Sunday, January 31, 2010

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a common sight in Japan. Point cards.

In an effort to keep customers loyal, it seems that every business in Japan -- from the largest chain department store, to the smallest ma and pa variety store...everything -- has their own unique point card. Spend a hundred yen, get 1 point. Collect 5000 points, get a coupon for a few yen off your next purchase. Just make sure you use your points within a certain period of time, and for certain items only, etc. This is the way it goes. And Japanese people seem to be almost fanatical about the concept. The first question you are asked by the cashier is "Do you have a --- card today?" and "Would you like to make one?"

I realize the point card system is popular in the States as well, but the Japanese have truly mastered it. For myself personally, it seems more fuss than it is worth: managing all those point systems for such a meager return. It seems smarter to simply shop at a discount store from the beginning. I guess I just "don't get the point" as a foreigner.

However I do have a few point cards (okay, only one) for places I visit frequently. When making a recent purchase, I was quite excitedly about finally cashing my hard-earned points in to cover the cost. I hadn't frequented the store in a while, but now was finally the moment. When the cashier announced the price of my sale, I confidently flipped out my point card:

"Please use my points." I said proudly, expecting him to be amazed at my diligence.
He looked at the card oddly and then said, "I'm sorry. But this card is no longer used by our store."

My heart sank. All my carefully saved points took wings in an instant. I would have laughed had I not been so amazed. How could they do this to me after carrying that card around so long in my wallet, using it at every opportunity?

"We do have a new point-getter machine. Every shopper can use their store card to get up to 100 points any time they visit." the clerk said, trying console me in my obvious shock.

This was small comfort. But I followed him to the point-getter machine for a demonstration. He inserted my new store point card for me. We waited. How many comfort points would I be awarded? The answer came. As if sticking out its tongue at me, the machine spit the card back out. Printed on it was a big, fat zero.

I guess foreigners just don't get the point.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big 4-0

A few weeks back as the year started out, I preached at Denen on the topic of change and 2 Corinthians 5:17. And the biggest change for me occurred a few days later on January 18. I officially joined the “40's club.”

I used to think that 40 year-olds were wise and seasoned in life. But when I look at myself I realize that assumption was misguided. I’d love to say that after 40 years of wanderings I’m finally ready to enter the promised land. But the truth is that after 40 years I still have a way to go toward spiritual maturity. Weaknesses I see in me haven’t gone away. I’ve made progress, but not as dramatically or as quickly as I’d like. It would be easy to get discouraged, give up and say, “Well, that’s how I’ll always be.” But the Bible holds out a different option. God is always doing something new. So change is always possible. Not because of me, but because of Him.

I'm grateful for a Savior that loves me as I am, and yet moves me toward growth. I'm also grateful for church family that makes the journey fun. As I gave the announcements this past Sunday, the lights suddenly went out. A lighted cake (yep, 40 candles) was wheeled into the room. And the congregation broke into a strain of "Happy Birthday," Japanese style. I suspected something was in the works by the suspicious grins on their faces earlier. Thank you, Lord, for 40 years with you. Thanks for giving Christian friends and family to journey together with.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year, New Venture

Here we go! Pastor Kondo and his wife, Mikiko, were officially commissioned in our Sunday worship service. We will have a more formal installation service in March, but this is the start of their ministry with us as a church.

When we started the church we could not have imagined what God would have in store for us these past seven years. Through all the victories and letdowns, the blessings and challenges, we have trusted that God would provide national leadership for the church. And He did. And what a great couple this is to work with in 2010. We look forward to putting hands together in ministry. Take a look at his background and vision. Also, pray for this financial need.

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19