George Geftakys has died…

George Geftakys slipped into a coma on August 11, 2014, and died at 6:15 p.m.  He was buried in a private service at the Riverside National Cemetery. Your reflections prompted by this event are welcome here, on the website, and on the Facebook groups, “George & Betty Geftakys – Geftakys Assembly”, and “The Geftakys Assembly”. Elizabeth Esther Geftakys Henderson written about her grandfather’s passing on her blog and on her Facebook page.

In April George had had a stroke and a fall, from which he did not recover. He was placed in hospice care and given two to six months to live. Several former Assembly leaders considered visiting him to make one final appeal for a change of heart. However, his opportunity for repentance was past; according to a family member, he was not capable of coherent discussion due to increasing dementia.

My Theological House

shaky houseSandy Blank went through the big doctrinal changes in the Worldwide Church of God, became thoroughly disillusioned, and walked out. After having a powerful conversion experience she went back to Worldwide (now Grace Communion International) to try to make a difference, but left again after 10 years. In “My Theological House” she describes her experience using a punchy metaphor that captures the feeling of desolation that comes from leaving a Bible-based cult.


When I was young I began to build my theological house. I wouldn’t have called it a theological house, but that’s what it was. Everyone needs one because every human spirit needs somewhere to live. That’s why we go to the trouble of building them. Mine was a little hut assembled from old prayer cards, lyrics of ancient hymns, episodes of Touched by an Angel, and whatever else I could scrounge up. It had a smooth dirt floor that I swept clean with a stubby old broom. It wasn’t much. But it was comfortable, and more importantly, it was mine.

Then I found out about a particular church that I thought was the one and only. They easily convinced me to remodel my theological house according to their exact specifications. For many years I spent more than I could afford on new floors, oddly-shaped furniture and glittering accessories. I was sure that these possessions identified me as one of the peculiar ones who was extra special to God.

One day I heard a troubling report that this church was not the one and only; perhaps it was not even a real church. I quickly dismissed this absurd notion and continued to work on my theological house. However, another year passed and I could no longer ignore the evidence that indeed, this church was not as it had first appeared. It was not the one and only.

How could this be true? How could I have been fooled for so long? What does all this mean? I became angry and turned my back on the group that I believed had knowingly deceived me for so many years. I ventured forth alone on an earnest quest for the real one and only church. But after many months of searching I became weary and gave up.

I returned to my theological house only to find that it was gone. It had vanished without a trace as though a tornado had swept it away without leaving so much as a stick of furniture or even a cracked bowl. All that remained was a deep hole in the ground that looked as if it had been dug for a foundation. I made my way to the edge of that hole and with much sorrow gazed down into it. All I saw was a level floor with three large flat stones. These represented the only things I knew for certain. They were— first that there is a God, second that Jesus is the Son of God, and third that the Bible is true.

I don’t know how I knew these three things. Perhaps I had known them before I became involved in the group that turned out not to be the one and only. Or maybe I came to accept them during my struggle with the truth about that group. I don’t know. These three stones were all I had and it seemed at the time that they weren’t much to stand on.

I felt orphaned and theologically homeless. It was a desperate aching kind of feeling that hovered over me throughout each day and interrupted my sleep every night. How could I rebuild my theological house? There wasn’t even any debris to sort through, nothing to salvage. It had all been swept away. There was no shelter for my weather-beaten spirit and nothing with which to rebuild.

For the next several years no one came alongside to help or teach me. Even if some brave soul had made the effort I wouldn’t have trusted them. The wounds from the previous time were still too fresh. Nor could I trust my own judgment. How could I know what was true?

I was not comforted or uplifted by reading devotional books or listening to Christian broadcasts. Even reading the Bible didn’t help because I could not trust my ability to understand it. This was a long cold season of losses. My old friends were gone, my social activities ceased, and my very identity was in question. Who was I if I was not part of this one and only group?

It has taken me more than a decade to build my new theological house. This time it’s different because I am building it upon a deep foundation that was fashioned by God himself: the three stones of faith in him, in his Son, and in his Word. I have been privileged to spend brief moments with individuals who are highly skilled in the art of theological house construction. Their advice has been invaluable, yet none of them have tried to claim that they or their group is the one and only.

I now realize that the one and only is not a group of people who cling to a set of external rules and exacting standards. The one and only is only to be found where the truth of God is proclaimed from the Word of God in a community infused with the Spirit of God.

I will never forget my first theological house and the incredible grief I felt when it was taken away from me. I had never known such a sense of desolation before, nor have I ever experienced it since.

If I had known how to read the Bible it’s unlikely that I would have become involved with that group in the first place. I would have recognized that their doctrines were little more than a patchwork quilt of isolated verses ripped from their original context and recklessly stitched together. It would have been obvious that many of their requirements for membership were not mandated in Scripture.

But I didn’t know. And I didn’t know because I couldn’t read. I was biblically illiterate.

During her last years in GCI Sandy earned an M.A. in biblical studies and a Ph.D. in Christian education. She currently teaches Bible literacy skills in several Bible study groups with the goal of helping others develop a solid spiritual foundation.

God’s love letter….

God's love letterHere is the message of God’s love in paraphrased words from scripture in a six minute video. Be blessed!

Or maybe not.

If you’ve experienced spiritual abuse, you might be thinking, “But what does that mean?? God let me get really hurt – how is that ‘love’?”

God has many reasons for the things he lets happen to us. First of all, remember that God isn’t behind the evil that is in the world. He tells us that he’s at war with the powers of evil, and he’s let us know that we, too, play a part in that struggle. Revelation shows believers overpowering satan by ‘the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony’.

So how on earth does that work? God doesn’t tell us a whole lot about it, but he does tell us to be wary, and get armed and pray. We have the story of Job to encourage us to hold on tight to our faith when bad things happen. Remember, Job didn’t know why he was getting so beat up and losing everything. So far as we are told, God didn’t let him in on the behind-the-scenes drama with satan, at least in his lifetime. But it’s safe to deduce that, like Job, spiritual abuse happens to some folks because their faith in God through it all counts hugely in the eternal scope of things. If you’ve lost years, and experienced many losses, maybe you can take courage from Job.

Sometimes God lets these things happen to prune us so we can become more fruitful. “Yikes,” you say, “this has been a terribly drastic and painful pruning. Was I that out of hand?” Well, it wasn’t necessarily all about you per se. Whatever your environment had been in Christianity prior to your involvement in an abusive group, it had been insufficiently clear about the gospel and the basis of God’s love for you. You were somehow vulnerable to a performance-driven appeal. (Which is to be found in all sorts of guises throughout Christianity, by the way, not just in abusive or cultic churches.) Maybe as you educate yourself out of wrong teaching, you will shed light for others in a way you couldn’t previously.

So what about the biggie, the reason most of us think God lets bad things happen to us – to punish us. Isn’t that the first thing that comes to mind? We were stupid, we got ourselves into an abusive group, and God punished us with the suffering. Or maybe there was some sin in our life, and God punished us by letting us get into the group. Etc. etc.

There are two things to get clear about. The first is that the just punishment for our sin, all our sin, was born by Christ. Period. If you have put your trust in him – there. is. no. more. punishment. for. your. sin. No more judgment. The second thing is, yes, God disciplines those he loves, but the word ‘discipline’ does not mean catastrophically painful punshment. It comes from the Greek word for the servant who taught the children or took them to school. It means to instruct, correct and nurture. No doubt that is happening in your life. Because God loves you, values you, and wants to nurture you up in his ways. Maybe you could watch the video, and be encouraged by his love after all?

“What is God’s Will?….”

Bakht Singh“How can I know what God wants me to do?” Ask this question, and often the answer you’ll get is, “You need to hear from God, see his hand in circumstances, then expect confirmation.”

Missionaries recount marvelous examples of this. Bakht Singh, a famous indigenous church planter in India, used to tell how he was in a hotel in a strange city one night and realized he had forgotten to pack toothpaste. He asked God if he should go buy some, and God said yes. On the street he felt impelled to approach a man who, it turned out, needed the gospel, and was led to Christ. The circumstances confirmed God’s will.

This approach doesn’t always have a good outcome, however, and Bakht Singh was an example of this as well. When he used to visit the USA, G. V. Matthai, an acquaintance of George Geftakys from Biola days, organized his west coast itinerary. On one occasion George was to meet Bakht Singh at the airport and deliver him to a meeting of local Indian folks. The group waited and waited, and Bakht Singh never showed up. G. V. called George and was told, “Bakht Singh is resting, and will not be coming to the meeting.” In actuality, George had taken him, without consultation, to a meeting of the Fullerton Assembly instead!

One of Bakht Singh’s chief principles of guidance was, “Do not make your own plan.” Definitely this situation was not his own plan, so, expecting God to reveal his will by circumstances, he went with the flow. Arriving at a roomful of young people eager for the Word, he must have felt satisfactory confirmation from the Lord.

Unfortunately, when George introduced Bakht Singh, “the great servant of the Lord in India who has come to see God’s wonderful work here in the Assemblies”, we took his presence in an Assembly meeting as a strong confirmation of George’s credibility.

If only Bakht Singh had had a more objective and less mystical approach to guidance, he might have insisted on checking out the situation with G. V. Matthai first, and discovered George’s duplicitous scheme. He would have discerned God’s guidance immediately, as the Bible is pretty clear about not following liars and deceivers. He might even have been alarmed enough to expose George….and then how differently things might have turned out. At the very least, Bakht Singh would not returned to the Assembly several times to hold Holy Convocations, ensnaring us more and more deeply by his implicit approval of the Geftakys ministry.

Childhood conversion….

Father and child In all the discussion about child-rearing methods, one aspect that hasn’t received much attention is how the issue relates to children’s conversion. In an Assembly-type group there’s the assumption that the parents’ “child training” is the underpinning of a child’s salvation. It’s up to you to discipline your children into the Kingdom.

The problem is that you are starting off with a contradiction. You begin – in infancy – to deal with your children’s “self will”, to make them obedient to God. And as they grow a little, your goal is to make them “servants” of God. But they haven’t yet had the all-important decisive conversion experience. Maybe not until they’re four or five, or ten or twelve. This gives children the impression that God’s acceptance and approval is earned, first by good behavior and then by an outstanding event in which they trust Christ for salvation.

Lee Irons, father of three, discusses a completely different approach in his post, Must Covenant Children Have a Conversion Experience? Children can be nurtured in the faith, rather than browbeaten to it. From this perspective, child-training is not related to their eternal salvation, but rather to character building.

Image: photostock/

Does discipline really produce godly character…?

Wooden spoonI was talking with someone who visited the Assembly once in 1992 with her husband and children. Once, mind you. And that was a long time ago. “We never came back,” she said, “because I just couldn’t make the commitment to raise my children that way. It was too hard.” After that, she felt for years like she hadn’t stepped up to the bar, until she came across the Reflections website and was hugely relieved to learn that, as good as it looked on the outside, the Assembly way of child training was wrong-headed.

Early in the Assembly, Richard and Virginia Fugate’s books and video series What the Bible Says about Child Training were promoted as standard resources for parents. In the 1990s the Assembly began ordering and using the book, To Train up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl. These methods have been well-critiqued by many, including Tulip Girl, and Lynn Harris 1 at Salon Magazine.

The underlying principle behind both methods is “first time obedience”. The idea is that the child will be conditioned by negative reinforcement to immediately obey directions. This concept is convenient and useful for parents. Saves a lot of hassle.
The problem is, it’s carried out in the name of God, as if it’s His method of parenting.

But is it? Did God break off a branch and whack Moses for arguing with Him? Was Peter even punished at all for denying Him? God’s methods with his people are instructive, corrective, encouraging, and redemptive. Where is the just consequence for disobedience? It fell on Christ, because in spite of our best efforts and God’s instruction, we are not going to be able to obey perfectly.

Was there an immediate consequence for Adam and Eve for disobedience? Yes. Because the first disobedience brought sin into the world. After sin and death entered the human race, God’s dealings were not punitive, to enforce obedience, but redemptive, because human beings were no longer able to obey. They needed a Savior.

Same with children. They have the same inability we do as adults. No amount of punishment will subdue sin and make them beautifully sanctified. It’s not possible. If you punish children to make them unfailingly and instantly obedient, the result is often Pavlov’s puppies who are conditioned by fear. While they may conform outwardly to your expectations, what you’ve accomplished is actually counterproductive to salvation and sanctification. You produce people who feel that they have to live up to an impossible standard, and have a false image of God as a perfectionistic judge looming with narrowed eyes to pounce on any imperfection.

The Happy Room

Just finished reading The Happy Room by Catherine Palmer, a fictionalized account of growing up as a missionary kid in Africa. Very interesting parallels with the Assembly.

Children of missionaries are now termed “third culture kids”. I think many Assembly kids fit that category. Some AK’s were allowed a certain level of cultural participation. They may have taken part in Christmas events at school, had posters of pop stars in their rooms, or attended the prom, but many felt very alienated from their peers because they were prohibited from so many aspects of American culture.

The book, however, while certainly bringing out the aspect of cultural alienation, focuses largely on the neglect and abandonment experienced by kids whose parents were completely consumed with serving the Lord. The parents loved their children and thought they were doing a superb job of child rearing. But Palmer draws out how adversely the kids were affected by their legitimate needs being denied in the name of God’s call to an important ministry.

Former Ak’s will find much to relate to in The Happy Room. Those who went to children’s summer camp in the 1980’s will sympathize with the bad food at Kenya Christian Academy. Having to always be on one’s best behavior to be a good example will strike a familiar note. The communication barriers between the adult children and their parents will ring true with some adult AK’s.

Although not extremely well written, reading and discussing The Happy Room might possibly open avenues of communication between former Assembly kids who have grief and anger over their upbringing, and parents who still justify the Assembly system. It would be great if someone could write a similar story about the Assembly.

“Spiritual power”….

Electrical PlutWhile packing away some old books recently, I flipped one open and saw this sentence, “The heart breaks with the thought, ‘If only I had spent more time with God, I would have had more power.'”

The writer was Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who rescued hundreds of little girls from sexual slavery in Hindu temples (a practice which has since been outlawed in India). What she meant by “more power” was exactly what Mother Theresa would have meant – more power to love and help people.

In the Assembly, however, the term “more power” had an entirely different meaning. As Steve points out in his analysis of G. G.’s ‘Cycle of Devotion’, the purpose of spending time with God in the approved way was to make us powerful centers of divine authority.

Our cult leader was enamored with the concept of spiritual power. This is the nerve that was poked by the quote I ran across.*

G. G. wanted was us to become powerful communicators and enforcers of his vision, not individuals who had a relationship to God which enabled us to love one another. Mainly he wanted us to learn to boss others around with the backing of divine authority.

Within his hierarchy (which had absolutely nothing to do with clergy, mind you), he had the authority of apostleship over the whole shebang, “The Work”. Under him Elders, Leading Brothers and Itinerant Workers had authority over each local gathering. Under them, leaders of outreaches, training homes, etc. (most of them Workers) had various degrees of authority over individuals.

And of course, everyone under these people had to believe unquestioningly that their leaders had power and authority from God.

Aaack! I did not enjoy seeing that ‘more power’ quotation, but I’m glad I ran across it, because it’s helped me purge out just a bit more Assembly-think.


* Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary, quoted in You Are My Hiding Place, p. 40, by David Hazard. Although Amy was staunchly Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer, she was strongly influenced by the Keswick movement and Andrew Murray. This made her meditations compatible with the Assembly ethos, but with an unswerving emphasis on love.


"Hope" signIt was seven years ago last month since G. Geftakys was excommunicated in Fullerton and the Assembly began to crumble. Many folks are finding that getting over it and getting on has been tough. Jon Acuff has a blog post on hope. While he is mainly known for his Christian humor, in this post he is serious and insightful. He says,

Hope is one of the first things that disappears when you get lost. Your ability to see beyond your current circumstances is chased south by the shadows….And when you become a Christian, there’s the temptation to think you’re doing something wrong if you don’t feel hopeful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But here’s the thing about hope, it takes time. And sometimes, I think our greatest frustrations are when we try to force hope into a stage it’s just not ready for. I don’t hear people talk about the stages that often, but I think hope is divided into three…”

Read Jon’s full post » »

“Assembly Kids, MK’s and PK’s”

Announcing **drumroll** a new section on the Reflections site – “Assembly Kids, MK’s and PK’s”. Finally, former AK’s don’t have to sift through stuff that’s mostly relevant to your parents. The links to what will speak most directly to your situation are all in one place. What’s with the “MK’s” and “PK’s”, you ask? Well, oddly enough, Assembly kids have quite a lot in common with pastors’ kids in other church settings and missionary kids, especially those who were sent away to boarding school. So we’re inviting them to Reflections, because we have a lot of good stuff.

More on, “What do we still have to do??”

So, to recap from the previous post –

  1. God’s standard is not a list of rules. It’s LOVE.
  2. Human beings are totally messed up and unable to love very well.
  3. So we need someone to bring justice into the pain we’ve caused, and…
  4. Do something for us so we can belong in God’s Circle of Love.

Enter Jesus. We are very familiar with the fact that he died for our sins. But the second part seems to be something that isn’t talked about a lot in evangelical circles. Jesus lived a perfect life and that was for us, too. He accomplished on our behalf what we will never be able to, and the Father was delighted!

So what happens is we are let off the hook and receive mercy, and we receive the huge gift of a perfect human life credited to our account. Is that Grace with a capital “G” or what?! Paul says that we now stand in grace – we are in good standing with God. God is satisfied, completely satisfied. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” There is no more to be done to earn God’s approval.

In some circles, grace like that is regarded as a bad idea, a dangerous message, because where is the motivation to shape up and become better people? Everyone knows self-improvement is the name of the game. Some form of good works to earn God’s approval is highly desirable; it’s man’s natural religion.

But….once you truly get hold of the reality that you will never be able to do enough to make God happy, then the truth of the Gift is a staggering relief. We are accepted in the Beloved. Imagine that – we are brought into the embrace of the very same tender, passionate, focused love that the Father has for the Son! John exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”

Believing and receiving that kind of love brings security and rest and peace and happiness. It provides the deep soil of connection and worth in which we can grow. It’s the environment in which human beings are designed to flourish. Infants fail to thrive when cuddles and delighted smiles are missing, no matter how well they are cared for; babies who are loved develop and grow. The same is true of our souls, from birth till death.

Being so loved, then, is the context for the New Testament “commandments”. The “do’s” are a result of God’s love, they don’t earn it. Paul reinforces this in most of his letters, expounding the gospel in the first chapters, and only after that giving instruction on the Christian life in the latter chapters. There is a handy way of describing this order – first the indicatives, then the imperatives.

This casts the imperatives in a completely different light. They come AFTER the good news, the Gift. They grow organically out of Love. Being loved, you become more loving. As John says, “We love, because he loved us first.” Growing in grace means understanding and receiving more and more deeply the meaning and extent of the love of God, and loving people more as you grow in grace.

Your attitude toward people begins to change. You want to help, you don’t want to hurt, you want to be more patient, there are people you want to pray for…and there you are, involved in the main things we are instructed to do, but from an entirely different motivation. It’s not about us trying to achieve “sonship” to make ourselves acceptable; it’s focused outwardly on God and neighbor.

And it puts an entirely different aspect on guilt. You still feel it, of course, because you don’t love perfectly, you’ve failed in many respects. But that is not the same as guilt for having not done enough to achieve spiritual stature and earn God’s approval. When you let yourself off the performance hook, trying to do stuff perfectly and do enough of it, and instead allow yourself to simply grow in grace as you live your normal life learning to love better, guilt becomes manageable. You confess it to God, ask for grace to do better, and go on.

The confession of sin in the English-speaking church since the Reformation puts it so well, “… how often we have offended you in thought, word and deed, not only by obvious violations, but by failing to conform to its perfect commands, by what we have done and by what we have left undone”. We pray that together every Sunday, because we need to, and God knows we will need to until the very day he takes us home.

It’s a huge relief of soul to accept our fallibility, and stop. Stop expecting that we ought to arrive at a point in this life where we won’t have to pray that prayer. Stop feeling that God is disapproving of us because we aren’t there yet. And relax in the finished work of Christ.

When you find yourself all tense about what you “ought to be doing”, remind yourself that you are in the Circle of Love, and because of God’s love, you are growing in grace, and that is what he is expecting of you. The instructions in the New Testament are to that end, to show us what growth looks like.

An Assembly mental roadblock pops up at this point – “What about rewards??” Funny how you don’t hear much about this subject in normal churches. It takes a narcissist to blow it all out of proportion – to feed his ego – and leave the rest of us scrambling. And then there’s the flip side of “losing out”. We have all those threats hanging over our heads as believers! The “Reality Therapy” concept of consequences wasn’t just used in Brothers Houses – the ministry inflicted it on all of us as if that were God’s way of dealing with his children.

Stay tuned…

So what do we still have to do??

Those of us coming out of performance-based Christian systems are happy to have escaped the pressure of all the stuff you had to do to be “spiritual”. So glad that’s behind us. But there is still a depressing anxiety – “I feel that I was a better Christian when I was doing all that stuff. The Bible has all those commands – pray, study the Bible, etc. In the church I (sometimes) attend now, I constantly hear exhortations about it. Don’t I have to be doing these things in order for God to approve of me?”

The short answer is “No.” God approves of us because of Jesus. Period. Jesus died for our failures, plus he perfectly obeyed God on our behalf. God accepts what He did and puts it to our account. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

So, okay, you believe that already. That is how you came to Christ. But now that you’re a Christian, aren’t things expected of you? The commands are still there in the Bible and they continue to plague you.

I want to attempt a couple of posts to tease out the elements of our freedom from performance, so we can chew it in small pieces and hopefully begin to digest it without gagging on hard lumps of commands. It’s not that new “truth” is needed to solve this problem. It’s a matter of bringing together what we already know.

To begin, it’s important to keep firmly in mind God’s single overarching value, which is LOVE. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have been enjoying perfect love and communion from all eternity. Human beings were expressly designed in the image of God to have the ability to take part in that circle of love. It was the great pleasure of the triune God to include man. Jesus summed up God’s expectations for man. There were only two (all the others hung on these): Love God and love your neighbor.

BUT….right off the bat Satan very cleverly lured Eve to waver from her love of God and Adam and to act independently. And he lured Adam to forsake his love of God and Eve in his desire for the “knowledge” she had acquired. Then Adam started the blame game, and we know the rest of the story.

Obviously, in terms of God’s law of love, mankind is now completely riddled with sin. It’s a fact often conveniently skimmed over in performance-based ministries, in the relentless push to get everyone doing more and doing better. But hold the phone. We are thoroughly messed up people. Love is not our strongest point. Faith in Christ doesn’t miraculously change that.

If a church is set up in terms of rules, it might make sense to assume that the gospel changes us from being unable to keep them, into those who now can. But if the Church operates on the law of love, it becomes apparent that the gospel does not transform us into beings who are now capable of perfect love. Try as you might, your buttons still get pushed. Your family background causes you to do too much for someone. Or too little. You practice petty deceptions to save yourself from disapproval. And the thoughts you sometimes have about certain people…let’s not even go there. Isaiah speaks the truth – our best righteousness is like filthy rags.

But the thing is, God still wants perfect love around Him, and the Bible is very clear, from beginning to end, that “sort of” living up to his expectations won’t fly. If you slip up in the least way, you’re guilty of breaking the whole thing, because it’s not a matter of a list of rules, some of them important and some minor. If God’s standard of righteousness is a matter of love, you’re either righteous on the basis of living a perfectly loving life, or you’re not.

This has been pretty bad news so far. It hasn’t lifted the burden of performance expectations in the least. In fact, it has increased them exponentially. But we’re in good company. This is how Paul begins the book of Romans, too–all is sin and failure in the first two and a half chapters, concluding with this precept: No one – (and we have to repeat, this includes believer and unbeliever alike) – no one is going to be justified by living up to the law of God. When we come to the final judgment seat of Christ, there won’t be anyone there – not Mother Theresa or anyone else – who will be able to justify themselves in that legal court by their record of a life of perfect love.

But then we turn the page, and behold, Paul announces a remedy for this dismal situation–a perfect righteousness, a Life of perfect love toward God and man, is brought into court on behalf of the guilty and exhibited as a gift that has already been given to all who believe in Christ!

You can see where this is going. Stay tuned….

“You’re with Me….”

ShootingStarGraphicCropThere’s a scene in The Shack where Mack and Jesus are out on the dock in the evening, enjoying the stars. Mack imagines he could reach out and pluck diamonds off a velvet black sky:

“Wow!” he whispered.

“Incredible!” Whispered Jesus…”I never get tired of this…”

They’re doing nothing, Jesus and Mack. Just lying on the dock looking up at the stars together.

Doesn’t look like the Assembly “god”, who was always intensely involved in or gearing up for the next meeting or outreach or seminar. Here God is just taking time to be with Mack….not doing anything.

This time of the year I always get pensive about my Christian life–August 2 is my “spritual birthday.” This year is especially poignant, because it marks 50 years–fifty years!— on this path. The feeling that first pops to the surface whenever I think about that is, “So little to show for it…” Not, “Wow, God is so faithful!”, but, “I haven’t done enough, or progressed enough, or…” Ridiculous! As if I could ever do enough or progress enough in holiness in this life!

But the reason for that inappropriate feeling comes from another significant event: Next month marks the fortieth anniversary of meeting George and Betty Geftakys. Which marked the end of joy in my salvation, and the beginning of the struggle to do more and be more and die more in the effort to be pleasing to God.

While Jesus and Mack are lying there on the dock, Mack says, “Jesus, I feel so lost.” Jesus reaches out a hand and squeezes his shoulder. “I know, Mack. But it’s not true. I am with you and I’m not lost….Hear me clearly. You are not lost.”

I’m feeling inadequate in my Christian life, and Jesus is saying, “Relax. Be at peace. I’m here with you in what you’re doing right now,”–which is the everyday things of ordinary life. Just “doing the next thing”. And it’s OK. I’m OK.

I want to hold onto that, because the mind control of those twenty years with G and B that began forty years ago is very powerful and still shapes how I feel way too frequently. Mack saying, “I feel lost,” (hearing it on the CD made a more lasting impression than reading it in the book) and Jesus saying, “You’re with me and I am not lost,” gives me a clear mental image to hang truth on. When the tense feeling comes that I ought to do more, or be more, I can hear Him saying, “You’re with me. Relax and know that I am God.”

I really do have to say after 50 years on the road, He preserves the souls of His own, and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. And just that in itself brings glory to His name from my life, no matter what else I accomplish or become.

Does this resonate….?

Donna at “Stop Spiritual Abuse” posted this. (It’s really short, about 2 minutes.)

I wonder if it resonates with you? It doesn’t with me, so much, but I can see how it might with some folks. In the Assembly I never “overcame” enough to get to this point. But maybe that was just me? Or maybe the legalism of our group had a different effect on people?


quotation-marks2x2 (2)Two great quotes from Christian Recovery Forums over at Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under live robber barons than under omnipotent moral busibodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” ~ T.S.Eliot

This second one interests me particularly because I’ve been thinking lately about my tendency toward black-and-white thinking. Especially about narcissists. Of which there are currently several in my life. It is difficult to observe the damage they do and not reject them – no doubt an appropriate reaction to narcissists at a distance. Keep clear! But for those nearby? Eliot helps. They assert their superiority and control because they always need to feel better about themselves. So what they really need is love – how simple!

Yet how difficult…!

Peter Kreeft….

ipod-nano-newOn the Assembly reflections website we have an excerpt from Peter Kreeft’s very, very helpful book, Making Sense out of Suffering. Even better, on his website there are MP3’s of his very listenable lectures available free of charge, including one on this same subject, and another entitled Shining Light on the Dark Side. Three others are treatments of books by two of my favorite authors: The Problem of Pain and Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis, and 10 Uncommon Insights into Evil in The Lord of the Rings. Professor Kreeft is witty, concise, and to the point. These are going on my iPod!

Why call it “cultic”?….

caution1Just a quick addendum to the previous discussion on the book Not of My Making. I was horrified at the treatment Maggie Jones received in three different churches. Those churches were not cults; they were just your normal boulevard church. So if even ordinary churches can sometimes be so hurtful, why do we imply that the Geftakys Assembly was somehow “cultic”? Are we just “disgruntled” former members with a huge chip on our shoulders who are trying to make the Assembly look worse than it was? Or worse yet, we’re tools of the devil, as GG and BG no doubt asserted?

Well, that is a possibility, of course. But here’s the deal. There are several specific behaviors that characterize cults. One element is special secret knowledge – this teacher / guru has the inside corner on knowing God. “You won’t get this anywheres else, friends.” Another is that you have to be very, very diligent in pursuit of it; not just anyone can get it. “You’ve got to press on to enter in, saints.” And another is that on your way in you aren’t told that you won’t be allowed to leave as a beloved child of God. “Those who leave have left the circle of life and light, and have gone out into the realm of death and darkness.” The bullying and scapegoating and misconduct that happen in some ordinary churches come into play in a cultic group to pressure you to try harder to achieve number two to please God, and to intimidate you into never even contemplating number three, which is viewed as leaving God.

We use the term “cultic” because it accurately describes Assembly dynamics. The important thing, though, is not the label you give a group. If the “cult” word conjures up Jonestown for you, then don’t use it. But when you come across that description, don’t automatically dismiss it, either. The important thing is to recognize controlling, unloving behaviors as unacceptabe among Christians.

The Internet Monk on parenting teens….

troubled-teen-boy-hat-sitting1The iMonk posted some thoughts and questions for parents on Fathers’ Day. Good stuff, as usual. He talks about the implications of the wired world, the question of your own deepest values that shape your every day life, the peril of flash-in-the-pan evangelicalism. Point 1 is about entitlement. That is probably a tough one for some FAM’s – you give your kids a lot of stuff trying to make up for what they were denied in the Assembly. Or what you were denied, if you’re an FAK (former Ass’y kid). I love how Brian S. (formerly Fullerton) does it with his kids – he wildly enjoys the stuff with his kids. Which goes a long way toward minimizing too much free time, privacy, personal spending, and exposure to the wired world (point 5).

Point 4…well, point 4 pretty much undercuts a basic Assembly assertion (at least in the early days), that the parent must be in total control of the child and is completely responsible for how the child turns out. The truth is, your child will make his own decision about who he is going to be.

Point 7 is where you have to end up: “Are you ready to let God be God and let yourself off the hook?…Do your best, then let God take over.”

“Just carry on”….

PostIt copy“Just carry on” is one of the cards in The Oblique Strategies by Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno. Haven’t seen the set of cards, but I ran across this quote just now, and was surprised how a load suddenly felt lifted. Hmmm, wonder what that could be about….Even though I’ve consciously rejected the performance-based life, the mental conditioning still “carries on” (ironic, that). I guess I still usually go around with this monkey on my back. I’m going to try to develop measures to shake it off! Like writing out this quote and posting it a few places around the house.

(My reaction to this quote is one example of the results of Assembly mind control. Here is a short piece on Assembly Reflections on the subject, and here is a much longer treatment.)

Dr. Jones’ answer….

Saturday I posted my question to Dr. Jones regarding her book, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.

Here is Dr. Jones’ reply:

Margaret Irons asked me, “What can persons who have formerly been abusive do now to make amends and help their former victims (with whom they are no longer in regular contact)?”

This is the first time anyone has asked me this. I am glad Ms. Irons has brought up an important issue. The question is also easy to answer, even if it may be hard to accomplish. The Bible and religious tradition is clear. First, the abuser needs to recognize they harmed someone else and that they were wrong to do so. Second, the abuser needs to repent or feel genuine sorrow for having harmed another human being. Third, the abuser needs to make restitution for the harm they have done. Fourth, they need to reform their behavior and try never to do it again to anyone.

That Ms. Irons asked this question indicates that she and some of her readers already recognize that they did something wrong while they were members of a cult. Since they are seeking ways to help their former victims indicates they are repentant. They have taken two difficult steps. Bullies often deny they have done anything wrong to anyone. Instead they say it didn’t happen, or that it was the victim’s fault, or the victim lies, or the victim is making a mountain out of a molehill, or the victim is crazy. Stuck in denial, bullies often remain unrepentant. They never say the one thing all victims long to hear, “I’m sorry for having hurt you. I was wrong.”

So that’s it. Write or call your victim. Tell him or her you are sorry, without making excuses for your behavior. Then wait humbly for your victim’s response. If s/he responds in anger just, bow your head and take your scolding. Repeat your apology. Tell them specifically what you did that was wrong. Ask them what you can do to make amends.

In Not of My Making, Ruth apologizes, but she never makes restitution. She never alters her behavior. I needed her to make a public apology and tell the rest of the congregation that she had wronged me. If she had done so it would have helped restore my reputation and made it more difficult for Rev. Karen to dechurch me. Now at this point in time, if Ruth were truly sorry and want to make amends, she would purchase my book and encourage others to do so. She would work with me to end spiritual abuse and bullying in churches.

If you are no longer in regular contact with your victim, try to locate them and write them a letter or call them. If that is not possible, apologize on your Facebook, in your blog, or at your church. Make a public confession and tell what happened and your part in it. At least one of your readers or listeners has been victimized. Hearing an apology will help heal their pain. This happened for me when a high school classmate posted an apology on our alumni wall to another classmate for bullying her. I posted the story on my blog and another classmate’s comment validated my school experience with bullying.

In summary, if you have been abusive, apologize to your victim. Do it publicly, if possible. Second, ask your victim how you can make amends, and then do it. Third, reform your behavior and never repeat the harmful behavior. Work to educate others about bullying and abuse. Support programs aimed at ending bullying.

My response: Thank you, Dr. Jones. It has been very helpful to me that you use the word “bullying” to describe what you experienced. I think in using the term “spiritual abuse” we’ve perhaps made the behavior seem abstract, and not related to things we actually did. “Bullying” is very clear and to the point. Our leader was a bully, and he taught us to bully others. That is something we can more easily recognize, admit and apologize for.

I know I do. People probably don’t often think in terms of female “bullies”. But I learned to be one, under Betty’s tutelage, and to teach others to do it, too. I bullied people who lived in our home. I bullied my own children – how far from “bringing them up” in the nurture and teaching of the Lord! I beat them down, and taught other mothers to do the same. I taught the camp counselors and high school counselors to bully the kids. “Sisters” wanted counsel, and wanted to meet with me, and I bullied them, using verses from the Bible, or some other book, to bludgeon them. I was so wrong, and so stupid to miss the main point Jesus made – “Let me give you a new command: Love one another!” I would welcome any reminders from readers of behavior I need to apologize to them for, and/or suggestions of how I might make amends.

Thank you for this timely book, Dr. Jones.

If any of you readers have comments for Dr. Jones, she is here with us this morning, and is willing to answer questions.

Dr. Jones comments: Meg, that is a really good point. Most people need spiritual abuse defined for them but they understand what bullying is. It was an epiphany for me when I saw John Stossel’s TV special, “The In-Crowd and Social Cruelty.” It was at that point I realized I was being bullied by my pastor and other church members. It put it into context for me and helped me realize it wasn’t anything I had done wrong.

BTW, I am traveling with my husband who is attending a conference. I will be spending much of my time writing and responding to comments for the rest of this week. So I am available right now and tonight. This week I am offering a special on “Not of My Making” on my blog.

My reply: That’s great! Thank you for the offer! In reply to your comment, I would add that when the bullying and social cruelty are done by spiritual leaders, it becomes spirital abuse as well, because, in our group at least, the leaders claimed to express God’s govenment and “have the mind of Christ”. People have a very difficult time shaking off that distorted image of God afterward. God is not a bully to his children, whom he loves as he loves his beloved Son Jesus (Jn 17)!

Dr. Jones’ comment: Meg, I have a hard time with Matthew 18: 15-17 and a couple of other gospel passages because of the way they were used. Because of this struggle my bible study group picked Matthew to read and discuss this spring and summer. They and I hope I will finally be able to hear those verses in context and not in the way they have been distorted.

My response: I hear you! That passage especially can be wrongly used to force someone into some very powerfully intimadating and shaming confrontations. In our group many Bible verses were used to bully folks. As a result, a lot of former members have a big problem reading the Bible. Going through some of those passages with a knowledgeable and supportive group, as you will be doing in your Bible study, is one of the best ways I know of to “detoxify” them and get them in your mind in a completely different context. Dr. Ronald Enroth observes, in his book Recovering from Churches that Abuse, that the wounds were received relationally, and they will be healed relationally.