Jim Liske

Gone but Not Forgotten

By Jim Liske | Posted May 22, 2015

Liske_154When it was first celebrated in the 1860s, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. Americans from the North and South would pause to place floral decorations on the graves of those who had lost their lives in the Civil War. May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom throughout the United States. As the years went by, and Americans fought in many more wars, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day. It was broadened to recognize all those who, though killed in the service of their country, deserve to never be forgotten.

When I talk to prisoners, they sometimes tell me they feel like, though living, they have already died. Their cells can feel as dark and constricting as a tomb, they have little or no contact with the outside world, and their friends and relatives often cut off ties. Unlike a soldier who falls in battle, a prisoner is both gone and forgotten.

Without a doubt, those who have committed crimes need to be held accountable for their actions. However, contrary to the dominant message in our culture, Scripture challenges us not to forget those behind bars. All of us, whether free or incarcerated, would be imprisoned by our sins without Jesus, and that’s why God calls us to shed the light of His love in the darkest places.

This Memorial Day, we join all Americans in honoring those who fought and died for our country. But we also remember those behind bars whom Jesus died to save. By His grace, they can be brought up from the “grave,” transformed and restored to lead new lives.

Leading the Way for Reform

By Jim Liske | Posted May 18, 2015

Liske_154More than 40 years ago, Prison Fellowship’s founder, Chuck Colson, was sitting in a federal prison cell. From the heights of power as special counsel to the president, he had fallen to the depths of shame and isolation. I wonder if, sitting in that cell, he ever dreamed of what would be happening in Washington, D.C. decades later.

This week is the third meeting of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, which, in the spirit of Chuck’s tireless work for criminal justice reform, has been convened to address system-wide overcrowding and other problems in the federal prison system. The Task Force, on which I am honored to serve, will meet throughout 2015 to conduct its work and present its findings and recommendations to Congress, the Department of Justice, and the president. In a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive grace, Chuck will again, in a sense, be advising the government at the highest level.

No life is beyond the reach of God’s love and restoration, and every man and woman behind bars has been made in His image. That’s why, through the Task Force and the ongoing work of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship is committed to advocating for criminal justice reform that respects human dignity, protects communities, and promotes accountability.

To learn more, follow the Task Force on Twitter at #ColsonTaskForce and read this article by John Stonestreet, who had the opportunity to interview the Task Force’s chairman, former Rep. J.C. Watts. Finally, if you’d like to support this important work in prayer, please pray for me and the other members of the Task Force, and all the men and women who will be affected by the outcomes!

Hope for Mothers

By Jim Liske | Posted May 8, 2015

Liske_154For just about every young man or woman in prison, there’s a mom who feels worried sick. She worries if her child is safe, she worries about whether her child will change, and she worries about what will happen when her child comes home. There’s no greater ache than this mother’s concern … and there’s no greater joy when her child becomes a new creation in Christ!

I got to witness this firsthand on a recent trip to a prison. I met a mother whose son has been enrolled in an intensive Prison Fellowship program to help him return to the community. When she met me, this mom gave me a huge hug. She told me how much her son has changed in the program. He has become a great dad to his own kids. In fact, he seems like a completely different person than the son she knew before.

“He treats me with love and respect,” she beamed, her eyes lighting up. She added, “You know, at one time, I didn’t want him to come home. And now I can’t wait until he’s released. He’s a good boy!”

This Mother’s Day, Prison Fellowship recognizes all the moms affected by the terrible cycle of crime and incarceration. And we celebrate the truth that, because of the power of the Gospel, no one’s son or daughter is beyond hope. To support the ongoing ministry that’s bringing fresh hope to mothers all across the country, click here.

Never Stop

By Jim Liske | Posted May 4, 2015

Liske_154Prison can be a place of intense darkness, but in that darkness, hope burns all the more brightly. I was reminded of that by a letter from Zackery, a young man facing a 26-year sentence.

“I was at the point of giving up. I have lost everything that matters to me—my family, my wife, and my 5-year-old son,” he wrote, describing his feelings of despair.

But recently, Zackery picked up a copy of Inside Journal®, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly newspaper for America’s prisoners. He came across an article by a fellow prisoner, one that explained how God could give Zackery’s life purpose even while he was serving his sentence.

“I was so touched and moved in my spirit,” Zackery explained. “Just because I am here in prison I don’t have to waste away. I will grow and be fruitful right where I am. I will water myself and fertilize my mind. I will become the mighty man of valor that God has called me to be. I am truly ready to let go of my past and let God take charge of my life. I really am a broken person. I truly am tired of carrying around all the pains of the past. I truly want a new start. I want to experience His love, forgiveness, and redemption. I am ready for Him to show me how to live a life committed to Him. … God bless. Please never stop touching lives like mine. ”

Since our founding almost 40 years ago, friends like you have helped us touch lives like Zackery’s. By God’s grace and with your help, we’ll never stop.

A Dream Realized

By Jim Liske | Posted April 21, 2015

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.

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