into corporate America or the business world and win my co-workers to Christ. I don’t need a stage and mic to do that.

I am not an absent dad. You will not see me opening my laptop at home with family and rarely will I text or talk on the phone after 5 PM (unless you are Ryan – LOL)! 

REF: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would that word be and why?

Chris: I would probably use the word courage. I’ve always been the least qualified or lacking any qualifications to do what I do. I don’t know how I got the wife that I got (it took courage)! Sometimes, I don’t even know how I got in the rooms I got in or developed the relationships I have today. It took courage and not feeling insecure in the shadow of their great ministries or influence. My lifelong battle has been to stay encouraged. Even when facing hard times as a man, husband, father and servant of God. It takes courage to move forward.

Our ministry’s motto is: Releasing courage and power to risk takers & dreamers who want divine turnarounds. That’s who we are and that is our message. We are constantly taking risks and if it doesn’t require courage, we don’t do it. I rather fail and still have courage than have need of it.

…if it doesn’t require courage, we don’t do it. – Chris Estrada

REF: Chris…Pastor Andy Stanley was quoted saying, “A single act of courage is the tipping point to extraordinary change.” So, what act of courage have you implemented that encouraged you to live this life of courage?

Chris: The one that sticks out to me is when I first got saved. I grew up with a Catholic background. My family was from the hood but we had that “street smart”. We were very intellectual at the level. With that said, I wasn’t convinced that Jesus was powerful. I knew He loved me. But, I didn’t think He was powerful until I gave a friend a ride to the impound. God spoke to me when I met up with a man there. God said (a deep impression of the heart), “I want you to wash this man’s feet.” Now, I’m not for weird or spooky. But, when God spoke to my heart, my immediate reaction was, “You wash his feet!” (laughs) In my NO, the sense became stronger and stronger, “Son, I need you to wash this man’s feet.”

I wrestled with the Lord. I saw the man and got a coffee mug with cold water. I thought it would be game over when I offered to wash this man’s feet. It wasn’t. But, when I tell you this man’s feet was the most obscene looking feet I’ve ever seen! It looked like a forest on the man’s feet. You had to peel off his socks. I’m not exaggerating! I said to God, “I know you love me, but in this moment, you must hate me because you would only ask someone you hate to do such a thing!

Finally, I worked up enough courage to wash his feet and then to have to wash hooves! MAN! As I started to wash his feet, he complained that the water was ice cold. I apologized for the temperature and began to rub his feet. I watched firsthand clear water turn black-gray from the grime on his feet. I will never forget this — God led me to pray for this man as I was washing his feet. I was led to pray for his marriage that was heading for divorce. I sensed he was deeply concerned about how his sons will respond to it and prayed that he would never lose his fatherly voice in their lives. I prayed that what God put together no man would be able to separate. I prayed that he would find the courage to make changes and draw close to God. I remember as I prayed, this huge man who was big and imposing began to weep right over me. It was in that moment I realized that people need courage.

Ever since, I’ve been known to take courageous steps. My family lives by courage. My kids live with courage. My daughter courageously prophesied over a woman who was clinically depressed (and she didn’t have previous knowledge of her condition). I watched my son minister to a man who had a great gift of singing but thought he was going to die prematurely. My son knew this man (a waiter) was tormented by the early death of others in his family and was in the music industry (my son would have never known that). Courage is needed in whatever you do. You can never overdose in courage! 

You can never overdose in courage! – Chris Estrada

REF: How do you believe God is using you to infuse the value of courage in the next generation of leaders, especially in your role at CFNI?

Chris: People believe there are not good leaders due to a lack of trust. Poor views of leadership in government and society bleed into the Church. You have many who will question their spiritual leaders’ motives and agendas. But, I believe the lack of trust in leadership is due to not liking the environments they are in. They may be looking for a perfect environment. Ryan, I’ve been in hundreds of churches and know a great number of pastors and leaders. You are not going to find a perfect environment. You are not going to find perfect people. It is essential to beseech people and leaders to be as unoffendable as possible. Our feathers are too easily ruffled. Our feelings are too easily hurt. By no means is this a license to be insensitive. But, we must learn to bear with one another and a heart to bring the best out in others.

My chief job in life to bring out the best in my wife. It is the same with kids, my staff and my students. I am a gold-digger. I am searching for the gold. I understand that in order to find the treasure, I must dig through the dirt. But, my focus is never the dirt, but the gold. When you have this mentality, you are ready to go through some misunderstandings and miscommunication. As leaders, you live in a glass house. It is important that we understand our humanity while demanding integrity.

Ryan…this generation of leaders have much charisma, but character is too often lacking. I say this because I am young. I’ve never had a problem with others not trusting me because I follow through with what I’m going to do. If I can’t do something, I say something. It is a character issue. When I started at CFNI, I was 27 and I’m overseeing a bible college with over 1200 students from all over the world. Why would they trust a 27 year old to run that? It is an integrity issue.

I don’t want to see people in their dysfunction but their destiny. This is why Jesus can see the prophet in the pervert and the apostle in the addict! I’ve heard some preachers say how they have a problem with some titles given to Bible narratives such as “the woman with the issue of blood.” This was her dysfunction, not her destiny. We must see people in their destiny — it’s easier said than done. It is easy to limit others to their dysfunction. But, we must build our spiritual muscle to forgive easier, to overlook and keep going.

I don’t want to see people in their dysfunction but their destiny. – Chris Estrada

REF: How does this philosophy of ministry help you in leading and serving at CFNI?

Chris: Dude, I get many who say that the students we receive at our school are the church’s best of the best. But, you will be surprised to know the struggles they contend with such as homosexuality, addictions and other potentially disabling issues. We are here to train generals and “polished arrows”. But, the Lord sends us the broken to serve the broken. Give us the Gideons, give us the Davids — seeing a king in a shepherd boy. Even with the struggles, we call out destiny and ensure the goal is clear. Too often, we are destination conscious. Destiny is not where you end up but who you end up becoming. 

Destiny is not where you end up but who you end up becoming. – Chris Estrada

REF: One last question Chris and its personal…What do you enjoy doing? 

Chris: I’m Hispanic so I love to eat! My trainer doesn’t like it, but I love good food. I love good laughs. I love basketball. I play ball every Monday (I might play tonight)! I like being alone too. Don’t get me wrong — I love people, but I yearn for the quiet moments. With 3 kids screaming in the back, I like the peace and quiet. I love plane rides and love to read books. I’m a 6, 7, 8 books-a-year guy. But, Ryan — I do read my Bible and that takes much of my time!! I love seeing people “get it” especially when it comes to identity. When people know who they are, they understand what they are called to.

NOTE: In this moment, Chris spoke personally into my life from the Scriptures by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Chris is a leader God is using to speak life and destiny into the lives of people — including this interviewer! Thank you Chris for your heart, ministry and brotherhood! 

Click Here: Chris Estrada Ministries Website

Click Here: National Youth Leaders Experience

Good Friday: Blood Medley (Tamela Mann)

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This Good Friday, we remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. For our sins, Jesus became sin and once and for all, conquered sin, death and the grave. 

For our #REFlections devotion, let’s view The Blood Medley by Gospel recording artist Tamela Mann.

 

Holy Week: The Last Supper (“Son of God” Movie)

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This Maundy Thursday, we look back at Jesus and His disciples gathering in what has been coined, “The Last Supper”. 

Matthew 26:26-30 (NIV):

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Holy Week: “When You Walk Into the Room” (Bryan & Katie Torwalt)

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Holy Week reminds us how much Jesus loves us and desires love in return. He will not force us to love Him. But, invites us to walk with Him everyday. With Jesus, everything and anything is possible.

Holy Week Wednesday: A song by Bryan and Katie Torwalt has been resonating in my heart. The song is entitled “When You Walk Into the Room”. Watch the lyric video above and may this song encourage and bless you!

Holy Week: “Oceans” by Hillsong United (Live at RELEVANT)

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Holy Week is a sacred week of remembrance, reflection, worship and celebration. As we celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we be reminded of the cost He paid for our sins. As a part of this reflection, I will post videos that are worth checking out in your time of devotion.

TUESDAY | Check out Hillsong United’s “Oceans”:

Verse #1
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

Chorus:
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Verse #2
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed, and You won’t start now

Chorus:
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Bridge:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior x 7

Ending:
I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine

Songwriters
JOEL HOUSTON, MATT CROCKER, SALOMON LIGHTHELM

Published by
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

www.hillsong.com/united

CHARISA: The Violin Diva (REFlections Interview)

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CharisaRouse2Charisa Rouse (aka The Violin Diva) is known for her great talent on the violin and her jazz-infused sounds. Charisa is a well-sought after artist on the live performance stage and in the studio. Recently, Charisa was featured with world-renowned artist Patti Labelle at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Charisa has worked with world-renowned artists and performed on the biggest stages. With her husband (James Rouse) by her side, Charisa has been able to achieve great success and the best is yet to come.

Behind the curtains and bright lights, Charisa offers her thoughts in this exclusive REFlections interview:

REF: What does an ordinary day look like in the life of Charisa Rouse?

Charisa: My day usually starts around 7:30 AM – 8 AM. God has been waking me up earlier than usual. I take some time to pray and do my morning routine. Then, about 10 AM, you will find me sitting at my desk handling business. In the music industry, we are self-contained entrepreneurs. I am running the business, talking with clients, and answering e-mails (the administrative work). It requires me to sit still. Ryan, I’ve learned that there is just some work I must do while sitting still.

Around 2 PM-3 PM, I am heading into the city (New York City) to teach one of the afternoon violin programs. Most nights, I am in recording sessions, out performing a gig or at a networking event.

REF: Besides the violin, what is your greatest passion?

Charisa: God. That’s easy.

REF: Why?

Charisa: He’s an old friend that I’ve gotten to know. I trust Him immensely. He’s constantly revealing Himself to me. I’ve had a rough couple of months for many reasons. Unequivocally, through this season, God is the surest thing in my life. I feel because of the immense challenges of the music industry — I don’t know how you can be an atheist and be a musician. It’s very difficult — people will stiff you for money (still waiting on checks). Do I get ugly and take this to small claims court? Questions arise that affect your business. Collections are hard; what time your money comes in — its very nebulous. It’s subjective. You might walk into a situation where you are credited for being a good musician but you don’t fit the mold. You are at the mercy and the behest of other’s people’s opinions and preferences that aren’t based on facts. You have to be sure of who you are, what you stand for, and what you are willing to do and not. God is such an incredible center and He is my anchor. Otherwise, people will go crazy in this industry. You must be sure footed and know who you are.

REF: Charisa, you mention God centering you. Who are you at your core?

Charisa: I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker. I love books. I’m about how things connect. I was that annoying kid asking why does the world work a certain way. My mother would say “Because I said so!” (laughter). She did get tired of me at times. I was always that kid. The older I get, I am still that kid. I turned 30 last year. I love being in my 30s because I feel like I met myself at 30. I know this chick — I know why she does what she does. There is a spirit of acceptance of who I am now.

I’m an artist at my core. I am a passionate person. I am very hyper-analytical; I’m a thinker’s thinker.

REF: Your future — what’s the most frustrating thing about attaining your personal goals for your future?

Charisa: Two things: (1) Not knowing. I believe God keeps some things secret from me because I can be hard-headed and stubborn. Sometimes I think I know everything. And if He gave me more information, I probably jack it up. I’m a visionary but sometimes not an executor (again, knowing you and realizations about who you are). Some have a 5 year plan. I know the long distance plan, but working on execution. The second thing: (2) Money. As an independent artist, some things take a lot of money. And you can’t crowd-fund every two months!

REF: Do you find yourself frustrated with God or just not knowing the next step?

Charisa: The process. It’s a stretching season and its never comfortable — at least not for me.

REF: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Charisa: Taking over the world (Pinky and the Brain reference)! (Laughter)

REF: And what does that look like for you?

Charisa: I say this to my manager all the time. For me, I would like to tour and play with my band all over the world. I would love my curriculum for violin other schools and programs. I have a real passion for artist development and would like to move into this more. Buy a house, a couple of kids. But, my husband says we may be done after one! 🙂

REF: Have you considered being signed to a label or do you think you thrive in your space as an independent artist?

Charisa: I’m in search for a distribution deal. That is being worked on. In terms of a production deal – if it is the right deal, then sure. I have been approached before by record labels. If it is a mutually beneficial relationship, then sure. But most of the time, it is not mutually beneficial. With the conglomeration of labels, they want 360 deals — if I sing at a church, they want a percentage of that. They have complete control and it is not mutually beneficial. These are not the days of the height of Motown where they believed in artist development. Now, they want you to have the package already set (bundled in, great visuals, great press kits, great videos and 200K followers) and then hand over the keys to the kingdom. A distribution deal is more of a partnership and I am on the hunt. I am control freak when it deals with my brand. I just don’t let just anyone in the circle. When you work so hard and you created it, you have to be a good steward of it. As a woman in this industry, sometimes I’m looked at “sideways” because of my protective nature of the brand. That’s ok with me!

REF: For you, is there a tension between sacred and secular music?

Charisa: For me, no. Both peacefully co-exist within me. I know who I am in God and I know who I am in the world. Truthfully, they are the same person. Some people who are close to me have seen me on a jazz hit in a club in New York and then see me in church on Sunday. I’m the same person wearing the same shoes!!

REF: Do you think others may have a problem with that? If so, how do you handle it?

Charisa: Sometimes. Absolutely. It’s funny. Growing up, I only listened to classical and gospel. It was not a hard rule in my house but it was my parent’s leaning. We were obedient kids (siblings), so we followed the spirit of the house. I didn’t hear a jazz record until I went away to college. I was away at college for a classical music degree. I didn’t feel any lack or void in my life about it because that was my world. To that end, when I was opening up for a big artist, it was the first show my parents saw in R&B/Jazz. My mom was so cute…she was like “Well, baby, I don’t know what you’re singing, but everybody is bopping and clapping! You must be doing something up there, Charisa!” I think they had no idea what I was doing! My mom would be on the phone like, “Guard your spirit girl because you know all kinds of demons run rampant!” That’s momma! I had to educate my own parents to a degree. It was beginning of them realizing that what I do in secular music is not compromising who I am.

I’m a married woman. There are certain things I will not sing about. I do try to codify it for those who ask. Some people are assigned to be attendants only to the house of God like nuns in a covenant. And nothing is wrong with that. That is the seal God has placed on their heart and life to serve the house of God. We absolutely need that. But, there are some of us, like my husband (James Rouse) and I who are assigned to be missionaries on the field in the music industry. And if you are a lawyer and you have clients with all kinds of backgrounds, your mission field is the legal profession. Doctors in the medical field. The same applies to musicians and artists.

God has equipped me to handle the assignment. I have been in the club where a joint is being passed around, a stinkin’ blunt and they pass it right over me. “Hey Charisa, you want a puff?” My response: “No thanks.” Their retort: “Are you sure?” My response: “Yes, I’m good thanks boo boo!” I’ve also been in environments when audience members will compliment my artistry and want to buy me a drink. They will say, “Girl, that was amazing…can I buy you a drink?” My response: “Pineapple Juice!” I don’t drink. By God’s grace, in these situations, I’ve been equipped to handle it. As a mature believer in God, the Holy Spirit helps me to discern what to do and what not to do.

We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!

As a musician, every gig is not meant for you. Other times, gigs turned into ministry opportunities. God has led me to give prophetic words to elite producers who were on the verge of suicide. God has equipped me to be the light in darkness and He continues to lavish His grace to accomplish His mission. We are screaming at the darkness and not lighting the candle! I choose to light a candle and watch the darkness flee!

REF: As a servant of God, do you believe the Church (universal) lacks power?

Charisa: Unfortunately, in many cases – yes. A cloud of glory is moving and we are not. We are creatures of habits — we like what we know and too often refuse to open up. God has been dealing with me this year about release. In order for God to release blessings into my life, I must be open. I must release that which I’ve held on to. The Church must release their clinched fists to receive the newness that God desires to bring.

REF: What advice would you give budding artists?

Charisa: Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you. Honestly, there are too many lazy musicians. They don’t want to read, learn music theory, learn singing properly or music lessons. Too often, criticism is shunned and growing as a servant is dismissed. If I was going to be a writer, I must know how to read, right? As a musician and artist, how arrogant can we be to not hone our craft? My mother was approached often with the comment, “Charisa is so gifted!” My mother would respond, “Oh thank you, that’s cute. Charisa – girl, go clean that bathroom before you watch TV.” She was not impressed with the flattery. She wanted my character and integrity to be strengthened.

Think big picture. My husband and I always have a term we share – RESIDUAL INCOME! Think big! House paid off and I am making money sitting on my rooftop reading a book. A good friend of mine said, “Charisa, you’re thinking too small.” Stop thinking too small.

Know who you are! Know whose you are! When God gives you a gift, it is just that — its a gift. It is the beginning of the story. You have a God-given responsibility to cultivate the gift He has given you.

REF: Do you think it takes all that you have to achieve that BIG PICTURE?

Charisa: Absolutely! Anything worth having is worth giving your all. It’s been a process. Even my husband and I dealt with 7 months of hell. Gigs fell through, my car was hit a police chase, my husband’s identity was stolen, on and on! We even lost $3,000 in residual income. God saw us through that season. He will see us through this season and He will see us through the next. God is with us. He never fails!

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Click here for Charisa’s Website