Grace, a Gift from God
by Joshua Wong
The American Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister, said that when female friends get together, it is more than just a social act, it’s a spiritual act.
Let us Prayer: Holy and living God who never lets us go, who graces our lives with love and lessons to learn, may we only hear your voice at this time, and may we become our true selves. Amen.
Hello everyone, my name is Joshua Wong, and I’ve been attending Thads for the past 18 months and lead the artist group. Thanks for coming to my first message. I was asked by Jon to speak today because I’m going through the discernment process for ministry in the Episcopal Church. I’ve never given a message before, but my dad was a minister. Now I am listening to God’s direction on whether or not to be in full time ministry.
A brief background of myself, I came from an advertising background in LA and NYC, and then transitioned into the fashion world in NYC. And now I freelance in LA. More on that later. My journey to where I am now is a tapestry of art and spirituality.
Today I’d like to share with you some thoughts about the work of grace that’s mentioned so much in the Bible. Grace is shown in so many ways.
One definition of grace found in the Merriam Webster dictionary is: Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.
One of God’s graces comes to us in the form of friendships. We meet many in of our lifetime. Friends come and go, and some join our inner circle. Just like the quote from Sister Chittister, some friendships are spiritual. We hear the term-“Friends grace our lives.
Grace indeed has the ability to regenerate and renew us.
God used my dad’s life to regenerate and renew so many people’s spiritual lives.
John Wong lived a life following his calling from God and gave up his career in Engineering in Hong Kong to immigrate our family of 7 to Los Angeles in 1964. His sense of calling was to share God’s love to the many Chinese foreign students and long time Chinese shop owners in the laundries and restaurants throughout the central coast of California. Back then, the foreign students had nowhere to go on holidays so we welcomed them to our home. And the Chinese owned shops in farming towns never had a pastor visit them, so they welcomed him in. Years later when we were a bit older, we moved to Los Angeles and he joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination and started the first of 8 Chinese Alliance churches. He went on to become an Evangelist speaking to stadium filled capacities in Southeast Asia preaching the message of God’s love to everyone…from high ranking politicians to farmers. Many people had their spiritual lives renewed. He had indeed renewed many people’s lives. A poignant example is that, 13 years ago, at my dad’s funeral, over 500 people came from around the world to pay their final respects. So, grace can be powerful.
In the Bible, grace comes in other forms.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 it reads, “Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish....“
Grace is a gift from God for spiritual renewal, restoration and transformation.
Recently, my viewpoint of grace has been deepened even more from reading, studying and in conversation about this idea. I’ve been reading a book by Father Patrick S. Cheng entitled: “From Sin to Amazing Grace”- Discovering the Queer Christ. His definition of grace is: “An amazing gift from God that helps us to be reunited with God after a period of separation. He continues…God’s grace is grounded in infinite love and as such, a never-ending flow of grace into creation.
I never really thought about the word grace. I think about gratitude for knowing Christ. But grace, it turns out is something God uses over and over every single day to connect us closer to him/her… You can say it’s a never ending-flow of God’s belovedness. God constantly works in us, and inspires us to do virtuous things. The work of grace is to bring us into a fuller experience of God’s abundant love so that we can know our truer selves.
Paul heard God say to him in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”
God’s grace can work on our weaknesses. But the weaknesses will make us stronger and bring glory to God.
Father Cheng also writes in his book: “Grace is not something that we can conjure up on our own timetable. It is a pure gift from God…it is unexpected, surprising, and astonishing”.
The never-ending flow of grace into creation is… happening everyday in creation right now. Some examples are having honest friendships. But other times, grace comes in challenging forms that may come at a cost. Grace may come to us as an open door in our searching, a closed door, or a not so clear door. On the outside, grace may not be what we might expect, but grace often requires us to respond.
Here’s an example of God’s grace that I had to respond to, but it changed my life.
All my life I struggled with being a gay Christian man. Even though I had been very involved in my father’s church, I could not deny that I am gay. I tried reparative therapy through the Ex-Gay ministry, but that caused me deeper pain from fighting who I truly am. Fortunately, I was introduced by a friend to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. There I understood a God who made me the way I am and loves me deeply for who He created. After this life affirmative realization of God’s unconditional love for me, I went to see my parents on a beautiful bright Saturday morning 25 years ago, and told them 3 bits of news: I’m quitting advertising; I’m gay and I’m moving to NYC.
Sometimes God’s love and grace makes one bold, however we have to be open to the cost involved. But by responding, I found my true self. I’m standing here today as an example of what God can do when we open ourselves to grace.
What is God’s grace saying to you today? Do you need to stay true to something in your life? Or make a change God would like you to make?
I read a great book from Father Richard Rohr entitled “Falling Upward: A spirituality for the two halves of our life. He writes:
In the first half of life, you are devoted to establishing yourself; you focus on making a career and on finding friends and a partner; you are crafting your identity. Spiritually, people in the first half of life are often drawn to order, to religious routine. Imagine this as the outside of your “container”.
Then—a crisis. "Some kind of falling, a job loss, fortunes loss, health issues…it may even undo your spiritual life. But the growth, the second half of life, doesn't necessarily happen. You can stay stuck if you wish. You can refuse the second half.
If you welcome the second half of life, “This is referred to as the inside of your container”, this is what you will find: you learn to hear "a deeper voice of God" than you heard before. "It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of 'common sense,' of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self."
A few months back, Edward, my husband and I went out to dinner with Jon. It was a balmy beautiful evening, sitting under twinkling strings of lights and enjoying deliciously prepared food. Jon asked me, “Have you thought of being in the ministry?” Well, there went my appetite!! Edward and I looked at each other with the same Holy moment of an AHHA, gift of God moment. After months of prayer and discussion, I decided to proceed. Ever since, I’ve been filled with joy because I’m working on filling the inside of my “container”.
You see, I’ve built a wonderful outer container. For the past 37 years, I’ve had a successful career in Advertising and as a Creative director in the footwear industry. I was an award winning Art Director for various Advertising agencies. In NYC, I was Ralph Lauren’s collection footwear designer. I was in Europe 6 times a year working in beautiful Florence, Venice and Naples. Then, I was hired by Banana Republic to be their VP of design for men and women’s footwear. I met movers and shakers in the fashion world. I am grateful for God’s grace during this time of my life.
And now, I’m ready to fill my inner container with what God’s spirit is changing. More than ever, I sense a world that is in need of communities like Thads and other places that can restore peace and provide welcome safe spaces for dialogue. I believe the Episcopal Church is a place where people can just be who they are, where they are in life. I’m excited to see how God will use me in the future. As the varying experiences of my life are colliding together, this may be a time in my life to serve in full time ministry. I care about supporting the LGBT community, the Artist and fashion world and my deepest burden resides with my own Asian American communities.
My ministry discernment process is interesting. Jon and Sarah formed a group of 6 people from Thads that has been spending their time with me to clarify my role in the ministry. God has already graced me with many marvelous opportunities… A terrific discernment team, Jon and Sarah’s support and a few wonderful spiritual mentors I work with outside of Thads. One mentor has already involved me with the immigrant Asian and Asian American ministries here in the LA Diocese.
What is grace, gifting you today? What is God trying to do in your life? Grace can come in so many forms. God speaks to us everyday to rejuvenate and transform our lives to become our true selves.
We were sharing in the Thads Thursday night bible study group led by Sarah about this topic of grace. The question opened up to us: Does grace come before faith or faith before grace? However you sense the gift of grace, it can be yours if you’ll reach out and take it.
This holiday season let’s welcome God’s voice speaking to us and listen for those grace moments. God’s grace can speak through honest good friends or difficult friends and family. In our divided world, what is grace asking us to do? You don’t need to look for grace, grace will find you. It comes to us when it’s time.
And when it does, let’s say yes to grace. Changing may be beautiful and may not be easy. God’s never ending flow of belovedness is overflowing and powerful. It is changing my life and may it well be changing yours.
©2019 Joshua Wong
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