Driving Toward the Morning Sun (Part 2)


Part 1 focused on “Taxi Cab”, a song by twenty øne piløts, which provided the name of this blog and helps explain its purpose.  “Driving Toward the Morning Sun” reminds us of our destiny in Christ and builds on the “forerunner” metaphor that anchors our “full assurance of hope”.  Part 2 adds the importance of our origin in Christ, which gives our works meaning, in contrast to secular views.

Introductory Verses
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:3-5
“Praise the LORD!  Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!” – Psalm 149:1-2

Why Do the Right Thing?
While in college, I was in a group study of the Gospel of John, came across John 13:3-5 and got stuck on the phrase: “he had come from God and was going back to God”.  In the middle of a story about God washing the feet of men, why does John intentionally point this out?  What’s the connection with this and service?  But this was not just a random phrase thrown in by John, it was perhaps the key to the whole story: that being anchored to our origin and destiny in Christ is what enables Christians to love others.  If Christ Himself served knowing these things, how can we not also serve?  Jesus willingly gets His hands dirty, so we might do the same.

However, a rejection of God as origin and destiny, as Alpha and Omega[1], has implications for individuals, families, congregations, cultures, and nations.  Hebrews 12:15 warns: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  The Apostle Paul outlines the consequences in Romans 1:18-32, after arguing for a gospel of grace, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).  Paul writes this as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Rom 1:1), and we also are servants, who need to answer our call to be set apart for God’s purpose, to be holy.  We are made to love God and to love others – empowered by life-changing grace to give grace.

Without Christ, humanity is smart enough to know that a 100% selfish race would be the end of us, but not wise and humble enough to acknowledge their Creator and King.  Therefore, we seek substitute alphas and omegas, but they just won’t do.

I’ll give two quick examples.  I took a Child Psychology class in college, where they taught that babies are “cute” because of evolution.  They said if babies weren’t “cute” then parents wouldn’t go through the effort of taking care of them.  Therefore, only “cute” genes survived the natural selection process.  Other babies were left to die.  Somehow, most of the class just nodded along and thought this was quite an insight!  I thought it was not only pure speculation, but barbaric.  What’s the evidence, other than saying that there must be a reason babies are “cute”?  Are there a ton of “ugly” babies in the fossil record?  What is “cute” anyway?  Under this logic, mankind might get to define what’s “cute” (and therefore worthy of love) and eliminate what’s not “cute”, for the betterment of future generations.  No.  I’ll look elsewhere because I’ve seen this movie before.

Second is the concept of karma.  If there’s an impersonal cosmic record-keeper that makes sure “what goes around, comes around”, then we need to send goodness around and we will be fine, right?  But this simply doesn’t match real-life experience and is bound to disappoint.  The idea is lampooned in the 2019 song “Karma” by AJR, where the singer asks his therapist whether he should be good, since karma doesn’t seem to be working: “I’ve been working my ass off; I’ve been so good; Still, I’m lonely and stressed out”.  There is too much unknown and seemingly random in the world for “karma” to consistently motivate good works.  If we don’t see the return, in exactly the way we expect, then we lose motivation.  I prefer to side with Samuel Johnson, who said “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”[2]  Unless you have an immovable reference point for the “goodness” you need to send around, it’s all up to the individual to decide what’s on the “good” and “bad” side of the ledger, even if they think neglecting “ugly” babies isn’t so bad.

The Ultimate Cause
The question of altruism – or concern for others even at a cost to self – has puzzled secular and religious philosophers and ethicists for centuries.  Instead, I recommend the ethic of Psalm 149:2-4:

“Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
                        let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
                        making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
                        he adorns the humble with salvation.

In other words, be glad!  We are not random accidents with no creator and no purpose.  We have a loving Creator and King who died that we might live.  In response, we offer our creativity and energy to God as worship, in all forms available to us (including but not limited to dancing and music!) and within our area of influence.  Accepting us in Christ as we are, the Lord takes pleasure as we humbly offer what we have to His service and rewards us with His blessings.

If we acknowledge our Maker and King as the protagonist of our story, we know that we have an origin, a purpose, and a destiny, and that our works can have eternal value, beyond any “random act of kindness”.  Whether our community and culture are crumbling or thriving, the call of God is our ultimate priority.

However, if we insist on being the protagonist and following the idols we create, our incomplete thoughts of altruism and karma will never be enough, and our works will always be mortal and rotting.  We don’t move beyond the verses of “Taxi Cab”.  Our works might help us “carry on”, but that’s not a very good place to be.  God has better in store for us.

Verse 1 of Psalm 149, skipped above, says:

“Praise the LORD!  Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!”

“A new song” suggests something that’s creative, offered in praise.  It’s an invitation from God to think expansively under the Spirit’s guidance, not restrictively under laws and regulations.  Don’t misunderstand – it’s not about “put yourself out there” and be an extrovert.  Perhaps you are not a “creative” person.  You might be a tax collector or a soldier[3].  You might be a clerk, accountant, lawyer, politician, engineer, housewife or anything else.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s about knowing who you are and dedicating that to the Lord and to others.  Turning some of this world’s “tohu va’bohu”[4] into something eternally rewarding.  But also, for some it means living in a hostile country and wondering whether and how to love your enemy when they come for you.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23-24

Coda
Fast forward to 2021 and Tyler Joseph of twenty øne piløts is still encouraging people to create amid a pandemic.  “Shy Away”, off their latest album, was one of the final encouragements for me to start publishing this blog.  The song started when Tyler’s brother asked him how to record and produce music.  Tyler started writing the music as an example, but he ended up with a completed song.  The lyrics are encouragement for his brother to do the same.  After all, if Tyler hadn’t long ago created “Taxi Cab”, that “mortal, rotting piece of song” for the merch table, he might still be lost in despair.

Listen to or read the lyrics to “Shy Away”, and ask God and yourself: What is your new song?  Is it your song, or is it someone else’s?  Will your song be heard?  Is it an “I love you”?

Keep Driving Toward Morning.  Don’t be afraid.  After all, humility is not false modesty, but “the virtue that allows us to get out of our own sinful way and thereby embrace God’s redemptive work in us.”[5]  Your Maker and King will rejoice, for “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” – Luke 15:7.  Lay aside your outer garments, or leave your skin on the floor if you prefer that metaphor, and pick up a towel.

This is His mission, should we choose to accept it.


[1] Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; Omega is the last.  God declares that He is both in Revelation 1:8 and elsewhere.
[2] See also Luke 14:12-14
[3] See Luke 3:12-14
[4] The Hebrew phrase translated as “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2. See prior post.
[5] Gibson, Richard H..; Beitler, James E. III.  Charitable Writing (2020).

Author: Todd R

I read; I think; I write. I consider how to stir up my readers to love and good works. If the Lord wills, I will continue to write and do this or that. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted. All other quotations are also in the standard English version, unless otherside noted.

2 thoughts on “Driving Toward the Morning Sun (Part 2)”

  1. As an “engineer” I appreciate being included in your list of jobs that can glorify God. I know you mean the list to be just an example of anything done to serve people in any way that glorifies God. It’s encouraging. It reminds me to not be lazy. It also reminds me not to work hard for the wrong reasons.

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    1. Thank you for the comment and I’m so glad this meant something to you. My pastor once asked us to imagine what sort of amusement park could be built in heaven! Think of the engineering involved, and the joy that could be created in a world where science is unhindered by the curse and corruption. Whatever sort of engineering you do, I hope it brings you joy and that others see Christ in you.

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