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Winn Collier

Winn Collier

A pastor for twenty-eight years, Winn and his wife Miska live in Holland, Michigan, where Winn teaches at Western Theological Seminary and directs the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. Winn and Miska love reading new novels, taking international walking tours, and testing new recipes. Winn is a columnist, essayist, and the author of five books: Restless Faith, Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of François Fénelon, Holy Curiosity, the epistolary novel Love Big, Be Well, and A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson.

Articles by Winn Collier

Scraps to Beauty

My wife, Miska, has a necklace and hoop earrings from Ethiopia. Their elegant simplicity reveals genuine artistry. What’s most astounding about these pieces, however, is their story. Due to decades of fierce conflict and a civil war that rages on, Ethiopia’s geography is littered with spent artillery shells and cartridges. As an act of hope, Ethiopians scour the torched earth cleaning up the scraps. And artisans craft jewelry out of what remains of the shells and cartridges.

When I heard this story, I heard echoes of Micah boldly declaring God’s promise. One day, the prophet announced, the people would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (4:3). Tools meant to kill and maim would, because of God’s powerful action, be transformed into tools meant to nurture life. In God’s coming day, the prophet insisted, “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (v. 4).

Micah’s pronouncement was no harder to imagine in his day than ours. Like Israel of old, we face violence and war, and it seems impossible that the world could ever change. But God promises us that by His mercy and healing, this astounding day is coming. The thing for us, then, is to begin to live this truth now. God helps us to take on His work even now, turning scraps into beautiful things.

A Gaze Fixed on God

Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor, Thomas Chalmers, once told the story of riding in a horse-drawn carriage in the Highlands region as it hugged a narrow mountain ledge, along a harrowing precipice. One of the horses startled, and the driver, fearing they would plummet to their death, repeatedly flicked his whip. After they made it past the danger, Chalmers asked the driver why he used the whip with such force. “I needed to give the horses something else to think about,” he said. “I needed to get their attention.”

In a world overflowing with threats and dangers all around us, we all need something else to arrest our attention. However, we need more than merely mental distraction—a kind of psychological trick. What we most need is to fasten our minds upon a reality more powerful than all our fears. As Isaiah told God’s people in Judah, what we truly need is to fix our minds on God. “You will keep in perfect peace,” Isaiah promises, “all who trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). And we can “trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” (v. 4).

Peace—this is the gift for all who fix their gaze on God. And His peace provides far more than only a technique for holding our worst thoughts at bay. For those who will surrender their future, their hopes, and their worries, the Spirit makes an entirely new way of life possible.

Saint Nick

The person we know as St. Nicholas (St. Nick) was born around ad 270 to a wealthy Grecian family. Tragically, his parents died when he was a boy, and he lived with his uncle who loved him and taught him to follow God. When Nicholas was a young man, legend says that he heard of three sisters who didn’t have a dowry for marriage and would soon be destitute. Wanting to follow Jesus’ teaching about giving to those in need, he took his inheritance and gave each sister a bag of gold coins. Over the years, Nicholas gave the rest of his money away feeding the poor and caring for others. In the following centuries, Nicholas was honored for his lavish generosity, and he inspired the character we know as Santa Claus—a person who generously gives gifts every Christmas.

 While the glitz and advertising of the season may threaten our celebrations, the gift-giving tradition connects to Nicholas. And his generosity was based on his devotion to Jesus. Nicholas knew that Christ enacted unimagined generosity, bringing the most profound gift: God. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And He brought us the gift of life. In a world of death, He “save[s] his people from their sins” (v. 21)

When we believe in Jesus, sacrificial generosity unfolds. We tend to others’ needs, and we joyfully provide for them as God provides for us. This is St. Nick’s story; but far more, this is God’s story.

Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice

When I was a boy living on a ranch in Tennessee, I spent glorious afternoons roaming with my best friend. We’d hike into the woods, ride ponies, visit the rodeo arena, and venture into the barn to watch the cowboys work the horses. But whenever I heard my dad’s whistle—that clear sound slicing through the wind and all the other clatter—I’d immediately drop whatever I was doing and head home. The signal was unmistakable, and I knew I was being called by my father. Decades later, I’d still recognize that whistle.

Jesus told His disciples that He was the shepherd, and His followers were the sheep. “The sheep listen to [the shepherd’s] voice,” He said. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). In a time when numerous leaders and teachers sought to confuse Christ’s disciples by asserting their authority, He declared that His loving voice could still be heard clearly, more distinct than all the others. “His sheep follow [the shepherd], because they know his voice” (v. 4).

May we be careful as we listen for Jesus’ voice and avoid foolishly dismissing it, for the fundamental truth remains: The Shepherd speaks clearly, and His sheep hear His voice. Perhaps through a verse of Scripture, the words of a believing friend, or the nudge of the Spirit—Jesus speaks, and we do hear.

Headlong into Danger

In 1892, a resident with cholera accidentally transmitted the disease via the Elbe River to Hamburg, Germany’s entire water supply. Within weeks, ten thousand citizens died. Eight years earlier, German microbiologist Robert Koch had made a discovery: cholera was waterborne. Koch’s revelation prodded officials in large European cities to invest in filtration systems to protect their water. Hamburg authorities, however, had done nothing. Citing costs and alleging dubious science, they’d ignored clear warnings while their city careened toward catastrophe.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about those of us who see trouble yet refuse to act. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precaution” (27:12 NLT). When God helps us see danger ahead, it’s common sense to take action to address the danger. We wisely change course (v. 11). Or we ready ourselves with appropriate precautions that He provides. But we do something. To do nothing is sheer lunacy. We can all fail to miss the warning signs, however, and careen toward disaster. “The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (v. 12 nlt).

In Scripture and in the life of Jesus, God shows us the path to follow and warns us of trouble we’ll surely face. If we’re foolish, we’ll barrel ahead, headlong into danger. Instead, as He leads us by His grace, may we heed His wisdom and change course. Winn Collier

Wisdom We Need

In his monumental book The Great Influenza, John M. Barry recounts the story of the 1918 flu epidemic. Barry reveals how health officials, rather than being caught off guard, anticipated a massive outbreak. They feared that World War I, with hundreds of thousands of troops crammed into trenches and moving across borders, would unleash new viruses. But this knowledge was useless to stop the devastation. Powerful leaders, beating the drums of war, rushed toward violence. And epidemiologists estimate that 50 million people died in the epidemic, adding to the roughly 20 million killed in the war’s carnage.

We’ve proven over and again that our human knowledge will never be enough to rescue us from evil (Proverbs 4:14–16). Though we’ve amassed immense knowledge and present remarkable insights, we still can’t stop the pain we inflict on one another. We can’t halt “the way of the wicked,” this foolish, repetitive path that leads to “deep darkness.” Despite our best knowledge, we really have no idea “what makes [us] stumble” (v. 19).

That’s why we must “get wisdom, get understanding” (v. 5). Wisdom teaches us what to do with knowledge. And true wisdom, this wisdom we desperately require, comes from God. Our knowledge always falls short, but His wisdom provides what we need.

Beautiful Restoration

In his wonderful book Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, renowned artist Makoto Fujimura describes the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi. In it, the artist takes broken pottery (originally tea ware) and pieces the shards back together with lacquer, threading gold into the cracks. “Kintsugi,” Fujimura explains, “does not just ‘fix’ or repair a broken vessel; rather, the technique makes the broken pottery even more beautiful than the original.” Kintsugi, first implemented centuries ago when a warlord’s favorite cup was destroyed and then beautifully restored, became art that’s highly prized and desired.

Isaiah describes God artfully enacting this kind of restoration with the world. Though we’re broken by our rebellion and shattered by our selfishness, God promises to “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17). He plans not merely to repair the old world but to make it entirely new, to take our ruin and fashion a world shimmering with fresh beauty. This new creation will be so stunning that “past troubles will be forgotten” and “former things will not be remembered” (vv .16–17). With this new creation, God will not scramble to cover our mistakes but rather will unleash His creative energy—energy where ugly things become beautiful and dead things breathe anew.

As we survey our shattered lives, there’s no need for despair. God is working His beautiful restoration.

God’s Epic Story

Life magazine’s July 12, 1968 cover displayed a horrifying photograph of starving children from Biafra (in Nigeria during a civil war). A young boy, distressed, took a copy of the magazine to a pastor and asked, “Does God know about this?” The pastor replied: “I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.” The boy walked out, declaring he was uninterested in such a God.
These questions disturb not only children but all of us. Alongside an affirmation of God’s mysterious knowledge, I wish that boy had heard about the epic story God is continuing to write, even in places like the former nation of Biafra.

Jesus unfolded this story for His followers, those who assumed He would shield them from hardship. Instead, Christ told them that they’d surely face difficulties. “In this world you will have trouble,” He said. What Jesus did offer, however, was His promise that these evils weren’t the end. In fact, He’d already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). And in God’s final chapter, every injustice will be undone, every suffering healed.

Genesis to Revelation recounts the story of God destroying every unthinkable evil, making every wrong right. The story presents the loving One whose interest in us is unquestioned. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace” (v. 33). May we rest in His peace and presence today. 

Jesus Our Brother

Bridger Walker was only six when a menacing dog lunged at his younger sister. Instinctively, Bridger jumped in front of her, shielding her from the dog’s ferocious attack. After receiving emergency care and ninety stitches to his face, Bridger explained his actions. “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.” Thankfully, plastic surgeons have helped Bridger’s face heal. But his brotherly love, evidenced in recent pictures where he’s seen hugging his sister, remains strong as ever.

Ideal family members watch over us and care for us. True brothers step in when we’re in trouble and come alongside us when we’re afraid or alone. In reality, even our best brothers are imperfect; some even wound us. We have one brother, however, who’s always on our side, however: Jesus. Hebrews tells us that Christ, as an act of humble love, joined the human family, sharing our “flesh and blood” and becoming like us, “fully human in every way” (2:14, 17). As a result, Jesus is our truest brother, and He delights in calling us His “brothers and sisters” (v. 11).

We refer to Jesus as our Savior, Friend, and King—and each of these are true. However, Jesus is also our brother who has experienced every human fear and temptation, every despair or sadness. Our brother stands alongside us—always.