I don’t often tell stories about things that happen during church, but once in a while a church service is where we live our faith in the way we were made to.
Pete Costas was still a Captain — that is to say, still relatively young in his career as a Salvation Army officer — the Sunday evening that a fidgety and distracted, not to mention somewhat disheveled, young man walked in well after the service had started and seated himself at the center of the front row of the congregation. Capt. Costas was just beginning his message when the man’s hand shot up in the air.
He had a question.
Capt. Costas answered it and returned to his sermon.
A few sentences later, the hand shot up again.
This time, after answering the question, Capt. Costas asked him a favor. He pointed out the other people in the room who had come to hear the talk and asked the young man if he thought he could hold his questions until the end so the others could hear the rest of the message. Afterward, the Captain said, the two of them could go together to his office and he’d answer all of the man’s questions.
The young man nodded his agreement and quickly sat on his hands, as if that was the only way he would be able to keep them under control.
Maj. Pete Costas tells what happened next:
When I walked him to my office after the service, he scooted a chair up close to my desk, propped both elbows on the desk, leaned towards me and started asking rapid-fire questions about God, salvation, and what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus.
In the course of our discussion, I happened to quote John 3:16 to him. When I did, his face went blank for a second and then he said:
“Can you say that again? They told me to ask you to say that again.”
I looked him in the eye and asked, “Who told you to ask me that?”
Calmly, and quite sincerely, he replied:
“I didn’t want to tell you this, but I have sort of like a mind-meld with aliens. They can see you through my eyes and hear you through my ears, but they can’t communicate with you directly. They told me to ask you to say that again.”
So I repeated John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“Now this Jesus,” he asked, “died for the sins of the world?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“They want to know if he died for the sins of the universe,” he related.
That was a new one. I had to think for a minute.
“Well,” I reasoned, “If God created the heavens and the earth, and Jesus is his only begotten Son, and Jesus died once for the sins of all, then yes, he died for the sins of the universe.”
“That’s exactly what they wanted to hear!” he exclaimed. And he got up and, with a spring in his step, walked out.
Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, whose recent post about cool, un-cool, and good enough churches sparked my thinking. And thanks to Maj. Pete Costas of The Salvation Army — generally, not considered a “cool” church — who shared this story. Seminary students always shake their heads when they hear it, because they don’t have a clue how they would have handled themselves.
Sometimes, God’s love, God’s Word, and an open heart is good enough.