From the Servant General
September 19, 2010
Our theme for 2011 is:
“my God is now my strength!” (Isaiah 49:5)
The significance of the year 2011
The year 2011 is an important milestone in the life and mission of CFC-FFL. The year encompasses the last six months of our 30th year, and the first six months of the start of our 31st year. Jesus started his public ministry when he was about 30 years old (Lk 3:23). Everything before that was preparation for his momentous work of winning salvation for humanity.
Perhaps in like manner, what we have been through for 30 years (up to June 2011), with all its ups and downs, including the crisis and split of 2007, can be considered part of God’s formation of His instrument, preparing us for the explosive work beyond June 2011.
Further, CFC started in the Philippines and has spread throughout the world. It is not a Filipino movement that incidentally has other nationalities among its members. Rather, it is an international movement that only incidentally started in the Philippines. According to the progressive plan of God, He intended this movement of renewal to encompass many nations, races, peoples and tongues (Rev 7:9). That has already happened, but will intensify even more.
Divine selection is a mystery. God chose a slave people in Egypt to become His very own people. In like manner, God chose the Philippines to be the birthplace of CFC. He has used Filipinos to establish and expand CFC in many different countries throughout the world. Now, according to the progression of God’s plan, we have brethren of many different nationalities who have taken up the life and mission of CFC-FFL. God’s plan for CFC continues to unfold.
The Philippines, having been the only Christian nation in Asia before the emergence of Timor Leste, has been cited as having a prophetic role to be God’s light in Asia. But with the increasing secularism in the west and many countries, with the growth of the Filipino diaspora throughout the world, with the expansion of CFC-FFL, the role of the Philippines has been expanded to its being light to the world. All disciples of Christ are of course called upon to be a light to the world, and this role is applicable to all nations that profess Christ and proclaim his good news of salvation. But clearly, the Philippines has a distinctive role.
We also see that the Philippines is one of the last bastions of faith, family and life. The warfare of the third millennium centers on the assaults against family and life. Many nations, including so-called Christian nations, including in fact those who were missionary nations that spread the faith (mostly in Europe), have become secular humanist. Most nations today have legalized abortion and divorce, and are moving forward with such abominations as same-sex marriage. In this third millennium, the Philippines will be the concerted target of these anti-life, anti-family, homosexualist forces.
It is in this light that we see the strategic importance of the Philippines in the overall plan of God. Now Christianity was established in the Philippine by Spain in March of 1521. In March of 2021 the Philippines will be celebrating 500 years of Christianity. That will indeed be a milestone. But what kind of nation will it be? Would it by then have succumbed to the attacks of the enemy forces, or would it shine even more brightly as God’s light to the world?
The decade from 2011 to 2021 will witness intense spiritual warfare in the Philippines. The enemy will go all out to destroy this last bastion of family and life. But God will also provide the grace and the strength of the Holy Spirit that is needed to withstand the assault and to emerge victorious. This decade can be a time of abundant grace.
As has always been the case throughout salvation history, as the spiritual warfare between God and Satan is played out in the heavens and on earth, the result depends on how God’s people act. Jesus has already won the victory on the cross, and will ultimately, at the end of time, return as the victorious King. In the meantime, the war rages. The war has already been won, but battles can still be lost.
Into the midst of this intense conflict CFC-FFL finds itself. We are God’s army. On our work, as well as the work of other religious groups and movements, depends the outcome of the battle of this crucial decade in this nation.
Thus we see how important 2011 will be. It inaugurates the decade of grace leading up to the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. It marks the end of an intense 30-year formation and preparation for CFC-FFL, and thrusts us decisively into the final conflict.
The significance of the theme verse from Isaiah
The theme for 2011 is taken from a particular part of a particular verse, in this case, the last part of verse 5 of chapter 49 of the book of Isaiah. The whole verse itself is instructive.
“For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!” (Is 49:5)
Remember that in June of 2011, we will be looking back on 30 years of life and work, and we will be looking forward to what comes after.
This verse speaks about our experience. First, it is about God’s eternal plan, to use us as His servant and instrument in order to accomplish His purposes for the world. Indeed, for 25 years, God used CFC in the power of His Spirit. Second, it speaks about the crisis of 2007 and the split, caused by our veering away and our infidelities. God then raised a remnant, gathering us and bringing us back to Himself. God has restored the authentic CFC, now CFC-FFL, living out its authentic charism. Third, God intends to use us, according to His eternal plan, to do such glorious work that will greatly help in the accomplishment of His plan for the life of the world.
The above is reinforced by verse 6.
“It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is 49:6)
Here we have three key words, all staring with the letter R. These words are raise, restore and reach.
First, God raised CFC in 1981, to become His people and to be His instruments of renewal. Second, God restored CFC in 2007. Satan almost succeeded in destroying CFC. But God’s plan will not be thwarted. He has restored the survivors as a remnant, now CFC-FFL, according to His original design. Third, He will use CFC-FFL to reach to the ends of the earth, His original intent for CFC. We are to proclaim Christ and the gospel of salvation through a massive work of evangelization throughout the world.
An interesting and meaningful aspect is that the three R’s are the work of the Trinity. It is God the Father who has His eternal plan and who raised CFC according to His purpose. It is Jesus, God the Son, who restores. By his death and resurrection, thereby winning salvation for all, Jesus restores us to our relationship with the Father. And it is Jesus, whose name we carry as CFC-FFL, who restores the authentic charism of CFC by establishing his holy remnant. Finally, it is God the Holy Spirit who uses us to reach the ends of the earth. The Spirit anoints and empower us as we do our mission.
Notice that verses 5 and 6 basically say the same things. Now wedged right between those two verses is our theme. “My God is now my strength!” This is the pivot point. This is the key to God’s plan for CFC-FFL.
The significance of larger context of Isaiah
As we have experienced before, such as in the theme for 2007 coming from the book of Lamentations, or the theme for 2010 coming from the book of Job, God often also desires to teach us many things that come from the larger context in which our theme verse is situated.
Now we will not be looking to the whole of the book of Isaiah, but to those verses connected with our theme verse. These are Isaiah 49:1-7.
First, there is constant referral to God’s plan for us, which forms our destiny. Verse 1: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” Verse 5: “the Lord …. formed me as his servant from the womb.” To be given one’s name is to be designated for a particular purpose or mission. The foundation of our life and work is God’s purpose and intent for us. We are just instruments. We need to know who we are and why God raised us, and then faithfully live out our calling.
Second, God reminds us of what He can do with faithful instruments acting according to His plan. Verse 2: “He made of me a sharp-edged sword …. He made me a polished arrow.” We were, and are, to proclaim the word of God and the gospel of salvation in the power of the Holy Spirit. We would be His effective instruments to touch the lives of people in a profound and radical way, penetrating soul and spirit, joints and marrow, reflections and thoughts (Heb 4:12).
Third, unfortunately we veered away from God’s plan and became unfaithful to His call. Thus we became easy prey for Satan, who desires to destroy us, knowing what God intends to accomplish through us. He almost succeeded in 2007. But God will not be thwarted. So out of the crisis and split, He raised a remnant. He restored CFC to His original plan. Verse 5: “That Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him.” Verse 6: “restore the survivors of Israel.”
Fourth, now that we have been restored, we are called to be a holy remnant. Verse 7: The Lord is “the redeemer and the Holy One of Israel.” As God is holy, as Jesus tells us to follow in his footsteps, so we too are to be holy (1 Pet 1:15-16). If we are to do the work of a holy God, then we need to take on His image and likeness. If we are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, then we need to be like Jesus.
Fifth, if we then are able to become the instruments that God can use, then use us He will. Remember that God is about the work of redeeming all of humanity, but has decided to use human instruments to accomplish His purpose. If we are those instruments, God will certainly use us. Thus according to the plan of God, He raised CFC in 1981, He restored CFC-FFL in 2007, and He will use CFC-FFL in the power of His Spirit to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Verse 6: it is not just about raising and restoring (that is “too little”), but God intends much greater things. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
Sixth, when that happens, then God’s glory will shine forth through CFC-FFL (and hopefully through the Philippines). Verse 5: God’s eternal plan for CFC and His restoration of CFC-FFL will make His instrument “glorious in the sight of the Lord.” How else could it be? If we do God’s very own work, if we carry the very image of our Lord Jesus, if we are witnesses in the power of the Spirit, then we reflect God’s own glory. Verse 3: God uses CFC-FFL as His servant, “through whom I show my glory.”
Wow! That is quite a calling! It is challenging. It is intimidating.
How do we respond?
Well, first, we need to know our place. We have a call to do a great work, and in doing so, will be glorious in the sight of God, as well as that of the world. But we never forget that we are just instruments. Without God we are nothing. Anything we are able to accomplish for Him is just due to His grace, empowerment and blessing.
In other words, we are mere servants. Verse 3: “You are my servant.” That is our call. That is what will allow our destiny to unfold according to God’s intent. Verse 5: God “formed me as his servant from the womb.” As long as we remain faithful to our call, and become who we are meant to become, then God will use us powerfully.
Second, we just work as servants, leaving the fruit of our work up to God (1 Cor 3:6). In this regard, we can endure hardships, disappointments, seeming setbacks, oppression, persecution, affliction, pain, suffering. We never lose sight of our divine calling. We have learned through 30 years that it will not all be blessings, though there will be lots of that, but that there will be the pain as well. But in fact, even the suffering and pain have become blessings, and we can even rejoice in them. Ultimately, what matters is our eternal reward. It is the crown of righteousness that awaits us (2 Tim 4:8). Our reward is eternal life with God in heaven. Verse 4: “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” All the pain and disappointments, including the crisis of 2007, are not for naught. They are all part of our formation. All our toil, for the sake of Christ, will never be in vain.
Finally, we look to God for our strength.
Now our theme for 2011
“My God is now my strength!”
God of course has always been our strength. But NOW (that is, by 2011), we understand more what this means, honed through the experience of 30 years. And understanding it better, we will be better able to live out this fundamental reality.
Jesus says: “without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5). But of course. We are doing God’s work. We are mere instruments. It is God who makes us effective, who provides what we need, who defeats Satan whom we on our own cannot defeat. If we are branches cut off from the vine, we will simply wither and die.
But it is not only the negative aspect of being cut off from the vine. It is also the positive aspect of becoming fruitful if we are intimately connected to the vine, drawing life from Jesus. We will bear much fruit! Our work after all is about the very salvation of people. It is about the very plan of God. It is about the very good news of salvation won by Jesus on the cross. It is about the desire of God to have His people with Him eternally in heaven. It is about glorious work in the world.
Only God can accomplish that work. But in the mystery of God’s plan, we, and all disciples of Jesus, have been entrusted with that work. God has made Himself dependent upon us!
How can we accomplish such divine work? It can only happen if our God is now our strength.
When we veer away, when we are unfaithful, then we in effect are acting in our own strength. That is the sure formula for disaster.
But it is not only such negative things that we do, but also if we fail to live out the positive things that we are called to do. We are called to be holy as God is holy, to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to be docile to the Holy Spirit, to leave all for God and to give all to God, to love as Jesus loves.
In other words, we can only become God’s truly effective instruments if we know and live out the reality that our God is now our strength. It is not about us, it is all about God. We are nothing, but by God’s mysterious workings, have become something, the very instruments of God for His purposes. When we become more and more like God, then His strength becomes our strength.
The challenges will certainly continue. In fact, they will intensify. There will be times where we will be tempted to give up or to lie low. There will be times when we will become confused or unsure of God’s call. The enemy will continue to attack, even more intensely. The world will continue to lure us, relying on the weakness of our sinful flesh.
These are times when we cling to God even more. And even like Job, when we cannot understand God’s ways, when we become prone to complaining, when we become bitter, we just look to the awesome majesty of God, and the mystery of His having called and raised us. Then we thank and praise Him, and rejoice even in affliction. We trust in Jesus. We have the conviction, born of 30 years, that God will never abandon us. In fact, He favors us, chooses us, depends on us. We can truly say: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13).
Before Jesus finally started his public ministry at about age 30, he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Lk 2:40).
In 2011, CFC-FFL will be 30 years old. Hopefully we have become wiser through the years, especially learning the lessons that come through lamentations and affliction. Hopefully the favor of God still rests on us, as His holy remnant, living out the authentic charism, life and mission of CFC. We have gained strength through the years, only to see ourselves falter and fall on occasions. But God revives, raises and restores us, and still intends to use us according to His original intent.
God has done all He can for us. Now, as ever, it is up to us to respond.
With the past in mind and all the lessons that come with the years, with the future in sight according to the vision given us, with the present being lived out in fidelity to our covenant, may we all enjoy God’s favor, and may God continue to use us according to His eternal plan, as each and every one of us exclaims: