Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Week in Review (August 26, 2023)

I'm tempted to put "same old, same old" down for this week.

The main different thing that I did this week was to launch a course on Romans on Udemy. Following Scot McKnight, to a large extent, it moves backward from the end to the front. I will be holding live Q&A sessions roughly every other week for anyone in the course who is interested. The course costs no more than $24 for permanent access to the content, and I'll be adding more material over time. Udemy also has regular sales for anyone with patience.

I did buckle down to continue reading Matthew Thiessen's Jesus and the Forces of Death. I have a first blog post in mid-stream that I hoped to post this past Wednesday, but work has been keeping me quite busy. If you know anyone who wants one of these courses, including philosophy that I'm teaching, it's a rolling start they can sign up for at any time. I can probably get you a sweet deal for a high school student to pay $300 plus materials and maybe even for a college student just to pay $600.

I have a number of ongoing projects, as usual. If any of them sound interesting you could nudge me to focus more on one or the other. On Sundays, I focus on Bible and theology in one way or another. My Explanatory Notes haven't sold well, but they are also in bits and pieces. Just as my Systematic Theology is probably my best self-published book, I suspect if I ever finished the whole New Testament, it might sell. I continue to inch forward with a Spanish translation of the theology book, using tools. We'll see how good that turns out to be.

I've wondered if a different format might be more appealing rather than the old verse-by-verse approach. Some alternative formats (feel free to weigh in) are 1) Stuff You Didn't Know About Acts, 2) The Story of Romans, or 3) A Devotional Guide to Revelation. My YouTube post on "Top Ten Surprising Things About Romans" had more traffic than usual for me. Any thoughts?

Another project is, Growing Up Wesleyan. I've been trying to write something along these lines for decades. The goal is to reflect on my own pilgrimage. I've had other titles but this one has gone farther than others. At the very least, I want to leave it for my children.

I teach Science and Scripture for Houghton in late fall. I have a Udemy course in mid-progress for it. I also have a lingering contract for an Inductive Bible Study textbook. I have a Udemy course in mid-progress for it as well. I have about 10/14 chapters written. Since I'm not at a school, not sure how much use the book will get.

My YouTube watch time has gone down consistently over the last two months even though I have almost 11,000 subscribers. I wonder if I'm being eaten alive by AI-generated stuff. This is an area I need to grow in. I'm a master of ChatGPT, but not of visual AI. I need to find the time to learn more about how to generate AI videos.

Hebrew remains my strongest market. My Udemy course has had an additional 16 enrollments this month. I am going a verse through Ruth each week on YouTube, which also gets good viewing for me.

Well, that's a lot for not having anything to say. Have a great next week!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Week in Review (August 19, 2023)

This week flew by. Four big moments. I preached last Sunday at College Wesleyan Church. I flew on a private plane to Missouri and back on Wednesday. I finished the draft of some algebra course materials for an algebra course. And by God's grace, I was able to check the box on a major stressor on Friday.

1. You can see the general outline of the sermon in the previous post. You can even watch one of the services here. Preaching is sometimes a surreal experience to me. Last week was that way. It was like I was hit by a car and was in shock. I wasn't quite sure what had happened afterward.

2. Flying to Missouri was fun. It was a business trip. Our Campus dual enrollment business is ramping up! Our first partner in this initiative is Oklahoma Baptist. Lots of Christian high schools are signing up and their students are signing up. Many of these students will only pay $300 for a 3-hour course.

This is flowing because we are more or less running it. Colleges are so inefficient, so full of friction, so un-business savvy, so unable to get out of their own way that they make things incredibly difficult. I was on the phone with a homeschool parent amazed at how easy it was to register. She couldn't believe it. A lot of this is a testament to our partnering school. 

This is going to snowball. We've always had a product the student wants. Colleges just don't want to give it to them. Now we've found a path to get it to them. I've predicted for two years that there will eventually be an Amazon tipping point. We're not there yet.

3. One of the courses that is getting a lot of traction is College Algebra. We have found an optimized formula for creating courses, and it seems to be working. I was excited at the subject matter expert who is teaching this class for us. For the moment, I am doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes grunt work to ramp up these sorts of classes more quickly. I actually created about 100 pages of raw material to be processed for this class. I'm looking forward to doing more, given my interest in just about any subject. 

Biology is on the docket this fall. If demand continues, I can see myself creating the raw material for calculus, chemistry, and physics online to be handed off to a subject matter expert for perfecting. What fun that would be! With algebra, I created "Conic Land," a section of a math amusement park where the rides are modeled on conic sections--parabolas, circles, ellipses, and hyperbolas. I thought about writing, Algebra: The Novel.

4. The Lord seems to get me through puzzles I don't always know how to solve. I used to trust that everything would work out. I used to trust in my own ability to come up with a solution. "I'll figure something out." But God doesn't rescue every situation. Romans 8:28 is about the eschaton and it's corporate, not necessarily about individual lives on earth. One of the hard even if obvious lessons of the last few years is that I'm not as smart as I'd like to think. I can't figure out a lot of important things.

Having said all that, hitherto hath the Lord helped. Yesterday was another day of thanksgiving, and I am grateful to the Lord yet again. 

5. I lay awake last night trying to figure out what project to work on. My problem is always that I have too many. Hardly anyone buys the books I self-publish. Which book that no one reads should I finish next? 

I should launch a Romans course on Udemy later today. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sermon Starters: Funky Justice

August 13, 2023
College Wesleyan Church

Text: Micah 6:1-8

Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix-- Bad guys come after Harry. He uses his wand. He gets notice he is being expelled. His uncle exclaims, "Justice."

We cannot help but insert our assumptions into the text. We have these "dictionaries" in our heads. We cannot help but use them. Study helps refine them. The Spirit works with them.

The word justice is one of those instances where we have certain ideas about what it means and what it is. But if we listen to the Old Testament, it pushes us to refine our understanding a bit.

1. Justice is something you do.
  • It's not blogging, for us introverts. It's about getting out there.
  • "O man" -- It is both individual and corporate. Biblical language typically has a corporate emphasis, but it is also an accumulation of what we do as individuals.
  • I appreciate that CWC does justice. Invitation to prey on my guilt.
  • Illustration: Thinking about getting a metal chicken versus getting one
2. Justice has two sides.
  • Yes, there is justice for the offender. Micah 2 -- The heads of Israel seize land and houses they want. They have the power to do what they want.
  • Punish, yes. But more importantly, stop them.
  • Injustice is hurting people, not breaking rules. Cultures make up so many rules -- no elbows on the table. Don't end a sentence with a preposition. Even the sin of serving other gods involved hurting other people (e.g., child sacrifice).
  • Biblical justice seems even more concerned with those who are oppressed than with the oppressor. This is common failing--thinking more about the abuser than the victim.
  • Restoring those off-track--widows, orphans, the poor, the stranger
  • "Judge with true justice and mercy and compassion. Let each do to his brother and do not oppress widow and orphan and alien and poor. Do not plan evil in your hearts each against his brother" (Zech. 7:9-10).
  • Notice the related terms that pop up both in Micah and Zechariah--hesed, compassion. Hesed is hard to translate--lovingkindness, faithfulness, sticking with someone until they are rescued
  • This was the heart of Jesus' ministry as well. In the Gospels, he spends very little of his time getting people saved spiritually. Instead, he heals, casts out demons, and restores the "lost sheep" (Luke 15). 
3. Sacrifice is easy.
  • Like buying flowers on your anniversary
  • Rules are easy.
  • Rituals are easy.
  • I grew up with an anti-Catholic vibe. Kind of made fun of "vain repetitions." But have our own.
  • Micah -- the heads and priests thought, just some more sacrifices
  • Take more insulin before going on a drinking binge
4. This is the Year of the Lord's Favor
  • Jesus's inaugural address in Luke 4 ends with "proclaim year of Lord's favor"
  • Doesn't always feel like it, but then again, Luke was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed, after elite Jews had been marched through the streets of Rome and put to death. My worst day is better than that!
  • My wife has a saying, "It's a great, great day if you make it that way." Or to put it biblically, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."
  • The Beatitudes -- we are blessed. Sometimes we feel it now, but we will certainly feel it then.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Week in Review (August 12, 2023)

Here are some brief thoughts on this last week.

1. Been some crazy weeks. My organization, Campus Edu, has really hit its stride. We built some beautiful courses, and now we are getting them to people who want them. 

The challenge to the start-up I'm part of has never been what we are creating. When we first showed off the online courses we had created with partner schools, students loved them. I remember showing them off in the student center at one college. There was great interest among students. The institution itself effectively kiboshed it.

The challenge has always been institutional friction rather than market demand, for predictable reasons. Roadblocks. "Oh, that's not going to count for what you need." "You can do it but you'll have to transfer it back in from elsewhere." The normal friction of the academy weighs down many an initiative until they collapse and die. I also get the fear of self-cannibalization.

Accordingly, we have been working more intentionally on the high school space. Colleges are bleeding credits to things like dual credit, dual enrollment, and early college. With colleges losing as much as two years of a student to these factors, colleges should be digging into the high school market. Why yield that space to the local community college?

It's happening.

2. I was looking at some pictures of the fires in Hawaii. Very sad. The realities of climate change will become more and more apparent. I'm part of the problem. I would love to get a hybrid or electric vehicle, but it just doesn't fit my budget. So I can't really point the finger at anyone. I am everyman.

I was sad to see one college close its sustainability program. But Christian colleges are all swinging to the right at the moment. The result of practically every Christian college presidential search I know in the last two years has, more than anything else, been a swing to the right.

I'm watching to see whether it helps enrollment. There are two lines of thought. Is the most likely new student for a Christian college more socially conservative or progressive? I suspect that, in general, that age demographic is more progressive now in the US. However, it may very well be that this demographic is more conservative in terms of the most likely Christian college recruitee. We'll see if this approach to college presidencies yields enrollment fruit.

However, my understanding on the question of sustainability is that the age demographic is pretty consistently in favor of sustainability across left and right. I see it as an area that colleges might profitably explore as a recruitment strategy. 

3. For the last few weeks, I've been creating a Udemy course on Romans. My plan is to open it up next weekend, Saturday August 19, 2023. I still have a few more videos to make, but I'm close. It will be about 11 hours of video, and I'll add other features over time.

I hope any readers are having a good day as you read this.