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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.

Blooming Deserts

By |2024-05-09T02:33:11-04:00May 9th, 2024|

A century ago, lush forest covered roughly 40 percent of Ethiopia, but today it’s around 4 percent. Clearing acreage for crops while failing to protect the trees has led to an ecological crisis. The vast majority of the remaining small patches of green are protected by churches. For centuries, local Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido churches have nurtured these oases in the midst of the barren desert. If you look at aerial images, you see verdant islands surrounded by brown sand. Church leaders insist that watching over the trees is part of their obedience to God as stewards of His creation.

The prophet Isaiah wrote to Israel, a people who lived in an arid land where bare desert and brutal droughts threatened. And Isaiah described the future God intended, where “the desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1). God intends to heal His people, but He intends to heal the earth too. He’ll “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17). In God’s renewed world, “The desert will bloom with flowers” (35:2 nirv).

God’s care for creation—including people—motivates us to care for it too. We can live in sync with His ultimate plan for a healed and whole world—being caretakers of what He’s made. We can join God in making all kinds of deserts bloom with life and beauty.

Jesus—The True Peacemaker

By |2024-04-23T02:33:14-04:00April 23rd, 2024|

On December 30, 1862, the US Civil War raged. Union and Confederate troops camped seven hundred yards apart on opposing sides of Tennessee’s Stones River. As they warmed themselves around campfires, Union soldiers picked up their fiddles and harmonicas and began playing “Yankee Doodle.” In reply, the Confederate soldiers offered “Dixie.” Remarkably, both sides joined for a finale, playing “Home, Sweet Home” in unison. Sworn enemies shared music in the dark night, glimmers of an unimagined peace. The melodic truce was short-lived. The next morning, they put down their fiddles and picked up their rifles, and 24,645 soldiers died.

Our human efforts to create peace inevitably wear thin. Hostilities cease in one place, only to ignite somewhere else. One relational dispute finds harmony, only to be embroiled in distress again months later. The Scriptures tell us that God is our only trustworthy peacemaker. Jesus said it plainly, “In me you . . . have peace” (16:33). We have peace in Jesus. While we participate in His peacemaking mission, it’s God’s reconciliation and renewal that make real peace possible.

Christ tells us we can’t escape conflict. “In this world [we] will have trouble,” Jesus says. Strife abounds. “But take heart!” He adds, “I have overcome the world” (v. 33). While our efforts often prove futile, our loving God (v. 27) makes peace in this fractious world.

Joy in the City

By |2024-04-08T02:33:08-04:00April 8th, 2024|

When France and Argentina met in the 2022 World Cup final, it was an incredible contest that many dubbed the “greatest World Cup match in history.” As the final seconds ticked off in extra time, the score was tied 3-3, sending the soccer teams to penalty kicks. After Argentina made the winning goal, the nation erupted in celebration. More than a million Argentineans overwhelmed downtown Buenos Aires. Drone footage spread across social media showing this raucous, happy scene. One BBC report described how the city quaked with “an explosion of joy.”

Joy is always a wonderful gift. Proverbs, though, describes how a city, a people, can experience joy that goes even deeper and lasts far longer. “When the righteous prosper,” Proverbs says, “the city rejoices” (11:10). When those who truly live by God’s designs for humanity begin to influence a community, then this signals good news because it means God’s justice is taking hold. Greed diminishes. The poor find support. The oppressed are protected. Whenever God’s right way of living flourishes, then there’s joy and “blessing” in the city (v. 11).

If we’re genuinely living out God’s ways, then the result will be good news for everyone. The way we live will make the community around us better and more whole. God invites us to be part of His work to heal the world. He invites us to bring joy to the city.

Missing the Basics

By |2024-03-26T02:33:13-04:00March 26th, 2024|

For decades, McDonald’s ruled fast food with their Quarter Pounder burger. In the 1980s, a rival chain cooked up an idea to dethrone the company with the golden arches. A&W offered the Third Pound Burger—larger than McDonald’s—and sold it for the same price. Even more, A&W’s burger won numerous blind taste tastes. But the burger bombed. Nobody bought it. Eventually, they dropped it from the menu. Research revealed that consumers misunderstood the math and thought the Third Pound Burger was smaller than the Quarter Pounder. A grand idea failed because people missed the basics.

Jesus warned of how easy it is to miss the basics. Religious leaders, scheming to trap and discredit Him during the week He was crucified, posed a strange, hypothetical scenario about a woman who was widowed seven times (Matthew 22:23–26). Jesus responded, insisting that this knotty dilemma wasn’t a problem at all. Rather, their problem was how they didn’t “know the Scriptures or the power of God” (v. 29). The Scriptures, Jesus insisted, aren’t first intended to answer logical or philosophical puzzles. Rather, their primary aim is to lead us to know and love Jesus and to “have eternal life” in Him (John 5:39). These are the basics the leaders missed.

We often miss the basics too. The Bible’s main aim is an encounter with the living Jesus. It would be heartbreaking to miss it.

Happy Trust

By |2024-03-20T02:33:05-04:00March 20th, 2024|

A woman rescued Rudy from the animal shelter days before he was to be euthanized, and the dog became her companion. For ten years, Rudy slept calmly beside Linda’s bed, but then he abruptly began to jump next to her and lick her face. Linda scolded him, but every night, Rudy repeated the behavior. “Soon he was jumping on my lap to lick my face every time I sat down,” Linda said.

As she was planning to take Rudy to obedience school, she began to consider how insistent Rudy was and how he always licked her in the same spot on her jaw. Sheepishly, Linda went to a doctor who found a microscopic tumor (bone cancer). The doctor told Linda that if she’d waited longer, it probably would’ve killed her. Linda had trusted Rudy’s instincts, and she was happy she did.

The Scriptures tell us repeatedly that trusting God leads to life and joy. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,” the psalmist says (40:4). Some translations make the point even starker: “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust” (v. 4 nrsv). Happy in the psalms communicates abundance—an erupting, effervescent joy.

When we trust God, the ultimate result is deep, genuine happiness. This trust may not come easily and the results may not be everything we envision. But if we trust God, we’ll be so happy we did.

Using What God Provides

By |2024-03-08T01:33:28-05:00March 8th, 2024|

The Brisbane City Hall in Australia was a dazzling 1920s project. White stairs boasted marble from the same quarry Michelangelo used for his David sculpture. The tower reflected Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, and the copper dome was the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The builders intended for a massive Angel of Peace to adorn the pinnacle, but there was a problem: no money left. Plumber Fred Johnson came to the rescue. He used a toilet cistern, an old lamp post, and bits of scrap metal to craft the iconic orb that’s crowned the tower for nearly one hundred years.

Much like Fred Johnson and his use of what he had, we can join God’s work with whatever we have—large or small. When He asked Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses balked: “What if they don’t . . . listen to me?” (4:1) God answered with a simple question: “What is that in your hand?” (v. 2). Moses held a staff, a simple stick. God told him to throw the staff on the ground, “and it became a snake” (v. 3). Then He instructed Moses to pick up the snake; and it turned back into a staff. All Moses needed to do, God explained, was carry the staff and trust Him to do the rest. Remarkably, He would use that stick in Moses’ hand to rescue Israel from the Egyptians (7:10–12, 17:5–7).

What we have might not seem like much to us, but with God, whatever we have will be enough. He takes our ordinary resources and uses them for His work.

Better Together

By |2024-02-24T01:33:06-05:00February 24th, 2024|

After another health setback, I feared the unknown and uncontrollable. One day, while reading a Forbes magazine article, I learned that scientists studied the rising of the “Earth’s rotation velocity” and declared that the Earth “wobbled” and is “spinning faster.” They said we “could require the first-ever ‘drop second’—the official removal of a second from global time.” Though a second doesn’t seem like much of a loss, knowing that the earth’s rotation could change seemed like a big deal to me. Even slight instability can make my faith feel wobbly. However, knowing God helps me trust that He’s in control no matter how scary our unknowns or how shaky our circumstances may seem.

In Psalm 90, Moses said, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (vv. 1–2). Acknowledging God’s unlimited power, control, and authority over all creation, Moses declared that time cannot constrain God (vv. 3–6).

As we seek to know more about God and the wonderful world He made, we’ll discover how He continues perfectly managing time and all He created. God can be trusted with every unknown and newly discovered thing in our lives too. All creation remains secure in God’s loving hands.

How does knowing God is in control of time and all creation help you trust Him when facing the unknown? How can you honor God with the time He’s entrusted to you today?

Scraps to Beauty

By |2024-01-23T01:33:33-05:00January 23rd, 2024|

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

By |2024-01-14T01:33:03-05:00January 14th, 2024|

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

By |2023-12-06T01:33:03-05:00December 6th, 2023|

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.

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