Psalm 1 describes a blessed life of a tree fed by a stream that is fresh, strong, and productive in due season. That is the image that we use for our own discipleship patterns, and it is the image we want to understand well enough to guide others through the same discipleship patterns.
The stream is the story of God’s revelation, of what God says to give meaning to life.
The tree is a person who is rooted to draw life from that story, that stands tall and clear in that identity while branching out to have the life from the stream bear fruit in our lives.
This image of discipleship is bibliclical, organic, and sensible. The better we understand how to use it as a framework for life, the more coherent our Christian faith should become.
Here are three questions of why/how/what that help present the most basic essentials of our faith.
Why trust Jesus?
Life is challenging. The biblical story provides a framework for good and bad experiences, including the questions that rise from that regarding meaning in life in light of mortality.
Jesus is compelling. Jesus’ character has attracted people from every culture under the sun, century after century. He has a powerful mix of mercy and compassion along with a strong sense of justice and truth. He tests his character and teaching up to the point of death and beyond.
Jesus gives hope without hype. The resurrection of Jesus, as witnessed and proclaimed in the words and deeds of his followers, demonstrate a realistic hope. Suffering and uncertainty are acknowledged bravely, but sacrificial love and service continue to be displayed in ways that have given some of history’s greatest examples of what it means to be human.
What does trusting Jesus look like?
Simply Christian avoids religious confusion. Allegiance to Jesus as the Lord of life is a clear and coherent identity. Connection to various religious instiutions, leaders, doctrines, and actions throughout history is limited to the degree that they have been faithful to Jesus as he actually reveals himself to be. Trusting Jesus is not the same as accepting Christendom.
Deeply Christian strengthens our character. Personal allegiance to Jesus as an identity should be simple, but our loyalty to him challenges us to grow deep roots as we wrestle with the implications of his teachings. How we deal with physical, relational, and spiritual temptations in this world make a difference on our stability as Christians, particularly when it comes to living those values out in our lives.
Focusing on Jesus’ ways gives us direction. Jesus as Lord is trusting a person, including his teachings about how we should live. The more we learn about Jesus the better we understand the best direction for our own life choices.
Branching out in Jesus’ ways connects. Jesus taught his people to reject tribalism and beastly ways of “us vs. them” thinking and behaving. His goal is reconciling all of creation. To join in this way of life we have to reject unhealthy ways and develop patterns of empathy and compassion and genuine love as revealed by Jesus. This shows up in our relationships and in our networks of social values.
What does trusting Jesus produce?
Loving like Jesus blesses people. We are blessed when we believe Jesus that God loves us and seeks to rescue us from ourselves and others so that we can flourish. As we experience his love we grow in competency to love others in the same ways. This is a blessing to us and to other people.
Loving through Jesus glorifies God. The two great commandments from God are both “Love!” When we trust God to receive his love and offer it back to him in worship, and to love others as if they were included in our own lives as humans needing redemptive love, this glorifies God. He gave us life, he restores our lives, and he makes us into a kingdom of priests, of connectors, amplifying the work of reconciliation and love.
Review of our simplified summary:
Why trust Jesus?
-Life is challenging..
-Jesus is compelling.
-Jesus gives hope without hype.
What does trusting Jesus look like?
-Simply Christian avoids religious confusion.
-Deeply Christian strengthens our character.
-Focusing on Jesus’ ways gives us direction.
-Branching out in Jesus’ ways connects.
What does trusting Jesus produce?
-Loving like Jesus blesses people.
-Loving through Jesus glorifies God.
Learning the Essentials Helps with All of the Other Parts
The summary does not include many traditional doctrinal statements or church practices. This is not because those things do not matter. This is because the imagery of healthy discipleship in the Bible does not focus on those things first. The specifics matter because they explain the details behind the summary, but the summary of the story, people being rooted in that story to branch out expressing that story and producing the fruit of that story, is what is consistently presented in scripture.
The Story includes what is wrong in life, how Jesus deals with that, and the difference it makes through his people.
The Problem in the story is the blessings of life are undermined by curses of death in ways that are confusing and enslaving. We use the symbols of CrownHeartWorld to show the Creation/Separation problem that is repeated in the Bible.
“Goodness” is not just in the creation accounts at the beginning. The harmony of Crown/Heart/World properly aligned shows up in stories of blessing and redemption over and over again.
“Badness” is not just in the story of “The Fall” in Genesis 3. It is an ongoing story of disorientation and fear that happens when the world eclipses our view of God.
We show the biblical story’s concept of the challenges in life this way:
The Crown is God. The Heart is humanity (God is love and we are made in God’s image to love God and others). The circle is the World (meaning everything in the cosmos that is not God or humanity). The order in the first column is how things ought to be. We experience echoes of this whenever we experience goodness, even if we don’t realize that is what makes goodness what it is.
The upside down heart struggling with the conflicted world in the second column is life when it is hurtful and confusing. God is still there, but our view of God is eclipsed; we cannot seem to see him, reach him, or understand him. This is life robbed of goodness; this is death in part pointing to death as a finality.
The reason these two columns go together is that we experience both in very weird combinations all of the time. This is the problem in life. We cannot seperate one from the other, no matter how we try. We need help.
The Story of Abraham as someone who is blessed by God to bless others in God gets carried through the story of Israel and ultimately to Jesus.
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews gives us the most concise summary of the epic narrative of Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and the climax of the story, Jesus:
“God spoke to our ancestors, at various times and various ways through the prophets, has ultimately spoken to us in SON…” — Hebrews 1:1
We use a winding arrow to show the long story of Abraham through Israel leading to Jesus. The key to realize is that the arrow comes from God seeking humanity. What God has to say he says most explicitly in the life and teachings of Jesus. We show this by representing Jesus as the heart, humanity as we were meant to be.
But the world’s ways of domination are then shown by taking the cross used to make Jesus face death. The upside down heart under the cross represents Jesus’ willingness to face that challenge and bear the sins of upside down and disoriented humanity.
The good news is that Jesus went from life to death, through the cross, showing that although he is marked by suffering (the cross in the heart), life overcame death in his resurrection.
The arrow ascending upward points to how Jesus is now our revealed and exalted understanding of God, including the hope that humanity can be saved from death to life through him.
Here is how we show the promised life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus:
The hope that Jesus offers includes realistic expectations of suffering and uncertainties but with a confidence in our identity and future that gives us strength together.
Jesus’ story is not as obvious and easy as we often wish it was, but it is clear enough to give us direction. We show that with a Crown in a Cloud that is marked by the Cross of sacrificial love.
The world is still broken and dangerous, but beneath that is a picture of humanity turned upside right by identifying with The Lamb, as symbolized in a heart with a cross.
The three arrows above the heart are what those who trust in Jesus do to live out their identity. The arrow pointing back is Faith, or trust. We gather to study God’s story in his word, retelling of God’s faithfulness to reestablish our confidence that trusting Jesus and his way is right.
The arrow pointing forward is hope, which we experience in prayer and worship as foretastes of what will ultimately be resolved in shalom, harmonious thriving. The arrow pointing up toward a broken world is the calling to take our own cross and follow Jesus, to extend redemptive love through the power of Christ and the ways of Christ.
The Story Flows
The Psalm 1 Tree is a biblical image of what trusting Jesus looks like.
Trunk = a simple identity as someone who stands with Jesus.
Simply Christian avoids religious confusion.
Roots = deep convictions developed as we grow personally.
Deeply Christian strengthens our character.
Star = the goal of our Christian living is to be like Christ through Christ.
Focusing on Jesus’ ways gives us direction.
The -/+ cycle is how we change and grow in relating to others Jesus’ way.
Branching out in Jesus’ ways connects.
Our Psalm 1 discipleship pattern integrates being rooted in the story of love to produce the fruit of love into one image.