Jim Liske

Where Restoration Starts

By Jim Liske | Posted October 20, 2014

Liske_154When Israel was almost overcome by surrounding nations, Gideon and his 300 men encircled the enemy camp with torches hidden inside of earthenware jars. On a signal, they broke their jars, began to yell, and let their torches shine forth. The enemy army, convinced they were about to be attacked by a superior force, fled in confusion (Judges 7).

In a similar way, the restoration of hurting communities starts with brokenness. When He wants to bring healing, God does a surprising thing: He calls broken people to come help. In particular, we’ve discovered that He calls prisoners and ex-prisoners, who have experienced firsthand the pain of addiction, violence, and futile thinking, to come to the rescue of those still trapped in the same cycle. As those broken people show up, light shines forth, and the powers of darkness flee!

Across the country, Prison Fellowship Ministries offers seminary-level Christian leadership training and faith-based reentry opportunities to men and women behind bars, so that when they are released from prison, they are ready to shine the light of Christ in their communities and rout the Enemy. Hundreds are in training right now to continue the work of restoration in their neighborhoods!

God uses broken people like me and you, too. Have you considered volunteering to work with prisoners, families, or legislators, but wondered whether you were qualified enough? Right now, we need volunteer leaders whom God is calling to lead ministry in their states. We need advocates who will call their legislators to speak up for restorative justice. We need churches who will seek out children and families on the margins of life. Don’t let fear hold you back—that’s where the light and love of Christ can come pouring through. That’s where restoration starts.

Two Years to Live

By Jim Liske | Posted October 15, 2014

Liske_154I lost a good friend this week. He was killed in a tragic roadside accident, leaving behind his wife and three daughters. I was with his family at the hospital as they said their final good-byes and went home without him.

On my own way home, I remembered that he was only two years older than I am. Just 54 years old, and his life of earthly service to Jesus is over.

What if I only have two more years?

The answer? I will seek God in the midst of trial and triumph. I will love my family with all that God has given me. I will run to the hurting with the healing hope of Jesus. I will share grace and truth no matter what. I will seek out the broken people of this world behind prison walls, and deliver the restorative message of the One who saves us and gives each day on earth meaning. I will love, live, and serve each day as it might be my last.

What if you only had two years to live? Where would you put your time and your resources? In whom would you invest? If you’ve wanted to make ministry to prisoners and their families a part of your earthly service to Jesus, or if you’ve wanted to deepen your commitment, I challenge you to take the first step today. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.

Finding Answers

By Jim Liske | Posted October 9, 2014

Liske_154Answers aren’t always easy to find in prison.

Behind bars, where people search for something to give them purpose and a sense of belonging, many religions and sects peddle their beliefs. In some units, where prisoners have no access to chapel services or other special events, the Truth can be even harder to spot.

Thankfully, for prisoners in more than 700 facilities, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal newspaper proclaims the Gospel through relevant, inspirational articles, distributed by chaplains and volunteers.

On prison visits, volunteers like Dave pass them out to prisoners hungry for answers. One man, who was especially touched by the articles he read, wrote this letter:

“I was lying on my bunk and this old man came up to my cell door and asked me if I wanted something to read. I got up and started talking to him, and my heart went out to this man in his 80′s named Dave. He slid the Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s newspaper for America’s prisons, Volume 23, No. 2, Spring 2014 under my cell door and told me, ‘You read that and you will find some answers.’ I read that newspaper three times and was touched emotionally by all of the articles.”

As you partner with us, we’re sending Inside Journal to more and more prisons, inviting men and women to know the freedom Christ offers behind bars. To learn more, or to order bulk shipments for a prison where you minister as a volunteer, visit: http://www.prisonfellowship.org/resources/prison-ministry/inside-journal-archives/.

Dignity Is Key to Prison Reform

By Steve Rempe | Posted October 9, 2014

When seeking to improve the effectiveness of our current prison systems here in the United States, it is important to recognize the humanity of those behind bars.  So says Prison Fellowship President and CEO Jim Liske in a recent op-ed article for the Huffington Post.

“We can help create more success stories—and safer communities—through policies that respect the human dignity of each life,” Liske says, “recognizing that ‘criminals’ are not a monolithic group of monsters. They are people, capable of choosing to change and contribute.”

Respecting that dignity begins at the time of trial.  Liske suggests increasing the use of alternative courts—drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts—as a way of being cognizant of the needs of those the traditional justice system is ill-equipped to serve

Once in the prison system, Liske proposes a re-emphasis on rehabilitation, as opposed to simply warehousing prisoners before release.  He notes the importance of volunteer organizations (like Prison Fellowship) that provide effective programming at no cost to taxpayers by focusing on the underlying causes of criminal behavior.  He also commends prison officials, like Angola Prison’s Warden Burl Cain, who think outside the box in creating an environment conducive to the transformation of those incarcerated.

Finally, Liske emphasizes the importance of supporting those reentering society from prison.  One key way to provide such support would be through passing the Second Chance Reauthorization Act currently being considered by Congress.  The act would extend partnerships between state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to help provide programs designed to reduce recidivism and give these newly released citizens the opportunities needed to be successful.

“[T]here is no freedom without respect for the dignity of each human being,” Liske concludes.  “It’s time for that respect to be enshrined in the criminal justice system, for all our sakes.”

Prison Fellowship understands the importance recognizing prisoners as human beings, created and loved by God, and capable of being transformed.  And Prison Fellowship volunteers play a great role in helping to bring that transformation to fruition.  To learn how you can be a part of the change taking place in the lives of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved.

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.

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