fbpx

About 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.

Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice

By |2023-11-08T01:33:06-05:00November 8th, 2023|

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

By |2023-10-22T02:33:27-04:00October 22nd, 2023|

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

By |2023-10-08T02:33:28-04:00October 8th, 2023|

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

By |2023-09-22T02:33:27-04:00September 22nd, 2023|

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

By |2023-09-01T02:33:25-04:00September 1st, 2023|

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

By |2023-08-15T02:33:08-04:00August 15th, 2023|

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.

The Powerful and the Weak

By |2023-08-02T02:33:26-04:00August 2nd, 2023|

Perhaps the most heartwarming tradition in college football happens at the University of Iowa. The Stead Family Children’s Hospital sits next to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, and the hospital’s top floor has floor-to-ceiling windows offering a great view of the field. On game days, sick children and their families fill the floor to watch the action below, and at the end of the first quarter, coaches, athletes and thousands of fans turn to the hospital and wave. For those few moments, the children’s eyes light up. It’s powerful to see the athletes, with a packed stadium and thousands more watching on TV, pause and show they care.

The Scriptures instruct those who have power (and all of us have some kind of power) to care for those who are weak, watch over those who are struggling, and tend to those whose bodies are broken. Too often, though, we ignore those in need of attention (Ezekiel 34:6). The prophet Ezekiel rebuked Israel’s leaders for their selfishness, for disregarding those who most needed help. “Woe to you,” Ezekiel said. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured” (vv. 2, 4).

How often do our personal priorities, leadership philosophies, or economic policies demonstrate little regard for those in distress? God shows us a different way, where those with power watch out for those who are weak (vv. 11–12).

Prayer and Transformation

By |2023-07-16T02:33:28-04:00July 16th, 2023|

In 1982, pastor Christian Führer began Monday prayer meetings at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church. For years, a handful gathered to ask God for peace amid global violence and the oppressive East German regime. Though communist authorities watched churches closely, they were unconcerned until attendance swelled and spilled over to mass meetings outside the church gates. On October 9, 1989, seventy thousand demonstrators met and peacefully protested. Six thousand East German police stood ready to respond to any provocation. The crowd remained peaceful, however, and historians consider this day a watershed moment. A month later, the Berlin Wall fell. The massive transformation all started with a prayer meeting.

L we turn to God and begin relying on His wisdom and strength, things often begin to shift and reshape. Like Israel, when we cry “out to the Lord in [our] trouble,” we discover the God who alone is capable of profoundly transforming even our most dire predicaments and answering our most vexing questions (Psalm 107:28). God stills “the storm to a whisper” and turns “the desert into pools of water” (vv. 29, 35). The One to whom we pray brings hope out of despair and beauty out of ruin.

But it’s God who (in His time—not ours) enacts transformation. Prayer is how we participate in the transforming work He’s doing.

God’s Unfailing Memory

By |2023-06-16T02:33:25-04:00June 16th, 2023|

A man owned more than $400 million in bitcoin, but he couldn’t access a cent of it. He lost the password for the device storing his funds, and disaster loomed: after ten password attempts, the device would self-destruct. A fortune lost forever. For a decade, the man had agonized, desperately trying to recall the password to his life-altering investment. He tried eight passwords and failed eight times. In 2021, he lamented that he had just two more chances before it all went up in smoke.

We’re a forgetful people. Sometimes we forget small things (where we placed our keys), and sometimes we forget massive things (a password that unlocks millions). Thankfully, God isn’t like us. He never forgets the things or people that are dear to Him. In times of distress, Israel feared that God had forgotten them. “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). Isaiah assured them, however, that their God always remembers. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?” the prophet asks. Of course, a mother will not forget her suckling child. Still, even if a mother were to commit such an absurdity, we know God will never forget us (v. 15).

“See,” God says, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16). God has etched our names into His own being. Let’s remember that He can’t forget us—the ones He loves.

What Only the Spirit Can Do

By |2023-05-28T02:33:10-04:00May 28th, 2023|

During the discussion of a book on the Holy Spirit written by a 94-year-old German theologian named Jürgen Moltmann, an interviewer asked him: “How do you activate the Holy Spirit?” Moltmann, befuddled by the question, shifted, trying to understand it. With humor, the filmmaker tried again: “Can you take a pill? Do the pharmaceutical companies [deliver the Spirit]?” Moltmann’s bushy eyebrows shot up. Shaking his head, he grinned, answering in accented English. “What can I do? Don’t do anything. Wait on the Spirit, and the Spirit will come.”

Moltmann highlighted our wrongheaded belief that our energy and expertise make things happen. Acts reveals that God makes things happen. The book recounts the start of the church—and there’s nothing here about human strategy or impressive leadership. Rather, the Spirit arrived “like the blowing of a violent wind” into a room of frightened, helpless, and bewildered disciples (2:2). Next, the Spirit shattered all ethnic superiorities by gathering people who were at odds into one new community. The disciples were as shocked as anyone to see what God was doing within them. They didn’t make anything happen; the “Sprit enabled them” (v. 4).

The church—and our shared work in the world—isn’t defined by what we can do. We’re entirely dependent on what only the Spirit can do. This allows us to be both bold and restful. On this, the day we celebrate Pentecost, may we wait for the Spirit and respond.

Go to Top