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Winn Collier

Winn Collier

A pastor for twenty-five years, Winn and his family live in Holland, Michigan, where Winn teaches at Western Theological Seminary and directs the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. 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 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

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.

Mighty

Baby Saybie, born as a “micro-preemie” at 23 weeks, weighed only 8.6 ounces. Doctors doubted Saybie would live and told her parents they’d likely have only an hour with their daughter. However, Saybie kept fighting. A pink card near her crib declared “Tiny but Mighty.” After five months in the hospital, Saybie miraculously went home as a healthy five-pound baby. And she took a world record with her: the world’s tiniest surviving baby.

It’s powerful to hear stories of those who beat the odds. The Bible tells one of these stories. David, a shepherd boy, volunteered to fight Goliath—a mammoth warrior who defamed God and threatened Israel. King Saul thought David was ridiculous: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). And when the boy David stepped onto the battlefield, Goliath “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy” (v. 42). However, David didn’t step into battle alone. He came “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (v. 45). And when the day was done, a victorious David stood above a dead Goliath.

No matter how enormous the problem, when God’s with us there’s nothing that we need to fear. With His strength, we’re also mighty.

Aunt Betty’s Way

When I was young, whenever my doting Aunt Betty visited, it felt like Christmas. She’d bring Star Wars toys and slip me cash on her way out the door. Whenever I stayed with her, she filled the freezer with ice cream and never cooked vegetables. She had few rules and let me stay up late. My aunt was marvelous, reflecting God’s generosity. However, to grow up healthy, I needed more than only Aunt Betty’s way. I also needed my parents to place expectations on me and my behavior, and hold me to them.

God asks more of me than Aunt Betty. While He floods us with relentless love, a love that never wavers even when we resist or run away, He does expect something of us. When God instructed Israel how to live, He provided Ten Commandments, not ten suggestions (Exodus 20:1-17). Aware of our self-deception, God offers clear expectations: we’re to “[love] God and [carry] out his commands” (1 John 5:2).

Thankfully, “God’s commands are not burdensome” (v. 3). By the Holy Spirit’s power, we can live them out as we experience God’s love and joy. His love for us is unceasing, but the Scriptures offer a question to help us know if we love God in return: Are we obeying His commands as the Spirit guides us?

We can say we love God, but what we do in His strength tells the real story. Winn Collier

An Open, Generous Heart

After Vicki’s old car broke down with no option for repair, she started scraping together money for another vehicle. Chris, a frequent customer of the restaurant where Vicki works at the drive-thru window, one day heard her mention she needed a car. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Chris said. “I [had] to do something.” So he bought his son’s used car (his son had just put it up for sale), shined it up, and handed Vicki the keys. Vicki was shocked. “Who . . . does that?” she said in amazement and gratitude.

The Scriptures call us to live with open hands, giving freely as we can—providing what’s truly best for those in need. As Timothy says: “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). We don’t merely perform a benevolent act here or there, but rather live out a cheerful spirit of giving. Big-heartedness is our normal way of life. “Be generous and willing to share,” we’re told (v. 18).

As we live with an open, generous heart, we don’t need to fear running out of what we need. Rather, the Bible tells us that in our compassionate generosity, we’re taking “hold of [true] life” (v. 19). With God, genuine living means loosening our grip on what we have and giving to others freely.

Returning Home

Walter Dixon had five days to honeymoon before he shipped off to the Korean War. Within a year, troops found Dixon’s jacket on the battlefield, with letters from his wife stuffed in the pockets. Military officials informed his young wife that her husband had been killed in action. Actually, Dixon was alive and spent the next 2.5 years as a POW. Every waking hour, he plotted to get home. Dixon escaped five times but was always recaptured. Finally, he was set free. You can imagine the shock when he returned home!

God’s people knew what it was to be captured, moved far away, and to long for home. Due to their rebellion against God, they were exiles. They woke each morning yearning to return, but they had no way to rescue themselves. Thankfully, God promised He’d not forgotten them. “I will restore them because I have compassion on them” (10:6). He would meet the people’s relentless ache for home, not because of their perseverance, but because of His mercy: “I will signal for them . . . and they will return” (vv. 8–9).

Our sense of exile may come because of our bad decisions or because of hardships beyond our control. Either way, God hasn’t forgotten us. He knows our desire and will call to us. And if we’ll only answer, we’ll find ourselves returning to Him—returning home.

God Holds Us

South African Fredie Blom turned 114 in 2018, widely recognized as the oldest living man. Born in 1904, the year the Wright Brothers built their Flyer II, he’s lived through both World Wars, apartheid, and the Great Depression. When asked for the secret for his longevity, Blom only shrugs. Like many of us, he hasn’t always chosen the foods and practices that promote wellness. However, Blom does offer one reason for his remarkable health: “There’s only one thing, it’s [God]. He’s got all the power . . . He holds me.”

Blom echoes words similar to what God spoke to Israel, as the nation wilted under the oppression of fierce enemies. “I will strengthen you and help you,” God promised. “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (v. 10). No matter how desperate their situation, how impossible the odds that they would ever find relief, God assured His people that they were held in His tender care. “Do not fear, for I am with you,” God insisted. “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (v. 10).

No matter how many years we’re given, life’s hardships will come knocking at our door. A troubled marriage. A child abandoning the family. Terrifying news from the doctor. Even persecution. However, our God reaches out to us and holds us firm. He gathers us and holds us in His strong, tender hand.