News: Changes to how you do courses

When this website launched back in November 2019, I decided I needed to create courses and lessons (rather than simply YouTube videos). When we went into lockdown last year, I ended up with more time on my hands and so I decided to do build a course system from scratch. I can’t remember now why I built one from scratch – it seemed like a good idea at the time! I think it was because I wanted it to be integrated with a mobile app.

Anyway, as you may have seen, recently I decided to simplify the way I publish courses (see the announcement last month). I’ve decided that this is also the right time to move to an “off the shelf” system for running courses. I simply don’t have the time at the moment to create videos and perform my regular church duties, as well as maintaining a code base for this website!

So here’s what’s happening in summary:

  • The mobile app has been formally retired – you won’t be able to download it from now on. If you had already downloaded it, it will stop working.
  • If you had completed any courses here on the website, your progress will be lost.
  • All new courses added will be under the new system. It’s now operational and you can sign up for courses on the Courses page. (I hope to tidy up a few things over the next few days).

I’m sorry if any of these things affect you – very few people used the app, and few people had started courses or were actively using it. However, if you were one of them, I am very sorry and I hope that you’re able to make use of the new system.

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How to support Understand the Bible

Over the last few weeks I’ve been making a few changes to the way that you can support Understand the Bible – in particular with financial support. PayPal is now gone, and instead you can support via Patreon or donating via Direct Debit.

I’ve made a short video about it all:

All the links are on the support page.

I’d just like to say, once again, how much I appreciate everyone who supports Understand the Bible in any way. God has really provided through you, so – thank you!

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An exciting announcement

An announcement about what is happening with Understand the Bible after Easter 2021:

Obviously this will have implications for the existing features – I won’t be doing Thought for the Week or Learn to read the Bible. Instead, everything will be rolled into one weekly video. That may be a course, it may be on a specific book of the Bible or topic. The point is, hopefully by focussing on one topic per week it gives me a bit of time to create something of higher quality.

I will continue to do occasional other things such as the Your Questions Answered series.

Thanks for bearing with me, the last year or two have been a steep learning curve for me but, God-willing, I am beginning to get there! I’m pleased with the first of the “What is Christianity?” videos which is due to be published next week.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support of Understand the Bible, and I look forward to journeying with you over these coming months.

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Changes to the weekly schedule

Hi everyone, a bit of site news: there are going to be some changes to the weekly schedule. Back in September I decided to start up a couple of new features – Thought for the Week and Learn to read the Bible. This meant that I was publishing things regularly through the week – in fact, some weeks I’ve published a new video every day. I’ve also started a mental health livestream during the lockdown (which will be continuing post-lockdown).

All that seemed like a good idea back in September last year, but the schedule of creating videos has been pretty relentless. It’s hard to achieve the quality level you want with so little time for each video. Also, with lockdown restrictions easing in the UK, I will have a bit less time for video creation.

So, what I’ve decided to do is take a step back, and focus more on quality instead of quantity. This is what I’m hoping the new schedule will look like:

  • Monday / Tuesday – a course video – at the moment I am re-doing the Sermon on the Mount course;
  • Wednesday / Thursday – thought for the week. After Easter I am planning to do a series on the book of Galatians in the New Testament, looking at how the gospel works.
  • Friday – mental health support

Thank you everyone who has supported Understand the Bible over these past few months. I feel like I have learned a lot in this time, and I hope that the new schedule will mean I am able to focus more on producing better quality videos. Do let me know in the comments below if you have any comments or ideas for any future series here on UTB!

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Happy New Year!

I would just like to wish all friends of Understand the Bible a very happy new year. I hope you have had a good Christmas time, even if (like me) you were under some kind of restrictions this year. One thing which has kept coming back to me this Christmas is the way that Christ was not born into a world full of light, but a dark world. Christ came into a dark world, as the light of the world. Although I think the last year has seen a lot of darkness, it’s good to remember that Christ is the light.

At the start of his public ministry (in Luke 4:18-19) Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
     because he has anointed me
     to proclaim good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
     and recovery of sight for the blind,
 to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

“The year of the Lord’s favour”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 2021 was the year of the Lord’s favour? If God poured out his Spirit on us, to bring many to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

Christ came to proclaim good news, the same good news which UTB exists to proclaim. Let’s pray that Jesus would be lifted high in 2021.

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Reflections on 1 year of UTB

Understand the Bible has now been going for one year! (Well, more or less – was registered on 26th November 2019). It’s been a funny year in all sorts of ways. One year ago, when God gave me the opportunity to begin this ministry, I never dreamed where we would be one year later. Coronavirus, lockdowns, BLM, how much has happened! It seems like the world has changed completely.

In a funny kind of way, I think the lockdowns have actually been good for UTB. It gave me some extra time to be able to develop the App and to work on a few new courses. I think more people have been considering Christian things as well.

Let me run through what I’ve been able to do in the last 12 months of UTB.

What happened in 12 months of UTB

  • I produced about 120 videos which have been uploaded to the YouTube channel.
  • I developed the teaching programme. This was something I created entirely from scratch. At least it meant I was able to put my software development skills from a previous life to good use!
  • I also developed the mobile app – first time I’d ever developed an app. I think it’s not bad for a first app, but when I get the time I will go back and revisit it.
  • I’ve completed several new courses: What is Christianity, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the How to Live as a Christian series have all been completed in the last year.
  • I’ve completed one or two blog series, most recently Get to know God.
  • I also started several regular features – Thought for the Week, Learn to read the Bible, and Your questions answered.
  • Finally, I think the website is looking much better than it did at the start of the year. I think it could stand to be improved, but it’s much better than it was.

It’s been a busy old year! But let me move on to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Reflections on the year

Getting something started from scratch is really hard

I don’t think I quite appreciate how hard it is to start something from scratch. I suppose that’s the only reason anyone ever does it, or at least, does it for the first time! In some respects it’s been a long, hard slog. I don’t want to make it out to be like it’s been a really difficult year – there have been lots of blessings.

2 corinthians 5:7, "for we walk by faith and not by sight"

But it takes strength to keep putting out content – videos, blog posts, etc – when there doesn’t seem to be much interest in watching them. It’s helped me to really focus on the reason I started UTB in the first place: there aren’t really any other places on the internet which teach the Christian faith in the same way. Understand the Bible is unique. For me, it’s been an exercise in walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). You have to focus not so much on the present, but on the future.

Over the last few months, my mind has often gone to Noah. God asked him to build a boat in the middle of the desert. How ridiculous! And yet, he started building – and his faithfulness was rewarded. I have sometimes felt like Noah – creating videos and courses which teach the Christian faith, which not many people are watching right now. And yet, I have faith and trust that God will use them in due course.

Publishing regularly really helps

Over the summer, I did some reading up about how to get websites going. One thing they suggested was publishing regularly. So, since September, I made the decision to start publishing much more regularly than I was doing. Initially this was three times a week, but I’ve now extended this so I publish something every weekday on this blog. I publish videos three or four times a week.

It seems to have begun to work: the algorithms which run the internet now seem to have noticed and the website traffic has begun to increase. The number of people who subscribe to UTB on YouTube has slowly increased.

In some ways it feels a bit like being a slave to the algorithm: if you publish regularly, the algorithm will reward you with more visitors. At the same time, I think publishing regularly isn’t a bad thing, so long as you’re producing useful things. It’s the reason I started the Thought for the Week and the Learn to read the Bible series, and I think both of those have been appreciated. Writing regularly can actually be a good discipline – perhaps it’s no bad thing to be forced into doing it!

God is faithful

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last year is that God is faithful. This has been shown in many ways. Let me just give you one example. At the end of 2019, I was thinking that I needed to get a new computer: I had been producing videos on my old laptop, which was getting very slow. I needed something faster, but the problem was computers are expensive. Or at least, the kind of computers you edit video on are expensive. I had a figure in my mind of about £1000, which I didn’t have.

Anyway, before Christmas, we were at our church cafe’s Christmas meal. I was chatting to someone who wasn’t from our church. She just happened to be there that year, and she said that someone else had told us about our situation and UTB. A day or two later, she rang up and said her son had been saving up some money and wanted to give it to us. It turned out to be exactly £1000. That money went on a new computer, which I’ve been using to produce the UTB videos for the last year.

That’s not the only time coincidences like that have happened. Every time I or the family have needed something, God has provided. We have not gone without this year. God is faithful.

A time for thanksgiving

I just wanted to give thanks to God for his faithfulness in sustaining UTB over the last year. I’d also like to give thanks for all those who’ve participated in UTB – whether via YouTube, Facebook, or the website. It’s been a joy to see that people have been appreciating it (I’ve collected some comments on the Testimonials page).

My prayer for UTB is that God would use it to help many people come to faith and grow in their faith. That’s why I do what I do here. I thought I’d finish with Psalm 100, which seems appropriate:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
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Get to know God – new series!

Do you want to get to know God better? In that case, good news! I have decided to start a new series here on Understand the Bible. It’s been something I’ve had on my mind for a while, but I finally feel the time is right. I’ve been re-reading Jim Packer’s classic book Knowing God lately, and it’s struck me again how good it is to focus on God for a while. At the end of the day, that’s what the Christian life is all about – getting to know God. This is how Jesus described eternal life:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:3

That’s the point of life – to know God. If we’re going to be spending eternity with him – we’re going to get to know him pretty well! And the best news is, we can start right away.

Why should we get to know God?

This is how the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon once started a sermon on this subject (Jim Packer quotes this in Knowing God):

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls Father.

… Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

Spurgeon could certainly turn a phrase! When we lift our eyes from our circumstances to God, it’s hugely comforting. We need to look less at ourselves and our situations and more at our Creator. Knowing God is not simply an intellectual exercise – although it’s good for our minds as it helps us to think – but it’s an immense comfort. When we see how big God is, we realise that he’s bigger than any of our problems!

How do we get to know God?

We primarily get to know God through studying his word, the Bible. God has revealed himself to us in his word, and we get to know him by reading it. However, in my experience, a bit of guidance can be very helpful in this regard: the truths about God are everywhere in the Bible. But there is no one place where God just comes out and says it all concisely. We need to dig a little and bring up lots of different places through the Bible.

This is where we need a roadmap, a guide, to help us navigate through the Bible clearly. For this series, I’m going to be using the Anglican 39 Articles. The very first article is, “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity”, which says:

THERE is but one living and true God, ever- lasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

OK, I know that’s quite dense! But as a framework, it’s great. It will help guide us as we start to look at who God is. We’re going to break it down and take it bit by bit.

Get to know God – roadmap

This is how I’m planning to break it down. God is…

  1. One – living and true
  2. Everlasting
  3. Everywhere – without a body, spiritual
  4. Without parts – sometimes called God’s “simplicity” (don’t worry, I’ll explain)
  5. Impassible (without passions) – God is unable to suffer
  6. Infinitely powerful (omnipotent)
  7. Infinitely wise
  8. Infinitely good
  9. The maker and preserver of all things
  10. Three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Trinity)

In each part of the series we’ll look at the Bible and what it says, then we’ll think about what it means for us. In other words, this series will be practical. My aim is not just to help you to think about God, but to encourage your own faith.

Join in – let’s get to know God together!

I will be publishing these here on the blog over the coming weeks. Once they’re all done, I hope to turn this into a video course.

If you’d like to get these posts delivered by email, sign up for the Mailing List, where you’ll get a weekly digest with everything that’s been created that week.

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What is Christianity? Study Guide now available

Last week I announced that I was starting to write study guides for the What is Christianity? course. I’m pleased to say that this process has now been completed – there is now a group study guide for each video.

It includes a summary of the video contents as well as some questions which would be useful in a small group context. Each of the guides is available as a PDF.

Once I have completed the “How to Live as a Christian” video course, I am planning to write study guides for each of those episodes as well.

If you use them / find them useful, or if you’d like to suggest things which would be more helpful for you, please do get in touch to let me know.

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Course Study Guides

One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while now is create study guides for the different courses. I want the courses to be accessible to church groups, but I know that many leaders don’t have the confidence to lead on their own without a study guide. What I will be doing over the next few weeks is working my way through some of the courses to add study guides, starting with the What is Christianity? course.

I’ve already completed the study guide for the first session on Creation. I’d love any feedback you have about the format, what kind of things would be useful, etc.

If you’d like to use any of the Understand the Bible courses as part of a church group, you can do that online. See the churches subscription section for more information.

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