Some Lessons From the Life of Johnny Farese by Jeffery Smith

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.”

Important Religious Liberty Case Before the Supreme Court

Tomorrow Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties will be making their final appeal for an exemption from Obamacare’s coercive “contraceptive” mandate. Below is a link to an excellent article by Dr. Denny Burk, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, explaining the inportant issues and implications.

http://www.dennyburk.com/the-most-consequential-religious-liberty-case-in-a-generation/

Passing of Johnny Farese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As many of you already know our dear brother Johnny Farese went to be with the Lord yesterday afternoon. He passed very peacefully with friends and family near and is now in the presence of our blessed Lord. We are saddened but at the same time rejoicing that our brother is now free from suffering and seeing Jesus face to face. He was ready to go! Johnny was a gift from God to us all.   Johnny’s passing was on March 9, exactly 28 years to the day when Emmanuel Baptist Church was first constituted with Johnny as one of the original members.

Please remember his family and our church family in your prayers these days as we remember our brother and all he has meant to us.
The memorial service for Johnny Farese has been scheduled for Friday, March 28th at 7pm at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek Fl. This is open to the general public.  A private graveside service will be held for the immediate family this Friday.

The servers by which we send out news to the church and larger public are both down at this time. Therefore, we have been seeking to get the word out through social media, phone calls and other means.

Your Servant for Christ,

Jeff Smith

Emmanuel Baptist Church

Coconut Creek, Fl

Ways Satan Attacks Us, Part 4: Frightening Intimidations (1), by Jeffery Smith

I’ve been seeking in these posts to give an overview of the many ways that Satan attacks God’s people. So far we’ve considered pleasing seductions and deceiving delusions. Now a third category of temptations; what I’m calling…

Frightening Intimidations

Satan does not always try to entice us or to deceive us into sinning. Sometimes he tries to scare us into sinning. He tries to so intimidate us as to make us fearful and discouraged and depressed so that we are unfit for the service of God. There are at least four ways Satan attacks God’s people I see in scripture that could be lined up under this heading of frightening intimidations.

First of all, the scriptures indicate that Satan sometimes has a hand in the afflictions that befall God’s people. So affliction is the first of Satan’s frightening intimidations. Now we have to be very careful here. I am not saying that affliction is always the work of the devil, whether bodily afflictions or material afflictions of any kind. I am not saying, nor does the bible teach, that all the afflictions that befall God’s people in this life are the work of the devil. But at the same time it simply cannot be denied that the bible indicates that Satan sometimes does have a hand in the afflictions that come upon the children of God. I’m not referring now to persecution. I’ll address that later. I’m referring to physical or material afflictions in general.

Do we not have a very clear example of this in the book of Job? We read in Job 2:7 that Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job. Now, of course, Satan was, and always is, under the control of God’s Sovereign providence. God gave Satan permission to strike Job for God’s own holy, wise and, ultimately, good purposes. But it was Satan who struck him. First, he brought destruction upon Job’s possessions and he afflicted Job’s family. But Job stood the test. So Satan came back to God and he said let me touch Job himself. Let me touch his body and then he’ll begin to squeal. Then he’ll curse you God and you’ll see that Job only serves you for what he can get out of you. So God said, “Alright you can touch his body but you can’t kill him.” And the scripture says, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. “ “Ah”, someone says, “you’re trying to teach now that boils are always the work of the devil.” No, not at all; I’m simply saying that sometimes they may be. Of course, most diseases are due to secondary causes but they may sometimes be directly due to the activity of the devil.

What was Satan’s aim in afflicting Job the way he did? He was trying to intimidate Job into sinning and to cause him to turn away from God. He was also attacking God Himself. He argued that Job only served God because everything was great in his life. “Let me touch him, God, and then you’ll see that Job doesn’t really love you. Job, and by implication, all who serve you only do so with mercenary motives. It’s only for what they can get out of you, that’s it.” Well most of us know the story and what happened. The point is there were things going on behind the scenes in the spiritual world that Job couldn’t see and didn’t know about and in this case Satan had a hand in the afflictions that Job suffered.

Now we see this element of Satan’s activity in several places in the gospels. We learn there that the devil can cause dumbness; he can cause blindness. There’s the woman in Lk.13 of whom we read that, “She had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years and was bent over and could in no way raise herself.” And after Jesus healed her, what did He say about her? The ruler of the synagogue began to complain because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Then Jesus said, “Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Her condition, He says, was the work of the devil.

We find the Apostle Paul speaking about himself in 2 Cor. 12:7 with reference to what he calls his thorn in the flesh; apparently some kind of physical weakness or ailment he suffered. And he says, “Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” This thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, is said to be the result of a messenger of Satan that buffeted him. Now God allowed this in order to keep Paul humble but certainly that was not Satan’s purpose in it. Satan afflicted Paul in order to hurt him spiritually not to help him. But God was overruling and allowing Satan’s activity for Paul’s good. But the point is, whatever Paul’s particular affliction was, Satan had a hand in it.

So weaknesses, sicknesses and diseases, or any other kind of affliction, may sometimes be the result of the devil’s activity. Again, I’m not saying always by any means but, obviously, the scriptures indicate that sometimes they may be.

But now here is another important point regarding this matter. Even if, or when, the direct activity of Satan is not in anyway, or to any degree, the source of our affliction we still need to realize that our afflictions do always provide the occasion for Satan to come along side and to tempt us to sin and to turn away from the faith. Very often severe affliction and severe temptation go hand in hand. This is one of the reasons the Apostles write so much about this subject of afflictions and trials in their epistles. When times of difficulty, pain, or hardship come into our lives, often the temptation becomes very strong to doubt God, or to throw in the towel, as it were, to quit, to cast off our faith in God and His goodness; to become bitter; to neglect the means of grace. And, therefore, it is Satan’s manner especially to come after the child of God who is in the furnace of affliction. Satan is like a wolf that preys on the wounded sheep in the flock. So the N.T. writers often write about this subject of affliction to encourage the people of God not be thrown out off by it.

Brothers and sisters, whenever you find yourself in the midst of sickness, or painful disappointment, or pressured circumstances you need to realize that this is when you especially need to be on guard against the wiles of the devil. Affliction is a call to be watchful and to spend time on your knees crying to God for grace to resist the devil and crying to God, “Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from the evil one.”

This speaks a word to pastors as well, and really to all of us. We all have the responsibility to look out after one another’s souls and this tells us that we especially need to encourage and keep a caring eye upon those of our brothers and sisters who are suffering affliction. They are peculiarly vulnerable to the attacks of the devil.

There’s a passage that very powerfully illustrates the sensitivity of the Apostle Paul to this very reality and danger. In 1 Thess. 3:1 the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.” Now what was the context in which Paul wrote these words? Well up in vv.17-18 of ch.2 Paul says that he was very eager to revisit these brethren in Thessalonica and that he attempted to do so time and again but Satan hindered him. 1 Thess. 2:1-8, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from your for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you-even I, Paul, time and again- but Satan hindered us.” Exactly how Satan hindered him he doesn’t say but it’s clear that Paul was very eager to be with these brethren. And now in ch.3 he says, “When I could no longer endure it..”; that is when my suspense and concern for you was so great I could hardly bear it..

“I sent Timothy to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.” Now why was Paul so anxious about these people? Well he says, “I sent Timothy to establish and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for your yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (vv.3-5).

You see, Paul knew that these people were suffering affliction. And he was greatly concerned lest Satan, the tempter, might use their affliction as an occasion of tempting them to turn away from Christ and go back to the world which would, therefore, prove Paul’s previous labors on their behalf to have been in vain. So we need to imitate Paul’s example in taking special care of, and being especially concerned to encourage, our brothers and sisters who are going through difficult times.