Jim Liske

Gate Fever

By Jim Liske | Posted September 29, 2014

Liske_154When Gus (a pseudonym) went to prison, Ronald Reagan was president. New episodes of M.A.S.H. were still airing, and Steve Jobs was getting ready to launch the Macintosh personal computer.

But Gus is getting out soon. Understandably, he’s feeling a mixture of fear and elation sometimes known as “gate fever.” He can’t wait for freedom, but his family members are estranged or dead, and he has no work history. All too often, men and women in his situation go back to prison because they can’t imagine any other life.

But Gus has one huge thing in his favor: He is a member of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), a Prison Fellowship values-based reentry program based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He has been preparing for release, practically and spiritually, and he has a mentor he can call whenever he runs into a challenge. The staff of IFI has even shown him how to work a cell phone, and they brought him a restaurant menu so he can practice choosing for himself.

Gus has a plan, a place to stay, and friends who care about him. He and many other soon-to-be ex-prisoners have the tools for success because of partners like you, who support Prison Fellowship with your gifts, prayers, and time.

Not Normal

By Jim Liske | Posted September 22, 2014

Liske_154I just got a letter from Lauren, a woman in Oregon who is finishing her prison sentence and finding great joy as she participating in Prison Fellowship® programs. Thanks to her relationships with Prison Fellowship volunteers, she’s better prepared to go back to her community as a follower of Jesus. She writes:

Whether or not this letter makes it into your hands, or whomever may read it along the way, I wanted you all to know how much of a difference your Prison Fellowship volunteers make. … I’m lost no longer … right here is exactly where I need to be. With a year and a half down, and a year and eight months to go, my walk with Christ grows stronger every day. … [The volunteers] are open books, sharing their lives and walks with us as well. Their Tuesday nights are spent with one-to-one mentoring, breaking down walls with us girls we didn’t even know existed, and their Thursday nights are spent with the whole Prison Fellowship family to worship and learn about Jesus. Needless to say, they are very dedicated, not just to us [but] to what Jesus Christ has called them to do – to minister to us, and that’s what they have been doing for years, making a difference. [The volunteers] appear to be normal people with full-time jobs, full-time families, and lives they are living, but they’re not normal! … They are part of the Lord’s army, suited with the armor of God and ready to battle for our souls.

Have you been wondering whether you could volunteer for Prison Fellowship Ministries? Our thousands of volunteers are people just like you, living normal, busy lives, but with a heart committed to restoring the “least of these” in their communities. Learn more at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved/.

God and Grasshoppers

By Jim Liske | Posted September 15, 2014

Liske_154I was running on a bike path along a country road. With corn fields on either side, there was an abundance of grasshoppers on the path. As I ran along I noticed that the grasshoppers rapidly jumped into the high grass on either side in order to avoid getting crushed by my feet.

As God often does, He brought a passage of Holy Scripture to my mind:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isaiah 40:21-22).

I was suddenly cheered and contented. No matter how ominous issues in this world and this life are to me, they are nothing compared to our loving, powerful God. Issues that rise up to threaten us shrink and flee from God, jumping out of His way.

Restoring prisoners and their families … seeking to transform the culture of corrections … tackling tough social issues upstream from crime and incarceration … these are all BIG tasks. But to the even bigger God who calls and equips us, these challenges are like grasshoppers. They will disappear before our feet as we walk with our eyes on Him.

And He doesn’t send us alone. He gives us one another so we can run the race together. I am grateful for you and your partnership – you are the fuel in our tank. Learn how you can go even deeper into this ministry with us at prisonfellowship.org.

A Time to Weep

By Jim Liske | Posted September 8, 2014

Liske_154In the Old Testament we read how Nehemiah, a Jew in exile from his homeland, learned about the state of the survivors. The bearers of bad news told him, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When Nehemiah heard this news, he didn’t quickly devise a solution. He didn’t distract himself with some pleasure. He didn’t downplay the gravity of the situation. Instead, he sat down and wept. He allowed his heart to be broken and his tears to flow freely for the suffering of his countrymen.

Nehemiah’s initial reaction is a step we often skip over. In our rush to fix things that are broken, we neglect the necessary discipline of letting our hearts be broken.

The forms of brokenness you and I confront as we walk with prisoners, ex-prisoners, and families – incarceration, crime, addiction, poverty, fatherlessness, and more – aren’t just “issues” to be resolved. They are gut-wrenching problems facing people made in the image of God, and before we jump in with solutions, it’s appropriate that we should take time to weep before the Lord like Nehemiah, acknowledging the depth of need and asking for His help.

As we do, something amazing happens. We are reminded that God is bigger. He is able. He gives us courage and boldness and direction, like Nehemiah, to restore lives and communities. And we find that the time we have spent in mourning helps us do so with real, lasting compassion.

To learn what Prison Fellowship Ministries is doing to help compassionately restore lives and communities affected by incarceration – and what you can do to help – visit prisonfellowship.org.

Hope in the Unseen

By Jim Liske | Posted August 23, 2014

Liske_154It’s said that the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo never knew what he was going to sculpt when he started. When a piece of marble was delivered to him, he would examine it, and he would envision the form trapped inside it, waiting to be revealed with his hammer and chisel. With the eyes of artistic faith, he saw beauty and majesty where most of us would just see a hunk of rock.

God sees great beauty and potential in each of us. He sees His own image deep within us, put there at creation, even when we are in rebellion against Him. He restores us to what He made us to be, patiently and lovingly working in us until our true beauty is revealed.

He also calls us to be His co-creators – His agents in the work of restoration. As we interact with our spouses, our children, our colleagues, or even just the people standing next to us in line, we are not called to see them as they are. We are called to see them with His eyes, recognizing the beauty and value within, and gently, as co-heirs of God’s grace, helping them to be brought back to His original design.

This applies, too, as we work with men and women behind bars. The world sees them as “hunks of rock,” with nothing to offer and no potential. God sees them completely differently. He sees His image within them, and He saw it as worthwhile to sacrifice His Son for them.

Let’s take up the mantle of co-creators. Let’s put our hope in the unseen, extending to others the same sacrificial love we have received ourselves! As we do, God will reveal His masterpieces of grace.

Partners, Not Projects

By Jim Liske | Posted August 20, 2014

At Prison Fellowship, we don’t want to do ministry to prisoners. We want to do ministry with prisoners. That one little word makes a big difference. Prisoners aren’t our projects – they are our partners. As you and I walk with them on the road to restoration, men and women behind bars become leaders of the Church behind the walls … sharing the Gospel and discipling those around them, serving their families, and preparing for a new life back in the community.

It’s a joy whenever we can make top-quality Christian leadership training available to those we serve – like we get to this week! While all the staff of Prison Fellowship Ministries participate in Willow Creek’s annual leadership summit, we’re also helping to broadcast it at three prison satellite sites! Check out these encouraging pictures from the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) unit in Texas, where men behind bars are sharing what they learned from Bill Hybels’ opening remarks.

sharing3 GLS at Carol Vance Unit 2 sharing 2

I think Chuck Colson would have loved this.

Time to End Slavery

By John Stonestreet | Posted August 19, 2014

A version of the following story originally aired as a BreakPoint commentary on August 19.

A few months ago, at a conference on juvenile justice reform at Fordham University, Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske had made remarks that the key to criminal justice reform is, as Chuck Colson so often proclaimed, seeing offenders as made in the image of God.

Well after, a diminutive elderly African-American gentleman tapped Liske on the shoulder and said quietly, “You know, if you really believe that we should see offenders as being made in the image of God, you need to read the 13th Amendment.” And then he smiled and walked away.

As Liske recalled, “I knew the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery, but I had no idea what this gentleman was talking about. So I whipped out my cell phone and Googled ‘13th Amendment’. And then I understood.” And he reported what he found in a recent terrific op-ed in USA Today. “Ratified at the end of the Civil War,” he wrote, “the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, with one critical exception.”


Me First

By Jim Liske | Posted August 4, 2014

Liske_154God has called us all be His agents of restoration, helping everyone around us return to right, whole relationships with Himself, with our families, and with our neighbors.

I can think of no more exciting, important, or rewarding work to give our lives to, but restoration around us must start with restoration inside us. As the Lord restores our own souls, He fills us with courage and conviction at the core of our beings, so that, with renewed hearts and right motives, we can live passionately in pursuit of His Kingdom.

As Prison Fellowship Ministries faces the opportunities for ministry that God has placed in front of us, I have become increasingly passionate about the need to be a faith-filled follower of Jesus, surrendering all our plans to Him even as we earnestly seek solutions to pressing needs. When we trust God in this way, the result is a life of gratitude and joy in a place of our natural worry and fear.

Will you join me on this journey? Restoration is a road we walk in community, pursuing God’s Kingdom and inviting Him to build it within us and through us. As we allow Him to restore us on the inside, we will continue to see the fruits of restoration around us, including among prisoners, families, and all those affected by the terrible cycle of crime and incarceration. May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!

Richard’s Release

By Jim Liske | Posted July 28, 2014

Liske_154A few weeks ago I was in a Florida prison, visiting the residents of a faith-based dorm there. As soon as he saw me, one man named Richard came up to me and gave me a bear hug, even though the prison regulations discourage physical contact between visitors and prisoners. He was just too excited to tell me his good news!

Richard was one of the first graduates of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) in a Florida prison. TUMI is a rigorous, seminary-level program that prepares men and women behind bars to be Christian leaders in their facilities and back in the community after they are released.

Richard has been one of the leaders in the faith-based dorm since he graduated, but his life is about to enter an exciting new phase. He couldn’t wait to hug me because he was about to be released!

I have spoken with many prisoners who are terrified of the prospect of being released. They don’t know where they are going or how they will live. They don’t know what to expect. Richard’s joyful face told a completely different story. He had already made contact with a church that he planned to join, and where he would have an opportunity to serve. Instead of a jarring, nerve-wracking reentry experience, Richard was anticipating a smooth transition from one area of Christian service to another. He couldn’t wait to get started.

Programs like TUMI are true game-changers. As the TUMI program and other faith-based reentry initiatives expand across the country, more and more former prisoners are being prepared for lives of purpose and belonging after prison, instead of returning to lives of crime. That’s good news for everyone! Learn more today.

A Call to Restore

By Jim Liske | Posted July 21, 2014

How are Christians called to serve our broken neighbors?  In a sermon to Ridge Point Community Church in Holland, Michigan, Prison Fellowship Ministries President and CEO Jim Liske discusses the importance of being “people of restoration” for those in need of God’s healing.

“Our destiny in faith is to be people of restoration,” says Liske. “And that means going to where the brokenness is, and determining that we are going to bring the Kingdom.  We’re going to bring God’s rule and reign, and we’re going to bring the Gospel and we’re going to bring grace, and we’re going to refuse to identify people by their past.  And our faith is going to say, ‘No, hope is here, I can see the improvement, and God is going to empower it.’  That’s our task.  That’s our opportunity.  That’s our calling.”

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