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Winn Collier

Winn Collier

Winn’s home is Charlottesville, Virginia, where he lives with his wife, Miska, and their two sons. Winn likes friendship, fair-trade coffee, smart movies, books worth reading, mountains, questions, and walking in the woods. Winn dislikes pretense, fear, injustice—and that he doesn’t live anywhere near a Planet Smoothie. Winn writes for magazines and is the author of four books: Restless Faith: Hanging on to a God Just Out of ReachLet God: The Transforming Wisdom of François FénelonHoly Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions; and his recent fiction, Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church. Winn is pastor of All Souls Charlottesville.

Articles by Winn Collier

Seeing Salvation

At fifty-three, the last thing Sonia expected to do was abandon her business and her country to join a group of asylum seekers journeying to a new land. After gangs murdered her nephew and tried to force her 17-year-old son into their ranks, Sonia felt escape was her only option. “I pray to God. . . . I will do whatever is necessary,” Sonia explained. “I will do anything so [my son and I] don’t die of hunger. . . I prefer to see him suffer here than end up in a bag or canal.”

Does the Bible have anything to say to Sonia and her son—or to so many who have suffered injustice and devastation? When John the Baptist proclaimed the arrival of Jesus, he announced good news to Sonia, to us, to the world. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” John proclaimed (Luke 3:4). He insisted that when Jesus arrived, God would enact a powerful, comprehensive rescue. The biblical word for this rescue is salvation.

Salvation encompasses both the healing of our sinful hearts and—one day—the healing of all the world’s evils. God transforming work is for every story, every human system, and is available to everyone. “All people will see God’s salvation,” John said (v. 6).

Whatever evil we face, Christ’s cross and resurrection assure us we will see God’s salvation. One day we will experience His final liberation.

Freed from Our Cage

While out taking walks, writer Martin Laird would often encounter a man with four Kerry Blue Terriers. Three of the dogs ran wild through the open fields, but one stayed near its owner, running in tight circles. When Laird finally stopped and asked about this odd behavior, the owner explained that it was a rescue dog that had spent most of his life locked in a cage. The terrier continued to run in circles as though contained inside a confined box.

The Scriptures reveal that we’re trapped and hopeless unless God rescues us. The psalmist spoke of being afflicted by an enemy, entrapped by “the snares of death” with the “cords of death . . . coiled around” him (Psalm 18:4–5). Enclosed and shackled, he cried to God for help (v. 6). And with thundering power, He “reached down . . . and took hold” of him (v. 16).

God can do the same for us. He can break the chains and release us from our confining cages. He can set us free and carry us “out into a spacious place” (v. 19). How sad it is then when we keep running in small circles, as if we’re still confined in our old prisons. In His strength, may we no longer be bound by fear, shame or oppression. God has rescued us from those cages of death. We can run free.

Guiding Children to God

An outspoken atheist believes it’s immoral for parents to teach their children religion as though it were actually true. He even claims that parents who pass along their faith to their children are committing child abuse. Though these views are extreme, I do hear from parents who are hesitant to boldly encourage their children toward faith. While most of us readily hope to influence our children with our view of politics or nutrition or sports, for some reason some of us treat our convictions about God differently.

In contrast, Paul wrote of how Timothy had been taught “from infancy . . . the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy didn’t arrive at faith as an adult through the power of his own, unaided reason. Rather, his mother nurtured his heart toward God; then he “continue[d] in what [he had] learned” (v. 14). If God is life, the source of true wisdom, then it’s vital for us to tenderly cultivate a love for God in our families.

There are many belief systems that are influencing our children. TV shows, movies, music, teachers, friends, the media—each of these carry assumptions (either obvious or under the radar) about faith that exert real influence. May we choose not to be silent. The beauty and grace we’ve experienced compels us to guide our children toward God.

God Waited

When Denise Levertov was just twelve, long before she became a renowned poet, she had the gumption to mail a package of poetry to the great poet T. S. Eliot. She then waited for a reply. Surprisingly, Eliot sent two pages of hand-written encouragement. In the preface to her collection The Stream and the Sapphire, she explained how the poems “trace [her] own movement from agnosticism to Christian faith.” It’s powerful, then, to recognize how one of the later poems (“Annunciation”) narrates Mary’s surrender to God. Noting the Holy Spirit’s refusal to overwhelm Mary and the Spirit’s desire for Mary to freely receive the Christ child, these two words blaze at the poem’s center: “God waited.”

In Mary’s story, Levertov recognized her own. God waited, eager to love her. God would not force anything upon her. He waited. Isaiah described this same reality, how God stood ready, zealous with anticipation, to shower Israel with tender love. “The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and . . . to show mercy to you” (30:18 esv). He was ready to flood His people with kindness, and yet God waited for them to willingly receive what He offered (v. 9).

It’s a wonder that our Creator, the Savior of the world, chooses to wait for us to welcome Him. The God who could so easily overpower us practices humble patience. The Holy One waits for us.

The Father’s Blessing

Recently, several people within our church—those who had experienced poor relationships with their fathers—asked me to stand in as a loving, father figure and offer a blessing over them. The blessing asked forgiveness for the ways a father can hurt his children by setting too high expectations or being distant or failing to offer tender presence and affirmation. It also pronounced delight, admiration, and abundant love. As I shared the blessing, I wept. I realized how I still needed to receive such words, and how much my children need them too.

The Scriptures repeatedly speak of God as our Father, a reality reshaping the distorted father images we might have. God, our eternal Father, has “lavished on us” perfect love, makings us “children of God” (1 John 3:1). Our identity as God’s sons and daughters grounds us in an uncertain, fear-inducing world. “We are children of God,” John says, even though “what we will be has not yet been made known” (v. 2). Facing ever-present challenges, all we can truly count on is that our Father loves and provides for us and never stops. When everything is said and done, God says through the inspired words of John, we can be certain we’ll be like Him (v. 2).

In the midst of our anxieties, wounds and failures, our good Father speaks a blessing of inexhaustible love. God insists we belong, for He’s made us His children.

Free from Condemnation

As a couple was driving their trailer through dry northern California, they felt a tire blow and heard the scrape of metal against pavement. The sparks ignited the deadly 2018 Carr Fire—a wildfire that burned nearly 230,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and resulted in the deaths of several people.

            When survivors heard how the couple were overcome with grief, they formed a Facebook page to show “grace and extend kindness . . . for the shame and despair” enveloping them. One woman wrote: “As someone that lost their home to this fire—I need you to know my family [doesn’t blame you], nor [do] any of the other families that lost homes in our community. . . . Accidents happen. I really hope these kind messages ease your burden. We will all get through this together.”

 Condemnation, our fear that we’ve done something unredeemable, can cannibalize the human soul. Thankfully, the Scriptures reveal that “if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). Whatever our hidden shame, God is greater than all of it. Jesus calls us to the healing act of repentance (if needed) or simply unmasks the shame consuming us. Then, encountering divine redemption, we “set our hearts at rest in his presence” (v. 19).

Whatever our regrets over things we wish we could undo, God draws us near. Jesus smiles at us and says, “Your heart is free.”

True, Deep Desire

A mouse with a shrill voice, Reepicheep is perhaps The Chronicles of Narnia’s most valiant character. He charged into battle swinging his tiny sword. He rejected fear as he prodded on the Dawn Treader toward the Island of Darkness. The secret to Reepicheep’s courage? He was deeply connected to his insatiable longing to get to Aslan’s country. “That is my heart’s desire,” he said. Reepicheep knew what he truly wanted, and this desire led him toward his king.

Bartimaeus, a blind man from Jericho, sat in his normal spot jingling his cup for coins when he heard Jesus and the crowd approaching. He yelled out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). The crowd tried to silence him, but Bartimaeus was undeterred.

“Jesus stopped,” Mark says (v. 49). In the midst of the throng, Jesus wanted to hear Bartimaeus. “What do you want?” Jesus asked (v. 51).

The answer seemed obvious; surely Jesus knew. But He seemed to believe there was power in allowing Bartimaeus to express his deep desire. “I want to see,” Bartimaeus said (v. 51). And Jesus sent Bartimaeus home seeing colors, beauty, and the faces of friends for the first time.

Not all desires are met immediately (and desires must be transformed), but what’s essential here is how Bartimaeus knew his desire and took it to Jesus. If we’ll pay attention, we’ll notice that our true desires and longings always lead us to Him.

No Longer Afraid

When the Ethiopian police found her, a week after her abduction, three black-maned lions surrounded her, guarding her as though she was their own. Seven men had kidnapped the twelve-year-old girl, carried her into the woods and beaten her. Miraculously, however, a small pride of lions heard the girl’s cries, came running and chased off the attackers. “[The lions] stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” police Sgt. Wondimu told one reporter.

There are days when violence and evil, like that inflicted on this young girl, overpower us, leaving us absolutely alone and terrified, without any hope or protection. In ancient times, the people of Judah experienced this, overrun by ferocious armies and unable to imagine any possibility of escape. Fear consumed them. However, God always renewed His unrelenting presence with His people: “The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm” (v. 15). Even when our catastrophes result from our own rebellion, God still comes to our rescue. “The Lord your God is with you,” we hear, “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (v. 17).

Whatever troubles overtake us, whatever evils, Jesus—the Lion of Judah—is with us. No matter how alone we feel, our strong Savior is with us. No matter what fears ravage us, our God assures us that He is by our side.

Seeds of Grace

For nearly four decades, a man in India has worked to bring a scorched, sandy wasteland back to life. Seeing how erosion and changing ecosystems had destroyed the river island he loved, he began to plant one tree at a time, bamboo then cotton. Now, lush forests and abundant wildlife fill more than 1,300 acres. However, the man insists the rebirth was not something he made happen. Acknowledging the amazing way the natural world is designed, he marvels at how seeds are carried to fertile ground by the wind. Birds and animals participate in sowing them as well, and rivers also contribute in helping plants and trees flourish.

Creation works in ways we can’t comprehend or control. According to Jesus, this same principle applies to the kingdom of God. “This is what the kingdom of God is like,” Jesus said. “A man scatters seed on the ground . . . the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Matthew 4:26–27). God brings life and healing into the world as pure gift, without our maneuvering or manipulation. We do whatever God asks us of us, and then we watch life emerge. We know that everything flows from His grace.

It’s tempting to believe we’re responsible to change someone’s heart or ensure results for our faithful efforts. However, we need not live under that exhausting pressure. God makes all our seeds grow. It’s all grace.

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