Rebooting the “What is Christianity” course

Back in 2020, I recorded the first proper Understand the Bible course. I called it, “What is Christianity?”, and designed it to be a six-part overview of the whole Bible. The course is still available on YouTube, and for nostalgia’s sake you can see all the videos here. In 2021 I decided to re-record the course, wanting to improve the production values of the videos a little bit, and at the time I was reasonably happy with the result (which you can see here).

However, things have changed a bit. Back in 2020, when I started Understand the Bible, I started out with some basic video editing software. I didn’t do much with it because, to be honest, the answer to the question: “Can I do x, y, or z with this software” was usually “no”. So I contented myself with some fairly basic video editing.

Since the autumn last year, I have been working with some new video editing software. It’s much more powerful, and I’ve gradually been learning how to do different things in it. Over the last few sessions of the holiness course I started experimenting a bit more with some video editing techniques, and realised how much more ‘professional’ things looked with a bit of editing. By my current standards, the old What is Christianity? course looks quite primitive!

Now that I’ve finished the holiness course, I have decided that the best thing to do is revisit the What is Christianity? course and bring it up to scratch. I released the first part of the course yesterday, and I’m reasonably happy with the result. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but it’s definitely a step up in quality.

I hope that you like the new course, and please do let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!

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Mailing list problems (fixed!)

If you’ve signed up for the mailing list in about the last six months or so, I’ve just realised that you won’t have received any emails. I do apologise. I’ve just logged in to Brevo (which I use for sending emails), and I have realised that new people weren’t being added to the mailing list properly. I’ve corrected this issue, and so you should start to receive emails.

I do apologise, email over the last year or two has been quite a problem and it’s my fault! All of this mailing list stuff is new to me, but I really should be doing better. So, humble pie and apologies from me, and the mailing list should now be working for everyone.

If you’d like to sign up for the mailing list, you’ll get a once a week email with any new content here on the website.

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2023 Christmas Update

As you may know, the very first video I recorded for what became Understand the Bible was a Christmas message. This was recorded for Christmas 2017 – which feels like a very long time ago now! It feels like so much has changed in the last six years, like we’re living in a different world.

Every year since then, I have recorded a Christmas message. This year I have decided to break that tradition. This is partly because I feel that the world probably has enough “Christmas messages” at this time of year – everyone is doing it. I also feel that no-one is really interested in “Christmas messages” either. The Christmas we all want, the Christmas we really need, comes simply from Jesus being part of our lives day-by-day. As we grow to know him more, and grow in our love for him and for one another, life becomes more joyful.

That said, I do believe that Christmas demonstrates that God can and does step into our world, into our darkness. I pray that, if you are in a dark place this year, that you would know the real presence of Christ at work to transform your life – not simply a platitude, but the real presence and power of the king of heaven and earth. No darkness can keep God out, there are no ‘no-go areas’ for him.

If you have been following Church with UTB, I’d just like to say I will be having a couple of weeks off doing services. I hope that this gives you an opportunity to try it out yourself – do your own thing! There are lots of sermons available here if you’d like to find one, or just do something simple and read and talk about the Bible with whoever you are with.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported UTB over this last year, whether you’ve just joined in or whether you’ve been here from the beginning. Happy Christmas, and I pray that whatever your 2024 looks like, Christ may scatter the darkness from before your path and lead us forwards in him.

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Church with UTB and Community update

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I haven’t put my feet up over the summer: I have been busy working on Church with UTB. I am excited to announce that it’s ready to try out! Over the last couple of weeks we have been using the Church with UTB app. This is basically an app which can be used on your computer or on a device e.g. phone or tablet.

Very soon I will be recording a video to show you how to use it, but for now I wanted to flag up that it’s ready to check out.

One thing I am especially keen to do is make it possible for people who live near each other to find one another. I’ve given some thought as to the best way of doing this. I’ve decided that, for the moment, the best way is to add a community forum to the Understand the Bible website. My hope is that anyone who wants to find other people to connect with can post on the forums.

I also hope that the forums will provide a community space to chat about UTB videos and other things. I’ve been involved with forums for a long time, and although they have fallen out of favour on the internet I think they haven’t yet been surpassed as a way of discussing on the internet. (Forums are WAY better than Facebook groups, for example).

You’ll need to create an account, but it’s free and easily done. Why don’t you do so now and introduce yourself?

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Church with UTB – summer 2023 update

A few months ago I announced the launch of Church with UTB, which was an attempt to help people start doing church at home. (For more background to my thinking about it, please see my announcement.)

However, I think the initial concept was a bit over-complicated. Over the last few months, I have been doing Church with UTB in our church at home, and I am now ready to put the lessons we’ve learned into practice. I am working on completely revamping the Church with UTB section to make it much easier to use.

In particular, I have been developing an app which will basically provide an order of service each week, including all the videos (songs, sermon), readings, and prayers within the page itself. You will be able to download the app to your phone or mobile device, or you can view it on a laptop or computer. You can take a sneak peek at it by looking here. But please bear in mind that this is still under development and subject to change! Also bear in mind that the content is still only for testing. All that being said, if you do have any comments I’d love to hear them – please leave a comment below or get in touch.

Over the next few weeks, once the App is finished, I will be working on the service itself and looking to develop a Biblical, contemporary service format which can be used regularly.

However, I will be away this coming Sunday (13th August), so there will be no Church with UTB on that day. There are many sermons available on the website – if you’re looking for some Biblical input, why not pick one?

And if you’ve benefitted from Church with UTB, or you would like to use it, please do get in touch and let me know!

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Introducing: Church with Understand the Bible

I have an exciting announcement about Understand the Bible! I am going to be starting a new feature here – ‘Church with Understand the Bible’. The basic idea is to give people a resource to help them start up a house church.

But before we get onto that, let me explain some of the background.

Church to meet the needs of the 21st Century

The world has changed rapidly in the last hundred years. The world is now more secular than ever before – most people don’t have even a rudimentary understanding of Christianity. Church is seen, at best, as an irrelevance to life – something which only particularly ‘religious’ people get involved with.

At the same time, people are also living more and more atomised lives. Social media has not made us more social but instead has driven us apart – we spend more time on our screens rather than with others face-to-face. As a result of this, and various other factors, young people are feeling more and more lonely.

Despite these challenges, I think many churches are still operating as if we were still in Christendom – in particular, assuming that most people have more knowledge of the gospel than they do. I do not believe this is going to be effective going forward – surely, the experience of the church through the last 20-30 years has demonstrated this. Dwindling numbers of young people would testify to the fact that what we are doing is not working.

I have come to believe that churches, rather than continuing to do what they’ve done for years with diminishing effect, need to intentionally refocus on two key areas:

  1. Discipleship. That is, helping people make the journey all the way from knowing nothing about Christianity to living for Christ every day. Practically speaking, this means a revival of catechesis (see why Sinclair Ferguson says this is important) as well as the traditional sermon. We need to take people deeper in the faith than we have been doing.
  2. Relationship. I wrote a while back that being at church was not the same as being church. Church, fundamentally, is not a building or event but people – specifically, people loving one another. This is our witness to the world. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This, more than anything else, is what will demonstrate the reality of God to a watching world – the reality of the love Christians have for one another. Francis Schaeffer once commented on these verses, “the final apologetic which Jesus gave is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians”.

It has become more and more clear to me recently that it’s not going to be easy to implement these changes in traditional churches. Churches – as with many institutions – are like oil tankers: it takes a long time to turn them round. Once people start to think “we’ve always done it this way…”, it’s very difficult to persuade them otherwise.

Plus, unfortunately, churches are often so busy running events and doing their regular activities that the fundamentals get squeezed out. Many churches have so bought into seeing church as an event that it’s hard to row back and see the bigger picture. Churches are rushing about doing stuff, when what is needed right now is to stop and refocus.

All this is why I took the difficult decision recently to leave the church I have been with for nine years and start a house church. I believe that we needed the space to ‘reboot’, to focus back in on what is essential and rebuild church from the ground up.

Is church at home real church?

It’s important to deal with the question of whether church at home is real church. Many of us have been so used to going to a church building for church that it’s almost impossible to imagine anything different. I have been challenged on this recently by a friend of mine who started a house church a few years ago. He said to me that if you read the New Testament, it was very common for Jesus and the Apostles to teach in a house. In fact, virtually every church in the early days of the church would have been a house church. For example, Paul says:

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

Obviously, in those days there were no church buildings – apart from public places, there was no other place for the church to meet. It seems to me that, if we are to be truly Biblical, we need to recognise a ‘house church’ as at least as Biblical as churches we have become used to. Possibly even more so.

But is that valid, according to the definition of a church given by traditional denominations? This is how the Church of England defines a church:

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

39 Articles, Article XIX

In other words, there are two things necessary for a church to be a church: (1) the pure Word of God – the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures; (2) the Sacraments – baptism and communion. Those two things can be present anywhere – in a home, or a traditional church building. Notably, it doesn’t mention anything about priests, bishops, church buildings, and the like. That’s not to say that bishops etc are a bad thing, but rather they are not essential for church.

The practical need for house churches

Quite apart from the theological case, there is a more pragmatic, practical case for house churches. Over the last few years, a number of people have got in touch with me to say that they’d love to start going to church but there are no suitable churches in their area. Unfortunately many churches have fallen into liberalism, and you are more likely to hear a sermon about climate change or Black Lives Matter than you are about Jesus. But even if every church remained faithful, there is simply not enough space in church buildings for everyone.

Let’s take the town where I live as an example. There are about 53,000 people living here. There are approximately ten churches across the town. If 25% of the people of the town wanted to go to church, that would be 13,250 people. If you distributed them evenly across every church, you’d have to have 1,325 people in every building! That would be absurd – there are simply no church buildings big enough. That’s not to mention other factors such as parking and facilities: some parts of town are further away from church buildings than others – they seem to have clustered around the town centre.

I, along with many other people, have been praying for revival in the UK – for God to bring many people to faith. If he is pleased to bless us with spiritual renewal, then we are going to have to face the fact that that will not happen in traditional church buildings: there simply isn’t enough space. Not right at the moment, anyway.

There are other issues, for example the fact that we don’t have enough theologically trained leaders to go round. Many churches are struggling to fill vacancies.

What I believe we need to do is – as I argued a few years ago – make smarter use of the internet. That’s where Understand the Bible comes in.

Church with Understand the Bible

My plan is to publish a weekly service outline which could be used and adapted by a house church. I will provide the sermon in video format, and probably also a short catechesis video. I would then publish here on the website the videos along with some suggestions for songs and prayers and so on. I am also planning to publish other resources, e.g. a downloadable service sheet with elements such as creed, confession and so on.

The idea is that the service could be used and adapted by anyone even if they had no theological training. Because the Biblical input would come from Understand the Bible, everything else would be doable. However, I hope that churches would grow in maturity and eventually God would raise up local leaders who were not dependent on Understand the Bible.

I have previously talked about how it’s not possible to be a Christian without going to church. But, as we have seen, a house church is proper church. Church with Understand the Bible isn’t a replacement for proper church – it’s designed to enable it.

I hope that this resource will help people to have the confidence to get together with some friends and start worshipping God together. Church shouldn’t be complicated, and I hope that refocussing us on the essentials of church will help bring about a spiritual renewal across the country.

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A new year prayer for 2023

Happy New Year from Understand the Bible! This year we will be picking up where we left off in the Firm Foundations series. (If you aren’t subscribed on YouTube or signed up to the mailing list, please do so to get the new episodes as they are made!)

I came across a lovely prayer the other day, and I would like to share it with you. It’s a prayer for the new year, taken from the Valley of Vision. (The Valley of Vision of a collection of puritan prayers and devotions). The prayer uses old-fashioned language (thees and thous), and has a few unfamiliar words, but I think it’s a lovely prayer to open the year with.

It asks the Lord to be with us in everything we do, that we may serve him and grow in our service day by day.

Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire to show forth thy praise; testify thy love, advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to they calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me they grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.

My thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.

Valley of Vision “New Year”

What a way to start the year! I pray this would be true of each of us in these coming twelve months, and always. God bless you through 2023!

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Summer 2022 plans

Well it’s the summer again! It comes round every year at the same time, and yet it always seems to catch me by surprise.

I’m going to be taking a break during the month of August, so there will be no new course videos and no new sermons. I am hoping to have time to record a couple of thoughts on the Psalms though – previously I recorded up to Psalm 15, so I’ll probably go from there!

I haven’t quite decided what I am going to be doing on Understand the Bible next term – I am going to spend some time thinking about that over August. As always, if you have any particular thoughts or comments about what you’d like to see please leave them below or get in touch.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged with Understand the Bible over the last year – it means so much to know that it’s making a difference. I hope and pray that next year God will bring great fruit upon the ministry of his word that many people may hear and believe the message.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11
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Ten Commandments course now available

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months, I have been busy creating a course on the Ten Commandments. The course has now been finished, and is available to do here on the website. It’s free to do here – all you need to do is create an account (free!). If you’d prefer, you can watch all the videos on this YouTube playlist.

I hope you enjoy the course! I have really enjoyed creating it – and it has struck me how much there is to say about the commandments. I think I’ve barely scratched the surface! In particular, following the session on adultery I would like to do a course about marriage, sex and relationships. If you’d like to know when new courses are released, do sign up to the mailing list.

After Easter I am planning to do a series on the Lord’s Prayer. If there’s anything you would find useful, please get in touch and let me know! I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

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