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It’s that time of year once again! The expected “New You” slogans are populating the airwaves and saturating the marketplace. Whenever we approach a new year, the predictable appeals to look forward to new beginnings are always meeting us. And if you’re a millennial (approximately ages 18 to 34), you’re expected to be on the frontlines of change and pursuing new ventures in 2017. As a fellow millennial, I can attest to the burden and expectation to reach further and aim higher. With every challenge I’ve faced, my faith in God has been an anchor through life’s ups and downs. Here’s my challenge to you: While the weight of expectation increases, why not give faith in God a chance in this New Year? Here are some quick tips in activating your faith in 2017:

 

Step #1: Digest God’s Word – everyday!

I wish I could tell you there were some quick way to grow your faith. I must report that there is no shortcut to faith in God! But, there is a sure way to grow your faith starting today – digest God’s Word everyday. I liken it to eating food. Sometimes, I admittedly eat my food too fast. As a result, I deny myself the opportunity to enjoy the taste of the food for the satisfying a momentary hunger. I’m learning to chew my food properly so that it can digest properly. I apply the same approach to the Word of God. It is our living Bread! Why rush it?

If you already do this, I want to applaud you and encourage you to keep going! If this hasn’t been a habit for you, start today! Rather than taking large sums of Scripture, take a portion and reflect on the passage. Search faith scriptures on Google via BibleGateway.com or Blble.com and read these life-giving verses. If you’re hungry for God to move in your life without hindrance, build your faith in His Word. It’s His promises!

 

Step #2: Devote time in prayer.

I used to think I couldn’t pray because I heard other people pray publicly. From my observations, I did not measure up at all! Their poetry and prose was on point! They talked to God with eloquent language. I thought I was at a poetry jam! But, I laid down on those insecurities to pick up the mantle of prayer. It’s talking with God and listening to God. I know our schedules and lives can be hectic and quite overwhelming. But, the Giver of your life wants to connect with you. He wants to hear your heart and desires that you hear His.

Before ending my seminary pastoral internship in Trenton, NJ, a member of the church came up to me and lovingly said, “Ryan, God misses your times with Him.” My heart sank. I knew exactly what they meant. It wasn’t that I failed to pray. It was how I was praying. I wasn’t all in. I wasn’t completely devoted to sharing the depths of my heart and hearing what grieves God. Almost a decade later, I remember those loving, corrective words. I never thought about how God felt when I didn’t seek Him. Faith is built when you trust the Father in relationship and conversation.

 

Step #3: Develop an appetite for faith-filled risks!

My fellow millennial: Face your giants. Confront your fears. Courageously address the elephant in the room. Look around. There are many examples of people taking risks without any evidence that it will work out for their good. They’re making an attempt to try something new or as Aerosmith would put it, “Living on the Edge”! How much more should we be taking risks for God that is rooted in our faith? This kind of living requires an appetite for it. If you are used to playing it safe, you’ll find that your hunger to try new things wane. You may even be tempted to think, “That’s crazy. It doesn’t take all of that!” But that’s the crazy, radical, mind-boggling deal! It does TAKE ALL OF THAT and ALL OF YOU!

The biggest obstacle standing in our way is that four lettered word: FEAR. It is the enemy of faith, handicapping us from pursuing our purpose and calling. It will keep us on the sidelines, unwilling to open up and share our deepest passions and dreams. But it doesn’t have to be this way! When the voice of doubt says, “You can’t! Don’t bother!” turn to the voice of God that says, “You can! Move forward in Me!” Surround yourself with faith-filled adventurers! Keep them close and if you don’t have it in your circle, seek them out! Faith is contagious and will spread like wildfire when you are around those who keep the fire lit with their devotion and discipline. Before taking a faith-filled risk in 2017, I’m encouraged by the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:17:

“God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting Him really lives.” (The Message)

As you navigate the hopes and challenges of 2017, I rest in the confidence that this three-point guide for faith will help you move into new realms of thought, creativity and passion as you pursue your goals and your purpose. And remember – the world is waiting on you. Let’s take a faith-filled adventure in 2017! -RF

PursuitNYC

Check out the new Pursuit NYC podcast // Episode 24. Sam Won and I share on leadership, character and lessons learned along the way.

Pursuit NYC Podcast

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

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!

—————

Click here for Charisa’s Website

 

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. – 2 Corinthians 11:30

IYFIn our celebrity-driven culture, the insatiable need for attention and self-aggrandizement grows at a quickening pace. With all the modes of communication today, it’s hard to keep up! With the opportunity to share life with one another in several ways, we can find ourselves running into the traps of being self-consummed with our world, our goals and our successes. The worst form of this is when we deny we are promoting ourselves, wrapping our comments and stories in false humility.

Allow me to explain…and let’s see if you have run into this from time to time:

EXAMPLE #1: “Boasting In Success and Then Giving Glory To God!”

Have you ever heard someone remark on their successes, what they accomplished and how they were so overwhelmed by their many talents…then bookend their comments with “I give all glory to God!”? Tagging God at the end of your verbal resume as if you are tagging a photo reeks of a pride cover-up! When someone shares a testimony or God’s blessings in their life, we should collectively celebrate the goodness and faithfulness of God. But, there is a vast difference between a bragging about the wonders of the Lord in your life and bragging about what a wonder you are! 

EXAMPLE #2: “Boasting In Success — Already Knowing The Person You Share It With Would Like The Same Thing”

I don’t hear this talked about often, but here it goes. If you know you have received a measure of success in an area, it should beckon a humility and a call to inspire others to reach (if not exceed) what you have been enabled to do. Throughout my life, I have had family members, mentors and friends inspire me through their hard work, tenacity, and healthy ambition to achieve excellence. I’ve learned the art of dismissing excuses and tackling the challenges that lie ahead. For that, I am eternally grateful.

However, if you already know someone is praying, working hard and striving for something you have received, why would you boast in their face? Why mention it every time you are in conversation with them (directly, indirectly or in a subtle manner not to raise ‘red flags of pride’)? Why deliberately provoke jealousy, envy and unhealthy competition? For what? Isn’t your success satisfying enough? The danger of this type of boasting is that your success and blessings are not enough. Unfortunately, too many find pleasure in another’s sufferings. If you cannot find satisfaction in your achievements without trashing someone else, you will never be truly successful. 

EXAMPLE #3: “Boasting Incessantly About You and Then Wonder Why You Have “HATERS”!” 

My generation has coined the term haters. My parent’s generation used the word backstabbers. The lyrics to a classic song by The O’Jays rings true for many: “They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place, the backstabbers!” In this life, you will have life-long backers and supporters. You will also face those that may not be fond of you — for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are out of your control. But, for that which is in your wheelhouse, why provoke people to not like you? It’s as if our success is measured solely on how many haters we claim we have. Our successes and blessings should be measured on how we love, not how much hate surrounds us.

BOAST IN YOUR WEAKNESS

There are many other examples of boasting that is veiled in false humility, cloaked in false platitudes, and surrounded by wrong motives. But, I don’t hear much about boasting in what Scripture speaks of — your weakness. Boasting in your weakness is not popular. Who wants to willingly reveal their struggles and failings? It takes a level of maturity to share the whole self: the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. In 2 Corinthians 11:30, the Apostle Paul makes it plain – boast in your weakness. Paul was embarrassed by a late night escape from Damascus in a basket, but he shared it. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, he speaks of the the “thorn in his flesh” but how God’s grace is sufficient; in his weakness, God is strong.

Imagine if we (you and I) would be so bold to boast in our weakness. Our sharing would not strive to “bleed on” others for the sake of sympathy, but sharing for the purpose of glorifying God and His strength. The Apostle Paul’s example of boasting in his weakness showed his strength. Rather than taking credit for his great exploits, He gave all glory to God. The record is clear — Paul is a major hero in the New Testament Scriptures. But, his heroism was not marked solely by his missionary resume; it was and is demonstrated in his humanity.

Let’s boast in our God, what He has and is doing in our lives. Let our lives shine brightly — for Him. Share your testimony but for the sake of the Gospel. Inspire others to achieve greatness rather than lording your success over them. As we are in this learning journey together, I pray we avoid the dangers of boasting for the wrong reasons and embrace the joy of boasting in our God! – RF

You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is! – Bishop T.D. Jakes #ProjectGideon

Under ConstructionFor two days, my wife and I had the unique opportunity to join 500 young leaders from across the country and the world for a mentorship program entitled “Project Gideon”. Under the leadership and vision of Bishop T.D. Jakes, this two-day mentoring intensive serves to identify the core of who we are and pursue our God-given vision with intentionality. During the course of one session, Bishop Jakes made a statement that was written on my heart: “You can’t say IT IS FINISHED and don’t know what IT is!” The room of emerging leaders nodded and voiced their agreement. My vocal AMEN was mixed with conviction and a challenge: “Ryan, do you know what IT is?”

In John 19:30, Jesus is recorded crying out “It is finished!” as He was crucified on the cross. This statement is one word in the Greek: tetelestai. In the context of the Scriptures, Jesus literally cried out “The price is all paid!” What price? Jesus had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He gave up His life that we may be saved from our sinful nature and have abundant life with Him. He knew His mission, His calling and His assignment. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jesus knew it was finished once and for all. Jesus is a leader who knows when the job is complete.

In many respects, our daily routine dictates whether a job is complete or incomplete. The items left undone have a direct impact on our day, our future and those around us. We may even pride ourselves in completing our checklist for the week. But, like Jesus, our lives and those around us depend on whether our vision and/or assignment is complete. There is an argument to be made that our work is not complete until we reach eternity. But, our goals and vision points should not stay perpetually in “incomplete” status until eternity when the lives of this generation hang in the balance. It’s hard to confess that the lack of discipline and forward thinking has left many visionless.

I concluded with humility that I am under construction. The destination is clear but the roads need to be paved, the lines need to be painted, and the potholes need to be filled. And you may be in the same place. Sometimes we may be driving too fast to realize that God wants to “pave our roads”. Admittedly, I don’t even like being in the middle of construction, especially during rush hour traffic. “Shouldn’t this be done already?” or “Why would they do this work now?” have come out of my mouth from time to time. In order for a highway or building to have a strong foundation, it takes time. You cannot rush the process of quality.

Rushing the construction God is doing in your life is bypassing critical work in your character. The temptation to reach your destination quickly is strong, especially in our culture of “get quick” methods. But, like an expert engineer, God’s construction in your life considers every possible contingency or issue that may arise. When tough times come, you can rest assured that your foundation is strong enough to not only endure but overcome! I pray that you embrace the “under construction” label. Don’t begrudge it or dismiss it. Watch God make all things new in and through you!

 

“A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” Augustine

 

ReflectionsRL1In my junior year of high school, I entered into the world of high school musical theatre. The headlining musical for the year was Sweet Charity and my debut role was the character Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck. This dark, mysterious and self-described oracular character demanded a performance equal to the captivating script.

Rehearsing lines with my fellow cast mates proved to be an experience I will never forget. I watched in awe how the character came to life in each scene through the music, dance and dialogue with flawless execution. It was quite fascinating how in the course of a play, you can become a whole new character and no one would know who you really are.

Once the play was over, I realized how easy it is to pretend you are someone else. Rehearse the lines, mimic the mannerisms, copy the tone and tenor of the voice and there you have it: a new character, a new identity. But, the new character is not the real you. The inner struggles are covered, the dark secrets remain hidden and the personality you want to show becomes visible upon demand.

We can say we are adapting or adjusting, but let’s be honest – we are lying! We are lying about who we are. We hide the best of ourselves to avoid risking showing the vulnerable sides of our being. As a result, very few if anyone knows who we are and quite often, that’s how we like it. Who really wants to see who we really are? I’ve got too much baggage and junk. What would be their reaction? Will they still love us?

The truth: When you deceive others, you deceive yourself and the unique purpose God created you for. The temptation to present a false self will only lead to moving further and further away from your identity. Rehearsing the lines of someone else’s script for your life requires you to play a fake character. Living out God’s plan for your life requires you to show real character.

Today, let’s make the choice to put the scripts away that put us in a box. This choice will take courage. It will take discipline. It will take sacrifice. But, the sacrifice is much greater than forfeiting your God-given identity – any day. Don’t surrender who you were created to be to become what you think others want you to be.

What lines have you been rehearsing to hide the real you? Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the deception can imprison you to be someone you are not. In this year, let’s collectively make the bold choice to be who we are without false pretenses. Let’s open ourselves up to learn, grow and mature. But, for the sake of yourself, those you love and the God who created you – don’t forfeit your identity.