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The Lectio Letter - Issue #52 - Becoming a People of Forgiveness Series | Part I

The Lectio Letter - Issue #52 - Becoming a People of Forgiveness Series | Part I
By Liam Byrnes • Issue #52 • View online
“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.” Daniel 9:9
“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” Psalm 130:3-4
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”
Proverbs 17:9

Welcome to Issue #52 of the Lectio Letter. This (usually) members-only newsletter is filled with music, film and food suggestions, links, and an article written by yours truly.
Becoming a People of Forgiveness Series
Today, I’m starting a four-part series on forgiveness. What began as a couple of thoughts I wanted to unpack in a single article grew to be over 6000 words and, I didn’t want to do that to you.. at least in one email!
When I wandered into writing on practical forgiveness I suddenly found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed at how complicated and confusing it can become when you begin to consider the many different realities that occur requiring forgiveness.
So this will not be a “Three easy steps to Forgiveness”, as if that were even possible. But more of a framework for considering how forgiveness can and should work in the context of broken relationships. Even then the variance and severity of situations deeply impact the pastoral approach to making forgiveness practical. I also realised that writing reflections on practical forgiveness needs some core theological frameworks, otherwise we endanger watering down rich biblical forgiveness into some kind of “self-help-whatever-it-means-to-you” version of forgiveness.
That being said, when I embarked on writing this, I had high hopes for creating a neat framework for forgiveness. During the interim time I, unsurprisingly yet surprisingly to me, bumped into a series of situations where I was needing to offer or receive forgiveness which reminded me how much we “see through a glass dimly” in these complicated and sensitive areas.
While I’ve touched on a number of things I believe will be really helpful when surveying the vast horizon of forgiveness made practical, I’ve inevitably only mapped 20% of what I’d hoped to explain…all the same, I hope you will find my reflections helpful.
As a sneak preview, the four parts of the Series will be;
  1. Forgiving in the Power of the Spirit
  2. Forgiveness, Judgement, Justice and Repentance 
  3. The Inner Work of Forgiveness
  4. The Outer Work of Forgiveness
Become a member to receive the rest of the Series
It’s been a while since I published one of these Lectio letters for the wider world, so if this has caught your attention and you want to read the next three articles, as well as gain access to the past 51 then help me out and become a member
As a member, you get access to all the previous issue’s even if you only just signed up recently. Click on a previous issue and then follow the ‘already a member’ link and it will email it straight to your inbox!
The last few issues have been on:
PSA: I’ve heard a number of people missing out on the whole email if they use Gmail because the email gets ‘clipped’. You can see at the bottom of the email if it says “message clipped”, then click “View entire message” to see it all. If you don’t see my signature at the bottom, you are not getting it all.
Status Board
While I had hoped to report that life has been breezy and light these last few weeks, unfortunately we have received a few more blows in the form of some nasty food poisoning which Rachel received and was down for four days with the effects of. At the same time, we were scheduled to participate and lead worship in some All Nations meetings which came about during a difficult time for our beloved community and organisation. Despite the challenging nature of the time, we managed to spend time with dear friends from the US, Taiwan, Malawi and Zimbabwe which reminded us how rich our lives are in friendship.
Things are slowly turning towards summer here and this new track from Cape Town bank Beatenberg is a great uplifting poppy number. Thanks to Stuart, my brother in law for sending it our way!
Beatenberg feat. Msaki - White Shadow (Official Music Video)
Beatenberg feat. Msaki - White Shadow (Official Music Video)
I came across this Brazilian? band while searching KEXP’s most watched live performance. A great groove from a band I’d never heard of..
Bomba Estéreo - El Alma y el Cuerpo (Live on KEXP)
Bomba Estéreo - El Alma y el Cuerpo (Live on KEXP)
We’ve been loving the Apple TV+ Series For all mankind. We just watched the finale of season 3, and without sharing any spoilers I’ll just say it had a gripping twist at the end that has left me (and the Internet) buzzing… Well worth watching if you haven’t.
For All Mankind — Season 3 Official Trailer | Apple TV+
For All Mankind — Season 3 Official Trailer | Apple TV+
Last night we enjoyed this gripping WWII Spy story “A Call to Spy” which tells the heartbreaking and compelling story of the British War effort to resource a resistance movement in France.
It is “inspired” by true stories and so I was motivated to look up one of the main characters Noor’s life (on Wikipedia). Noor Inayat Khan was the first female wireless operator (potentially the most dangerous and crucial of all the roles played) and the first Muslim woman to be given the George Cross. Fascinating.
A Call to Spy - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films
A Call to Spy - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films
One of our favourite places in Cape Town is Rosetta Coffee on Bree street. In addition to some of the best coffee in Cape Town they have a strong food game. They introduced us to Danish dream cake which is a delicious light sponge with a muscovado sugar coconut topping that is out of this world.
On Sunday we decided we would give it a try at home using this recipe below and it came out great!
Danish Dream Cake Recipe | Epicurious
3 eggs
1 cup (225 g) granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla sugar (see note at top)
1¾ cups (225 g) all-purpose flour or cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2⁄3 cup (150 ml) whole milk
3⁄4 stick (75 g) butter, melted
For the topping
1 stick (100 g) butter
1½ cups (150 g) dried shredded coconut
1¼ cups (250 g) dark brown sugar
1⁄3 cup (75 ml) whole milk
Pinch salt
See the link above for instructions!
Listening more than Reading
I’ve been continuing to slowly read The Congregation in a Secular Age by Andrew Root and haven taken to read bit by bit AJ Swoboda’s book Subversive Sabbath each Sunday. Finally, I jumped through a book on the subject of forgiveness as I was ruminating on the subject for this series. It was given to me in 2006 by my mother-in-law and faithful reader here at Lectio Letter called Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf. Hopefully, this series will be a small kind of fruit emerging from that generous gift 16 years ago.
While I normally share what I’m reading, for different reasons, I’ve been actually listening to more podcasts recently.
Romans 7 is not talking about Christians?
In this excellent podcast, Preston Sprinkle engages in an in-depth yet accessible discussion with Joseph Dodson on why Romans 7 is not talking about Christians.
While everyone has heard verse 17 quoted: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” when someone laments their inability to make the right decision, here Joseph Dodson makes a compelling argument that Christians are not who Paul is talking about here.
If you’ve ever read Romans 7 into Romans 8, you’ll be aware that they don’t seem to exactly hold together well and this has been a topic of hot debate for centuries. Chapter 7 finishes with: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Then by Chapter 8 it begins; “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”. These don’t exactly hang well together and of course, the chapter break was not even present until much later when references were added to bibles, so we aren’t being helped there either.
The argument that Romans 7 is not talking about Christians is basically that in the chapter we have some clues that Paul is putting on a persona, or a mask, an imitation of a person outside of Christ and then in Chapter 8 begins talking as Himself. Although this seems hard to see in English, there are a number of clues in the greek that this is in fact, what he is up to.
This is not just some new scholarship seeking to liberally lessen the blow of Romans 7, in fact, it seems that all of the commentators (such as Origen) we have from the early church, who were greek speakers themselves understand the chapter this way.
In fact, it is only with Augustine (known himself to have battled deeply distorted desires and spent his life engaging the pelagian heresy which over estimated the ability of humans to sanctify themselves) that the famous verse and wider chapter of Romans 7 is seen as speaking of a Christian. Furthermore, almost no existing biblical scholar of Romans holds that Romans 7 is speaking of Christians now in Christ and yet in pulpits everywhere these verses are continually used to explain the Christian life.
Joseph Dodson says that the discrepancy between the tone of Romans 7 and 8 is defended by those who want to claim that is does speak of Christian, as representing a “now and not yet” tension. We are now free (the Now) (Rom 8) but we still experience sinful desire (the not yet). Dodson claims this actually functions in the life of a believer not as, “now and not yet” but as “now but not really”. The best re-phrase based on Romans 8 is “now but in part”
Becoming a People of Forgiveness | Part I | Forgiving in the Power of the Spirit
Humble, gentle, kind, provocative, plain-spoken, poetic, attentive and just.
These are just a few of the qualities that attract so many of us to Jesus of Nazareth, qualities that emerge from his joy-filled, difficult and contested life. 
Full of the assurance that He was loved, Jesus walked through his life with confidence and gentleness in ways that can only be described as astounding. And yet, he also wept, grieved, and wrestled with loss, especially the loss of his once faithful friends. His life ended in torture with the words, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The life and ways of Jesus have captured and confounded generations, having become the example above all examples of what it looks like to live fully human as God intended. Yet when we reflect on our own conflicted and contested lives, we wonder how on earth Jesus lived in the way he did as this captivating expression of heaven. Often, our conclusion is that he is God, and we are not. We failingly aspire to his wonderful example but just as easily let ourselves off the hook when we consider this was the man who was fully human, yet divine. Surely Jesus’ divinity is where he receives power to be the one who navigates the complexity and pain of human existence and as the scriptures say, "was without sin?”
A curious passage in Philippians Chapter 2 tells us that the earliest Christians did not believe it was Jesus’ divinity that he drew on to live such a life. Their understanding is that he emptied himself of the privilege and power of His divine life in order to live as fully human as we are. With that being said, Jesus is not the ultimate moral champion because he does not draw on pure human resilience or resources. Taking hold of the invitation given to the first humans in the garden of Eden, Jesus receives his life from the Spirit, life which can only come from the breath of God. He makes this freshly available to us, encouraging us that a Spirit-breathed life is the only way to imitate his heavenly forgiving ways on earth. 
Pouring out the Spirit in Pentecost, God restarts creation through this unlikely band of bruised servants that he calls disciples. He reminds us that to be truly and fully human, in the way God intends, requires a deep reliance on the Spirit of God. And so the fruits of the Spirit that we see so winsomely in Jesus’ life can become a reality for us as we conform our lives to the pattern of being truly human by the power of the Spirit. 
Jesus doesn’t invite us to be inspired by his actions, as if he is climbing a great mountain and we are trying to limp along behind him in our own strength. Through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus becomes our helper. He is our Sherpa, directing, guiding and training us, and handing us “Holy Spirit oxygen tanks” for high altitude ascents. We cannot keep Jesus simply as a distant historical example because, by his Spirit, he is the one who is with us now, directing us on the path and pointing out the cliffs and crevasses that may signal disaster in human life. He is, as the Psalmist says, "our very present help.” (Ps:46:1) He is training us to climb the mountain of holiness, a life marked by forgiveness in a surrounding world which has largely become devoid of grace.
To be honest, as we look at the ways of Jesus, there is space for a level of discouragement. This comes into sharp focus for us when we, like him, experience deep suffering, a measure of torture, or the small daily deaths of life. It is during times such as these, that we become aware of our inability, indeed often our unwillingness, to utter those unthinkably gracious words Jesus utters from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness lies at the centre of the Christian faith. Even before Jesus appears, God’s gracious ways create avenues to live free from the burden of the sin and disorder which has infected creation. Disorder and darkness surround us, but it also creeps right inside our bones and can lead us to become, in small but also significant ways, contributors to the brokenness of God’s good creation. None of us is without the brokenness we call sin, and none of us lives a life free from the need for profound forgiveness, both receiving and giving.
Like love, forgiveness seems like a great idea in theory but can feel like an impossibly difficult task in practice. We sing the songs and quote scriptures, but we often find that we are unable to forgive when impacted and affected by messy broken realities. 
Calling on the power of God to have the desire and ability to forgive is central to our witness and calling. Many scriptures point to our own forgiveness in Christ and our call to do likewise, but when we are triggered and offended, a whole different set of priorities seem to flood our hearts and minds. When someone cuts me off in traffic or endangers my life through their reckless driving or impatience, I am more likely to spend the next minutes muttering or shouting insults or worse, fantasising about the violence I would enjoy expressing at their expense. My body and mind become set on revenge, and that is all I want to do. At that point, I am not thinking about forgiveness.
However, an often more crucial task of forgiveness for a follower of Jesus comes not in the slights and impoliteness of strangers, but when someone within our Christian community acts in a way that deeply hurts and offends us. One of Jesus’ priorities for His people, revealed particularly in his prayer to the Father in John 17:21 is for unity;
 “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”
Christian unity is not simply important because it’s nice to be nice, but because the forgiveness we offer each other within the Christian community is one of our primary witnesses to an outside, graceless world. As Jesus himself said, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) If the world is to see God made visible in our age, then deep and real love for and forgiveness of one another is a key sign. 
As mentioned, grace, love and forgiveness can feel like a high and holy ideal, especially when hurt, offences, misunderstandings and betrayal are experienced within our Christian communities. We feel shocked because we expect the world to be a difficult and painful place, but not here in Christian community where we hoped we would experience safety. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. The brokenness that is “out there,” is in our Christian communities too. We are not perfect, and in many ways, our draw to become a Christian is perhaps our recognition of this, that we long to be healed and re-made by the grace of God. Most of us, in moments that require forgiveness to be given or received, come into contact with the reality that we have a long way to go if we are to climb this mountain.
So, how can we practice forgiveness?
I am hoping to unpack the complexity of forgiveness and some practical ways to become people of forgiveness in the following parts of this series. We need to take an honest look at our ideals, theories, scriptures and songs about forgiveness, and get real for a moment. There is work to do so that we move towards being ready to offer and receive the gift of forgiveness. In times when we are not feeling provoked or triggered by situations requiring forgiveness, we need to become clear-eyed and full-hearted in our preparation to become the type of people who can have a forgiving countenance.  More on this in my next Lectio Letter.
Miscellaneous Link List
I Dare to Disagree
As with all working contexts, now and again, there are disagreements in our circles.
Disagreements are inevitable and it is crucial we operate in relational ways that encourage and develop the skill of disagreement. That’s right, it’s a skill, you can practise it and get better, but it takes risk in order to develop the ability that allows you not to be brittle in the face of disagreement.
Seth Godin’s thoughts posted in full below but available here contain practical and urgent advice we need to heed.
The hallmark of a resilient, productive and sustainable culture is that disagreements aren’t risky.
When someone cares enough to make an assertion and show their work, a healthy organization or society takes a look.
The alternative is the brittle, closed culture of talking points, loyalty oaths and unquestioned status quo. It might be a neighborhood social club, a large corporation or a nation, but the principle remains.
What happens when we disagree? Because when the world changes (and it always does) we’ll probably end up disagreeing sooner later. Being good at it is a skill.
Declining water levels in the Danube reveal sunk warships
خالد اسكيف
The severe decline of the #Danube River to its lowest level in almost a century reveals the hulls of dozens of #German warships that sank during #WWII near the Serbian port of #Prahovo overlooking the river that passes and borders 10 European countries.
Selfies just got easier on Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro climbers can share slope selfies in real-time thanks to new Wi-Fi
A short fun surf movie from South Africa
Deus Africa   Don't fight it, just ride it
Deus Africa Don't fight it, just ride it
Members of the Polish resistance during World War 2 from then to now, 1940 - 2021
History In Pictures on Instagram: "Members of the Polish resistance during World War 2 from then to now, 1940 - 2021
How the French restoration project at Guédelon Castle kept alive medieval approaches to carpentry that is serving the rebuilding of Notre Dame
‘They said it was impossible’: how medieval carpenters are rebuilding Notre Dame | Notre Dame | The Guardian
Last member of an isolated tribe dies
A fascinating story emerges (behind paywall unfortunately);
When officials from Brazil’s Indigenous protection agency approached the hut in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, their fears were confirmed: They were witnessing the first recorded disappearance of an uncontacted tribe in the country’s history.
The man lying in the hammock, the last member of his tribe, had died, and with him an entire culture and answers to a thousand questions.
Even his name was a mystery. He was known only as “the Man of the Hole” because of the dozens of holes he had dug over the years in his territory. His age, too, could only be guessed at. He appeared to be about 60, officials said.
In Brazil, the Last Member of an Isolated Indigenous Tribe Dies - The New York Times
Google AI reveals undeclared swimming pools!
French Tax Authorities Used Google AI to Snuff Out More than 20,000 Undeclared Swimming Pools
That’s all for now…
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Liam Byrnes

A Fortnightly newsletter with links, music, recipes and one article from me focussed on Christian formation, Theology and Discipleship

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Liam Byrnes, 1 Montrose Close, Noordhoek, Western Cape, South Africa