The best flashcard software for language learning

I’ve tested lots of flashcard software for language learning, and by far the best is ANKI.

Key benefits of Anki include:

  • Words are tested in both directions (e.g. English-Greek and Greek-English)
  • Words are re-tested on varying schedules, so that they come up again just before you forget them
  • Rationing of words so that you don’t learn more than you can each day
  • Graphic display of how much you’ve learned, and forecasts of where you will be in the future if you keep going
  • There are many many existing decks for free use, many including audio
  • Great synchronisation between devices – free
  • Free for PC (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) use (a very reasonable fee for mobile device downloads)
  • Support for Windows, Mac, Linux/BSD, iPhone/Android, and many others (some via the web client)

Anki running on linux

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The Lone Ranger

Can a Christian be a “lone ranger”, or must he be involved with other Christians? We know that we are saved by faith alone; but does that mean we can have faith and choose to stay alone? I used to think so, but the Bible says otherwise on this point.

The word “must” is a difficult one to use; we’re rightly very fearful of words which seem like they are adding requirements for Salvation, but there are places in which the Bible is less cautious than we’d perhaps like it to be. This is one of them – for as we’ll see, the way in which we relate to one another is so closely linked to our Christian faith, that a problem with the former is described as a problem with the latter.

Old Pews SXC.hu; Uploaded by emailroberYou may remember that one of the last things Jesus asked his disciples before going to the cross is that that they are to “love one another”? He went on to say that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13, 15).

John, in his first letter, goes on to explain that “we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers”, boldly declaring that “whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3), and “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4). Why are the two so closely linked? We get a clue in 2 John 1, where John writes “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” – that is, a necessary consequence of the love God showed to us in sending Christ to die for us sinners is then loving one another.

So, to be a Christian, to love God and walk in the light and the life, is directly seen in the love that one has for the brothers. That doesn’t mean that loving the brothers is Christian faith or any part of obtaining Salvation, but that it is so closely linked as to be inseparable in practice.

And you simply can’t love your fellow Christians by ignoring and avoiding them! Yes, it is a hard teaching, but the Scriptures here show that the lone ranger who shuns the fellowship of other Christians and claims a sufficient faith is found between him and God alone, is likely to be sadly deluded and still abides in death. Let us bring him or her the Gospel afresh.

Since God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another

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Three Little Pigs, One Wolf, One Giant and One Gospel

Can you remember The Three Little Pigs? What happens when the first two houses get blown down? The pigs get eaten, right? Not likely, they actually run to their older brother’s house and they all live happily ever after in the brick house at the end, or so I read.bbff

Let’s try again… what about Little Red Riding Hood? Do you remember the bit when the grandmother escapes the wolf by hiding in a cupboard, or the bit when the wolf sees the woodcutter, runs away from the woodcutter, leaving little red unharmed, and never comes back? Me neither…

Okay, one last attempt… Jack and the Beanstalk. What does the giant shout? “Fee, Fi, Foo, Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman, be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”, am I right? Well, apparently, he now stops at “Englishman”…

Now for something more serious. Do you remember the bit in the Bible where Jesus is born, starts healing the sick and teaching, and then the book ends? No, me neither… I’m fairly sure there’s something else that should come between miracles and the end, at least something to do with a cross and an empty tomb?

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that all of these rather strange accounts can be found on the shelves of my home – some in multiple editions. And that includes the children’s “Bible” that fails to reach the cross, let alone the resurrection. However, they all have something in common – and that is an assumption that children must not be confronted with death. But are they right? Should we remove death from the stories our children hear, and cut out the crucifixion from the Bible until they are older?

These questions came to mind today, following a conversation with one of my children on the way back from school. It ran something like this:

“Dad, look, a wedding car!”
“I’m not sure it is, it looks more like a funeral car” (spying the black car with dark rosettes)
“What’s a funeral dad?”
“What do we do when people die?”
“We celebrate”
“Well, that’s a funeral. Is a celebration normally happy, or sad?”
“Happy”
“So, why would we celebrate at a funeral, isn’t it sad if someone dies?”
“We know that they are going to heaven, we can celebrate”
“Are you sure, what if they have done bad things, are you sure they will go to heaven?”
“But it says in the Bible, that Jesus died for our sins” (good lad!)

We went on to talk about other related things, but it struck me later in the evening, reading the strange version of Little Red Riding Hood mentioned above, that my son’s understanding of the Gospel relies on his knowledge of death. But not only this… it is the same Gospel built upon death that has changed his understanding of death itself, and given him a reason for hope.

And I don’t think any age sensitivity should justify hiding that from anyone.

True, Jesus was brutally flogged and died on a bloody cross. True, it’s so horrific that when Mel Gibson made a film of it, the board gave it an 18 certificate. But it is also true that on that tree Christ died for our sins, that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. And – knowing this – I believe that I’d be a bad father if I didn’t try my very best to teach that to my children.

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Choosing Hymns

So far as I can see, there are three things which are absolutely essential for hymns used in a church.

First and foremost, the theology must always be excellent – to give the congregation lies to put on their lips is a terrible error. Hymns teach very very well, and so we must take even greater care with the theology of a hymn than that of a sermon.

Second, the theology must always be present – if a hymn fails to express anything of Scriptural origin then there is no merit in singing it as a gathered church. We may as well hum Dambusters together!

Third, the hymn must always be comprehensible by the congregation – which means it must be in the language they speak, and sung in such a way as the words can be discerned – the full comprehensibility of our gathered service is foundational Anglican doctrine.

There are then three things which are very good to have, but not absolutely essential:

First, that the hymn connects to the sermon or readings – so it helps give expression to what has been taught. This is very advantageous.

Second, that the hymn can be sung by most of the congregation – that is, the tune/setting be easy enough for someone without any training to pick up by the second verse. This underscores the difference between a concert and a church service. It’s also good if the tune and words are both well written, such that it is memorable and pleasing to sing. This aids the singing, and helps the retention of the teaching.

Third, that Christ is mentioned and his importance to the topic of the hymn expressed. Given that the Scripture as a whole points to Christ, and that we are choosing hymns that express Scripture, then it is right and proper that hymns should usually take us from that Scripture to Christ. Perhaps consider writing an additional final verse to achieve this if an otherwise good hymn fails to quite reach Christ.

Finally, there are three things which should be avoided:

First, avoid hymns which could probably be sung in a Synagogue or a Mosque. We are Christians and that must be reflected in what we sing. Likewise, avoid hymns which could be sung to a girlfriend!

Second, avoid hymns designed for emotional manipulation – typically those high on repetition and low on content. It may be fun to repeat something lots of times, it may even induce a state of tranquillity and mystical connection, but emotional manipulation is not the purpose of a hymn. Where hymns are chosen for emotional manipulation the service starts to be about getting an emotional high rather than being about the objective work of Christ.

Third, avoid hymns that take verses out of context. Scripture quoted in hymns must be used to mean the same thing that it does when read in full Biblical context. Even if the words sound really good in that place, they shouldn’t be sung if they are communicating something other than Scripture intends; as otherwise you teach poor exegetical method and mislead people as to what that passage actually means.

Do you have comments on this, or things to add to my lists? Drop me a comment and let me know!

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Christianity and Liberalism – J Gresham Machen

Christianity and Liberalism – J Gresham Machen

This mid-length (or, in theological terms, very short) book provides one of the most crucial explanations of what’s gone wrong with much of the ‘mainline’ Church today, particularly in England and America. Written in 1923, it sets out in brilliant clarity just what liberalism really is, and how it differs from Christianity. I highly recommend this book.

You can find the book free online here, or perhaps buy it at a pretty decent price from The Church Society (just search for Machen).

Do drop your thoughts in the comments here after you’ve read it!

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By faith was Abel’s off’ring wrought [new hymn]

A new hymn to an old tune… this is a ‘work in progress’; please do give your feedback. It is a reflection on Hebrews 11:1-12:2.

By faith was Abel’s off’ring wrought,
By faith was Enoch heav’nward brought,
By faith Noah kept his family safe,
Was heir to righteousness by faith.

By faith did Abraham leave his home,
By faith he offered up his son.
By faith had Jacob spoke afore,
And future Exodus foresaw.

By faith was Moses kept alive,
By faith he for his people strived.
By faith sought the reproach of Christ,
Disdained Egyptian royal life.

By faith did many likewise walk,
By faith were mocked and stoned and killed.
By faith they took adversity,
Of whom the world was not worthy.

Through faith all these commended are,
Yet saw the promise from afar;
For God had purposed better still,
Which God in Christ for us fulfilled.

By faith Christ once endured the cross,
By faith he sought his joy in us,
By faith he had the shame despised,
And now he reigns above the skies.

Therefore since we are not alone,
But walk the path that they have shown,
Look now to Christ as on we race,
Founder, perfecter, of our faith.

Music:- [Puer Nobis Nascitur; by M. Praetorius; AMR 512]
Words:- Vincent Murphy 2012

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Forgiveness is…

Forgiveness is fundamentally unjust and unfair; for if any meaningful forgiveness is to take place the wronged party must account the offender better than he rightly is, and so suffer in himself the difference. Thus it is not fair! How could it be fair for the one who forgives to pay the cost, not the one who needs forgiveness?

Usually, this means that what we call forgiveness is really a silent barter, in which the accounting of wrongdoing is exchanged for anger, a silent resentment, or a covering for one’s own wrongdoing – past or future. Even as children, we realise that when we hear a parent forgive us, we are usually wise to tread very carefully around them for a while. Again, nobody is that surprised when the wife who forgave her husband his adultery goes on to have an affair of her own. This, sadly, is what forgiveness usually means – the swapping of an outward and labeled grudge for an inward and unacknowledged grudge.

Now, I said usually, and I chose my words carefully. In fact, there are two – and only two – exceptions to this.

The first is in the work of Christ on the cross; for there God achieves a true forgiveness of his people, by bearing in himself the full consequence of sin and turning aside God’s anger. John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Only in God can being wronged and giving forgiveness resolve themselves in any ultimate sense; for in giving his only Son to die for our sins, he remains absolutely just. God is not wronged when he suffers for our sins, for it is his own wrath. On the cross God drinks the full cup of God’s own wrath in the person of his eternal Son. God does not wrong God; for just as Christ gives himself willingly to death, so too is God’s full, just, fair and righteous claim to punish sin and transgression met.

Unlike the wife asked to forgive her husband’s adultery, who internalises her wrong, forced to accept what is fundamentally unfair; God does not, in the big picture, forgive us by accepting our sin and passing over it. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the cross; for on the cross we find not acceptance and passing over of sin, but the full punishment for the sin of the world – and that’s really important to recognise. Although it comes at great cost, God is not wronged on the cross; and so he remains entirely holy and just.

And, that means the forgiveness we receive from God on account of the death of his Son is, finally, true forgiveness. It’s not mere toleration of our sin, or an ignoring of our past wrongdoings; it is a real and true forgiveness. There is no longer an outward grudge to convert to an inward grudge; there is no silent barter. All that was outward has been fully met, and so, as Paul writes “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). And he means it.

The second place in which true forgiveness can be found is in the community of those who are forgiven by God on account of Christ. Nowhere else can true forgiveness be found but here, or on the cross. For, nowhere else are there people who have been truly forgiven much. We saw John’s words in which he pointed to love being shown in God’s sending of his Son to be the propitiation for our sins; but here we see a second form of love, but one which relies absolutely on the first. Jesus explains this very simply, saying of a sinful woman who had wiped his feet with her tears “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

In Christ, and only in Christ, we are forgiven not just ‘much’, but everything. And so, in Christ, and only in Christ, we love much. Thus, suddenly, forgiving one another becomes just and fair – for that for which we forgive our neighbours can never outweigh that from which we have been forgiven by God in Christ. Because he has forgiven us, we can forgive others; indeed it is expected of us.

Paul directly compares the forgiveness we have in Christ with the way we forgive one another, saying “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Even more strongly, Jesus explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” by saying “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14). That is to say, that truly forgiving one another is so tightly linked to our response to the Gospel that where it is absent, something is seriously wrong and the faith is likely not genuine.

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The Koine Greek Verb Ending Song

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Upon the hill of Calvary (hymn; tune: Repton)

Upon the hill of Calvary,
Thrice nailed to a tree,
Below the sign “King of the Jews”
God’s very Son his life did lose,
In pain and agony!
In pain and agony!

Was it for me you shed your blood;
upon the cursed tree?
I don’t deserve such holy love,
Just judgment, death and holy wrath;
Yet still you died for me!
Yet still you died for me!

Your living flesh you offered up,
in costly sacrifice;
And by it I am reconciled;
Yea through it God calls me his child,
O holy amnesty!
O holy amnesty!

By thorn, and cross, and Roman sword,
for me your blood was poured;
To seal your holy covenant,
To see the temple curtain rent,
From wrath you set us free!
From wrath you set us free!

It was for me you shed your blood;
upon that cursed tree!
For on that day,
As Scriptures say,
You truly took my sin away!
You took my sin away!
You took my sin away!

Words: Vincent Murphy; Tune: Repton

A sample with music and rather bad singing:

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Woe to you, O Chorazin – Luke 10:13-16

There are some parts of the Gospel which just don’t seem to make it into hymns very often.

Luke 10:13-16 is one of them. You never hear this sung:

Woe to you, O Chorazin,
Bethsaida, Woe to you!

Or consider this:
Will you be exaulted to heaven?  You shall be brought down to Hades!

Can I have a show of hands – how many of us go to those words for comfort in time of need?

However, if we were to pass over them as “just Jesus in a bad mood” and find something which sounds more loving, we’d be making a mistake.

For here, we do see words of comfort, and words in which we should rejoice; particularly, because it reassures us regarding a tension that presses hard on all of us, even today: James and John had earlier put it like this: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

That was back in Luke 9, verse 54…

Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, verse 52, and had sent people ahead to make preparations for him in the Samaritan village he was going to enter.  However, the villagers did not receive Jesus!  They rejected the one Peter had confessed, earlier in this chapter, to be the Christ of God!  That is, they’ve refused to receive God’s own King, and now stand opposed to the Kingdom of God!  So, Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?

Back then, Jesus rebuked them, but we don’t learn why, and the question lingers until we reach today’s passage here in Luke 10.  Is there no consequence for those who reject Jesus? What kind of great King can accept such a rejection?

The immediate context of our passage is that of Jesus sending out the seventy-two, sent out in pairs, into, verse 1, “every town and place where he himself was about to go”.  There are a lot of details given about the nature of the mission; but for our context, we’ll look at what they are to do concerning the people of the place:

In verse 9, if they are received by the people, they are to “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
And then, verses 10 and 11, if they are not received, they wipe off the dust from their feed; but still proclaim that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’

And that takes us to the start of these statements of judgement Jesus makes.  It’s a similar situation to that at the Samaritan village isn’t it?  There’s a place to which Jesus is to come, but there’s a rejection; as Jesus was not received, so too the seventy are not received.  Last time, it was James and John who spoke about judgement… but this time, it’s Jesus; saying:

Verse 12: “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town”
Now, that’s a really interesting comparison!  What happened in Sodom is exactly what James and John had requested in the Samaritan village.  Genesis 19:24 tells us that “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground”.  Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?

No; but, a day will come when it will be more bearable for Sodom than for that town.  What day?  It could be the day that Jesus comes – remember, he’d sent them into all the places he himself was to visit.  Is he saying that when he reaches those places, if they’d rejected the seventy, he’ll do something even worse than raining down fire from heaven to them?

I don’t think so; it seems that he’s talking about a future day, a day of judgement; and he’s now pronouncing ahead of time the consequences of rejecting God’s Kingdom and his King.

That’s why he goes on in verse thirteen to reflect on some of the places he’s already been.  First, he exclaims woe concerning Chorazin and Bethsaida.  This woe may be read as a judgement, or equally as a lament; but in either case, it’s clear that a coming judgement is clearly in view – for in verse 14, echoing verse 12, we read that “But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you”

Chorazin is a place about which we know little, but it’s paired with Bethsaida, which the reader of Luke’s Gospel has just read about, back in the previous chapter.  It’s the place where the five thousand were fed – and it’s another place where we read those words, chapter 9, verse 11, he “spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing”  Interesting words… because that’s just what the seventy were sent out to do, to “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

We’re not told anything in chapter 9 about how the people of the place reacted to these mighty works; the healing, the feeding, but we get a hint here in our passage;…. it seems they had not repented, but had rejected the gospel of the kingdom of God:

Chapter 10, verse 13 – For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Sitting in sack-cloth and ashes is a popular Old-Testament Jewish way of outwardly expressing an inward repentance.  It’s something which had continued even in the intertestamental period, as a way for the people to outwardly show their repentance and turning back to God.  Here, however, it’s not Judea which would repent in sack-cloth, but Tyre and Sidon.  Now; for a first century Jew, Tyre and Sidon – just like Sodom – would have been directly associated with images of God’s judgement.  Ezekiel, in particular, had prophesied the destruction of these great but wicked cities… and they had suffered their terrible destruction at the hands of Nebuchanezer and Alexander the Great.

Here, we see Jesus saying that even these wicked pagan cities would have repented like a God-fearing Jew had they seen the kinds of works that had been done in Bethsaida!  And in consequence, being more wicked and hard-hearted than even those of Tyre and Sidon, they incur upon themselves a worse punishment on the day of judgement.  A day will come, a day of judgement, when God’s King will punish all those who have rejected his rule, and it will be a punishment worse than being slaughtered by invading armies; it will be a punishment worse than being consumed by fire from heaven.  Yes; ultimately, there are very very serious consequences for rejecting God’s King.

That brings us to the last of the cities; Capernaum.  Capernaum’s familiar to the reader of Luke as well; as it’s the place the Centurion’s servant was healed back in chapter 7.  That’s an event where we see a gentile being exalted for his faith in Christ, a faith which was lacking even in Israel.

Now, imagine that I were to tell you that a starving woman entered a church on a Sunday morning to ask a little food that she might share with her malnourished children.  Suppose I were to then say that a hindu tourist who’d come to take a look had given her his own lunch, and she’d departed full of joy?  What am I saying here?  Yes, it’s wonderful that the hindu had such kindness on her… but it’s a bitter condemnation upon every Christian standing there that morning.  That’s what had happened with the Centurion, as Jesus came to a place where he surely should have been received by faith amongst his own, he’d found it only in a gentile, a part of the occupying force of Rome.

To this city, who when they heard the Gospel of the kingdom of God had rejected God’s own king, Jesus now brings up a Jewish taunt, something a first century Jew would have understood immediately.  He uses an offensive rhyme, something used to mock the Babylonians – that great oppressor so ruthlessly destroyed by God in judgement.

God had taught it to them in Isaiah 14, saying “you shall take up this taunt against the king of Babylon”; and it contains these verses, Isaiah 14:13-15:

13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.

And that’s the very thing Jesus now uses to taunt Capernaum:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

Yes, Capernaum is being likened to the great arch-enemy, the very image of evil and godlessness… Babylon.  And that it will face terrible judgement just as Babylon had is clearly being implied.

You shall be brought down to Hades.

We asked if there is there no consequence for those who reject Jesus? We asked what kind of great King can accept such a rejection?

We’ve now seen that there is certainly a consequence for those who reject Jesus.  We’ve seen their punishment described as worse than the worst historical judgements the Bible describes.  We’ve seen them as to be punished worse than Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, and Babylon.  And so we’ve seen that King Jesus by no means accepts being rejected.

And that means that we don’t have to call down fire from heaven upon those who do not receive the word.  It also means that we shouldn’t feel that God is being defeated as people fail to acknowledge him, or come under the rule of his King.  For make no mistake, there will be a judgement, and when it comes it will be far worse than we can possibly imagine.

There’s just one loose end left to tie up.  We’ve seen the consequences of rejecting Jesus as he’s described the wrath to come upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  And that makes sense – for rejecting God’s King must incur God’s wrath.  But what about rejecting those whom he sends?  How does this apply to the seventy, and how does it apply to us?

Jesus explains this in the last part of our passage, verse 16.  He shows two things; first, he shows that to hear the seventy setting out the gospel is the same as to hear Jesus himself, and that’s important.  It’s an extension of the apostolic authority given to the twelve to the seventy; that is, it shows us that this is not just something that applies to the twelve, but is much broader.  “The one who hears you, hears me”

Secondly; he shows that because Jesus speaks by those who speak his gospel, there are consequences for those who hear but reject them.  Indeed, to reject them, is to reject Jesus; and, to reject Jesus is to reject the Father.  “the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

And that should be a comfort to us; for we know from experience that in every place that the gospel is proclaimed, we are ridiculed, ignored, rejected or worse.  Those who reject the gospel of Christ we proclaim go from strength to strength, advancing in power, in wealth, and every wickedness.  But they do not really reject us, it is God they are rejecting; and he will bring them into judgement on the last day.  Each and every one of them, with a punishment worse even than being consumed by fire from heaven.  And this is a great comfort, because it means that you don’t need to call down fire from heaven, you don’t need to lose heart or doubt the power of God; but, instead, firmly trust in the gospel, continue declaring the kingdom of God to all.  For just as Jesus teaches; “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”  Whether they receive it or not.

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