Click below to download the Cornerstone Connections leader’s guide and student lesson. This week’s resources also include two lesson study options which offer different ways of looking at the topic. Each lesson option includes opening activities, Scripture passages, and discussion questions.
Place a collection of various kinds of balls inside a container up front that your participants can’t see inside of. Choose a volunteer and ask them to come up and stand next to it. Explain that when they’re ready, you’re going to start tossing the contents of the container to them one at a time. Their goal is to catch (and hold onto) as many objects as they can. It doesn’t matter exactly how they manage to hold them in their arms, as long as they collect as many as possible. (Feel free to adapt these rules however you want for your group.)
The volunteer has five seconds to catch a ball and get themselves ready to catch another one. If they aren’t by the time five seconds is up, throw another ball anyway. They have 60 seconds total. The game ends either when the total time is up, or they drop a total of three balls.
If you have time, you can ask another volunteer to come up and try to beat this total by going through the same process themselves. Be sure to gather enough balls to use for this activity ahead of time (even if you need to buy very cheap ones, like rubber balls). It’s also ideal to have several different varieties and sizes of balls as well.
With our topic being greed this week, the meaning of activity should be obvious!
The larger your group, the better this activity can be. A group of 15-20 people is ideal, but you can still do it with a group as small as five people as well. Less than five probably won’t work.
Start by choosing one volunteer and asking them to come up front and juggle two balls. If they are successful at that, try having them juggle with three balls. If they aren’t able to do that successfully, you could keep choosing volunteers until you find someone who can. If so, have that person progress to juggling four balls next—which it’s likely no one will be able to do at all.
Next, have everyone in the room join in so the activity becomes group juggling. Ask your participants to stand in a loose circle with everyone facing toward the center. Explain that each of them just needs worry about keeping track of two people: the person who’s going to pass the ball to them, and the person they’re going to pass the ball to next. The reason for this is that when everyone has been assigned these two people, they can pass several balls around the group at once!
Give the participants just one ball to pass around at first. Time them to see how fast they can send the ball through the circuit (it will be challenging to get a good time if anyone drops the ball). Once they’ve successfully repeated this process a few times, add in a second ball for them to move through the group. Then throw a third, and a fourth, until your participants are juggling more balls together than anyone could by themselves!
You can also use the original song we’re recommending in our list of music options this week to show a countdown leading up to the start of the program. Start this video exactly five minutes before Youth Sabbath School is set to begin (and make sure you’ll be ready to start when it’s done!). The first half of this song will provide some instrumental music for the participants to listen to as they come in, but at 2:27 the singing will begin. Hearing these lyrics will help your participants sing it better later, as sometimes it can take a lot of repetition for people to learn new songs. As the leader, feel free to hum or sing along so your participants can get familiar with the song faster and take it to heart.
As you consider our lesson for today, be careful not to assume right off that none of it is relevant to you! You may not think you’re struggling or have ever struggled with greed before, but everyone does at some point. It’s so natural for humans to feel it that we sometimes don’t realize it’s motivating us at all! If it is a problem for you and you just aren’t aware enough of it yet, hopefully our lesson this week will open your eyes.
Create a video clip that illustrates our lesson for this week. Remember to create a list of follow-up questions based on the video as well.
This 2:09-minute video clip stands in contrast to this week’s theme of greed.
This very short clip (just under a minute long) is from the 1987 movie Wall Street, and features a character making the claim that “greed is good.” This idea stands in contrast to our lesson this week, which holds that greed is a bottomless pit—not a good thing.
These are more approaches to the same topic featured in the Teacher’s Guide, but just a different way of looking at it. Expect activities to illustrate the topic followed by some questions.
BASED ON NUMBERS 22:1-24:13
God is playful. Consider God’s creations on this planet, such as puppies and kittens. Who would have thought of making a giraffe’s long neck, an elephant’s trunk, or the mammal we call a platypus? Who created humor? Who made each face unique?
The Bible includes examples of God’s playfulness. Remember the time when Peter asked Jesus about the temple tax, and Jesus told him to go fishing? The first fish Peter caught contained a coin which covered the temple tax for both Peter and Jesus. And what about the time when the disciples brought in a giant catch of fish after a catch-free night? God is playful.
Because we are made in God’s image, we have every reason to be playful as well. But playfulness goes awry when it is manipulated to deceive, demean, or devalue.
But this is exactly what Balaam did, as recorded in our Bible passage for today’s lesson. Are you familiar with Balaam’s story? You may have thought Balaam was trying to be playful, but he was actually avoiding listening to God.
Let’s have two volunteers tell Balaam’s story, at least what they remember about it. You may think that this was a funny situation in which Balaam’s donkey talked to him, and Balaam talked back. What led to Balaam’s dialogue with his donkey? And what happened after that exchange?
Choose one or two volunteers to tell Balaam’s story in two minutes or less. If you have more than one person tell the story, have one go first and the second person can then add details or nuances that the first person omitted.
If you say something like, “You remember the story of Balaam, right?” the youth will readily admit that they do, especially if they grew up hearing Bible stories. But they may not know or recall all of the details. Recounting what they remember can interest them in a fresh reading so they pick up details they may have forgotten or never noticed.
After hearing one or two of the youth tell their version of Balaam’s story, go to the source to see what Scripture actually says. You can affirm what they got right, supplement with the biblical account, and highlight parts that are significant but possibly skipped by the story-tellers.
Divide the story into segments because it goes for 3+ chapters, beginning in Numbers 22. Start with Numbers 22:1-8.
Recruit someone who is sure to beat anyone and everyone in your Youth Sabbath School in arm-wrestling. Have them go against the strongest volunteer in your group. Prep the strong invitee to arm wrestle more volunteers, possibly making it appear difficult at times, maybe letting their hand go down close to the table only to bring it back up and eventually win. Keep in mind that the strong person will feel weaker each time they play, and interludes between matches gives them time to recuperate.
Playing games with God to manipulate him turns out to not be any fun, and the outcome will likely be negative. Consider two other passages to see how Balaam and the sword meet again. See Numbers 31:8 and Revelation 2:12-17. (If you want to read two others references to Balaam in Scripture, check out 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 11.)
God is playful. But when we don’t listen to God or attempt to play the type of games intended to manipulate him, we can end up getting hurt. We can’t outsmart God, and neither could Balaam. When we listen to God and pursue a real relationship with him, we can join his playfulness and that’s really fun!
Listen to the song “Playing Marbles with Diamonds” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vewL4-TKF0g.
God revealed to Balaam’s donkey something Balaam couldn’t see. Ask God to reveal to you something that you can’t see. Assess how well you’ve been listening to God and whether you’ve been playing negative games with him. Spend some time in prayer. Once you have done this, take some time to experience God’s playfulness. Do this on Sabbath afternoon by going out in God’s creation and delighting in his playfulness. Create a time-lapse video on cloud movement or flowers that follow the sun during the afternoon, watch the flow of a river or stream, observe a baby or animal, or join in their natural desire to play. Take God seriously so you can then play the way God does.
BASED ON NUMBERS 22:1-25:18
We’ve all had moments where we felt forgetful or oblivious, haven’t we? Have you ever spent a long time looking for your cell phone, only to realize that it was in your hand or your pocket the whole time? Or, have you ever left your glasses or sunglasses on top of your head, forgotten they were there, and then searched for them for an embarrassingly long time before you finally realized where they were? To anyone else looking on, you probably looked pretty oblivious!
There are plenty of instances in the Bible where characters have oblivious moments as well. One of them can be found in the story of the twelve spies sent to check out Canaan (which we studied recently). Ten of the twelve came back reporting that the Israelites wouldn’t be able to enter the Promised Land because the “giants” already living there would defeat them (see Numbers 13:27-14:2).
There’s also one in the Bible passage we’re going to read today! Let’s start with the first part, found in Numbers 22:1-7. Here’s how it reads in The Message (although if you want to follow along with a different version, feel free):
1 The People of Israel marched on and camped on the Plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho.
2-3 Balak son of Zippor learned of all that Israel had done to the Amorites. The people of Moab were in a total panic because of Israel. There were so many of them! They were terrorized.
4-5 Moab spoke to the leaders of Midian: “Look, this mob is going to clean us out—a bunch of crows picking a carcass clean.”
Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent emissaries to get Balaam son of Beor, who lived at Pethor on the banks of the Euphrates River, his homeland.
5-6 Balak’s emissaries said, “Look. A people has come up out of Egypt, and they’re all over the place! And they’re pressing hard on me. Come and curse them for me—they’re too much for me. Maybe then I can beat them; we’ll attack and drive them out of the country. You have a reputation: Those you bless stay blessed; those you curse stay cursed.”
7 The leaders of Moab and Midian were soon on their way, with the fee for the cursing tucked safely in their wallets.
Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot about Balaam. Some people in Jewish tradition take the phrase “Balaam, son of Beor” to mean that he was Laban’s grandson. If they’re correct, that would mean Jacob was Balaam’s uncle, and Balaam knew all about the Israelites and how they were God’s chosen people.
Because the Israelites had now defeated both Sihon and the Amorites, as well as Og and his army from Bashan, Balak the king of Moab began to be afraid they would destroy his people next. The Moabites could trace their history back to Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Although they and the Midianites were usually enemies, Balak decided to put that aside for now so they could put a stop to the Israelites together. Sometimes this does happen between enemies—they temporarily become friends, or at least working partners, when an outside force presses them to work as a team. The Midianites were the people Moses found refuge with when he fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian. In fact, Moses even married a Midianite! The Midianites were also descendants of Abraham through Keturah, the woman Abraham married after Sarah died.
Balak sent word to a man named Balaam, who was known for being a sorcerer, with the request that he put a curse on the Israelites. Though Balaam was a sorcerer, the Bible also implies he was in regular contact with Yahweh (see Numbers 22:7-13, 18-21). The whole time all this went on, the Israelites continued to be completely oblivious to the plans their enemies were making against them.
But that’s not the only example of someone being oblivious in this story! You can read about the next one in Numbers 22:22-35. This is the part of Balaam’s story most people remember. It describes the three times the angel of the Lord stood in his path, with a sword drawn, and the erratic things the donkey did to avoid walking into its—and Balaam’s—certain death. Not understanding what was going on, Balaam tried to beat the donkey a total of three times to make it walk forward. All three times the donkey refused, saving Balaam’s life as well as its own in the process, and then God opened the donkey’s mouth so it would speak to Balaam.
What happened here with Balaam is a reality all of us face as well. It’s called having a blind spot. Everybody has one—it’s when there are things there in front of us, but we aren’t able to see them. Other people can see them just fine, but we can’t.
In 1955, two psychologists, one named Joseph Luft and the other named Harrington Ingham, designed a grid that illustrates how blind spots work. They called this image the “Johari window”—a combination of their first two names (Joe and Harry) put together.
You can find out more about the Johari window at this website: CommunicationTheory.org/the-johari-window-model. As you explain how the Johari window works to your participants, move through the slideshow one slide at a time.
Here’s a brief overview of how the Johari window works. It contains four sections, or window panes. Each one represents a different area of knowledge about you.
The pane on the top left represents all the things about you that are open to you as well as others. These are things that you, and anybody who is around you, can see easily. They include things like the color of your hair, your personality, your taste in music, etc. They’re things that everybody knows; they aren’t secret. In the story of Balaam, something that Balaam as well as everybody else knew was that he had access to supernatural powers. That was the reason Balak recruited him.
The pane on the bottom left represents all the things about you that are open to you, but not to others. These are things or secrets that you know about yourself, but no one else does. They could include things like whether or not you were the person eat the last cookie in the cookie jar, or an embarrassing story about you that you’ve purposefully never told anyone. In the story of Balaam, something that Balaam knew that no one else did was that while he did have access to supernatural forces, nothing that he could do was more powerful than what Yahweh could. Those supernatural forces might have been subject to him, but he was subject to Yahweh.
The pane on the top right represents all the things about you that are closed to you, but open to others. These are the blinds spots in your life. They could include things like a reputation for being quick-tempered (or some other kind of trait) that everybody else knows about, but you don’t. In the story of Balaam, the thing in Balaam’s blind spot was the angel standing right in his path. His donkey could see it, but he couldn’t.
The bottom left pane represents all the things about you that are closed to you and to others. You can also simply label this as the unknown. I would give you an example of something unknown to both you and everybody else, but that’s impossible for any of us to guess! In the story of Balaam, we get to see what that unknown thing was for everyone involved because God chose to reveal it to them (and us, through Scripture). God knew that Balaam would end up blessing the Israelites—not just once, but multiple times! But Balaam didn’t know that yet, and Balak certainly didn’t either. The Israelites had no idea that any of this was going on at the time, though they did find out later. By reading Scripture, we can learn lots of things that were closed to people at the time, but open to all of us now!
Let’s review the whole window one more time. The top left represents things that are open to you and open to others; the bottom left represents things that are open to you but closed to others; the top right represents things that are closed to you but open to others; and the bottom right represents things that are closed to you and closed to others. The top right is also known as our blind spot, and the bottom right is also called the unknown.
Are the panes in your Johari window all the same size, or are they different sizes? Which one do you spend the most time in? Maybe most of the things about you are open—both to you and to others. If so, people might refer to you as “transparent.” On the other hand, you might be the kind of person who has secrets you’re not comfortable sharing with others. You could also have plenty of blind spots, either because no one has ever warned you about them or it’s difficult for you to believe it when they do. As for the very last window pane—the unknown—it’s difficult for any of us to guess what that includes. The only one who truly knows is God.
Most people end the story of Balaam at the end of Numbers 24. But the story goes on in Numbers 25, and it doesn’t lead to a positive ending for God’s people. Even though Balaam blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them, the Moabites and Midianites found another way to undermine them and their relationship with God. Let’s read about it in Numbers 25 (NLT):
1 While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. 2 These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. 3 In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people.
4 The Lord issued the following command to Moses: “Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.”
5 So Moses ordered Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death the men under your authority who have joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.”
6 Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as everyone was weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear8 and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. So the plague against the Israelites was stopped, 9 but not before 24,000 people had died.
10 Then the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by being as zealous among them as I was. So I stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my zealous anger. 12 Now tell him that I am making my special covenant of peace with him. 13 In this covenant, I give him and his descendants a permanent right to the priesthood, for in his zeal for me, his God, he purified the people of Israel, making them right with me.”
14 The Israelite man killed with the Midianite woman was named Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a family from the tribe of Simeon. 15 The woman’s name was Cozbi; she was the daughter of Zur, the leader of a Midianite clan.
16 Then the Lord said to Moses, 17 “Attack the Midianites and destroy them,18 because they assaulted you with deceit and tricked you into worshiping Baal of Peor, and because of Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, who was killed at the time of the plague because of what happened at Peor.”
Ask a volunteer to come and sit in front of the room. Give them a blindfold so they can’t see. Then ask a second volunteer to come and walk slowly around their chair, snapping at different points—next to, in front of, behind—in relation to the blindfolded person.
Every time there is a snap, ask the person who is blindfolded to identify which direction it came from. This is can be easy for people to do when a sound comes from somewhere beside, in front of, or behind them, but it can be harder for them to identify the direction when someone snaps directly over their head.
After trying this with the first two volunteers, ask them both to sit down and do the same activity again with another two more people.
Balaam had a reputation for being able to access supernatural forces, and everyone knew it. But neither Balak, Balaam, nor anyone else were able to predict that God was going to send the angel of the Lord to stand in his way, or that Balaam would end up blessing the Israelites rather than cursing them as intended. But thanks to the Bible, we all know it now!
This week, try to change how much time you spend in your blind spot and help others to do the same. Have a conversation with a person you trust and ask them to share with you some positive qualities they think you have, but may not be aware of. When they’re finished, do the same for them! You can also try this with other safe people you know, which might include your parents, your friends, or some other people you know at church. Finally, pray that God will reveal something to you that was previously completely unknown to any of you. God was able to show Balaam something he didn’t know before, and he can do the same for you!
This is a bonus just for the youth leader—a quick tip and an illustration to enhance your youth leadership. You may already know this idea, have learned it through trial and error, or just need a quick reminder.
Youth leaders need to have positive expectations for the youth they work with. Because all humans disappoint others at some point, it’s possible for youth leaders to start believing that all young people are immature, easily distracted, too connected to their devices, etc. While some of these stereotypes might have some truth to them, young people are also often visionary, energetic, willing to challenge the status quo, and desirous to connect with others. Pray that God will help you see your youth the way he sees them—as his children whom he loves abundantly, has died for, and is coming back for someday to see again. Keep in mind that God also places his Holy Spirit in the people who accept him, and that includes young people! In fact, they often do the very same things Jesus did when he was on earth. Communicate to the youth in your Sabbath School that you have great expectations for them and for what God has done, is doing, and is going to do through them.
Here’s a question from a real teen and a response from a youth pastor. This could be a question your participants are asking too! If you think so, use this as a springboard for a discussion about it during Sabbath School.
Question: I hear all kinds of stories about how judgmental and close-minded Christians can be. How can we balance accepting people with rejecting the things they do or say that we don’t agree with?
Answer: This question can create a lot of tension for many of us! As a Christian, you’re probably very anxious to accept and love people without being judgmental to them or making them feel like you’re a close-minded person. It can really feel like a balancing act sometimes, can’t it?
The first text that comes to my mind when I read your question is one a lot of people quote when it comes to this subject: “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, TEV)
What does being ready to give an answer mean? Well, it indicates that you’ve already given some thought to what you believe and why. It also means that when you have the chance to explain your opinions and beliefs to other people, you can do so with the same gentleness and respect this verse talks about.
One example of where this can come in handy is when someone asks you to attend a party where you know there might be alcohol. If you’ve given thought to how you would answer this kind of question ahead of time, you might be able to say something like this: “If there’s going to be alcohol there, I’m not comfortable going.” You could also say, “Thanks! I’ll see if I can come,” and then not show up at all and explain later that something came up in your schedule.
Another example of a situation where you might need to have a kind and fair answer prepared ahead of time is when you discuss politics. People can have very different opinions about that subject! And if someone in particular disagrees with a political opinion you have, they may not see a reason to listen to you at all and decide to ignore everything you say. In American politics, people who support both parties are consistently guilty of this. What matters is that you prepare yourself ahead of time to always show respect for other people’s opinions, even they disagree with you or are difficult to speak with.
In the same way, a preacher standing on a soap box and shouting in the street might occasionally win a convert to his side, but overall will only bring bad press to his or her church by witnessing in a way like this. A dozen years ago David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons co-authored the book UnChristian, which addressed the perception that Christians are more judgmental than accepting. It explains this image problem we have by using six different issues as examples.
Is there are a way forward for us? How can Christians truly learn to accept others? We can find the answer in 1 John 4:19 (NIV): “We love, because he first loved us.” As Christians we are able to draw on the love God has given us first. The first step we need to take in accepting others, then, is to ask God for (and then accept) his love for us.
One of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible demonstrates God’s love in action: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, NKJV) A characteristic of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth was that he chose to help all the people he came across, not hurt or condemn them. The next verse of John 3 makes that plain. “For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.” (John 3:17, TEV)
John 3:18-21 (TEV) also relates to your question: “Whoever believes in the Son is not judged; but whoever does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in God’s only Son. This is how the judgment works; the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. Anyone who does evil things hates the light, because he does not want his evil deeds to be shown up. But whoever does what is true comes to the light in order that the light may show that what he did was in obedience to God.” When we fail to see God for who he is, we often see ourselves in a distorted manner. We need a clear perception of who God is, including his goodness (see Exodus 20:18-21, Numbers 14, and Numbers 16).
Here’s the way I paraphrase it: God and goodness go together. Bad things seek to avoid both goodness and God—and you can’t be loyal to both good things and bad things at the same time.
In conclusion, Jesus spent time with people who sinned. Who do you spend time with? Are you a safe person that others can come to without fear of being judged? God accepts us even when we sin, and we should do the same for others.
This is what Ephesians 4:30-32 (NLT) says: “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”