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Two Coasts and One Generation for a Final Mission

previously published in July 2004

It all started when I stopped pausing each day to admire the palm trees.  When I first arrived in Loma Linda, I was in awe of the tropical arbor that lined the streets and accented the landscape.  Soon, instead of gawking at the peculiar foliage while driving, I was too busy weaving in and out through traffic on the I-10 and muttering to myself how bad traffic was out here.  Speaking of In-n-Out, I was quickly addicted to their wares, and in almost a weekly ritual, found myself ordering a grilled-cheese sandwich—“animal style.”

But on one brisk December morning, as I was walking to my car, I experienced a very foreign sensation.  It sent a cruel shiver up my spine and goose bumps erupted over my body.  It was a sensation I had not felt in a long time—I was cold.  For a moment, I thought I was back in Michigan, but I looked up, and sure enough, the palm trees were still there.  I thought to myself, this must be a very bad winter for California, I hope the palm trees make it through okay.  I was tempted to run back inside and grab a jacket, but my pride got the best of me.  This was a guy who survived a Michigan winter with a fleece pullover. 

So I got into my car and although my air conditioning was broken, I was glad that my heater still worked.  I turned it on full blast and as I drove towards campus, I passed by a bank, I was curious to see how cold it was.  The display read 13 degrees!  I thought for sure that this was some sort of sign.  The sun was darkened, the moon turned to blood, the stars fell from heaven, and now, it was going to snow in Loma Linda.  But when I took a second glance at the bank sign, my heart sank.  It was 13 degrees Celsius!  Which meant in Fahrenheit, it was—56 degrees!  It was at that moment that I finally realized—I was Californianized.

Before I experienced sunny California for myself, in my mind it was synonymous with earthquakes and beaches. I was convinced that one day, the whole state would sink into the Pacific.  And if I bought a bunch of land on the border of Nevada, I thought it would soon become beachfront property.  California also seemed to be the place where a lot of people went, and ended up getting married.  So I envisioned lots of beautiful girls just waiting for me to come choose one of them.  It was a mysterious place—almost a foreign land.  The last stop before you go to Korea, and the first stop coming back.  It was the land that exported oranges and vegemeat, which seemed like the only things that ever came out of California, because whenever someone went there, they almost never came back.  It made me wonder what was really in that vegemeat.

When I was able to experience California for myself, I discovered that the beaches are gorgeous, the mountains are breath taking, the weather is impeccable, and the food is incredible.  And during the past three years I have been here, aside from a few small tremors that I slept through, no major earthquakes.  I could see why nobody wanted to move away from here.  This place offers everything you could ever want, all within driving distance.  The only problem is that it is “too perfect.”

How would the Bible have described this perfect place?  “Fairest among the cities of the Jordan Valley was Sodom, set in a plain which was ‘as the garden of the Lord’ in its fertility and beauty. The profusion reigning everywhere gave birth to luxury and pride. Idleness and riches make the heart hard that has never been oppressed by want or burdened by sorrow. The love of pleasure was fostered by wealth and leisure, and the people gave themselves up to sensual indulgence” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 157). 

I am not saying that God’s people should leave California.  But as a church, if we are not wary of the powerful influence our environment has on us, we will become a boiled frog—not aware of the increasing temperature until it is too late.  This is not an issue directed solely towards California.  This complacency and love of pleasure has plagued our whole nation.  It seems, however, to exert its strongest influence around the larger cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta to name a few.  It’s not that our brothers and sisters there are weaker, but that the things of this world are so much more attractive there.  The more wealthy and well to do Korean Americans become, the easier it will be to end up somewhere downstream where Sodom was.  So what can we do to prevent a destiny similar to Sodom?

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were able to stand tall despite being inundated with secular influences in Babylon because that they had a strong sense of who they were and what their mission was.  Their response to King Nebuchadnezzar will echo throughout eternity as a pillar of faith. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (verses 16-18).
In this day and age, living in a predominantly Christian nation gives us a false sense of complacency.  But as Adventists, each one of us needs to know what we believe and why we believe it.  Otherwise, if we do not know what we stand for, we will not know what we have fallen for.

First of all, we need to know where we came from.  As Adventists, how did this movement begin?  What was the vision of the early pioneers?  What did they stand for and what did they stand against?  The early Adventists were young people, radicals in their time who were passionate about the Bible and placed an importance on health.  All of our beliefs are solely from the Bible, not from tradition.  There are not many other denominations that can make the same claim. Furthermore, the early Adventists were one of the only Christians who were active in the abolitionist movement against slavery in the United States. 

Secondly, we need to know the pillars that our church stands upon.  These are doctrines that help us to understand what we believe, which defines who we are.  There are five pillars: the Seventh-day Sabbath, Second coming, Sanctuary, State of the dead, and Spirit of prophecy.  When we understand these principles, it is less likely that we will be led astray.

When I was younger, I remember being bombarded with Adventist doctrine in a practically legalistic fashion.  I was afraid of the second coming by how end time prophecy was presented to me, and I resented the fact that the church elders would get on our case about what we should and should not do on the Sabbath.  And since then, for those of us who have stayed in the church and are now leaders, we have tried to shy away from the “fire and brimstone” teaching and have gone to a more “grace and love” approach to Adventism.  The only problem is that we have preached so much grace that many of us have forgotten what the grace is for.  Our concept of sin has become cloudy.  And in this post-modern era, we do not want to offend anyone so everything has become “relative” leaving us lost and confused. 

There is a hunger and thirsting among the younger generation for truth, passion, and vision.  If we do not provide these elements at church, through the preaching of the Word, through serious Bible study, and godly mentorship, there are plenty of other places where these youth people will find passion and vision, but not truth.  Now is time to rediscover the powerful messages of Ellen White.  If we are hesitant to mention her in church, then what message are we relaying about Adventism?  Our message is not something to be ashamed of.  The Great Controversy, The Desire of Ages, and Steps to Christ have utterly transformed people’s lives.  They are inspired writings that have given to me a clear and beautiful picture of the God that we serve—merciful and just. 

Lastly, we need to challenge our youth to rise above the standards of this world and stand upon the standards of Jesus Christ.  If we are not challenged, we will not grow.  If we are not actively paddling against the current, we will be swept away by it.  But it is not only the young people who need to be challenged.  We need to challenge our parents as well.  The Christian experience is not limited to the church setting.  It begins in the home.  And if our parents are placing school, music, and sports above time deepening a relationship with God, the children will suffer. 

This is not just a west coast and east coast issue.  Everyone is affected.  The Korean American Adventist church has the potential to do a powerful work here in North America and abroad.  We are united by our common culture, and it is the same special bond that makes our rice stick together.  By building on that unity, we could catalyze a movement not seen since 1844.  When God is planning something spectacular, he always raises up a leader.  I believe something is happening now.  And God is waiting for our generation to rise to the challenge.  Hey you, with the In-n-Out burger, what are you waiting for?

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