Spiritual Growth Resources
Sickness & Death

Topic for this week: Sickness & Death

Theme for the month of March: New Life

The Carmichael SDA Church is providing spiritual growth resources for individuals, couples, families, and small groups as an extension during this pandemic for a church that is scattered like salt and to indeed be salty; to be light and receive another infusion of power. Pick and choose from these resources for your spiritual growth, whether it’s during your time of personal devotions or family worship or small group gathering. The 10 options include:

Video & Intro

For more than three months we have been on a journey of Spiritual Growth that takes us to the cross. For Christians now, the cross symbolizes something wonderful—God’s gift of laying down his life for us so we can be reunited with him and live with him forever. Jesus personified this, and he’s the part of the Godhead that visibly came to earth, showed us what God was like, in person, and gave himself completely for us. If we had lived during that time, we would have thought of the cross as something embarrassing. It was for lawbreakers and insurrectionists. It humiliated and eliminated. But Christ’s victory over death and his promise to return for us transformed the cross from an icon of failure to one of success. Hallelujah!

For the month of March, our theme is “New Life.” But we start this first week with what seems the opposite—“Sickness and Death.” Some sickness ends in death, but people often recover from their sickness. Some sickness is very serious, while other sickness is merely inconvenient. How long does sickness last? Do you have the 24-hour flu or chronic pain, MS, Parkinson’s, or Crohn’s?

During his ministry, Jesus was probably better known for healing sickness and casting out demons more than he was known for his preaching and teaching. According to Matthew 9:35, Jesus healed everyone who was sick in some of the places he went. No wonder he was so popular, and a threat to others.

Death is something we all must face. Some ignore or deny it, while, to the other extreme, some people dwell on it constantly. Death has been real throughout human history since the Fall. The harsh reality is that each one of us will die. We might not know when or how, but we know it will happen. Adventists hope to be alive when Christ returns, but know that even if we die prior to that, we will be resurrected. But Jesus offers a completely different perspective, naming “death” as nothing more than “sleep” for those who have eternal life. He claimed to be both resurrection and life (John 11:35), and then he resurrected Lazarus, which confirmed it dramatically!

Sickness and death—two harsh realities we can’t seem to avoid. But Jesus brings new life, and that changes everything.

Bible Dialogue

When it comes to sickness and Jesus, the two seem to be mutually exclusive. What story or stories come to mind when you think of the healing that Jesus did? Maybe it was his Sabbath healings, which weren’t emergency healings from chronic problems. Jesus seemed to select Sabbath as the day to set those people free. The Greek word for “heal’ (sozo) can also be translated “save.” Jesus heals/saves. He does so every day, but especially on Sabbaths.

What about death and resurrection? What story or stories come to mind regarding death, resurrection, and Jesus. Of course the best-known is his own death and resurrection. And there’s the tipping point of resurrecting Lazarus in Bethany just outside of Jerusalem, which led to Christ’s own death. There are just a few others.

For our “Bible Dialogue” study this week on sickness and death, we’ll delve into a story about Jesus that includes both. This can be found in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8. We’ll focus on Luke 8:40-56 for this study.

STUDY: In Sickness and Death

Who do you know who is sick?
Who’s someone important to you who died?

Read Luke 8:40-56

  1.  Why did Jesus go to the house of Jairus?

A. Jairus asked him.
B. Jairus begged him.
C. Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter was dying.
D. Jesus didn’t have any other plans that day.
E. God the Father had told Jesus this would happen.
F. Jairus was one of the “good” synagogue leaders.
G. Jesus had just been rejected after cleansing a demoniac.
H. Healing a sick girl is easy after cleansing a demoniac.
I. Other.

2.  The woman who touched Jesus’ robe—what stands out?

A. Nothing in particular.
B. She had been sick forever—for 12 years.
C. She’d spent all she had on doctors, but didn’t get better.
D. Jesus was her last, desperate hope.
E. She didn’t want to inconvenience Jesus.
F. Her female bleeding made her perpetually unclean.
G. Jesus healed her.
H. Jesus singled her out and gave her affirmation.
I. Other.

3.  What’s the deal with Christ’s question, “Who touched me?”

A. It was a ridiculous question in the midst of a crowd.
B. Jesus felt a power loss.
C. Jesus felt a power surge.
D. It gave Peter a chance to state the obvious.
E. Jesus wanted the crowd to be aware of the supernatural.
F. This tested the faith of Jairus because of the delay.
G. Jesus wanted to publicly affirm this woman.
H. There is healing power in touch.
I. Other.

4.   Why do people get sick? Why do they die?

A. That’s just the way life is.
B. It all goes back to the Garden of Eden.
C. It happens as a consequence of bad choices.
D. It’s a matter of bad luck or being “dealt a bad hand.”
E. Jesus isn’t around.
F. Death is the last enemy God destroys (1 Cor. 15:26).
G. The real question is, “Why isn’t everyone sick or dead?”
H. Christ’s power has limits.
I. Other.

5. Two females; 12 years. What was the difference?

A. It seems 12 years is too long to be sick.
B. It seems 12 years is too short to live.
C. That’s just a coincidence.
D. The kingdom number is 12 (see Rev. 21).
E. Christ showed his kingdom—no more sickness or death.
F. A lot can happen in 12 years.
G. Not that much happens in just 12 years.
H. Other.

6.  What makes it hard to trust Jesus in sickness and death?

A. We don’t see nearly enough cures.
B. It seems like we never see a resurrection.
C. We can’t see or hear Jesus like Jairus could.
D. I forget that Jesus experienced death.
E. Death seems like a final demise rather than like sleep.
F. Sickness and death seem unstoppable.
G. Sickness and death seem like the opposite of Jesus.
H. Other.

7.  When has Jesus not come through in a way you expected or hoped for—in sickness, death, or something else of significance?

8.  What is a good way to face sickness and death with Jesus? What’s a good way to share this with others?

Prayer Experiences

Read the story of the sickness, death, and resurrection of Lazarus (John 11). Put yourself in the place of Mary or Martha as you read through the story. Take time to consider your thoughts and feelings. What would you say to Jesus? What would you not say to Jesus. How would your faith in Jesus be affected by this?

Read through it again from the perspective of another person in the story, for example, the disciples. Ask yourself the same questions.

Do it again, but maybe from the perspective of Lazarus!

Try it again, using your imagination to be one of the people from Jerusalem who went to Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha because of their loss.

If you want to really push yourself, imagine being one of the Pharisees, Sadducees (who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead), or a priest or rabbi/teacher of God’s word. Imagine being one of these religious leaders who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. Ask the same questions, and then consider what you would do next, and what the consequences would be for you.

Read through the story one more time from the perspective of Jesus.

Another prayer experience dealing with the topic of sickness and death could be intercessory prayer—praying on behalf of another person. Frequently our prayers are primarily about us. That’s all fine and appropriate. but we can also include others in our conversations with God. Intercession emphasizes a request on behalf of another person. This may be in addition to the prayers that person offers, or to fill the void when that person cannot or does not pray. Our “Bible Dialogue” from February 20-27 exemplified this with Christ’s prayer for his disciples, and for us.
Some wonder if intercessory prayer might make God pay more attention, as though God loves some people more than others and is more likely to respond to their request. Others calculate the accumulated prayers of many people as though God will be forced to give us what we want if we can garner enough political pressure to get our way. These are very human ways of imposing our tactics on God. Such concepts are actually the very opposite of God, as Jesus explained in Matthew 6 before he taught his followers “The Lord’s Prayer.” In contrast to the pagan practice of repetition or quantity of people praying, Jesus explained that God knows what we need before we even ask.
Then why pray if God already knows? It might be so that we come to know what God already knows. When it comes to sickness and death, God knows before we know. So our prayers enable us to cope with the reality of sickness and death by releasing it to God as we pray to him. In our conversation with God we can also listen and receive promptings from him on how we can respond. Sometimes God answers our prayers directly through us!

There is also the bigger picture of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan in which we don’t see or hear many of the dialogues. We know Satan is the constant accuser and God is the persistent forgiver. But Satan also accuses God of unjustly playing favorites. Our prayers of intercession enable God to respond to our requests, something beyond “common grace” which God gives to all, regardless of whether or not it has been requested. In essence, God is saying to us, “Thanks for asking.” And to Satan’s accusations, God simply responds, “I’m not forcing this on anyone; I’m just fulfilling a request from one of my kids.”

Yet another prayer experience when it comes to sickness and death is something we often don’t talk about because we tend to emphasize the positive elements in the Christian walk. It’s something the youth recently studied with Pastor Benji. It’s called “Lament.” There’s actually an entire book in the Bible about it—Lamentations (of Jeremiah). In the book of Psalms, more than a third are laments (and you thought Psalms were only about praising God).

Of the 58 Psalms of lament, 42 are for individuals and 16 are for the community. We are planning a community lament as part of our church service on March 13 as we remember the Carmichael Church members who passed away during the last 12 months. We haven’t been able to come together as a community to grieve due to the pandemic. Lamenting gives a voice to our sorrow and pain.

The Biblical model goes beyond simply a cathartic gush. It involves movement that starts with sorrow but ends with joy; begins with fear but concludes with trust. Frequently this involves letting it all out to God. Once that has been expressed, and God is a good one to whom we can and should address our sorrow and pain, we then are able to finally ask for help. And the “ask” might actually be a “beg” to God. Biblical laments end with statements of trust and praise, recounting God’s past actions, his character, power, wisdom, love, and faithfulness. This may take time, but God has all the time in the world/universe.

You might already be thinking of some individual Psalms of lament, such as Christ’s quote of Psalm 22 when he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Here’s a list of the Psalms of individual lament: 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142.

If you like some examples of communal laments, check out Psalm 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, and 129.

Discussion Questions

Select from these questions, or let them prompt your own questions. You can reflect on these by yourself, or discuss them with another person or group of people.
  1. Why is there sickness?
  2. Why is there death?
  3. Why don’t we see more healings and resurrections today?
  4. Consider these four factors: heredity, environment, choices, and luck/change/divine intervention. What percentage of these four elements affects a person’s sickness and/or death?
  5. When is sickness or death a “natural consequence” of people’s choices? 
  6. Frequently sickness and even death are considered judgments by God. When is that true? When it that false? How do you know?
  7. We often think of sickness and death only from a physical perspective. What does sickness and death look like from an emotional perspective? What about mental health? What about spiritual sickness and death?
  8. Who is a person you know who has the power to heal?
  9. What part does the spiritual play in physical healing? What part does mental, emotional, and social elements play in healing?
10. If Jesus was known to heal everyone is a village, why did he heal only one man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5)?
11. Peter and John healed a man lame from birth. This man was taken to the temple every day to beg (see Acts 3:1-16). Why didn’t Jesus heal this lame beggar during one of the times Jesus went to the temple?
12. What does it take for a faith healing to occur?
13. Do you know anyone who has been resurrected?
14. When does Jesus give a person eternal life?
15. What is the difference between a person’s quantity of life and quality of life?
16. How long would you like to live? Would you want to live that long if you were chronically sick?
17. What is the difference between being sick and being chronically sick?
18. Why do some people welcome death?
19. What’s the difference between “dying” and “dying to self”?
20. When does your eternal life begin? How does that affect how you live now?

Application Ideas

Small sicknesses often just take a little bit of time and rest for healing. Perhaps a round of antibiotics, prescribed by a physician and made available by a pharmacist “does the trick.” How serious is it if you get the flu? What if you get COVID? What if you survived COVID? 

What if it’s a bigger sickness? Do you need to see a specialist? If it’s cancer, are you doomed? Do you try alternative medicine? What does it take to make things so severe that you go to God? Was going to God your first reflex? 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief (On Death and Dying, 1969) have become the standard for death and even other forms of loss. While not everyone necessarily experiences all five, and while the order may vary from one person to another, this model can be helpful when you consider how to deal with loss. This might be the death of a loved one, a loss from your own sickness or disability, simply aging, or the loss of job or family. What are the five stages/elements?
  1. Denial—It can’t be true; I don’t believe it! I won’t believe it.
  2. Anger—It’s so unfair. Why me? Where was God? What good is God?
  3. Bargaining—If ___, then I promise to ____. Often made to God.
  4. Depression—I can’t go on. I’m numb. Leave me alone. Life is hopeless.
  5. Acceptance—It is a loss, but I’m moving on. This is my new reality; I’m adjusting.

Consider a loss you have experienced, or are experiencing now. Which of these stages of grief have happened to you? (Remember, they don’t necessarily follow this order). Talk this over with someone close to you who can give you honest feedback.

Release the mistaken image that Christians are always happy. Remember, Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35). The Beatitudes include, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Paul wrote about death, and because believers view this as “sleep” their sorrow is not the same as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NKJV). Yes, there is sorrow, but such sorrow isn’t hopeless. Paul continued by describing the resurrection when Christ returns and takes those who were still alive as well as those Jesus resurrects to heave with him. He ended this segment with, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (vs 18).

Denial continues to be an immediate response to loss. It’s a coping mechanism that requires time to absorb the negative news. In processing this, the Christian can look beyond the immediate to a much bigger picture. The reality of God, the suffering and death of Christ, the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan, Christ’s own resurrection, and the powerful promise of Christ’s return—these are just some of the reasons we have hope in spite of our loss and grief. Christ’s words to his disciples are also for us to take to heart, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

Our full embrace of God’s desires for us and the health and life he provides far surpasses any current bitterness and pain. In fact, it makes Christ’s gifts even greater. As the Psalmist recorded, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).

Take this to heart for yourself. Invite someone on this journey with you, especially if it is difficult right now. Join someone else who is in need of a fellow-traveler at this time. These are ways to apply this to your life this week and month and beyond. And that relates to the next section—Sharing Options.

Sharing Options

When sickness or death come, a common and natural response is to run or hide. It’s like a fire or flood comes our way, so we want to get as far away as possible. Compassionate people do just the opposite. Instead of running away, they run toward. Instead of turning their back, they turn and face it. This is common practice for medical personnel. And when you think of the 500,000+ in the US who died of the coronavirus in this past year, it was often nurses who served as chaplain and family to dying individuals who couldn’t be present because of the pandemic protocols. And they did this on top of their regular nursing duties during the pandemic—real heroes! Take this opportunity to express your gratitude and appreciation to someone who persists in the medical field. The newness and shock of COVID deaths has worn off, so we easily forget all these caretakers continue to provide in their high-risk environment.

One reason we often run the other way when sickness and death impact those we know is because we just don’t know what to say or to do. That discomfort on our part debilitates our desire to be of help. Instead of doing nothing, try these three things, and in this order.
  1. Be present. Go to where the hurting person is. Be there. You don’t even have to say anything. Your presence speaks volumes. Feel the pain with them.
  2. Listen. Instead of talking or instead of filling the emptiness of the quiet, listen to what the hurting person has to say. Look above in the “Application” segment for the “Five Stages of Grief.” As you listen, you might be able to identify which stage that person is experiencing currently. Remind yourself that you are there to be with them, not to transport them to wherever you happen to be at that moment. Dwell with them. They might even jump from one stage to another, and then back again.
  3. Talk. This is the last option, although many of us make it the first option. After you have been present and have listened, you might know better what to say (or not say). As you silently pray, ask God to give you the right words for the moment, acknowledging that what you say might not be heard or applied. How you say it will probably make a greater impact than the words themselves. 

When the Holy Spirit prompts you, weep with the one who weeps, and laugh with the one who laughs. Cry out, “How long, O Lord,” as many have done through the centuries. The Spirit might impress you to testify to God’s goodness, how he sustains us, and his promises that infuse hope and love and peace during difficult times. 

If you can’t be physically present, make contact by FaceTime or Zoom or some other platform, even a phone call. You can follow the same three steps above through these modes of contact. If that’s not possible send a card, a voice message, or a quick text message, even though these are the third step rather than the first or second steps. You can progress from the third step to the second step by inviting a response so you can do some listening.
Be sure to share this with God through prayer. It’s not that God doesn’t know, but it connects you to the heart of God and loops you, the grieving person, and God together. It lays hold on the supernatural, which both you and the grieving person need.

And here’s one more sharing option. Please share your experimenting with these Spiritual Growth Resources with Pastor Pedro Trinidad. Phone or text at 925-951-7041, or email at ptrinidad@carmsda.org.

Bible-In-My-Head, Heart, and Hand

Sickness and death challenge and defeat life—the gift God initiated and that God re-gifts to his children. When you memorize 1 John 5:12 (or verses 11-13), you have God’s word to respond when you’re hit with sickness or someone’s death, or when you simply feel you will lose the life God intended for you. Start with this one verse:

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12 NIV) 

For a slightly longer and more complete rendering, memorize verses 11-13 in 1 John 5:

“This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13 NIV) 

A Few Comments
Vs. 11: Notice the verb tense for “has” is in the past. God has already given us eternal life. That’s why what so many label “death” is only “sleep.”

Vs 12: Simple math: You + Jesus = Life
You – Jesus = Death
If you don’t know if you have Jesus, give Jesus all you have and are, asking him to come into your life. 

Vs 13: It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? That’s why God added, “so you may KNOW.”

Kids of All Ages by Pastor Melissa

“She’s dead! She’s dead! Oh noooooooo Mommy, my hamster is dead!!”

Charlotte the hamster was the love of my son Toby’s life. He held her daily for many hours, built mazes for her to explore, carried her around in his pocket, and diligently fed and cared for her. That’s why it was such an awful surprise for him to come home from church one Sabbath, and find Charlotte still and cold in her cage. Toby cried, and cried, and cried for hours. For the next many weeks, anytime Charlotte was even mentioned, he would start crying AGAIN.

When we love someone, it is so very hard to think of them dying. We pray many prayers that God will keep our loved ones healthy and safe. But because we live in a sinful world, where bad things just happen, animals and people we love DO sometimes die. It’s awful. It’s horrible.
 It feels like an elephant is stepping on our hearts, and there’s a big black hole of sadness sinking right inside us. Honestly? This is something we would rather not think about OR talk about.

But Jesus was different - He talked about his death, several times in fact. Over and over, He tried to warn the disciples that He WAS going to die. Maybe they didn’t hear him? Maybe they didn’t want to hear him. Maybe it was just too hard to think about, so they decided to ignore Him. In any case, when Jesus finally did die, they weren’t ready for it. They were surprised and shocked - just like we are, when we find out about death.

But death wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story - and it’s not the end of ours either. When we believe in Jesus, the Bible offers us hope for what happens after we die. We know that our loved ones sleep in the kind of sleep where they don’t know anything, and then - when Jesus comes - they’ll be raised from the dead all brand new again, “in the twinkling of an eye.”

Death is heavy and hard, but the promise of eternal life that Jesus offered His followers is Good News for all of us. As much as death hurts, we don’t have to be afraid of death when we belong to Jesus. For us, it’s just a pause button. Someday soon, Jesus is coming back to get ALL the people - both living and dead - who chose to follow Him, and He will take us to heaven. I plan to be one of those people....don’t you?

Family Talk Time:

  1.  Have we ever lost a pet? Have we ever lost a loved one? What did it feel like?
  2. Why do people have to die - why can’t Jesus just heal everyone?
  3. Read 1 Thes 4:16-18. How does this encouraging text help our hearts deal with death?
  4. When someone chooses to belong to Jesus, they don’t have to be afraid of death anymore. Who wants to choose to belong to Jesus today?