Johnny Farese went home to be with the Lord in the afternoon of Sunday March 9th. On Friday March 14 I had the privilege of officiating at his graveside service. As has been announced there is a memorial service planned for the general public for Friday evening, March 28th.
Johnny was a charter member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, the church I presently serve as a pastor. In fact, as mentioned, the date Johnny went to be with the Lord was March, the 9th. Emmanuel Baptist Church was constituted with Johnny as one of the original members on Sunday, March the 9th, 28 years ago to the day of Johnny’s passing. Johnny was born on Aug.27, 1956 with spinal muscular atrophy. It’s a crippling disease that meant that he was never able to walk. Most, or at least much of his life, he was paralyzed in both of his arms and legs and for the last 19 years he was unable to sit up. For the first 32 years of his life he was provided for and attended to by his mother and father in their home, with the help of the children. Then for the last almost 26 years, Johnny was sacrificially cared for in the home of his brother Paul and Paul’s wife Janis, members of our church, with the help of other members of the family. Doctors predicted that Johnny would not live beyond his eighth birthday. But they were wrong; God had other plans. At the time of his passing Johnny had lived to the age of 57 and he lived a truly remarkable, inspiring and productive life.
In 1983 Johnny was converted to faith in Jesus Christ. If you visit his website, farese.com, which I hope all of you will do if you’ve never done so before, you’ll find, among links to many other edifying things, a link to Johnny’s personal testimony. Just click the link entitled “About” at the top of the home page and you’ll find it. In his written testimony Johnny speaks of that time in 1983 when he first came to know Christ as His Savior. After a period of resisting and struggling, he began to read the bible his brother Bernie gave to him some months earlier. He says, “I began at the first page, and in three months had read it right through- but then I too had become a Christian.” Johnny wrote, “It was while I was reading the Sermon on the Mount that God opened my eyes to the truth about my sin, the inability of religion to deal with it, and the need to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior. As I did, I was given an assurance that my sins had been forgiven and that I had become a true child of God”
Johnny’s life was never the same after that. Those of us who knew him know that his faith was not a mere empty profession. He showed the reality of his faith in very practical and remarkable ways. He goes on in his account of his testimony to write, “Like most new Christian’s, I found myself full of zeal. I wanted to be baptized, join a Bible-believing church, and do whatever I could to serve others.” This is exactly what Johnny did and the way he sought to live his life from that time forward. As mentioned earlier, he eventually became a charter member of Emmanuel Baptist Church. And when it came to the matter of serving the Lord Jesus, Johnny has left behind an amazing legacy and example. He learned to code using computer technology and for many years he maintained the email mailing list for our church. He also started and maintained an email mailing list for Reformed Baptist churches worldwide and both a national and international directory of Reformed Baptist churches. These means have been greatly used of God for the cause of Christ and in helping to build a more intimate fellowship and cooperation among our churches. In addition, Johnny’s own personal website has been a source of inspiration for many, both in our own country and around the world. There are many who can bear testimony to many other ways Johnny has personally ministered to them and has touched their lives. All this and more he did with paralyzed limbs, unable to sit up, by a technology that allowed him to operate his computer by puffing through a small tube. In reflecting upon Johnny’s life I wanted to summarize what I believe to be some of the major lessons we should learn:
First of all, one of the things we should learn from Johnny’s life is how to properly evaluate our trials and sufferings in the light of eternity. Johnny suffered his entire life from the crippling effects of spinal muscular atrophy; unable even to sit up for the last 19 years of his life, his arms and legs paralyzed, his body twisted, lying there day after day, year after year, in the same spot, in the same bed, in the same room. Yet even in such a state, Johnny fought the good fight and he kept the faith. And how did he do it? It was by fixing his eyes upon the glory to come.
There are a couple of texts I often think of when I think of Johnny. I read or commented on them at different times when visiting with him. One is Rom. 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” And the other is 2 Cor. 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look, not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Both of those passages are making a comparison, a comparison between present sufferings and future glory. And they both are making the point that present sufferings for the Christian, no matter how severe they are or how long endured, are not worthy to be compared to the glory that awaits us. From a purely temporal perspective Johnny’s afflictions were extremely heavy and long endured but in the light of eternity and in comparison to the glory and joy that he now experiences, if Johnny could speak to us now he would say with Paul, they were light and momentary. Think about it. How do you compare the time of your temporal life with eternity? It’s but a drop and less than a drop in a vast ocean that has no bottom and no shore. Johnny has now entered into that eternity of unspeakable joy, happiness and freedom from sorrow and pain in the presence of his Lord. Listen to Johnny’s own words taken from his written testimony. He wrote,
“In light of my physical condition, I am often asked the age-old question, ‘How can an all-powerful God of love allow you to suffer in this way? Surely the Bible says that God always does what is right?—Yes it does—and he does! I have come to see that suffering is one of the many ways in which God demonstrates his unfailing love to those who have come to put their trust in him. Writing out of his painful experience, the Psalmist says, ‘It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71)—and I gladly endorse every word of that testimony”
Now listen to what he goes on to say,
“Jesus went through appalling suffering, physical, mental, and spiritual, yet at the end of it all he was to ‘see the light of life and be satisfied’ (Is.53:11)….Although I am bedridden, struggle to breath comfortably, and often have to contend with painful bed sores, I count them as ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Cor. 4;17). For all the difficulties they cause, I know that they are achieving for me ‘an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (2 Cor. 4:17). How trivial they will all seem in the light of the eternal bliss that awaits God’s children in the world to come”
Well what Johnny asserted then by faith, he’s now come to experience by sight. He is an example to all of us of how to properly evaluate the trials and sufferings of this life that we are sometimes called upon to endure. When you’re tempted as a Christian to complain or tempted to question God or to quit and to throw in the towel because of the trials of life, remember Johnny and remember eternity and the glory to come.
Secondly, let us learn from Johnny’s life the great good God can do though one man who is willing to take what he has and to use it for God’s glory. Johnny was very limited by his affliction but he took what he had and he used it. And in his weakness the power of Christ shown through and accomplished more for Christ than most Christians ever will. Johnny’s life in that regard should be a challenge to all of us. Christian, perhaps you have a healthy body, two well functioning arms and hands with which to serve and strong legs with which to carry yourself. What are you doing for Christ? What am I doing for Christ, when I compare myself with all that Johnny did for my Lord with his paralyzed limbs and his twisted body? “Must I be carried to the skies, on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas.” Jeremy Walker in his blogpost tribute to Johnny http://wp.me/eVQ9 said it well, “The next time you are tempted to excuse yourself from duties, shirk present responsibilities, and let opportunities pass you by, you should remind yourself of a man who could move only his mouth and his eyes, and offered them readily and constantly to the Lord”
And then, finally, as we reflect in these days on Johnny’s life and on his departure from us let it move us to pray that God would send his church many more like him. Indeed, may it challenge each of us to step up and to fill the gap! A gap has been made in the battle line of the church. There’s now one servant of God less, an eminent servant at that, a servant worth ten servants! May it move other servants to step up and to fill the gap and to serve more. May the memory of our brother Johnny always serve to inspire us to give our lives and our talents; however small we may feel they are; to give them and to consecrate them to the service of our Lord. May it inspire us do our part, to fill our place in the body of Christ, to find our niche and to look for every opportunity to serve Christ’s church and to promote the advancement of his kingdom in the world.
There is a motto Johnny placed on his website and on many of his emails. May we each adopt it as our own. “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.”