Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. — Einstein
I’m no Einstein, but I think he is right. I simplified my understanding of the Christian life down to a one page diagram. It includes my understanding of the overall biblical story, how one trusts Jesus as Lord, the process of transformation, and the telos of God’s salvation. It is meant to look like a tree planted by a stream. The imagery comes from Psalm 1, but I did not get the idea to simplify from Einstein. That came from a tragedy.
As a missionary to a tribe in remote Asia I experienced a wonderful breakthrough. I’ll tell the story later, but basically a miraculously good thing happened that was very helpful for proclaiming the gospel to people who were new to the story of Jesus. Then a very tragic thing happened. I provided answers as best I could, but I promised myself I would never again present a gospel message without healthy and realistic disclaimers up front.
How does one faithfully present hope without hype?
Good experiences and bad experiences need to be represented. That is basic. But a message about a way of life with hope needs to include some degree of resolution to the tensions between good and bad experiences and expectations. Focusing on the good seems like a hopeful idea but reality is not kind to delusion. Failed efforts at delusional optimism lead to despair. What direction can one get from a resolution of the tensions between the good and bad we experience in life that still provides meaningful hope?
Then, if one were to accept this message as true and valuable, how would they go about identifying with it? What happens externally vs internally? Also, what changes should follow in regard to priorities and practices in life?
What does it look like to live according to this hope without hype?
Ultimately, what difference does all of this make? What are the results in someone’s life? Beyond that, what are some forms impact we might expect from their life? What is the pattern, over time, by which these results manifest?
My best efforts at studying and practicing and listening and observing have lead me to a concise set of essential ideas represented in one page of diagrams. These form a picture of a life that is not weirdly conformist but organically personal and beautiful even it’s imperfections. People are not meant to be like telephone poles, stiff and lifeless duplicates arranged neatly. The Christian life is meant to be like a tree planted by a stream, deeply rooted, standing tall and branching out with freshness to the leaves. And productivity? Yes, but in due season.
May I show you?
I use the imagery of Psalm 1 as the framework to help us picture what biblical discipleship actually does. There are promises of a life that is neither delusional in naive enthusiasm not despairing in dark cynicism:
Blessed is the one who does not walk, then stand, then sit down in despair.
Drawing steadily from the stream of God’s revelation will deepen our roots, extend life to the very tips of our being, and produce fruit in due season.
— Psalm 1:1–3 paraphrased
This writing is designed to present the ideas and images for a willing learner so that everyone can see what we are trying to say. Later I will present more detailed explanations of why and how all of this matters, how it deals with various concerns, and what it looks like as it is learned and shared.
3 Step Cycle -> 1 Main Result
1st we will see the stream as God’s Story of life overcoming death through Jesus. This is simplified to keep our understanding focused on what matters most in the Gospel Jesus preached. Overcoming the problem of death, overcome through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the consistent focus in the book of Acts. Other details and doctrines do matter, but we should all be unified in the primary aspects of the gospel story. That unity in him is exactly what Jesus prayed for with his disciples the night before his death.
God’s Story is that Jesus embodied the way of death to life that we are to receive by grace through faith and then grow up to live out ourselves. We will use the image of a stream, with important details added, to picture the life giving word of God we should be drink in deeply as we go.
Stream = The Story of Death to Life
2nd we will use a rooted tree to represent what it looks like for us to respond to Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. The single tree trunk, grown from a seed that took root, will show how faith grows from simple to deep. This is where we will develop the ideas of personal faith and devotion from our first days as a Christian throughout the rest of our lives. Rings of experience widen the trunk and the roots get deeper and more complex over time. This gives us stability in our identity and a point of connection between the stream of God’s word, into our lives, and then later extended outward from us.
Rooted Tree = Personal Growth from Simple to Deep
3rd we will use the branching out of the tree seeking light and empowered by the water drawn from the stream, through the roots. This helps us learn how to live what we believe for ourselves in ways that are genuine and useful in relationship with others.
It will involve thinking about our DNA that guides us to grow up like Christ, as well as the practical challenges of turning away from darkness and turning toward light. This takes time and seldom happens in straight lines. Learning this gives us direction but also graciously encourages patience with ourselves and others.
Branching Tree = Interpersonal Growth from Now to Next
Finally, we will focus on fruit that results from the stream drawn in through roots strengthening the tree that branches out in the light. What is the point of this pattern of discipleship presented through the image of a tree by a stream? Discipleship that connects the biblical message with our personal convictions and our interpersonal connections produces expressions of love through our life that blesses people and glorifies God.
Fruit = Love Produced Season to Season
The brevity of the introduction is meant to highlight the essentials at their most simple. Everything will be developed in increasing detail as the book continues. We will work on learning the essential ideas using memorable diagrams and short phrases as reminders. The actual content is much more than the simplifications, but clearly not less.
Learn the elements of the tree image…
Stream -> Roots -> Branches = Fruit
… and begin to connect the ideas those images represent.
Story of Love Flows from Death to Life
Receiving Love is Rooted from Simple to Deep
Sharing Love Branches from Now to Next
Resulting Christ-likeness Grows from Season to Season
Building on the Basics
We will connect the images and concise ideas to more familiar ways of speaking about discipleship and Christian living as we progress. Biblical passages, as well as examples from life and other illustrations, will continually elaborate these basic images and phrases arranged in a memorable cycle. The goal is to have a reasonable mastery of the essential framework. That helps keep the wide range of things that are important meaningfully connected to one another. It also helps us to maintain unity with other Christians while exchanging ideas about different views of various details. Unity and diversity are built into the Triune God’s growth plan.
Stream (Story of God’s Love)
Understanding biblical teaching, by learning the overall narrative and themes, as well as specific detail, highlights sacrificial love. This is ultimately as manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, which the calls us to follow Christ in the way of “Death to Life”.
Roots (Receiving God’s Love Personally)
Identifying personally with the Story of God’s redeeming love goes from“Simple to Deep”. Simple trust in Jesus, by grace through faith, becomes deep convictions as we apply what we learn through our personal prayers and other disciplines.
Branches (Sharing God’s Love Interpersonally)
Bible teaching rooted in our personal lives should be extended through how we relate to others. This involves a shift from our old habits as we learn to relate to others, in word and deed, consistent with what we learn from Christ and his ways.
Fruit (God’s Love via God’s People)
The Kingdom impact that comes from this cycle is the character of Christ manifest in the world through our words and deeds. God’s love starts the cycle, flowing to us through his Word. As we receive God’s love personally, and extend it interpersonally, people are blessed and God is glorified.
Story of Death to Life
Rooted Simple to Deep
Branching Now to Next
Fruitful Season to Season
Like a Tree…
Let’s learn it, own it, live it… and celebrate what God does through it!