Jim Liske

A Dream Realized

By Jim Liske | Posted April 21, 2015
Jim_and_Chuck

Jim Liske (l) with Chuck Colson

When I was still a pastor in Michigan, Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson came up for a visit. He attended a lunch celebrating those involved in a church-based reentry program for the formerly incarcerated. Men and women came up to thank Chuck for his work with prisoners, and as they did so, tears sprang to his eyes.

After the lunch, Chuck explained the cause of his tears me.

“Jim,” he said, “this is what I envisioned when I started Prison Fellowship—churches all across America welcoming home men and women from prison who had found Jesus.”

When he said that, I started thinking. I realized that revival for America’s churches wouldn’t come from any of the expected places; it would come when the Church began to pour herself into the care and discipleship of those the world rejects. Revival would come when we came face-to-face with Jesus in the places He told us to look for Him … among the prisoners, among the hungry, among the naked, and among all the least of these.

Over time, I left my position as a pastor to become the CEO of Prison Fellowship. It’s been an honor to take up the torch Chuck left for us with his passing three years ago. Chuck’s original vision—that the Church outside the walls would embrace and foster the Church inside the walls—continues to unfold. Congregations all across the country are catching the vision of restorative ministry to those affected by crime and incarceration. Former prisoners, whose lives have been transformed by grace, are going back into prison to share the message of redemption. Prisoners’ children, whose lives have been transformed in decades of Angel Tree ministry, are growing up into their full, God-given potential.

Just getting to see it all happen brings tears to my eyes, too.

Brother Potts

By Jim Liske | Posted April 21, 2015

Liske_154Brother Potts will never go home. Because of the crimes he has committed, he will spend the rest of his days on earth locked behind prison bars. But he is also one of the most joyful people I know. He is humble, gentle, and caring. He is an elder in the Church behind the walls, and he is a prayer warrior for the ministry.

I’ve known Brother Potts for a while now. He is incarcerated close to my home, and when we see each other, I can be sure I’ll get a back-cracking hug. When we talk, he doesn’t ask me to do anything for him—he just wants to know if God has answered his prayers for me and Prison Fellowship. When I tell him what God is doing, we weep tears of joy together.

At one time, Brother Potts was a man you might have walked across the street to avoid passing. He was a thug. But because of God’s grace restoring his life, He is now a servant who leads other men in his prison toward righteousness. Every time I see him, I think, This is why we I go into prison. This is why I pray and work and spend weeks away from my family in airports and hotels. This is what makes it all worth it.

When God restores lives, He restores them completely. He heals the pain of the past and returns people like Brother Potts to their full potential in this life, until at long last he gets to go Home.

What I Learned in Prison

By Jim Liske | Posted April 14, 2015

Liske_154By God’s grace, I have never served a sentence, but the men and women I am blessed to encounter in prison always teach me about following Jesus.

Recently, I was privileged to spend an entire day in prison with hundreds of prisoners and their families. I talked with those who were incarcerated, their children, and the moms, grandmas, and other caregivers of these kids. I prayed with families and couples, and we  engaged in conversation.

I have often experienced God teaching me through others. A theme or a consistent truth emerges from a series of dialogues and encounters. This day was another one of those times.

As I asked the men what God had been teaching them, they all shared that they had learned how to be in community with others. When I asked them what they are the most concerned about when they think of returning home, they told me they worry about not having friends to help them follow Jesus. I asked the teens with incarcerated dads if they thought their dad was different now than when he entered prison. They told me he’s better at expressing himself and showing love to them. Wives, girlfriends, and moms told me that their “guy” now treats them with respect and honor.

As I sensed this theme, I was reminded of Galatians 5:14. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” In this chapter, the Apostle Paul contrasts living in the Spirit with living in the flesh. The men and families I talked to that day had learned the importance of Spirit-filled community because they had once lost it. They showed me how central this fellowship is to a life of hope. They had longed for it, and now they have learned how to live it out!

Prisoner-to-Prisoner Outreach

By Jim Liske | Posted April 13, 2015

Liske_154This winter I saw a prison leader do something that almost never happens. At a Midwest prison, where men are enrolled in a Prison Fellowship seminary-level training program, the warden allowed close to 400 prisoners to gather in the gymnasium to drink coffee, have cookies, sing, hear the Gospel, and interact with 30 volunteers.

In my time at Prison Fellowship, I’ve rarely seen 150 men brought together. For security reasons, a gathering of 400 is practically unheard of. After spending some time with the men, I asked the warden why she felt comfortable allowing it.

Her answer was simple: The men themselves, particularly those studying in the seminary-level program, would maintain order. Through them, she said, God is changing the entire prison into a place with a more calm, safe environment. Even those prisoners who do not yet believe in Jesus respect these men’s spiritual leadership to such a degree that the warden had complete confidence in allowing the event to go forward.

The correctional officers have been affected, too. Instead of yelling and blowing whistles, they treat the men with respect and care. The prison has become a better, safer place for them to work.

The Kingdom of Heaven is advancing behind prison bars! God is using friends like you, volunteers, wardens, and prisoners themselves to establish His peace, order, love, and respect for the dignity of all within jails and prisons across the country. It’s an exciting time in the history of Prison Fellowship! Learn more at www.prisonfellowship.org.

The Trial of the Ages

By Jim Liske | Posted April 6, 2015

Liske_154Archeologists working in Jerusalem think they might have excavated the site of Jesus’ trial (Mark 15). Fifteen years ago, a team began digging through the layers of an abandoned building near the Tower of David. They believe they have uncovered the foundations of Herod’s Palace, a probable site for Jesus’ famous audience with Pontius Pilate. If the archaeologists are right, it’s here that Jesus was led early in the morning, bound in the ancient equivalent of handcuffs. It’s here that He was accused and interrogated. It’s here that He was whipped, mocked, and handed over to His executioners.

In order to set us free from sin, Jesus became a prisoner. He experienced the humiliation and physical pain of one condemned to die. Most incredibly of all, He chose to endure this, knowing in advance what it would cost Him. He exchanged His life for ours, so we could walk free.

The message that Jesus became a prisoner for our sake rings with special significance behind prison walls. Imagine facing a long sentence, only to hear that an innocent person had volunteered to take the punishment in your place, and you would be released immediately! When Prison Fellowship brings this message of redemption from sin to incarcerated men and women, they sit up and pay attention. They are hungry to receive the love and forgiveness of Christ.

Year after year, friends like you make it possible to keep sharing the Gospel behind prison walls with your prayers, time, and resources. And year after year, lives are changing for all eternity!

A Father’s Heart

By Jim Liske | Posted March 30, 2015

Liske_154In the Gospels, we get a sense of the profound, loving relationship between God the Father and His Son, Jesus.

Only once do we see the Father and Son separated. As Jesus hangs on the cross between two thieves, with the weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders, He feels the agony of parental absence. Though the Father loves Jesus with an inexpressible love, He could not intervene and bring Him down from the cross and still bring about the salvation and redemption of you and me. He could not do the one thing the heart of a father would be screaming to do for Jesus.

In order to adopt us, who were lost in our sin, God denied the request of His blameless, beloved Son. How much He must love us! How deep His empathy must run!

That’s the message that Prison Fellowship has been bringing into prisons around the country for nearly four decades, at Easter and throughout the year. Men and women behind bars might feel discarded by society, by their former friends, and even by the members of their own family, but God is eager to adopt them. In fact, He went through unimaginable pain so He could have that privilege.

That message of love and belonging is so powerful that it changes hearts and lives for all eternity. This Easter weekend, I am thrilled to be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus alongside men serving time at the Carol Vance Unit in Texas.

Why It Matters

By Jim Liske | Posted March 23, 2015

Liske_154Many friends like you help us with Angel Tree year after year, whether it’s by praying, giving financially, wrapping a gift, or working at a Christmas party. This past Christmas, you helped us match 330,663 children with volunteers who delivered gifts, the Gospel, and personal messages from moms and dads behind bars.

But have you ever wondered whether Angel Tree truly matters? Does its impact continue once the wrapping paper has been thrown away, or the gift is worn out and forgotten?

Here’s just one story from an Angel Tree church coordinator, whose testimony reminds us why Angel Tree matters throughout the year, and often for all eternity:

We have an [Angel Tree] family, who had their inmate step-father and father die in prison last year. We, as a church, have continued to walk alongside the mother, Jennifer, and her kids. She has been attending our church for a few years and was able to lead her inmate husband to the Lord before he passed away. This year is the first time she has been able to participate with the program and she made deliveries. She was so elated to help and so blessed to share with other families. She wants to do it again next year.

Angel Tree supporters didn’t just give Jennifer’s children a gift at Christmas; they helped connect Jennifer and her family with a caring church community that walks beside them all year long, in joy and pain, and helps draw them closer to the God who is restoring their lives. What gift could matter more?

Learn more about the continuing impact of Angel Tree at www.angeltree.org.

Reaching the Unreachable

By Jim Liske | Posted March 16, 2015

Liske_154“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” – Acts 12:5 (NIV)

When Peter was thrown into prison at the order of King Herod, there was nothing his friends could do for him. They had no way to reach him—except to pray with their whole hearts. Their prayers were a game-changer. Though Peter was chained between two trained guards, an angel came in, took off his chains, and led him out the gate.

Ministering to men and women behind bars can feel just as impossible as rescuing Peter from the Roman guards. How can we make the freedom of Christ seem relevant to someone stuck in a small cell 23 hours a day? How can the message of redemption and restoration enter a heart as hard as concrete? How do we reach those who, from a human perspective, are unreachable?

The answer is the same for us as it was for the early followers of Jesus. We start by praying, continually and with our whole hearts, for all those affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration. We trust the Holy Spirit to bring about the spiritual freedom of men and women created in the image of God. And miracles follow.

Did you know that, in addition to giving and volunteering, you can support Prison Fellowship as a part of our prayer team? We are excited to offer you the opportunity to join with a community of prayer warriors all across the country who are praying for prisoners, their families, and the many ongoing events and activities that affect their lives. Learn more today at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/prayerteam/.

Arise!

By Jim Liske | Posted March 9, 2015

Liske_154The word “arise” runs through Scripture like the repetitive chorus of a song.

When the people of Israel were waiting on the east side of the Jordan River, hesitating to enter the Promised Land, their leaders encouraged them, “Arise … for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good” (Judges 18:9).

When Jesus healed a paralytic, he told him, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Matthew 9:6). Even when confronted with people who had died, he raised them with the command: “Arise!”

When the Prodigal Son from Jesus’ parable had lost all hope, he finally decided, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:8).

At this time of year, the theme of “arise” is evident in the creation, as well. Flowers start to poke through the cold ground. Spring takes hold. Everything God has made arises. It’s all a joyful reflection of the most awesome “arising” of all—Jesus’ victory over the grave when God raised Him from death.

Will you help me carry the important Easter message—God’s call to “arise!”—into prisons and jails at Easter and throughout the year? Spreading the Good News to prisoners, families, and all those affected by the cycle of crime, is at the core of Prison Fellowship’s mission and vision. For more information on how you can be a part, please visit the evangelism section of our website.

Out of the Depths

By Jim Liske | Posted March 2, 2015

   “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.” – Jonah 2:6, NIV

The wayward prophet Jonah had to go into the belly of the whale before He really understood the message of redemption God wanted him to preach in Nineveh. It’s probable that when he looked back on his life, Jonah thought of those three days, swallowed up in darkness, as some of the most profitable time he ever spent.

Men and women behind bars tell a similar story. Countless times, we hear them say that without prison, they would be dead or living on the streets. Without prison, they would never have met Jesus Christ. Without prison, they would never have found true freedom.

Robert was one of those prisoners. Winding up in jail saved him from a worse fate on the streets. There, he met Jesus, attended Prison Fellowship seminars, and grew strong in his faith. When he was released, he felt called by God to go back into prison and preach the Good News he first learned “in the belly of the whale.” For years, he faithfully volunteered at Prison Fellowship evangelistic events across the country and headed prison ministry efforts at his church.

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, it’s valuable to remember the depths from which God has saved us. The hardest circumstances in our lives may have helped us gain a real understanding of His redemptive love. And that might be just the Good News someone around us needs to hear




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