Sermons
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God Still Moves Today - May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-13

This passage is about Holy Spirit encounters....and to be quite honest, even growing up in the church, this seemed pretty far fetched. And in some ways, downright crazy. I probably would have been one of the crowd who thought the disciples were drunk. This kind of faith and religion were not part of my experience. The most I knew of the charismatic church was movies like "Leap of Faith" with Steve Martin and other critiques of 1970s evangelists...who dramatized and faked Holy Spirit encounters. The strong image I had in my mind was the preacher who had someone on stage with them and

a couple of spotters behind and the pastor would touch the forehead and then (thrusting hand at the forehead of the person) pow the person would fall over.

Then in 2005, I went to Cuba on a religious visa with my evangelism class for a conference with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute. It included delegates from all over North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. And on the first day a woman from Texas was slain in the Spirit and began speaking in tongues. Now, how many of you know what it means to be slain in the Spirit? (It's how people talk about when the Holy Spirit touches you and generally pushes you to the ground....it's the falling out experience that you might witness on a televangelist show or at a revival.) Now her speaking in tongues was a little more familiar...it was in Spanish...which she said she never learned to speak...but I'm a skeptic and thought that people in Texas are a lot like people in California...it's a border state and everyone knows a little Spanish. I was unconvinced. I didn't know why she was faking, but I was sure she was.

I was also intrigued....what if she hadn't been faking? What if God actually had pushed her to the ground? How did that happen? What did it take to experience something similar? Do you just fall over? Or bend your knees? What does it feel like and how does it happen?
As the week went on, we began to see God at work in other ways. We heard how there had been a religious embargo in Cuba since Castro took power in 1959, and only then, in 2005 were they lifting the embargo. The embargo had included that there could be no church or religious practices anywhere in the country. No worship. No Bible study. No religion. And for most, that deterred them from even trying. But there were a few....maybe 2 or 3 from every church who had persisted at home. Then when the embargo was lifted after 40 years or so, they went back to the churches and offered Vacation Bible School....they started with the kids and believed if the kids wanted to go to church, they would bring their parents. And it worked. Were there just a few years later and each of the churches was busy and full of life and people....God had created space for a revival. And while we were there, the Methodist church had received permission to do the first outdoor baptism since Castro took power. It was a sensitive issue and while they wanted to use the beach...they were fearful of the repercussions, so we used a large church with a center quad and they baptized about 150 people that day.
The Cuban people would talk about God showing up in worship and it would smell like roses....that people would spontaneously have oil dripping from their foreheads....it was weird...far-fetched for a mainliner like me....but they were sincere and I kept wondering...what does it take to make that happen?
One of the Sundays we were there we were in worship in Havana and the place was full...standing room only....4 or 5 deep in the back and along the sides. I was translating for our group and was up in the front row with a kneeling rail like ours a few feet away. At one point in the service they did a prayer call....anyone who needs prayer come forward....and it was full...so many people were up front I couldn't move. I could only turn to those around me and pray for those I could touch. I remember there was a woman in the pew behind me who stayed seated and I took her hand and began to pray for her. I simply prayed as the spirit led me. I don't remember if I knew anything specific, I merely closed my eyes and began praying. And then I felt a little difference in how she was holding my hand, so I opened my eyes and saw that she was doubled over. It wasn't scary. There was nothing alarming...not given all that had happened that week, so I kept praying. And then felt another something different as her body slid off the pew and onto the floor. Again there was nothing alarming. I didn't think she was sick or even passed out...just that God had touched her. I didn't quite know what to do so I just finished my prayer, said amen, squeezed her hand, and let go and left her there. There were other people ready for prayer so I turned to them and prayed.
Over and over again I saw God at work...God was doing things...beautiful and amazing and often unbelievable things...and while my skeptical rational self-struggled another part of me remained curious...I couldn't help but wonder how to make it happen for myself.
Then came the coup de gras —-all of that other stuff was preamble...it's what prepared me to be even remotely ready for what came next. On Monday night, Bishop Antonio from Mexico who had been in my small group for the week, who I had grown to know as an incredibly faithful man, asked if I would come early the next morning to pray with one of the seminarians from Chile who was having a hard time with some stuff. I immediately agreed and said I would be there at 7am. A friend of mine from seminary also wanted to come, and Antonio had invited another seminarian from Duke to be there. We all showed up early on Tuesday to pray for Karen. We had the large sanctuary to ourselves. It was about the size of ours...could fit around 200 people and had a big wooden door in the back...like a 10 ft solid wood door, and then two small doors to the office and a prayer room up front. All was closed up since the day hadn't really started yet.
Antonio took us to the front of the sanctuary and explained what we would do...start with scripture, allow Karen time to pray at the altar rail, and pray some more. He read from the book of Revelation where it says, "Whatever doors I have opened no one can close and whatever doors I have closed no one can open." We prayed together and then he invited Karen to kneel and pray at the altar and we went to the back of the sanctuary to pray for her. We didn't know the specifics of what she was facing. So we just pray whatever came to mind. We prayed for a bit...and at some point, there was a lull long enough to prompt us to go forward. We went to Karen and Pastor Antonio stood and faced her and we stood beside her. And he had a way of praying with people where he would have them put both hands out palms up and then he would place two fingers about each hand. And then he would pray. He prayed for Karen and then asked her to confess Jesus as her Lord and Savior....she was a seminarian in training to be a pastor....so it wasn't a new thing....and when he asked she tried but she couldn't speak. Literally, it looked like she was tongue-tied. she tried and she couldn't. And she just wept. Antonio said she had some more to confess and that we would leave her to do it—-that it was between her and God and none of our business. So we went back to the back to pray some more.
I stood in the back with my eyes closed and prayed whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was even my own stuff...I would ask for forgiveness or healing and move on and go back to praying for Karen. And then out of nowhere the big wood door slammed shut. Boom!! This huge thundering sound. Except...the door wasn't open. The whole place was closed up and it was just us. and even if someone had come in not knowing they were there they might have thundered in and then gone....oh snap, there are people praying and would have backed out slowly, closing the door gently, right? So I opened my eyes and then looked at Antonio who was next to me and he said, "Whatever it was is gone now." And I was wondering, "Whatever what was?!" But it did seem it was gone since the door slammed behind it....
So we went back up to Karen and Pastor Antonio did the hand thing and prayed with her and asked her to profess Christ as her Lord and Savior and she did it. Easily. Happily. Nothing holding her back. So then he had her stand up and we circled around to pray with her some more. He reiterated the verse from Revelation...."whatever doors God has opened no one can close and whatever doors God closes no one can open." And we prayed. He prayed in Spanish and in tongues of angels...back and forth. And then he started to say, "Dejalo, dejalo." Which basically means, "let it happen." Again I had my eyes closed and I was wondering, "Let what happen?" so I opened my eyes and saw Karen was starting to lean back a little. Antonio kept praying...Spanish and tongues and then again, "Dejalo, dejalo!" And Karen was leaning back further....Antonio basically signaled she'd be going down and we should get ready to catch her....only she was kind of hefty and we weren't prepared to catch her. So, Antonio went behind her to catch her as she slid to the ground. The other ladies had their hands on her arms and her shoulder and Antonio was at her head. He signaled that I should put my hand on her belly, so I did with the other on her shoulder. He kept praying and she started to shake....not like a seizure, but still, full body shakes...and he said, "it's ok, it's God, he's the divine surgeon...dejalo, let it happen." And he kept praying and she started crying. He kept reassuring her telling her that God was completing the work, it was divine surgery. And she was ok. Eventually, her body calmed and we finished praying. We slowly sat her up and then helped her to her feet. Antonio said a closing prayer and that was it.
Later in the day, I was talking to Karen and she said: "when you all had your hands on my belly it was hot." And I asked what she meant when all of us had our hands on her belly....she said she felt everyone's hands on her belly and it was hot..." I said it had just been me...just one hand...and I could see that God had been there in a lot of ways.
To say that this experience changed my life is an understatement. There was so much that happened in Cuba...so many ways God was revealed. A lot of the ways of faith that before were foreign and uncredible, had become tangible and real. Now, I don't go around doing exorcisms, and I've never seen the spontaneous anointing in person...but I have been made more aware of and receptive to the ways God shows up in concrete and tangible ways.

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