Championing Courage: The Chris Estrada Interview

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! 

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Click Here: Chris Estrada Ministries Website

Click Here: National Youth Leaders Experience

In Your Face: The Dangers of Boasting

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

Under Construction

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!