From Manslaughter to Mentor: How Brandy Found Purpose After Prison

Brandy’s father died when she was 12, leaving her mother to raise Brandy and her sisters alone.

“She was away a lot, just trying to cope with my father’s death,” Brandy says. “That left us [kids] to figure things out on our own.”

Brandy used that freedom to explore drugs, drinking, and rough crowds. She was in and out of romantic relationships, many of which became abusive.

After several moves around the country, she ended up in Michigan in her late 30s, where she gave birth to her daughter Amanda*. Brandy got involved with notoriously violent motorcycle clubs and began dating a man who belonged to one. This pairing proved to be the most dangerous in a string of bad relationships.

The man’s violent tendencies “started escalating quickly,” Brandy says. The abuse came to a head that fateful day when he pointed the gun at her face, and she turned it on him.

Read the rest at Prison Fellowship’s blog.

Self-Denial in an Age of Self-Fulfillment

Everyone you know—including your Christian friends—has been seduced by the siren song: “Be true to yourself.”

David Kinnaman has said that seventy-six percent of practicing Christians in the U.S. now think the best version of themselves can be found by looking inside.

Studies show that each generation in America is more anxious and depressed than the last. Suicide rates are skyrocketing even though we have more doctors and treatments available than ever. We’re looking inside for meaning, but finding emptiness instead.

As believers, time spent searching our hearts for truth and meaning numbs us to what it means to live like Jesus, who says we can’t follow him unless we deny ourselves.

But what does that mean?

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

How One Man’s Faithfulness Brought the Gospel to Thousands of Prisoners

Rev. Aaron Johnson was tough. After all, he had survived being beaten and dragged from a segregated dime-store lunch counter. But it was the plight of prisoners in North Carolina that brought him to tears.

He had worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights movement. He held the position of Secretary of Corrections in his state. All of this prepared him for the moment in 1990, when he pleaded with Prison Fellowship’s leadership team to help him reach prisoners with the Gospel.

As told in his autobiographyMan from Macedonia, Rev. Johnson opened his mouth to start his appeal, but tears came instead. Moments later, the entire leadership team was weeping with him over the hopeless state of so many prisoners around the country.

When his voice returned, he said, “I am the man from Macedonia, and I’ve come to ask for your help.”

Echoing the Apostle Paul’s vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to come and help, Johnson’s request for in-prison evangelism sounded straightforward but enormous. He wanted to reach every prisoner in North Carolina with the Gospel—in just one week.

But could Rev. Johnson and Prison Fellowship pull off such an audacious plan?

Read the rest on the Prison Fellowship blog.

Change Me, Not My Circumstances

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).

This may be the hardest thing in the Christian life. It’s simple to understand, but seems impossible to do. How do you find joy during a battle with cancer? How do you rejoice when you can’t find a job or can’t kick an addiction; when you’re mocked for your faith; when all you want are your circumstances to change?

Read the rest of my article at JustinHuffman.org.

Podcasts Worth Checking Out

I’m a bit of a podcast junkie. I’ve been a fan of the format since my college days, and I continue to listen to several each week. Though they’re more popular than ever, a lot of people still don’t listen to them or know how to find ones they like. Here are a few things to keep in mind, and a list of podcasts you might enjoy.

General Information on Podcasts

  • Podcasts are simply audio recordings that are available to download to your device so you can listen to them while exercising, driving, cleaning the house, etc. They vary in format, but most popular are conversational podcasts with two or more hosts, and more professional, fully produced shows (think NPR).
  • You can subscribe to podcasts in lots of ways, but most people do so through Apple Podcasts if they’re on an Apple Product (although if you’re like me and you can’t stand the updated app, you might enjoy something simpler like Overcast). Most Android fans use Stitcher.
  • To get the most out of the podcast format, you’ll want to find a few podcasts you like and subscribe to them (that just means new episodes will be downloaded to your device automatically when released). But don’t feel like you have to listen to each episode. In fact, don’t listen to each episode! You’ll be overwhelmed with keeping up and eventually stop listening altogether. I subscribe to about 10-12 podcasts at a time but only listen to an average of 6-7 episodes per week.
  • Many podcasts are now running on a TV-like schedule where they’ll produce a season of shows, then take a break. Others run on a regular, nonstop schedule.
  • If you’re interested in a particular person or idea, just type it into the search feature in your podcast app. I’ve found that most authors do a podcast tour these days when new books come out. If you listen to a few interviews, you can get the gist of the book and gain valuable insight at the same time.
  • You can listen to podcasts at a faster-than-normal speed. I don’t do it because I find it hard to keep up with what’s being discussed. But still, it’s an option if you’re into that sort of thing.

Podcast Recommendations

Note: shows marked with a * denote my favorites.

Christian worldview and culture

  • The World and Everything in It* – Produced by World Radio, an evangelical news outlet, this is sort of an evangelical NPR news show on the world and, well, everything in it.
  • Cultivated: Conversations on Faith and Work* – After many years as a worship pastor at Sojourn Church, Mike Cosper is having fantastic conversations with interesting people about faith and work.  Each show features one of these well-edited interviews. I’ve listened to every one of them. Some of them twice. It’s on a break right now, but it’s a must-listen. There are a couple of seasons of archives to get you going.
  • Vocation and the Common Good – This is a new podcast from New City Commons. I’ve only listened to the first episode with James Davison Hunter, which was really interesting. This one’s worth following to see how it evolves. (Podcast nerd note: Mike Cosper, mentioned above, also runs a production group that helps organizations tell their stories through podcasting. Their work is top-notch, and it shows here.)
  • Home Row by J.A. Medders* – This one’s a must for Christian writers. Jeff talks to lots of interesting writers in the Christian world, some of them famous, some of them not. But all of them are interesting and have helpful insight. My favorite episodes are his interviews with Tony Reinke and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.
  • The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast – I don’t listen to every episode of this one, but Carey gets some great interviews every now and then.
  • The Phil Vischer Podcast – Featuring a trio of Skye Jethani, Christian Taylor, and Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales), this is a wacky podcast that tackles current events and topics of interest to Christian audiences.
  • Reimagining Prison – Conversations with a variety of people in the criminal justice arena and host Sam Dye of Prison Fellowship (full disclosure: I work for Prison Fellowship). This one gives you some interesting insight into what life is like for those who work in prisons, and what reforms are being talked about.
  • Steadfast with Sandra McCracken – You may know Sandra from her beautiful music, but she’s been doing a podcast for a bit, too. She interviews interesting people to hear about the steadfast work of God in their lives. It’s a cup-of-tea kind of podcast.
  • This Cultural Moment – A brand new podcast from the dynamic duo of John Mark Comer (Bridgetown Church in Portland) and Mark Sayers (RED Church in Melbourne, Australia). These guys are both endlessly interesting. I’ve listened to lots of content from them in the past, and their cultural analysis is usually spot on if you’re looking at the world through the lens of someone who’s 35 or younger.

Christian teaching and sermons

  • The Art of Godliness – This one’s only been around for one season. It’s co-hosted by Tim Challies, the famed Christian blogger, and his pastor and former boss Paul Martin. They tackle issues like social media, personal devotions, and where’s the line when it comes to what kinds of entertainment Christians should consume.
  • Theology in the Raw with Preston Sprinkle – Preston records a weekly podcast where he tackles all sorts of topics and answers listener questions. I’ll make the disclaimer that Preston hates: I don’t agree with everything he says (far from it). But he has a different perspective on most issues that I enjoy hearing and learning from.
  • The Summit Church – Sermon audio from pastor J.D. Greear and others at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC
  • McLean Bible Church* – Sermon audio from McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where David Platt is now the teaching pastor
  • Bridgetown Audio Podcast – Sermon audio from Bridgetown church, featuring teaching from John Mark Comer, which is who I listen to this podcast for. His teaching is insightful, fresh, and targeted to the post-Christian world most of us are coming around to.
  • Crazy Love Podcast – Francis Chan’s teaching. This one’s pretty much inactive at this point, I’m afraid. (Crazy Love, if you’re reading this, come back! I see those We Are Church sermons out there!)

Secular

  • The Slashfilmcast – A movie review podcast I’ve been listening to for years. It’s actually a great way to eavesdrop on three secular perspectives on the most important cultural artifacts of our day (movies and TV).
  • The Moment with Brian Koppelman – Fascinating interviews with interesting people. Brian asks better questions than almost any interviewer I’ve heard.
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed* – Another new one; this one from author John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) who reviews things in the manmade world on a 5-star scale. It works because he’s hilarious and witty. In the first episode, he reviews the Canadian Goose and Diet Dr. Pepper.
  • Ear Hustle – “Ear hustle” is a term used in prison that means “eavesdropping.” This podcast lets you ear hustle on conversations with prisoners. It’s produced from inside San Quentin by one of the prisoners, and it’s really interesting. Helps to humanize prisoners in a unique way.
  • Hurry Slowly – Hosted by Jocelyn K. Glei, this one’s all about getting more done by slowing down. Sound counterintuitive? Then you’ll want to check it out.
  • Note to Self* – The tech show about being human. Love this one. It’s always quirky and relentlessly interesting.

What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter.