Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 19-23

1. On page 193, “God will not ask us in that day whether we were good Protestants, but whether we have done his will.  We will be asked the same question as everybody else.  The Church is marked off from the world not by a special privilege, but by the gracious election and calling of God.”

- As it pertains to God’s will, what have we been elected and called to do on behalf of Jesus and his gospel?  Please be specific.

2. On page 195, “But Christ’s followers must ask by what ultimate criterion Jesus will accept or reject them.  Who will pass the test, and who will not?  The answer lies in the words of Jesus to the last of the rejected: ‘I have never known you.’ Here we are at last, here is the secret we have been waiting for since the Sermon on the Mount began.  Here is the crucial question – has Jesus known us or not?  There is nothing left for us to cling to, not even our confession or our obedience.  There is only his word: ‘I have known thee,’ which is his eternal word and call.  If we follow Christ, cling to his word, and let everything else go, it will see us through the day of judgement.  His word is his grace.”

-  How do you understand the “ultimate criterion” by which Jesus will accept or reject you?  What is your response to that?

3. On page 196, “Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways.  Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it.  That is the only way to hear his word.  But again, he does not mean that it is to be discussed as an ideal, he really means us to get on with it.”

- What does “simple surrender & obedience” compel us to do?

4. On page 197, “There is only one other possibility, that of failing to do it.  It is impossible to want to do it and yet not do it.  To deal with the word of Jesus otherwise than by doing it is to give him the lie.  It is to deny the Sermon on the Mount and to say No to his word.  If we start asking questions, posing problems, and offering interpretations, we are not doing his word.  Once again, the shades of the rich young man and the lawyer of Luke 10 are raising their heads.”

- When are we most apt to respond is this fashion?  Why?

5. On page 203, There is now no time to lose: the work of harvest brooks no delay.  ‘But the laborers are few.’  Jesus is looking for help, for he cannot do the work alone.  Who will come forward to help him and work with him?  Only God knows, and he must give them to his Son.  No man dares presume to come forward and offer himself on his own initiative, not even the disciples themselves.  Their duty is to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers at the right moment, for the time is ripe.”

- Is this a model response for the Church today?

6. On page 205, “No power in the world could have united these men for a common task, save the call of Jesus.  But that call transcended all their previous divisions, and established a new and steadfast fellowship in Jesus.”

- Where have you witnessed this remarkable call of Jesus?
- What new fellowships emerged in response to that call?

7. On page 206, “In his very first word, Jesus lays down a limitation of their work, a circumstance which they must inevitably have found strange and difficult.  The choice of field for their labors does not depend on their own impulses or inclinations, but on where they are sent.  This makes it quite clear that it is not their own work they are doing, but God’s.”

- How do you discern where Jesus is sending you?

8. On page 211, “Vice and sin may be forgiven, according to the word of Jesus, but the man who rejects the word of salvation has thrown away his last chance.  To refuse to believe in the gospel is the worst sin imaginable, and if that happens the messengers can do nothing but leave the place.  They go because the Word cannot remain there.”

- How does this provide context and clarity for our work?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 16-18

1. On page 170, “The real difference in the believer who follows Christ and has mortified his will and died after the old man in Christ, is that he is more clearly aware than other men of the rebelliousness and perennial pride of the flesh, he is conscious of his sloth and self-indulgence and knows that his arrogance must be eradicated.  Hence there is a need for daily self-discipline.”

- Where do you seek to practice daily self-discipline?

2. On page 171, “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the Spirit with every available weapon against the flesh. How is it possible to live the life of faith when we grow weary of prayer, when we lose our taste for reading the Bible, when sleep, food & sensuality deprive us of the joy of communion with God?”

-  Answer Bonhoeffer’s question here for yourself…

3. On page 175, “But where are we to draw the line between legitimate use and unlawful accumulation?  Our treasure may, of course, be small and inconspicuous, but its size is immaterial; it all depends on the heart, on ourselves.  And if we ask how we are to know where our hearts are, the answer is just as simple – everything which hinders us from loving God above all things and acts as a barrier between ourselves and our obedience to Jesus is our treasure, and the place where our heart is.”

- What do you truly treasure in your life, day to day?

4. On page 178, “Be not anxious!  Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety.  Yet all the time they are the very source of all anxiety.  If our hearts are set on them, our reward is an anxiety whose burden is intolerable.  Anxiety creates its own treasures and they in turn beget further care.  When we seek for security in possessions we are trying to drive out care with care, and the net result is the precise opposite of our anticipations.  The fetters which bind us to our possessions prove to be cares themselves.  If instead of receiving God’s gifts for today we worry about tomorrow, we find ourselves helpless victims of infinite anxiety.”

- Does this statement make you anxious? (Just kidding!)  So, what does?

5. On page 181, “After he has been following Christ for a long time, the disciple of Jesus will be asked, ‘Lacked ye anything?’ and he will answer, ‘Nothing, Lord.’  How could he, when he knows that despite hunger/nakedness, persecution/danger, the Lord is always at his side?”

- How does this example bring you genuine comfort and peace?

6. On page 183, “It is not an approved standard of righteous living that separates a follower of Christ from an unbeliever, but it is Christ who stands between them.  Christians always see other men as brethren to whom Christ comes; they meet them only by going to them with Jesus.  Disciple and non-disciple can never encounter each other as free men, directly exchanging their views and judging one another by objective criteria.  No, the disciple can meet the non-disciple only as a man to whom Jesus comes.  Here alone, Christ’s fight for the soul of the unbeliever, his call, his love, his grace and his judgment comes into its own.  Discipleship does not afford us a point of vantage from which to attack others; we come to them with an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus.”

- How does this speak to God’s truth, and why do we at times resist it?

7. On page 186, “Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proselytize them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous.  Our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want.”

- Where have you witnessed or experienced this reality?

8. On page 187, “The difference between the disciples’ seeking and the Gentiles’ quest for God is that the disciples know what they are looking for.  We can only seek God when we know him already.  How can you look for something or find it if you do not know what you are looking for?  The disciples seek a God whom they have found in the promise they have received from Jesus.  Hence-forth, the disciple will look upon other men as forgiven sinners who owe their lives to the love of God.  ‘This is the law and the prophets’ – for this is none other than the supreme commandment: to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves.”

- What you are looking for and how is Jesus fulfilling his promise to you? 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 13-15

1. On page 147, Bonhoeffer writes, “The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”  His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

- How does God’s will and God’s love defeat our enemies?

2. “How then does love conquer?  By asking not how the enemy treats her, but only how Jesus treated her.  The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.  The more we are driven along this road, the more certain is the victory of love over the enemy’s hatred.  For then it is not the disciple’s own love, but the love of Jesus Christ alone, who for the sake of his enemies went to the cross and prayed for them as he hung there.”

-  How is it possible to love others as Jesus loved us on the cross?

3. On page 159, “All that the follower of Jesus has to do is to make sure that his obedience, following and love are entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated.  Christ’s virtue, the virtue of discipleship, can only be accomplished so long as you are entirely unconscious of what you are doing.  The genuine work of love is always a hidden work.”

- Give examples of such spontaneity and hidden love.

4. On page 163, “Only through Jesus Christ can we find the Father in prayer.  Christian prayer presupposes faith, that is, adherence to Christ.  He is the one and only Mediator of our prayers.  We pray at his command, and to that word Christian prayer is always bound.”

- Why is Jesus the dominant focus of our praying?

5. “It matters little what form of prayer we adopt or how many words we use.  What matters is the faith which lays hold on God and touches the heart of the Father who knew us long before we came to him.”

- How does this description of prayer compare with yours?

6. “Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action.”

- Why is prayer relation-centered?  Why is it not about outcomes?

7. “Not being content to wait for God to answer our prayer and show us in his own time that he has heard us, we provide our own answer.  We take note that we have prayed suitably well, and this substitutes the satisfaction of answered prayer.  We have our reward.  Since we have heard ourselves, God will not hear us.  Having contrived our own reward of publicity, we cannot expect God to reward us any further.”

- Can you think of a time when this played out for you?

8. “True prayer does not depend either on the individual or the whole body of the faithful, but solely upon the knowledge that our heavenly Father knows our needs.  That makes God the sole object of our prayers, and frees us from a false confidence in our own prayerful efforts.”

- How does complete trust in God’s love transform our praying?


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 9-12

1. “The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.  A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him.  With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence.  We are passing judgement on him, and that is murder.  And the murderer will himself be judged.”

- Since so much of our discourse today is anything but civil, how are we to respond to the proliferation of angry words spewed in politics, Facebook, talk radio, Twitter, and other media outlets?

2. “The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.  He who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar.  There is therefore only one way of following Jesus and of worshiping God, and that is to be reconciled with our brethren.”

-  Is there an exception to this last statement?  Why or why not?

3. “The body of Jesus was crucified.  St. Paul, speaking of those who belong to Christ, says that they have crucified their body with its affections and lusts.  Here we have another instance of an Old Testament law finding its truest fulfilment in the crucified body of Jesus Christ.  As they contemplate this body which was given for them, and as they share in its life, the disciples receive strength for the chastity which Jesus requires.”

- How are we to understand such chastity today?

4. “What is an oath?  It is an appeal made to God in public, calling upon him to witness a statement made in connection with an event or fact, past, present or future.  By means of the oath, men invoke the omniscient deity to avenge the truth.  How can Jesus say that such an oath is ‘sin?’  The answer is to be sought in his concern for complete truthfulness.”  “The commandment of complete truthfulness is really only another name for the totality of discipleship.”

- Why have we relied on oaths?  Why does Jesus forbid them?

5. “The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for.  Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames.  But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.  Of course, this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete.  Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.”

- Where does this strategy prove true?  Where is it incomplete?

6. “Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil, it spells death to evil.  The worse the evil, the readier must the Christian be to suffer; he must let the evil person fall into Jesus’ hands.”  “The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.  But it was just this participation in the cross which the disciples were granted when Jesus called them to him.  They are called blessed because of their visible participation in his cross.”

- How is Christian suffering stronger than evil?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 6-8

1. On page 110, Bonhoeffer writes, “But Jesus says: ‘They shall inherit the earth.’  To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised the very earth belongs.  Those who possess it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross shall rule the new earth.”  What it means is that when the kingdom of heaven descends, the face of the earth will be renewed, and it will belong to the flock of Jesus.  God does not forsake the earth; he made it, he sent his Son to it, and on it he built his Church.  Thus, a beginning has already been made in this present age.  A sign has been given.  The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for they have the Church and its fellowship, its good, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persecutions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the meek One died, and from thence it will spread. When the kingdom finally comes the meek shall possess the earth.”

- How are we to understand the role & work of the “meek” today? 
- And when the kingdom of heaven descends?

2.  On pages 113-114, Bonhoeffer concludes, “Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe.  Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found – on the cross at Golgotha.  The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified.  With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all.  From the cross, there comes the call ‘Blessed, blessed.’”

- How does the cross of Christ speak to you, compel you, and ultimately transform you into its blessed fellowship of disciples?

3.  On pages 116-117, Bonhoeffer writes, “It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.”  “The call of Jesus makes the disciple community not only the salt but also the light of the world; their activity is visible, as well as imperceptible.”  “They are already the light, and the call has made them so.”  “Now they must be what they really are – otherwise they are not followers of Jesus.”  “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.”

- How has the call of Jesus changed you into salt & light?
- Where does your life demonstrate these functions?

4. “But there is nothing for us to glorify in the disciple who bears the cross, or in the community whose light so shines because it stands visible on the hill – only the Father which is in heaven can be praised for the ‘good works.’  It is by seeing the cross and the community beneath it that men come to believe in God.  But that is the light of the Resurrection.”

- To paraphrase: as the Church, we lift high the cross of Christ to the world.  
Through this, people “see” and come to faith…and stand renewed in the light of the Resurrection.  
- How does this profound statement shape the urgency & mission of the gospel?

5. On pages 112-123, Bonhoeffer writes, “Jesus vindicates the divine authority of the law.  God is its giver and its Lord, and only in personal communion with God is the law fulfilled.  There is no fulfilment of the law apart from communion with God, and no communion with God apart from fulfilment of the law.  To forget the first condition was the mistake of the Jews, and to forget the second the temptation of the disciples.”

- In all of this, what does God seek most from and with us?

6. In conclusion on page 125, “Again, it is not enough to teach the law of Christ, it must be done, otherwise it is no better than the old law.  In what follows, the disciples are told how to practice this righteousness of Christ.  In a word, it means following him.  It is the real and active faith in the righteousness of Christ.  It is the new law, the law of Christ.”

- Do, practice, follow…all directives from Jesus in the ways of true discipleship.  Where is the Holy Spirit leading you in these ways?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 3-5

1.  Bonhoeffer begins chapter three by clarifying our obedience to Jesus: “But the call of Jesus made short work of all these barriers, and created obedience.  That call was the Word of God himself, and all that it required was single-minded obedience.” The common response: “All along the line we are trying to evade the obligation of single-minded, literal obedience.”

- What is the difference between simple-minded obedience and single-minded obedience?

2.  The actual call of Jesus and the response of single-minded obedience have an irrevocable significance.  By means of them, Jesus calls people into an actual situation where faith is possible. For that reason, his call is an actual call, and he wishes it so to be understood, because he knows that it is only through actual obedience that a man can become liberated to believe.”

- Think of a time when you experienced this faith dynamic of perceiving the call of Jesus in a particular situation. How did your response of single-minded obedience “liberate you to believe?”
- In other words, how did your obedient acceptance of Jesus’ invitation to follow him lead to renewed faith? Share an example.

3.  In chapter four, Bonhoeffer ties discipleship to the cross. “Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the ‘must’ of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself.  Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only is so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.  Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ, which is the law of the cross.”

- What does it mean for us, in our discipleship today, to share in the suffering, rejection, and crucifixion of Christ?

4. “As Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of our fellow-men.  The law of Christ, which it is our duty to fulfil, is the bearing of the cross.  My brother’s burden, which I must bear, is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin.  And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share.  Thus, the call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins.  Forgiveness is the Christ-like suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.”

- As Christians, then, are we left with personal choice as to whom and when we forgive?
- How does the cross of Christ free us to forgive others as Christ forgives us?

5. In chapter five, Bonhoeffer discusses discipleship and the individual.  “The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion.  All the time, we thought we had enjoyed a direct relation with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience.  Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life…direct relationships are impossible.  Since the coming of Christ, his followers have no more immediate realities of their own, not in their family relationships nor in the ties with their nation nor in the relationships formed in the process of living.  Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stands Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize him or not.  We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him, through his word and through our following of him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves.”

- How has our relation to the world been built on “an illusion?”
- What precisely is that illusion?  Why do humans cling to it?

6. “For the Christian, the only God-given realities are those he receives from Christ.” “Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbors, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship.”

- How does prayer, in Christ, affect & shape all relationships?
- How might our prayers influence local/national/world actions?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter Two

1.  This chapter explores the call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer uses Mark 2:14 as the backdrop for his discussion. He begins (page 57):
“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience?”  Bonhoeffer answers, “It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.”

- How does Bonhoeffer defend this underlying premise?
- In your own words, how do you understand the truth of this?

2.  Next, Bonhoeffer turns to Luke 9:57-62, where three men engage Jesus, but face conditional circumstances (page 60). He provides a thorough discussion of each of these encounters. Bonhoeffer states, “The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible.  If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe.  He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.”

- What does it mean to “go out of a (current) situation and into a (new) situation where faith is possible?
- Where, in your life and in others’, do you see both “entrapment” that prevents faith and “liberation” that welcomes faith?

3.  Bonhoeffer then offers his central premise:
“The idea of a situation in which faith is possible is only a way of stating the facts of a case in which the following two propositions hold good and are equally true: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”  And, “Only the obedient believe. If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command.”

- Why, according to Bonhoeffer, are the two inseparable?

4. Bonhoeffer doubles down further (page 68):
“When people complain, for instance, that they find it hard to believe, it is a sign of deliberate or unconscious disobedience.  It is all too easy to put them off by offering the remedy of cheap grace.” “Unbelief thrives on cheap grace, for it is determined to persist in disobedience.”

- Staying with Bonhoeffer’s line of reasoning, what is the lure and deception of a life of disobedience to Jesus’ call?

5. To clarify the role of Jesus, Bonhoeffer offers these statements:
- “Here is the sum of the commandments – to live in fellowship with Christ.”
- “In the moment he takes up the young man’s question, Jesus wrenches it from him. He had asked the way to eternal life: Jesus answers, ‘I call thee, and that is all.’”
- “The life of discipleship is not the hero-worship we would pay to a good master, but obedience to the Son of God.”

- What do these three statements have in common?

6.  Bonhoeffer concludes, “Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.”

- The call to discipleship leads each of us down the uncharted road of spiritual discernment, where we encounter the Holy Spirit’s loving invitation to receive and obey the call of Jesus.
- How does our relationship to Jesus deepen as we submit to his consummate love and grace? How does this change us?