“Departure Points” by Tony Siew: Book Reflection

Reading “Departure Points” was a breeze and I completed the book more quickly than most. The reading overtook some other books which I had started reading a few weeks earlier. I typically read about five to ten books at a time, dipping into any of them as my whim or mood fancies. The language is informal and it was an easy and interesting read. 

I first met the author through reading his blog. Then when he was in Singapore, we had a few meals together, and he also preached in World Revival Prayer Fellowship, the church I served. In our limited meetings and from reading his blog, what impressed upon me is that he is a man of deep convictions, who works hard at teaching and preaching God’s word, and displays great love for the SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) churches. Reading this book has given me more insights into his gifts and character. I can see how he obtained a well of wisdom in church leadership – both parochial and denominational – from his wide experience and postings in different settings and countries. 

“Departure Points” gives a quick and easy account of the life and ministry of Rev Dr Tony Siew. The settings changed quickly, from local to denominational, from Sabah to New Zealand to Singapore, from urban church to rural church, from rich city church to poor village church, and denominational seminary to established regional seminary. His ministry roles were as widely varied as his settings: pastor, writer, researcher, denominational treasurer and fundraiser, itinerant preacher to rural churches, seminary lecturer, scholar presenting papers at international conferences, and acting principal of a denominational seminary. The book’s title is clearly appropriate. 

I liked the book for its easy read and my interest in this Sabah denomination which began with Holy Spirit outpourings in the mid-1970’s, about two or three years later than the revivals that began in Singapore. It demonstrated the power of the Spirit in missions and evangelism and natural church multiplication. Till today the Spirit’s activity is still part of the DNA of the church and I do pray it stays that way for the tendency is for such DNA to fade into obscurity with the passage of time, and the equipping of seminary lecturers in seminaries that restrict the Spirit’s work.

I admire the work of the foreign missionaries from Australia (Borneo Evangelical Mission/ OMF) who successfully passed on the baton to the local pastors and leaders and left behind a model of church polity that required plurality of leadership. This has given a lot of stability (despite the slow speed of decisions and execution). The history of foreign missions is littered with missionaries that held on the power for too long and did not contextualize polity to suit the culture they had evangelized. But these Aussie missionaries did well. No doubt the Spirit was upon them to guide them.

Through Tony’s report of his story, I have a better understanding of the SIB denomination and the local churches in the city and the rural villages, and how they operated, and the challenges they faced. He is the only ethnic Chinese pastor among the scores of pastors and church leaders (from the major tribal ethnic groups) that fulfilled the many leadership roles in church and denomination. It is grace on the part of the tribal majorities and upon Tony’s ministry that he was promoted to strategic positions and appointments during his sacrificial tenure of ministry in the denomination. 

I could see that while he is multi-talented and very responsible and capable, his strong convictions, sense of responsibility and courage occasionally landed him in no man’s land and within the crosshair of his critics’ rifle scopes. He is a courageous and forthright leader, passionate as a scholar of God’s truth, and as a pastor-lover of God’s church. I cannot help but feel that a mission that suits him and will make a great contribution to SIB is some kind of wide-ranging and influential role in reformation and implementation of the training of future pastors of the SIB.

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Before The Coffee Gets Cold: a Spiritual Reflection

It was an award-winning Japanese play byToshikazu Kawaguchi. The author then converted it into a novel. The novel is clad with its birthmarks. This troubled some who read it but the cut and paste did not trouble me much. I find this a moving, poignant novel about the stage of bargaining we go through when we experience a great loss. 


Goodreads summarizes the story this way: “In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: a businesswoman to confront the man who left her; a nurse to receive a letter from her husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s; a sister who runs a mini-hostess bar to see her sister one last time; and the café owner’s wife to meet the daughter she never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold.


So why would they want to go to a different time when there is no chance of changing the past? Why would they want to meet the person they wanted to meet? What would they say to them or want to hear from them? These questions stem from the “bargaining stage” of the grieving process, the “if onlys” and the “what ifs” and “I should haves”. The author crafted beautiful, poignant stories for each of these ladies who wanted to time-travel. It seemed to be made with an eye to a film, and indeed there is a Japanese film of the same title, based on the novel.

Each of the women’s past was not changed as a result of their time-travel but they themselves experienced a change within, arising from new information they had gotten from their brief visit to the a different time. It corrected their assumptions…indeed misled judgments, they each felt loved or hopeful, and the changes in perspectives transformed their attitudes towards their loved ones, their losses and their suffering.

I like this book. It made me feel, it moved me. It got me ruminating about it. It made me curious. It engaged me. I want to watch a film version if available.


It got me to thinking that it is important for us to go backwards in order to move forwards. There are painful, regretful, hurtful experiences and relationships we have in the past that needs re-visiting and reflection and prayer. When we bring all those past experiences and trauma or pain to God in prayer and dialogue with him, he will give us perspectives, graces and healing within that will transform us even though it does not change the past events nor the present situation. It just changes us. Such reflective prayer on past hurts and events that affected us is vital to living in the present with wholeness, and to propel us forward as disciples of Christ.

I certainly got more that I had expected from reading this book. I wanted to be entertained but found something deeper within its pages. Thanks to Grace Phua for introducing me to this book.

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The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 2

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince
"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

Tomorrow I fly off to lead a group of 47 pilgrims in a tour of Israel. Half the members are from our church, the other half are their friends and a group from another church. Its going to be an exciting time. We go to pray and to bless Israel, and certainly be blessed as well. Blessed to see what was once not a nation now a nation; blessed to hear Hebrew, once dead but now a living language; blessed to feel how Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled, and God’s faithfulness revealed. All this will be energizing for us. This is also the land where Jesus lived, moved and ministered. Here He was born; here He died and rose again. Here is where He will return in glory. I’m excited. Do pray for us.

Before I go off I wanted to write this reflection on the second part of Joseph Prince’s book. If you have his book and it is lying on the shelf somewhere why don’t you read this particular part and help contribute some thoughts on how the book has helped you. You can share what you like or do not like in the book, and discuss more deeply some of the ideas in this part which covers chapters 4, 5 and 6. Imagine you are in a reading club and we are all reading this stuff together to discuss it on this platform instead of face to face.

Part 2 is titled “Learn to See What God Sees” and here is my summary of each chapter in this part:

Play the Right Mental Movies (chapter 4) – The central idea is that we have a tendency to look at the negative and this creates fear in our hearts. We play the wrong kind of mental movies. And fear like a boa constrictor suffocates us to death. We cannot get rid of such fearful ideas. The best way is to replace them. Replace them with God’s truth and right belief.

See Yourself As God Sees You (chapter 5) – Here Prince introduces the doctrine of justification in its practical implications. A great exchange has taken place. Jesus took our sins. We received his gift of righteousness. When God looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness and not our failures, sins, weaknesses. He looks at us and He sees a child of God deserving of favor, blessing and approval.

You Are Irreversibly Blessed (chapter 6) –  Prince takes the Old Testament story of Balaam paid by Balak to curse Israel but when it came time to curse Israel he actually blessed Israel. Balaam explained that God commanded him to bless and he could not reverse that. God has “not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”(Num23:20,21). The chapter went on to develop further the idea of justification and how God views us who are made righteous in Christ, and how therefore God loves to pour out his undeserved blessings on us.

I am beginning to notice the use of a dominant image or life story in each chapter. For instance the mental movie, the constrictor snake, or a businessman who moved from fear to faith, or an American guy who found help in knowing how God sees him. I like it that he is using both local as well as Caucasians (with an eye to connecting to American Christians) as it shows that this message can have the same fruit across national boundaries and cultures.

When I read Chapter 6, I thought, I must digest this and share this with the church. Its a beautiful “shadow”  that points us to the amazing work of justification and its implications. Traditional teaching on justification falls shy of talking about how God will bless and favor us as a fruit of justification. They will focus on the spiritual blessings as in Romans 5. Prince boldly talks about material blessings though not in this chapter but elsewhere.

Conservative interpretation of the Old Testament also does not allow for the use of typology when the event, person, object or colour is not so used in the same way in the New Testament. Thus since Balaam and the story of Israel, and the high priestly breast-piece,  used as “shadows”pointing to the real blessings of justification was never mentioned in such a connection in the New Testament, it is not permissible to interpret the OT text in this way. I am less conservative with regards to this, and there are scholars along a spectrum on this issue. To me, such typology should be permissible. However, the text must not be artificially contorted beyond recognition and reason. It should not contradict any of the major Bible doctrines that are made clear elsewhere. Lastly, it brings out the loveliness of Jesus finished work and not shed light on some insignificant subject. If it sheds light on the overall redemptive theme of the whole Bible and I give it my thumbs up.

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The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 1

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince
"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

There are seven parts to this book and I hope to post my reflections on them a part at a time. This book was written to help people with fears, guilt, and addictions. Prince is convinced that the difference between those who were set free and those who were not, is simply right believing.

First a summary of the first part: Believe in God’s Love for You

What You Believe is Powerful (chapter 1):  Wrong beliefs keep you imprisoned but the truth sets you free. The truth that sets you free is the gospel of grace which when believed will uproot all your wrong beliefs.

The God Who Seeks the Shunned (chapter 2):  God is not after you for your mistakes and failings and sins. People will shun you like the village shunned the Samaritan woman, but Jesus would seek you out.  Uproot common misconceptions about God’s attitude towards those who fail him. Know and believe He abounds in mercy and love and your life will change.

“Jesus Loves Me This I Know” (chapter 3): God’s love for us is unconditional. He forgives us completely; He justifies the ungodly; and loves the sinner. It’s not about how much you love Him but about how much He loves you.

Joseph Prince’s book is very readable. I like the easy to read typo and spacing. The chapters are probably adaptations and edited versions of his sermons. They bear some characteristics of sermons. They speak directly to you in a conversational tone. Sometimes there is the occasional detour and the repetition of ideas in different words. It’s also inspirational and declaratory.

What resonates for me was the mention of how we often have mere head knowledge of the vastness of God’s love for us but when a crisis hits our lack of real belief and knowledge is betrayed by our great fears, anxiety and guilt. On reflection I realize these moments when we see a gap between what we believe about God and how we react or behave are opportunities for the Spirit to write on the tablets of our hearts His personal love letter. Through such experiences what we know in the head percolates to the heart.

From reviewing the first part, I can understand why he keeps preaching the rich theme of God’s grace over and over. For one there are always new people in the audience who need to hear it many times in different ways before it uproots their wrong concepts about God. Second, the whole Bible has a rich deep vein of inexhaustible grace to be mined and surfaced for the people to draw from. Third, faith is not built over a Sunday and often when we are facing a challenge we need to be reminded again and again to look to the God of grace and unconditional love.

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A review of Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

renovation of the heart

Vision of spiritual formation

The author wants the church to hold to a vision of spiritual formation of all believers into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is rooted in the Great Commission, and the church that fails to do this simply has failed. Dallas Willard is a professor of Philosophy in U.S.C. and a widely read author. His writing is cogent, and patiently builds up air-tight arguments to prove his thesis. His extensive reading and research is evidenced in his references. But his background also explains why his definitions of various elements of the human, like soul, spirit, and heart betray a lack of biblical theology.

Dallas begins by painting a grim picture of the gap between what is professed and what is lived out by the church. Many have severely fallen short of the standard of Christ’s holy life. He then pinpoints the church’s problem: majoring on the minors. The cure: a fresh, intentional focus on spiritual formation. A vision of change and hope is outlined and then in detail he goes on to show how every element of the human person can be transformed. The thought life and the feelings; the will and the body; the social and soul, all need to come under the transforming work of Spirit and man’s intentional and habitual response.

Biblical theology gap

The definitions and explanations and practical applications about what Christians can do to predispose themselves to God’s grace in transformation are clear and the arguments almost airtight. However I would have been more convinced if he had brought in more biblical theology with word studies, of biblical terms like the heart, or spirit and soul. It sounded more psychological than biblical. Perhaps in targeting the lay Christian reader, he has deliberately avoided technical discussion on such matters, but I wished that at least it could have been included in an appendix.

He could have filled a gap in terms of biblical theology of how Christ’s finished work, our union with Christ, the sacraments, and sanctification relates to spiritual formation. Perhaps he was overeager to avoid theological jargon but we readers would like to be able to relate what we read in his book to the epistles of St Paul in Romans 6-8 and other great passages. For example, he made some insightful observations about how “ideas, sensations and emotions”, both positive and negative, can by habit become “settled attitudes” that become like tendencies that can trigger automatically without conscious thought in reaction to life situations. It would have been wonderful if he discussed that in relation to the “old man” or “the flesh” or “body of sin” or “ indwelling sin”.

Community applications needed

His suggestions were practical. For instance, memorization and meditation of the Scriptures to renovate the mind so that it comes fully under Christ’s rule. However, it is noticeable that most of his applications were directed to the individual Christian. There were a few directed to the community and leaders of the community in the social dimension but it would have been better if all the application were viewed from a community and relational viewpoint. Thus the applications for mind renewal could have been the reading and preaching of Scriptures in the worship service, the role of hymns, the family’s role in encouraging thinking from God’s viewpoint, the study and discussion and application of truth to life in small groups etc. Frankly, most individual Christians will not memorize scriptures or study over the long haul. The only hope of such actions becoming habits must be for a community practice to be established and for them to participate in them faithfully.

An Asian way?

The approach of breaking down all the human elements that need transformation is also a very Western and scientific approach. It helps me to understand each particular part and how it functions together and deepens my understanding, but it also overwhelms the individual with too much applications, and it feels quite cumbersome. It may be better if he had taken a more Asian or holistic and biblical approach and viewed the human being as a whole and demonstrated how Christ’s death and resurrection has provided a basis for the renewal of my whole being and how the church needs to provide a conducive context where all its members can better predispose themselves to the ongoing grace of sanctification.

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