The scene plays out daily across the landscape of Japan. From the urban metropolis to the rural countryside, it always looks the same. When people meet for the first time on business, they begin with a greeting, and then bow to one another and exchange business cards. Greet, bow, exchange. Greet, bow, exchange.
The exchanging of business cards in Japan is not an afterthought at the end of the meeting, as in “here’s the way to reach me.” It comes at the beginning of every meeting because it presents one’s position in the relationship. Americans value a “we all are equals, flat” worldview, and society is structured horizontally. Japan is stacked vertically, and everything from the depth of a bow to the words used in conversation is based on a person’s rung on the ladder.
The exchange of business cards is less about exchanging contact information and more about determining the hierarchy of position. If the individual works for a prestigious company that commands respect because the best companies only hire the best employees. If they are a manager, then they must be a hard worker and well-connected, and their position will determine where we sit on the ladder in relation to one another. Not knowing one’s position in relation to others brings communication to a standstill and makes it is virtually impossible to conduct business in Japan.
Living in Japan as a missionary has taught me so much. As Easter approaches, I’ve been thinking about what is on my business card. Not the one that I carry with me every day, but the one I use with God which includes a list of labels which establish my position. You don’t know what card I am talking about? Sure you do! It’s the card we pull out to measure our value and worth. It’s the card we use to present ourselves to God that says things such as, “God, I’m working hard to be more righteous.””God, I’m a failure at obeying you.” “God, I can never live up to the expectations of others.” “I am a loser. I am a winner. I am a missionary. I am a….”
There is usually a long list of titles on our card, labels we set ourselves and those ascribed to us by others. Each one determines our position and shapes our relationship with God. These labels influence how we love God and love others. But is our position in Christ based on our accomplishments and performance, set in place by our own doing? I believe not.
We fall into a precarious place when we allow human standards to define us. We put our identity in the hands of humanity’s fickle heart and mind. We are stuck with a life of untrue observations of how good (or bad) we are, an endless pursuit of justification and acceptance based on performance, and a self-worth rooted in ourselves. So what should be on our cards?
Recently, our church in Japan has been looking to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for answers. The believers in Ephesus were holding cards that read ‘second class citizen of heaven,’ a label ascribed by some Jewish believers. They were feeling looked down upon as non-Jews. Paul corrects their thinking by appealing to two crucial points. First, everything flows from who God is. To understand ourselves, we must start with a right understanding of God. Paul tells us that we have a loving Father that blesses us with every blessing (1:3), purposefully chooses us (1:4), lavishes grace on us (1:6), gives us access to himself (1:18), and is our foundation for living (2:20). Second, what this God says about us is infinitely greater than what we might say about ourselves. The Father says that we are his ‘workmanship’ (2:10), we are his children (2:19), and have his seal of approval in us, in the form of the Holy Spirit (1:13).
Our loving, grace-giving, foundation-giving and accessible God states that we have value beyond comprehension as His children and we are worthy of His Holy Spirit living inside us. Paul urges the Ephesians to use these words when describing themselves and these words give them their position in the world. Remembering that everything flows from God’s grace (2:8), their position is not based on what they did, but solely on who God is and who God says they are, which brings us back to you and me. By grace, we have been given new life in Jesus through his miraculous death and resurrection. It is the full and complete work of a loving God. It is in no way dependent on us. So why are we trying to move from living in the position of grace to that of performance? Why are we trying to add more to our cards? Is there anything we can do to increase the love of God for us? Expand his grace? Alter how he defines us? No! Never!
We are invited to live in a position of grace because it is the only True Place in which to live. This Easter, let’s shred the cards that measure us by performance and instead, introduce ourselves to the world based on our position in grace. This is the Good News that we will be proclaiming here in Japan, to those of us already living as believers and to those still on the journey. As for me, I’m going to stop thinking that if I am a good enough missionary, the Father will love me more. Instead, I will accept that by his grace, my position as his beloved is secure for eternity. Now that’s a business card I am glad to share with others.
To better understand Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Peter recommends spending two weeks reading the entire letter, start to finish, once a day. It’s short, and doing so will only take about 20 minutes. This is the way the letter was meant to be read; all at once and in one sitting. Take the two-week challenge and watch how Scripture will come to life!