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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

Firm Refusal

When the Nazis drafted Franz Jägerstätter during World War II, he completed military basic training but refused to take the required pledge of personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Authorities allowed Franz to return to his farm, but they later summoned him to active duty. After seeing Nazi ideology up close and learning of the Jewish genocide, however, Jägerstätter decided his loyalty to God meant he could never fight for the Nazis. He was arrested and sentenced to execution, leaving behind his wife and three daughters.

Over the years, many believers in Jesus—under peril of death—have offered a firm refusal when commanded to disobey God. The story of Daniel is one such story. When a royal edict threatened that anyone “who pray[ed] to any god or human being except [the king]” (Daniel 6:12) would be thrown into the lions’ den, Daniel discarded safety and remained faithful. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (v. 10). The prophet would bend his knee to God—and only God—no matter the cost.

 Sometimes, our choice is clear. Though everyone around us implores us to go along with prevailing opinion, though our own reputation or well-being may be at risk—may we never turn from our obedience to God. Sometimes, even at great cost, all we can offer is a firm refusal.

Divine Rescue

After being informed of a 911 call from a concerned citizen, a police officer drove alongside the train tracks, shining his floodlight into the dark until he spotted the vehicle straddling the iron rails. The trooper’s dashboard camera captured the harrowing scene as the train barreled forward. "That train was coming fast,” the officer said, “Fifty to 80 eighty per hour." Acting without hesitation, he pulled an unconscious man from the car mere seconds before the train slammed into it.

Scripture reveals God as the One who rescues—and rescues often at precisely the moment when all seems lost. Trapped in Egypt and withering under suffocating oppression, the Israelites imagined no possibility for escape. In Exodus, however, we find God offering them words resounding with hope: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” He said. “I have heard them crying out . . . and I am concerned about their suffering” (3:7). And God not only saw—God acted. “I have come down to rescue them” (v.8). God led Israel out of bondage. This was a divine rescue.

God’s rescue of Israel reveals God’s heart—and His power—to help all of us who are in need. He assists those of us who are destined for ruin unless God arrives to save us. Though our situation may be dire or impossible, we can lift our eyes and heart and watch for the One who loves to rescue.

Perfect Justice

In 1983, three teens were arrested for the murder of a fourteen-year-old. According to news reports, the younger teen was “shot . . . because of his [athletic] jacket.” Sentenced to life in prison, the three spent thirty-six years behind bars before evidence surfaced that revealed their innocence. Another man had committed the crime. Before the judge released them as free men, he issued an apology.

No matter how hard we try (and no matter how much good is done by our officials), human justice is often flawed. We never have all the information. Sometimes dishonest people manipulate the facts. Sometimes we’re just wrong. And often, evils may take years to be righted, if they ever are in our lifetime. Thankfully, unlike fickle humans, God wields perfect justice. “His works are perfect,” says Moses, “and all his ways are just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). God sees things as they truly are. In time, after we humans have done our worst, God will bring about final, ultimate justice. Though uncertain of the timing, we have confidence because we serve a “faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (v. 4).

We may be dogged by uncertainty regarding what’s right or wrong. We may fear that the injustices done to us or those we love will never be made right. But we can trust the God of justice to one day—either in this life or the next—enact justice for us.

Abundant Waters

In Australia, a report outlined “a grim story” of extreme drought, heat, and fire. The account described a horrific year with only minuscule rainfall, turning parched brush into tinder. Raging fires torched the countryside. Fish died. Crops failed. All because they didn’t have a simple resource we often take for granted—this supply we all need in order to live: water.

Israel found itself in its own terrifying dilemma. As the people camped in the dusty, barren desert, we read this alarming line: “There was no water for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:1). The people were afraid. Their throats were dry. The sand sizzled. Their children suffered thirst. Terrified, the people “quarreled with Moses,” demanding water (v. 2). But what could Moses do? He could only go to God.

And God gave Moses odd instructions: “Take . . . the staff [and] strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink” (vv. 5–6). So Moses hit the rock, and out gushed a river, plenty for the people and their cattle. That day, Israel knew that their God loved them. Their God provided abundant water.

If you’re experiencing a drought or wilderness in life, know that God is aware of it and He’s with you. Whatever your need, whatever your lack, may you find hope and refreshment in His abundant waters.

Seeing with New Eyes

A video game, one that’s become a cultural phenomenon, places 100 players on a virtual island to compete until one player remains. Whenever a player eliminates you from the contest, you can continue to watch through that player’s vantage point. As one journalist notes, “When you step into another player’s shoes and inhabit their point of view, the emotional register . . . shifts from self-preservation to . . . communal solidarity. . . . You begin to feel invested in the stranger who, not too long ago, did you in.”

Transformation happens whenever we open ourselves to see another’s experience, looking beyond our own vision and encountering another’s pain, fear or hopes. When we follow Jesus’ example and “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” and instead “in humility value others above [our]selves,” then we notice things we would have missed otherwise (Philippians 2:3). Our concerns broaden. We ask different questions. Rather than being preoccupied with only our own needs or angst, we become invested in others’ well-being. Rather than looking to “[our] own interests,” we become committed “to the interests of . . . others” (v. 4). Rather than protecting what we assume we need to thrive, we joyfully pursue whatever helps others flourish.

With this transformed vision, we gain compassion for others. We discover new ways to love our family. We may even make a friend out of an enemy!

Love Reins Us In

Most young Samoan boys receive a tattoo signaling their responsibility to their people and their chief. Naturally, then, the marks cover the arms of the Samoan men’s rugby team members. Traveling to Japan where tattoos can carry negative connotations, the teammates realized their symbols presented a problem for their hosts. In a generous act of friendship, the Samoans wore skin-colored sleeves covering the designs. “We’re respectful and mindful to . . . the Japanese way,” the team captain explained. “We’ll be making sure that what we’re showing will be okay.”

In an age emphasizing individual expression, it’s remarkable to encounter self-limitation—a concept Paul wrote about in the book of Romans. He told us that love sometimes requires us to lay down our rights for others. Rather than pushing our freedom to the boundaries, sometimes love reins us in. The apostle explained how some in the church believed they were free “to eat anything,” but others ate “only vegetables” (Romans 14:2) While this might seem like a minor issue, in the first century, adherence to Old Testament dietary laws was controversial. Paul instructed everyone to “stop passing judgment on one another” (v. 13), before concluding with particular words for those who ate freely. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (v. 21).

At times, loving another means limiting our own freedoms. We don’t have to always do everything we’re free to do. Sometimes love reins us in.

Out of Our Poverty

Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates made history when they launched the Giving Pledge, promising to donate half of their money. As of 2018, this meant giving away 92 billion dollars. The pledge made psychologist Paul Piff curious to study giving patterns. Through a research test, he discovered that the poor were inclined to give 44% more of what they had than wealthy people. Those who’ve felt their own poverty are often moved to greater generosity.

 Jesus knew this. Visiting the temple, He watched the crowds drop gifts into the treasury (Mark 12:41). The rich tossed in wads of cash, but a poor widow pulled her last two copper coins, worth maybe a penny, and placed them into the basket. I picture Jesus standing up, delighted and astounded. Immediately, He gathered His disciples, making sure they didn’t miss this dazzling act. “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others,” Jesus exclaimed (v. 43). The disciples looked at each other, bewildered, hoping someone could explain what Jesus was talking about. So, He made it plain: those bringing huge gifts “gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything” (v. 44).

We may have little to give, but Jesus invites us to give out of our poverty. Though it may seem meager to others, we give what we have, and God finds great joy in our lavish gifts.

Thinking Differently

During college, I spent a good chunk of a summer in Venezuela. The food was astounding, the people delightful, the weather and hospitality beautiful. Within the first day or two, however, I recognized that my views on time management weren’t shared by my new friends. If we planned to have lunch at noon, this meant anywhere between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. The same for meetings or travel: timeframes were approximations without rigid punctuality. I learned that my idea of “being on time” was far more culturally formed than I’d realized.

All of us are shaped by the cultural values that surround us, usually without us ever noticing. Paul calls this cultural force “the world” (Romans 12:2). Here, “world” doesn’t mean the physical universe, but rather refers to the ways of thinking pervading our existence. The world refers to the unquestioned assumptions and guiding ideals handed to us simply because we live in a particular place and time.

Paul warns us to be vigilant to not “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we must be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2). Rather than passively taking on whatever ways of thinking and believing that engulf us, we’re called to actively pursue God’s way of thinking and to learn how to understand His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (v. 2). May we learn to follow God rather than every other voice. 

           

A House on a Rock

As many as 34,000 homes in one US state are at risk of collapsing due to faulty foundations. Without realizing it, a concrete company pulled stone from a quarry laced with a mineral that, over time, causes concrete to crack and disintegrate. The foundations of nearly 600 homes have already crumbled, and that number will likely skyrocket over time.

 Jesus used the image of building a home atop a faulty foundation to explain the far riskier danger of building our lives on unsteady ground. He explained how some of us construct our life on sturdy rock, ensuring that we hold solid when fierce storms assault us. Others of us, however, erect our lives on sand; and when the tempests rage, our lives tumble “with a great crash” (Matthew 7:27). The one distinction between building on an unshakable foundation or a crumbling one is whether or not we “put [Christ’s words] into practice (v. 26). The question isn’t whether or not we hear His words, but whether we practice them as He enables us.

There’s much wisdom offered to us in this world—and lots of advice and help—and much of it is good and beneficial. If we base our life on any foundation other than humble obedience to God’s truth, however, we invite trouble. In His strength, doing what God says is the only way to have a house, a life, built on rock.

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