From smartphones to tablets, kids today have a lot of stuff. How can you remind them that all that we have comes as a gift from our gracious heavenly Father?
by Rev. Kurt Ulmer
As I was precariously balanced on one foot in the wee hours of the morning, trying to scale Little People Mountain and make my way to Weeble village without laying siege to the castle of Wooden Block forest, the thought occurred to me: “My kid has a LOT of stuff.”
Have you ever visited this magical world? We can certainly give thanks to God that we can spend some great time with our kids playing with all this stuff. But we also have the important responsibility of teaching them that life is more than these things. This is a tremendous task that cannot be accomplished without God’s help. Pray that God will give you heavenly wisdom, patience and strength to help your children seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then rest assured that His answer is always “Yes.”
The best place to begin is to take a look in the mirror of God’s Law and confess to our heavenly Father that we have often let worldly things crowd out eternal things. It may not be Nintendos, Justin Bieber tickets or the latest smartphone, but the devil and our old Adam find other things for us to fill our lives with the hope that they will bring happiness.
Review the First Commandment with your children. Confess together that there have been plenty of things that you have feared, loved and trusted above God. Read the parable of the rich fool with your children and remind them that loving stuff more than God our Father is sinful and leads us away from Him. Then remind your children that Jesus died to forgive all our sins, including the sin of loving and finding happiness in stuff rather than God.
This is also a wonderful opportunity to rejoice with your children in God’s gift of individual Confession and Absolution. There each of you can hear Jesus say, “I forgive you all your sins” (First Commandment; Luke 12:1521) through the voice of His under-shepherds (pastors).
Having confessed our sin and received forgiveness, we need to help our children understand where all our stuff comes from and why it is given to us. In the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that God is our Father and that He has made heaven and earth, including you and me. He who created us out of His love also gives us everything that we need in this life–food, clothing, shelter, family, government, even the weather–out of that same love. All these things are gifts from God that we don’t deserve and wouldn’t have if He didn’t give them to us.
Have your children list some of the many things that God has given your family and help them see that God is in the habit of giving far more than the bare minimum. Remind them that we don’t have to worry about earthly things because our Father knows that we need them and promises to give them to us (First Article of the Apostles’ Creed; Luke 12:2234).
The greatest gift, of course, is salvation: the forgiveness of all our sins and the promise of eter- nal life. The food on our plate, the money in our pockets, the labels on our clothes and the kind of phone we carry are all extras. They can be taken from us at any time. Having these really means nothing if we cannot confess with confidence that God is our Father and that He forgives us, protects us in this life and prepares us for eternal life. This is where our attention needs to be, and this is where we want our children’s attention to be, so that whether we have a lot or a little, we still know that we really have everything in Jesus.
The only way to do that is to keep the promises of God in front of them (and us). That happens most importantly by being in our Father’s house, receiving forgiveness through the preaching of His Word and feasting on the body and blood of our Savior. In the Divine Service, God works on us, rooting out greed and giving us the Holy Spirit, the only one who can keep our attention on Jesus. By faithfully receiving these gifts with your children as often as you can and whenever they are offered, not only are you setting a good example and helping them see what is most important in life, but you are bringing them where God will work on them, nourishing them, teaching them and guarding them against the love of earthly stuff.
Continue to gather around God’s Word in your home throughout the week, reading the Scriptures and calling on God as a family, praying that He would lead you to be content with what He has given you and to help you use those blessings for the benefit of others (Third Commandment; Second and Third Articles of the Creed; Luke 10:3842).
As the Word of God and the gifts that bring eternal life take greater priority in our lives, we begin to understand better that the earthly blessings God gives to us are to be used for the good of others. Most important, that means supporting the preaching of God’s Word so that others might hear the Gospel. Teach your children the importance and joy of tithing. Give them a little money that they can put into the offering plate each week to encourage the habit. Tithing is not only one of the most important ways we help our neighbor, but it is also one of the ways in which we thank God for His gifts and express our trust in His promises. And then, on top of your church offerings, find ways to support works of mercy in your community and around the world, and have your children be an active part of it. They will come to know the truth of what Jesus says in Acts 20, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments; Luke 16:1925).
May God bless you as you carry out one of the most impor- tant parts of your vocation of parent: focusing the eyes of your children on their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of sins.
> Go to www.cph.org to order A Meal for Many, a children’s book that teaches stewardship principles.
About the Author: The Rev. Kurt Ulmer is pastor of Shepherd of Peace Lutheran Church, Braidwood, Ill.