Beyond the Cross

Last year, my church did an Easter cantata called “Beyond the Cross.” The musical score was well-liked and received by the director and the choir, but the narration was very bland. I was asked to write a drama in place of the original narration.

Instead of a traditional drama, I wrote a series of “letters” exchanged between a pastor and a college student. The letter was “written” onstage by the appropriate actor (our church’s pastor and one of the church’s college students) and read aloud between each song in the program. The letters were written specifically to tie in with a song. The result was a powerful program that, I hope, touched hearts in the audience watching.

For anyone wondering, I am an unashamed Christian, and I hope that you see that reflected in my work and in my conduct.


I’m writing to you because I’m struggling. Before I left for college, everything was so clear to me. I knew what was right and wrong, I was surrounded by a supportive church family, and I understand what Christ would want me to do.

Now I’m at college, and I feel like I’m slowly losing my way. I’ve tried attending some of the local churches, but they seem more like social clubs than the body of Christ. There’s one Christian club on campus, led by a professor, who teaches the Bible as literature rather than the inspired Word of God, and spends as much time in the Koran as he does in the Bible. My World Literature professor teaches it the same way, and openly mocks anyone who believes there is any more value in it than a modern movie.

I think I’m doing and saying things I shouldn’t, but I’m not sure anymore. So many professors and other students keep telling me that I’m wrong, that there isn’t a “right or wrong” in the way I believe. I used to have a moral compass, but I’m not sure it still points north.

I need help, Pastor, and I need prayer.




May this letter find you in the spirit of the Lord. I am praying for you. I have shared some of your struggles with the church, and they are praying for you as well.

I hope that in some small way Christ may use my words to help you with your struggle. There are two things I believe can help you find your way, and ensure your moral compass still points north.

The first is to spend time in Bible each day. Second Timothy, chapter three tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Catch that last one? Training in righteousness–helping us make sure we’re doing what’s good and right and holy in God’s eyes! Along with this letter, I’ve included a devotional I think you’ll find very helpful in college.

The second action I believe you should take is to find some other believers on campus. It may be difficult, but if you ask around, you will likely find someone. It is important for all Christians to have fellowship with one another–it’s the reason we all go to church on Sunday!

In Acts 2, the early church in Jerusalem practiced that sort of fellowship every day. “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Fellowship allows us to support one another. That support is critical when we’re being assaulted on all sides, being told our faith is meaningless, that our actions are meaningless, and that our beliefs are not welcome in this day and age.
I will continue to pray for both your steadfast faith, and for your need for fellowship.


Thank you for your prayers and advice, please thank the church for their support as well.
I’ve still been struggling with several of my professors, especially my World Literature instructor. Everyone except me seems to agree with her when she compares the Bible to Greek mythology or a fantasy novel.

I have found a few other believers, though. I’ve been continuing to visit churches to try to find a community of believers, and realized that some of the other guys from my dorm were doing the same thing I was. I’ve talked to several of them now and they’ve been in the same boat as me.

We’re meeting now, on Thursday nights and Saturdays. We’re still looking for a church home, but we have each other now. We’ve started a new Bible study on Paul, and I feel like I’m finally stable. I know what’s right and wrong again, even if my professors are telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Thank you so much for your letters, Pastor. They really help.




May this letter find you in the spirit of Christ. I am glad to hear you have found Christian fellowship, even in a place where you have felt so alone. Christ tells us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” I pray that you are a blessing to them, as they are to you, and that you will all grow in faith and knowledge of the Word.

I write this letter to you because it’s not enough just to have fellowship and improve ourselves. We are called upon to do so much more, even in times when we’re struggling! In Acts 8, the church in Jerusalem was under attack. Members were killed or imprisoned, and many of the rest scattered. But in verse 4, we see that “Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Will, I believe you can do great things for the Lord. With your fellowship, you are secure in Christ, but security isn’t enough. Be a witness for our Savior!




Thank you so much for your challenge. Without it, I don’t know if I could’ve done it.
Today, when my professor started her usual discussion of how everything in this world is relative, and there is no “truth”, I did not let it just pass and I have for so long. I stood up and I spoke about the Bible and my faith.

They were all shocked–all of them. My professor wasn’t ready for it, and I took those precious minutes to talk about Christ and the Bible. I laid out the fundamentals: all of us are sinners, that none of us can possibly measure up to perfection. I told them about Christ coming and sacrificing himself for us–the perfect sacrifice–so that we didn’t have to die. I told them about the resurrection, which is why we can have such faith that Christ can redeem us and save us from eternal death.

I’ve never seen my professor so speechless throughout those precious minutes. Several times I thought she was going to stop me, to say something, anything, but all she did was look at me with her mouth open.

I don’t know if I got through to any of them, but Pastor, I took a stand for Christ. It may have been one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I don’t regret a moment of it, not a single word I said.

Thank you so much for your guidance and counsel.




May this letter find you in the spirit of Christ. I am proud to hear of your stand, and your willingness to testify about the truth of Christ. I pray that you have the strength, courage, and wisdom you will need to continue to testify to those around you.

Even though you may not have seen any of them come to Christ, you have done something important. In Luke, chapter 8, we find the parable Christ told about sowing.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

Christ wasn’t speaking about farming–he was really talking about spreading the Good News. While what you said may have fallen on deaf ears, some of what you shared may have been planted in the heart of a classmate, and may eventually lead to salvation.

Remember always our calling, as Jesus spoke of in Mark 16: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every living creature.” While you may not feel like you’re ready for such responsibility, the Holy Spirit will give you the strength and the words you need. Even if you don’t see an immediate effect, your words and actions may lead someone to eternal life with our Savior.

In our Lord Jesus Christ,

I don’t know if you’ll remember me. I was a senior in high school when you came to our church to become our pastor.

When I left home, I left my faith behind. I fell into the world and left Christ behind me. I chose to believe I had been a foolish child, and my education at college was so much more important than some Bible stories I had heard in my youth. My colleagues at the university supported me, telling me over and over how I was so much wiser now that I had left behind the teachings of the church.

How foolish I was!

I spent years of my life working to convince others to follow the same path I had, away from Christ. I truly thought I was helping students by trying to open their eyes to the world, when it was really me that could not see.

That all changed when a student challenged me in class. He spoke of his faith with passion and conviction, and though I wanted to tear him down, it was as though God sealed my lips and would not allow me to stop his testimony.

My heart has been a stone for so many years, but those words shattered it. I knew then, as Christ laid out for me, just how wrong I’d been over all the years. Those words showed me how, even with all the things I’ve done, all the things I’ve said, Christ still wants me.

Thank you, Pastor, for helping a student show me exactly what Christ has done for me, and for all of us.

The Storm

This short story was written for a literary magazine I edited in college.

The oppressive heat scorched us even with the sun just peeking over the horizon as I threw a saddle over the back of my horse. The colt was a bit jittery, but he was only a three-year-old with plenty of miles in front of him. This ride through the Badlands of southwest North Dakota would be perfect for tiring him out and making him concentrate on the job at hand.

‘Course, I thought, that’s the same reason I have for bringing Abby out here.

My daughter was still sitting in the cab of the pickup, the old AM radio turned up as far as it would go. The old mare she would be riding was saddled and tied to the beat-up old stock trailer, the bridle still hanging from the saddle horn. “She’s not going to make it easy for us, is she?” I murmured to the colt as I tightened up the cinches—the front, then the back.

With the colt in tow, I walked back up to the pickup and knocked on the driver-side window. The teenage girl inside glared out at me but reached over to pull the keys from the ignition. After she slammed the passenger-side door of the old Ford, she tossed the keys across the box. I caught them, but the sudden motion spooked my colt and in an instant he was pulled back at the end of the reins.

“Easy,” I soothed. “Easy.” Calming the colt, I pocketed the pickup keys. By the time I had turned, Abby was mounted on her old mare with the reins hanging loose. I felt a brief stab in my heart at the sight. She looks just like her mother.

I swung up easily on the colt in one smooth motion, and he stood solidly on all four legs without moving. I smiled slightly. “Come on, Abby, let’s go.”

By the time the sun was fully risen we had already vanished from sight of civilization. In the wilds of the Badlands, I felt at home.  Though the days of the cowboys spending weeks in the wild watching herds of cattle or riding fences were long gone, there were still a few of us that longed for those times.

Abby rode a few strides behind me for well over an hour. I finally tugged the reins gently to slow the colt until she came alongside. “Isn’t it a beautiful morning?” I asked. Silence was the response. “Come on, Abby, please,” I said quietly. “I brought you out here so we can talk. No running away for either of us.”

“After three years,” she said flatly, “you finally want to talk? Three years?”

I closed my eyes as the old ache flared up again. Three years. It’s been three years since I lost her. “Yes,” I said simply. “I know I haven’t been a good father, but we need to talk. Please.”

“Fine. Talk. Doesn’t matter—you can’t bring Mom back.”

The ache threatened to overwhelm me. Three years ago, my beautiful wife Sara and I had been in a bad accident on the way back from a horse sale. She had been driving while I had slept. The SUV driver had been drunk, and smashed headlong into the pickup. Sara had died instantly in the impact, and I had walked away from the accident with only a few bruises and scrapes…and a shattered heart.

For two and a half years I had crawled into a bottle, drinking my breakfast and every meal afterward. The settlement payment had been more than sufficient to support me and our daughter, but I had stopped being a father. I had stopped being anything at all for that long stretch. I hadn’t cared about anything—not my daughter, not my family, not my ranch. Nothing had been able to penetrate the whiskey-tinted fog that surrounded me.

But finally, I had emerged from it. It was still a struggle. There wasn’t a day I didn’t miss my beloved Sara, but I slowly found a way to manage the pain and loss. However, in those two and a half years, my daughter had become a stranger to me. When she needed me most, I had let her down. Her grief had been as strong as my own, but I had isolated myself even from her.

“I’m sorry, Abby,” I said quietly. “I’ve been a lousy father, I know. But it’s time for us to leave Mom behind us.”

“So now you can just leave her behind? You can just forget about her?” The venom in her voice surprised me even now. “You think everything can just be fine now? Dad, you abandoned me when Mom died. I’ve been living on my own for all this time, and now you want back in my life?” She snorted and kicked her horse, moving ahead of me on the trail.

We rode in silence for another hour, dropping further into the rugged beauty of the Badlands. I marveled at the nearly untouched country as we rode on.

I struggled with my thoughts. The problem with Abby’s accusations wasn’t her tone of voice, but rather the truth. My daughter, the one thing left in the world that truly mattered to me, had grown up while I had been grieving.  She was a senior in high school now, and she clearly thought of herself as an adult.

My colt started crowhopping under me and I was jolted back into the present. Gathering the rein I pulled the colt into a spin, taking away his momentum until he slowed. I squeezed tightly with my legs, anticipating each jump, riding his momentum. “Ho, dammit!” I shouted as I pulled up the slack, tucking his nose in. The colt finally slowed, shaking his head in frustration at the tight rein. As I finally brought him to a full stop, I saw that Abby hadn’t looked back, hadn’t even stopped.

Sighing, I released the reins and cued the colt forward. She really does hate me. I’m not even sure she’s wrong to do so.

I turned my eyes skyward as I fell into shadow. Distracted with my concerns for my daughter and the antics of my colt, I had neglected to watch the skies—and what I saw now scared me. Oh, no. The thunderhead to the west was clearly bearing down on us. A storm was coming.

“Abby!” I shouted. “Abby!” The girl’s horse turned so she could face me. I pointed at the approaching storm front. “We need to head back, now!

She glanced to the west, and her expression as she turned back to face me was pure fear. Her personal feelings toward me aside, she knew the danger of the approaching storm. “Can we make it back to the pickup?” she shouted back.

I hesitated. We had been riding for hours; the pickup was miles behind us. “We have to try,” I decided. “Let’s go!”

The temperature was starting to drop as we raced toward the pickup. Gone was the leisurely walking pace we had set out on; now we were pushing the two horses hard, trying to get back to the pickup before the storm could catch us. My eyes flicked back and forth continually, looking for any sort of cover.

If the storm caught us, I knew, we would be in trouble. In the dusty clay knobs, the footing was generally sure and there was little grass to be had for grazing—the inhospitable conditions saw to that. However, when the storms blew in, they were not to be trifled with. The dry clay that provided such solid footing became a slimy mess nearly impossible to traverse; the gullies and washouts would channel feet-deep fast-moving water dangerous to cross. The mighty winds and driving rains and dropping temperatures would turn the beautiful Badlands inhospitable.

Even as the two horses raced through the rough terrain as fast as I dared, I knew we wouldn’t make it in time. The storm was blowing up on us too quickly, our horses were tired, and my colt was scared. If I pushed him any harder, I would risk him spooking out from under me and leaving me on my back staring up at the darkening sky.

Still we rode on, trying to at least find cover to ride out the storm. These nasty storms tended to be squalls: they came in quickly and pounded hard, but passed just as quickly. If we could find some cover, I figured we could manage to ride out the storm and then make our way back to the pickup, even if we would be chilled and soaked to the skin.

The rain had begun now, a steady drizzle, and I knew we were still a half hour away from the pickup even at the frantic pace we were pushing our horses. We had lost the race. Making a snap decision, I called to Abby as I pulled up the reins. “Abby, off your horse, now! It’s about to get very slippery.” There was available cover, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for—a couple of scraggly pine trees that came up to my chin. It was almost nothing, but it was all we had.

As we dismounted and crouched down in our pitiful cover, the skies opened up and the rain began to come down in sheets. I could only grimace as my clothes soaked up almost instantly, feeling like ice against my skin. Abby’s head was down, the water streaming through her hair. The old mare was partly over her, sheltering her from the downpour; I didn’t dare do the same with a young colt who might trample me by accident.

Then the hail came.

Pelted by those hard nuggets, my colt—already past his tolerance for the whole affair—spooked. I clung tightly to the reins as he dragged me down away from my cover. I started laughing as I stumbled to my feet, hanging on tightly as the poor bewildered horse jerked hard against the reins, but I refused to budge. I had to hold on for both our sakes’. If he spooked and ran off now, I’d have to walk out and he would likely get hurt in the slimy clay hills.

“Dad!” Abby screamed. “Dad!”

I barely heard her over my struggle with the colt and couldn’t afford to turn my head to answer her. A few seconds later, though, I was surprised as another horse moved past me—Abby’s old mare. An instant later the mare was alongside the colt, and his fighting ceased abruptly as its worries were eased by the presence of the older, calmer horse. Its frantic fight to escape was over.

Beside me, Abby stood tall and firm, her hands tight on the reins to keep her horse under control. I reached out with one hand and drew her to me, and in the pouring rain, pelted by hits of hail, we clung tightly to each other until the hail ceased. The rain continued to fall, but we were already soaked and it no longer mattered.

The storm would take another half an hour to pass, I was sure. But the storm clouds that mattered had already broken.