Jim Palosaari was one of the key early influences in my own faith journey.
Jim passed away this week, and now come the memories.
I suppose the core thing I want to say is that I learned several powerful truths from him that I will quote at the end of this blog, as they did and do positively affect my life to this day.
Jim and his wife Sue were leaders of the Milwaukee Jesus People, the launchpad group out of which came "The U.S.A. Traveling Team", eventually simply called Jesus People U.S.A. of which I now serve on the pastoral team.
I came to faith in Jesus Jan. 3, 1971. That encounter with the Lord on a Sunday morning began to turn my life from drug, sex and music addiction to a life of peace like I had never known.
The very next Sunday I went to church with my widowed aunt. I won't say which church, but it seemed pretty spiritually "dry". Well, not for me but obviously for most everyone else there!
The following Sunday I attended a service closer to my house. If anything it was less personal and more dry with an even greater sense of distance between those attending -and between them and me.
One block from that church was a huge Catholic parish with a convent of "on-fire" nuns who absolutely loved Jesus and showed me a kindness and acceptance that I'd not seen prior.
Three priests served that large fellowship, one of which befriended me and showed me nothing but grace, respect and an appreciation for the Word of God and prayer that I'd not known until then.
Within the next month or so someone brought a "Jesus People?? paper" ("Street Level") to a youth house attached to that parish. I had never seen a local expression of the Jesus Movement.
Jim and Sue Palosaari had come to Milwaukee, shared the Gospel with a lot of hippies- many who came to believe in Jesus, and together they opened a "Jesus house" near the "freak" district not far from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
This was the epicenter for hippies, other street people, students and radicals in the city.
They'd also opened a coffeehouse (The JC Powerhouse) up at the top of Brady Street. Brady was -the- place we hippies hung out, on or off of which people put on mini-festivals (block parties) and where you could score a lot of dope, sex and whatever.
After my conversion, myself and a couple friends began hanging out at the Powerhouse on weekends for concerts and on occasion for weekday Bible study. There, a LOT of folks came to faith in Christ.
Between the Street Level Jesus paper they published, visits to the coffeehouse, getting baptised by these Jesus People in Lake Michigan early that May and occasionally attending Bible studies I began to see that one could be a solid Christian WITH rock music, long hair, jeans and sandalwood oil in your hair… and still be accepted by both God and at least SOME Christians 🙂
Without the Lord, and without Jim and Sue and a core group of other young Jesus freaks, I'm not sure where I would have ended up. The LIFE of Jesus, a tangible presence of the Holy Spirit was the norm among them.
Jim was a big man, a teddy-bear like person, a very charismatic (more so in personality than doctrine, though he was both) individual who called people to repent, to trust that Jesus had indeed risen and could change one's life forever if they would follow Him.
Many- and I mean many… did follow Jesus as the result of his preaching and The Sheep (amazing band) who shared the Lord clearly and consistently around and eventually -far- beyond Milwaukee.
After a great deal of personal fighting and self-discovery, God confirmed to me that this was the place I needed to be. I NEEDED to focus on the Lord, His Word, prayer and fellowship, needed to not be ashamed of the Gospel and needed a full-time ministry where I could be taught regularly, grow in the Lord and really serve Him and others as opposed to living merely for myself.
I had been sharing my faith verbally but was encouraged to do so more, again, due to Jim and the JP Milwaukee community.
Jim's message was one of discipleship, not mere conversion.
My first direct meeting with Jim (some four months after my baptism) was in his office.
I told him I had come to serve the Lord with them. He asked me a few basic questions and then said "Plug in here for a couple weeks and let's see how you do. If things work out, you will be a member of JP Milwaukee". I did, it did, I was, and never regretted it.
Jim was a human being and like all of us made plenty of mistakes. I'm certain a great many more were saved and healed than hurt by his personal issues (and hope the same can be said about me one day).
I, personally owe a great deal to him and those in leadership there as well as on our own pastoral team here at JPUSA for whatever good there is in me and my walk with the Lord.
Those earliest days of spiritual formation were essential to my own walk with Jesus Christ.
The following are quotes of Jim's that I have often shared. They highlight enduring truths worth remembering and applying!
When asked by a reporter what the Jesus Movement was all about, Jim replied "Jesus moving"! He went on to clarify the real, historic, risen Christ was working by His Spirit in the here-and-now, and anything less was not the Jesus Movement.
One of the best bits of advice I ever heard from a preacher came from Jim in a gathering as he spoke about marriage for a committed Christian:
"Three points for those of you- and that would be most of you- who will marry:
First, marry someone who loves Jesus at least as much and if possible, more than you do. When you're weak, you will need their strength and faith to help lift you up.
Second, marry a disciple, not merely a convert. Marry someone who is seeking to grow in Christ and truly follow Him, not just a pretty or handsome person who prayed the prayer but isn't interested in spiritual growth or serving others.
Third, if you have conviction and confirmation of spiritual gifts and a call of God in your life to be a missionary in Africa, don't marry someone who has a different call to a different part of the world or some other area of service incompatible with yours. You will have enough problems with temptation and struggle without having to argue with your spouse over the call of God on your life.
In other words, marry a minister if you are one. If the person has no real sense of calling or interest to sacrifice and serve it makes no sense to marry them and cause you both grief."
Absolutely brilliant truths! I'm so glad I took his advice with regard to marrying my Wendi…
Jim also often said "If I can talk you into something you can walk down the street and someone else will convince you otherwise. You have to have a personal encounter with Jesus, not merely be talked into something. If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it."
And perhaps the best for last… he taught people to never obey anything a Christian leader said if it was not scriptural.
"No matter who you hear it from, if what they say doesn't line up with the Bible, with the Word of God, you must not do as they say. Be careful of charismatic personalities who teach you to live out things that are not in line with the Word."
I and many will miss Jim. I was only involved with him directly for about a year… but what a formative year it was!
Please join me in praying for his family and friends in this season of loss and reflection.