Dean Inserra: Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
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Dean InserraDean Inserra is the founding and lead pastor of CITYCHURCH, where he leads the vision and preaching. Dean was called to start a church in his hometown of Tallahassee when he was the Student Body President at Leon High School. He is passionate about reaching the city of Tallahassee with the Gospel, to see a worldwide impact made for Jesus. Dean graduated from Liberty University and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He holds a MA in Theological Studies from Midwe...more
In our quest for successful kids, is there a chance we get things ¦wrong? Author Dean Inserra challenges the vision we hand our kids of God-as-Life-Coach.
Dean Inserra: Does God Want Us to Be Happy?
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So one of my most vivid memories of you, as a mom, raising our boys—
Ann: Oh, I'm so interested to hear what this is.
Dave: It could be anything.
Ann: I know.
Dave: I mean, you were an active boy mom, which was awesome.
But no, seriously—and I'm sort of embarrassed to bring this up, because it should be me doing this; but it was you doing this—running the stadium steps at the high school with our boys.
Dave: And telling them to suck it up and get up to the top. Now, that's my perspective.
Ann: You always—yes, you weren't there—and so somehow, I just become meaner—
Dave: What do you mean I wasn’t there; it’s a vivid memory.
Ann: —and meaner over the years.
Dave: No, not mean.
Ann: Were you there? I become mean.
Dave: I was there one time; no, it wasn't mean at all. The vivid memory is you pushing our boys to excel.
Ann: Oh, oh.
Dave: That’s not mean.
Ann: Do you think it was bad that I did that?
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Ann: Well, they weren’t little—they were high school/middle school—and they were getting ready for football season. You know, I think a good work ethic is really important to us; it's a value in our home.
Dave: We used to say the “W” in Wilson stands for “Work hard.”
Ann: I think it's easy—when your kids whine and complain—it's so easy to give in; because we're tired of the whining and complaining. So yes, I was like, “Come on, guys!” At least, I did it with them; because it was hard.
Dave: Oh, no; that's the memory—you were up, you know, pounding up the steps—and you're like, “Come on; let's go!”
Ann: Well, and there was—
Dave: And they're running right behind you; it was awesome.
Ann: One of them was just whining the whole time—[I’m] like, “You can't whine! Like you can't whine. What's going to happen with your coach when you're whining the whole time?!”
Dave: Yes, that's great that it wasn't dad doing this; it was mom doing this.
But it brings up something that we're going to talk about today, which is: “What are we passing on to our children?—whether it's work hard, or our faith, or our theology, or you name it—what is the characteristic in your home that you're going to pass on to your children?” Because now, our kids are grown—they have kids of their own—and that's going to go on.
We've got the perfect guy in the studio with us today to talk about—football—that's what I want to talk about; I'm kidding. [Laughter] But Dean Inserra is with us. He’s a pastor in Florida. But I’ve got to tell you, Dean, I follow you on Twitter®/on Facebook®—you know that stuff—you're a football guy as well.
Dean: A big football guy. When you started talking about football, if you were being serious, I was all in.
Dave: I know; I saw—
Ann: —you were perking up!
Dean: Oh, big time. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, yes; and of course, you're in Tallahassee; so are you a Seminole?
Dean: I am not, actually. I see it as a good practice in being in the world, but not of it. [Laughter] I am a Miami Hurricane fan—fourth generation season-ticket holder—living in Tallahassee, Florida, where I grew up, which is major enemy territory, because of Florida State for Miami fans.
Dave: Why Miami?
Dean: My grandfather first went to his first Miami game in 1956. In my house now, my boys are the holders of the fourth generation of those season tickets. It's all our family’s ever known.
Dave: Oh, that's pretty cool.
Dean: We’re Miami Hurricane fans, yes.
Dave: That's pretty cool. So even as you hear a story about sort of our boys becoming high school football players, and a mom doing that, I knew you could relate to it.
Dean: Definitely; and I have a high school football player, right now, at my house.
Dave: Do you really?
Dean: Yes; my oldest is in ninth grade, played high school football.
Dave: That's a lot of fun; isn’t it?
Dean: It's been great; it's a blast; a really fun life phase.
Dave: Yes; I coached at our local high school. It was just/it was just a joy. But of course, we're getting off—we're not here to talk about football today—which I could do.
Ann: You could do this.
Dave: And this is all going to get edited out, because I know we're here to talk about something much more important.
Dean is a pastor in Tallahassee of City Church and wrote a really interesting book, which I think has got a great title: Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity. It's really interesting—because it's not really a parenting/marriage book; but it applies, big time, to parenting, and marriage, and family, and what we're talking about—what you're passing on to [the next] generation as you're trying to make disciples in your home. So talk about a little bit about the premise behind why you wrote this book.
Dean: Yes, it’s about what I call the new prosperity gospel that I've just seen infiltrate in all different areas of life, especially in the church/especially among young people. A lot of college students go to the church where I pastor.
When we hear about the old prosperity gospel—and I say “old”; it still exists—but kind of the traditional, I guess is the better way to put it—is the old kind of health and wealth idea that God wants you to be healthy, get you out of debt, and make you wealthy—you know, that kind of idea.
The new prosperity gospel is the opposite of that. It's very cool; it's very trendy; it's very hip; it's very polished; it's very social media savvy. Rather than telling you that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, God almost exists to be the One that helps you reach your personal potential—a kind of self-help sort of idea of Christianity—that God’s a life coach type of figure that exists to want to make your greatest dreams come true. We're seeing that messaging really, I think, filter all over the Christian sphere in America.
I think we need to really kind of pay attention to it, because I think a discipleship crisis could be coming if we don't get our hands around exactly what's being taught in this messaging.
Ann: What do you mean by a discipleship crisis with this area? What could happen?
Dean: I worry for/we still haven't seen the full results of this—it’s still fairly new—but I worry for a generation, especially, who are going to maybe hold God to promises that He never made. In the Scriptures, we don't see God telling us that He exists for our personal happiness/that He wants us to achieve our wildest dreams—not that there's anything wrong with achieving your wildest dreams—I wanted to be a pastor of a local church my entire life. I'm living my dream; right? I thank God for that, but God didn't promise me that I was going to be able to do that.
So I just worry that a crisis could be coming, when people believe that God exists for them to have their—I guess you could say—“moment in the sun”/”best life now for the rest of their life,” and it doesn't actually happen. Then what? How are they going to think about God when that takes place in their life?
Dave: I remember—I think I'm right—reading Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman—
Dean: Yes; great book.
Dave: —years ago. He's been on our program. I think it's in the beginning of the book—and you know, I was pastoring for 30 years—so I related to the story. He said he remembered a guy, who stopped coming to his church. He sent in a comment of why he stopped coming or something. So he [pastor]—and I couldn't believe he did this—but he says, “I got his number and I called him.” He said, “Hey, so tell me why you stopped coming to my church.” I’ll never forget reading this comment; he said the guy said, “Well, to be honest, your sermons started messing with my life.”
Dean: [Laughter] Yes.
Dave: And it's sort of what you're saying; right? It's like—and Kyle’s like—“That's sort of what's supposed to happen,”—right?—“When Jesus comes into your life, He's going to turn over the tables in a sense. He's going to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to start changing things in your life.’”
Is that what you're talking about?—it's like: “Jesus is not your life coach.”
Dean: Yes; He's the One that told us to deny ourselves, not to find ourselves. [Laughter] He wants us to find ourselves in Him.
But much of the messaging that works today—and so much of this is done in the name of pragmatism—so the thought is: “If it works, let's do it.” And people make comments like: “Well, look at how many people are coming to their church services,” “Look at how many followers on Instagram®.” We think, because of that, the old phrase: “They must be doing something right.” But that's really, I would say, a troubling mindset; because we're saying that: “If it works by the world standards,”—as in crowd success—“then it must be true.”
We have to be very careful of that; because we follow a Savior who, after He fed 5,000 people, He then called them really to give their lives/their very lives to follow Christ. Many of them walked away; and He looks at His disciples, and He says, “Are y'all going to leave too?” Then, Peter replies, “Where are we going to go?”/like: “You're the One.” If we really actually do believe Jesus is the One He claimed to be, then He's worth our very lives.
And what I see happen is, when John the Baptist had Jesus come on the scene for the first time, and publicly—and his response, outside of: “There's the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; He's the One,”—his response to that was that: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
Now, I’ve never met a Christian, in my entire life, who would argue with that. Every Christian I know would say, “Amen,” to that. But in the new prosperity gospel—what I call pop Christianity—we are fine with Jesus increasing as long as we increase with Him.
Dave: How do you think that gets in our homes as a parent?
Dean: I think it can have us get confused over what is actually the goal of our parenting. Is the goal to make disciples?—as in: “We can't control our kid’s personal decision to follow Christ; we absolutely can influence it,”—right?
Dean: “And we can point them in the direction of Christ,” which I hope is the call of every Christian parent: to cultivate a home where children are pointed, ultimately, to the love of God and are interested in Jesus.
But what happens, when the new prosperity gospel infiltrates our lives, it really does impact every single area, including our parenting; because then we think the exact same thing must be true of our kids: that they need to achieve all of these things in order for us to be successful as parents, and be viewed as successful, and also for them to have a full life.
So parents—rather than often going all in on their kid’s discipleship, and church attendance, and Bible reading—instead, we go all in on our kids leisure activities, or their sports, their friend groups, their extra-curriculars. Because we say things like: “I just want to give them every opportunity,”—is the kind of language they use—but by that, we mean for what?—like to be famous?—to be successful?
And look at what we’re really seeing happen as a result of that. I mean, how many church families—as in professing Christians, who are part of a local church—they're missing church regularly? I don't mean two or three times a year; I don't even mean once every six weeks. I'm talking about regularly; because: dance competitions, cheerleading competitions, travel baseball. Are any of those things in themselves wrong?—of course not. I think all those things are great for competition, for community, for building character/all those types of things. But there is no way that we can say, with a straight face, that our child’s discipleship is our number-one priority if we divorce that from the local church.
People like to put excuses around it: “We don't have to have church in a building; we can meet/we have a Bible study on the/in the hotel before the game.” Again, I want to assume the best and think that people sincerely really do believe that; but that's an unrecognizable response in the New Testament. The New Testament is all written in the context of local church gathering; that's the entire idea of the Scriptures. I worry for parents that their entire lives now revolve around their kids’ activities more, and more, and more, rather than their family life revolving around the local church.
It sounds crazy to even suggest something like that, because we've gone so far that it's considered normal. I just want to encourage families out there just to rethink exactly: “What it is that we're communicating to our kids is the most important thing?” Because if we're being honest, we're just—“What's the goal? Why are we doing all this?”—it's so you think your kid can play in college, get drafted—whatever it might be. All those things are wonderful things. I hope that for people; that's a great thing. But is that our ultimate goal as parents? And if it is, we need to reevaluate how we're thinking about these types of things.
It is possible to be able to say: “We're going to be committed to the local church, and we're going to play sports, and do well at the same time.” Like it's possible to do both those things; but far too often, we choose one or the other.
Dave: Well, here's the question—you’re a dad—“What would you say is your goal, or a parent’s goal, as they're thinking about raising their sons and daughters to be men and women of faith?”
Dean: Yes, I like to give a disclaimer: “This is not preacher-speak when I say that's right; this is just the three of us just talking real talk here. I'm not trying to sound impressive or give some spiritual answer that a pastor should probably give when it comes to this.”
We really had to come to grips with what this is, because there's opportunities for my boys to play travel baseball. Again, I’m not against travel baseball; but we had to say, “No,”—not just because I’m a pastor—but because:
- One, we don't want our siblings to have/their siblings have to, every weekend, go sit on a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in the hot sun, and just not have a life of their own.
- Then second, and most importantly, is actually because of our local church. We think it's a priority to be there. In the same way—where someone could fall behind in soccer, because they're not playing travel ball—what if Christian parents, instead, were concerned they’re going to fall behind in their small group?—
Dean: —in terms of the Bible study.
We just don't think that way. We've gone/our American minds have gone so far away from this idea of what it means to be part of a biblical community that we don't even realize it anymore.
I have a 15-year-old boy, a 11-year-old boy, and a 7-year-old girl. I will feel like we were successful if, when my kids graduate from high school: they are walking with the Lord; that they have a relationship with Jesus; that they love the local church; and then that is repeated in their own lives, when it comes to their kids, going forward. I want to have kids leave my house that love Jesus and love the local church.
Ann: I think every listener would long for that. Now, take us to the next step. How do we develop that?
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear Dean’s response in just a minute; but first, I wanted to let you know about a special group of people who help make conversations like today’s possible. They're called FamilyLife Partners. Partners are a generous community of people, who believe in our mission at FamilyLife, and give financially every month.
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Alright; now, back to Dean Inserra and how we, as parents, can help our kids love Jesus and love the local church too.
Dean: So one, being a pastor specifically, is that I want them to make sure their identity is first, not in that—but before they’re preacher’s kids—they're God’s kids. I don’t want them to think that/so we don't pull the: “Oh, you’re a pastor/pastor’s son,” “…a pastor’s daughter. Hey, shape up; we’re about to pull in the parking lot at church.” We want the church to be a joyful place for them. I love the fact they want to be there; that's one of my favorite things in the world.
So for me, if I'm a church member, and not just a pastor—I’m a member of a church, but I wasn't/if I was not in the full-time ministry—I would choose a church that I think my kids would be excited to be a part of. I would want that to be based on what they believe—like what they actually teach and, also, what they do with it——that created a local church that actually makes the gospel come alive for them in their lives and takes next generation ministry seriously.
So in our home right now, we are really just trying the best we can to make sure the local church is a joy; because we just don't think a vibrant Christian faith can be separate from that—we think they really are linked together—and in that, that they have relationships; and they have older college students that they know, and speak into their lives; and mentors.
Really, it is being champions of the local church—and not just because their dad happens to work there—but because we think that's such a central part of the Christian life. Show me a family that champions local church—is a part of a local church that's a gospel-fueled place of grace that elevates the name of Christ—and I'm going to show you a family that those students, more than not, when they graduate from high school, that they're still welcoming Jesus into college.
Dave: Hey, talk about what you just said there—that was a loaded statement—“a gospel-fueled”—I think you said—“gospel-fueled place of grace/center of grace.” Talk about what you mean by that, because I'm guessing that's a little different than what you were saying the new prosperity gospel is.
Dean: Yes; the new prosperity gospel—I think they believe in grace; I think they're on the same team as us; I think they're Christians—I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. I just think the messaging has gotten hijacked by the American dream. So rather than the gospel being the central part of the worship service—the work of Christ, how we respond to that, God's grace in our lives—the central part becomes you unlocking your potential. It all kind of goes back to you, like: “What you’re going to do…”; “How you're going to achieve this…”; “What your week is going to be like…” “What goals you’re going to set…”; “What obstacles you’re going to overcome…”—rather than the messaging that: “Jesus has already overcome all those obstacles.”
And what's the obstacle we all face?—separation from God. And because of Christ and His work on the cross, we don't face that obstacle anymore; we have a relationship with our Lord. We're reconciled to Him; so now, we can go live our lives to the fullest/abundantly without any pressure on us to have to achieve and succeed. Because all the achievements/all we'll ever need in life has already taken place in Christ and what He's done for us.
So the weight’s now off your back, like: “I don't have to be amazing, because God’s amazing.” I want that kind of messaging to happen in all of our churches around the country, where you don't feel like you're the answer to your own personal joy and fulfillment, that God Himself is the answer. It looks like this:
- I don't think there's more to be gained by disobeying God than there is to be gained by obeying him.
- I don't think I have to go around God for the things I'm looking for in my life rather than right to Him.
Those are two lies that go back to the Garden of Eden. I want to know that, all the things I really am looking for, that the actual greatest blessing in life is God. And that's why I care so much about this and say it's a discipleship issue; because our discipleship is going to flourish when we believe the greatest blessing that God gives us is Himself in relationship with Him.
Ann: It reminds me; we use an illustration of a tandem bike where, when I came to faith as a 16-year-old, I knew nothing—didn't grow up in the church—but I heard the gospel. And so, in my very young faith, not knowing what it looked like, I said a prayer of: “Jesus, I want You; I need You. I confess my sin. I surrender to You.” But in my head, it was almost like: “Come on; get on the back of this tandem bike and I'll take us. You're just on the back; and I'm going to go where I want to go and do what I want to do, and You'll just kind of be this little blessing for me.”
And then that can be super frustrating; because it's: one, it's really what you're saying: “It's living out my dreams, hoping that Jesus will bless my dreams.” And it just became frustration. Like, first of all, I feel guilty I'm doing the same old things; but He's watching.
And so there came a point—and I think this is true for all of us—there comes a point where we have to surrender all/of saying, “No, God; this isn't about me. This is about putting You in the front. I'm along for the ride. You know who I am; You formed my innermost being,” and “I will follow You wherever You go. And I will lay all of my hopes, my desires and my dreams at Your feet, knowing that You know me/that You love me. And I will/I'll go to Detroit and be a pastor’s wife,”—which sounds terrible; and yet,—
Dave: It doesn’t sound that terrible. [Laughter]
Dean: The Detroit Lions aren't that bad. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, this year they are.
Dean: Yo, baby.
Ann: This year they are. [Laughter]
But I thought it was going to be horrible. But when we follow God—as you were saying—you're a pastor, and you are living out your dream; but you have surrendered your dreams to the King. I think that makes a big difference.
Dave: Yes; and by the way—I’ll just add this—if you've never seen Ann give this illustration, visually, what she just said, we'll put a link. You’ve got to see this, because I'm on that bike with her; because I end up being Jesus on the back seat. [Laughter] And then she puts me on the front seat, and then she crawls all over my head, trying to show how we try to tell Jesus how to live our life.
You're a parent of a teenager who is—in that stage of our lives [as teenagers], it is as me-centered as anything—it's where we/I mean, it's even encouraged, like: “It's about you.” So, as a dad—and you and your wife—as you parent a teenager, how do you think you can instill in them the real gospel-centered, Jesus-first, view of life?
Dean: Yes; one, I think it has to be modeled.
Dean: So I want them to see how I am towards their mom/my wife. I mean, how I talk to her/respond to her; and I'm not perfect there. But just that that constant awareness that that is the relationship they're watching. And if I'm ever going to claim to live the unselfish life, it's not going to be removed from how I am with their mom/with my wife. So I think that's really important.
And then it really is a constant reminder. I heard someone say one time: “When you think they're sick of hearing it, they're getting it for the first time,”—of just really what it means. It can almost be cliché to say: “It's not about you,” or that type of thing.
Dave: “Get over yourself.”
Dean: “Get over yourself.” But that is a constant reminder we have to have in our homes. But we can't tell them that if we treat them as if they are the center of the universe. My generation—I'm 40; my generation and younger of parents—I think, it’s a real struggle. I don't know exactly where it comes from; I don't think there's actually perfect data to find out.
But my generation really has taken parenting to be about making sure their kids are happy, and fulfilled, and have everything they want all the time. So why wouldn't your kids think they're the center of the universe when you regularly treat them as if they are?
We need to make sure that we're okay with our kids facing a setback; we're okay with them having some adversity in their lives/of being a failure at something. That when people are so on edge about making sure that never, ever happens for their kids, that we miss really critical parenting moments—about what it means to grow up, and to endure, and to face hardship—all the things the Bible talks about that are realities in life of the believer.
Scriptures never tell us that we'll fail to face adversity; yet, we raise kids in an environment that's the opposite of what the Scriptures promised them—that everything is always going to be perfect and as you want it all the time—when that's just not reality. So don't be afraid for your kids: to mess up, to not make the team, to not be in the exact group they want to be in. It will be hard, and there'll be some tears. And of course, you want what's best for your kids; “But is what's best for your kids always success in the moment?”—I don't think so.
Ann: I don't either. And I think the greatest shaping happens when our kids face adversity, and they have to trust Jesus:—
Dave: God uses that to make disciples.
Dean: —when they're not getting playing time, when they didn't get invited to something, when things don't go as they want, when they don't have the new gadget.
Dean: That's a maturity textbook.
Dave: And He uses that in our own life as well. [Laughter]
Dean: Definitely; I don't like it, but definitely.
Ann: So true.
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. Dean's book is called Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity. You can get it at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F,” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Dean Inserra about how God's goal for marriage is much more than just happiness. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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