This past week brought home the realities of death and the world to come in a powerful way. I awoke on Monday morning to find the news that a dear friend, Johnny Farsese, had gone to be with the Lord on the Lord’s Day afternoon. A few hours later my wife called to tell me that her older sister, Gini, who had been battling ALS (Lou Gerhig’s disease) had seemingly contracted pneumonia. About an hour later she phoned again to tell be that Gini was with the Lord.
I first heard about Johnny in 1986 from Pastor Al Martin when I was a student at the Trinity Ministerial Academy. Johnny was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy.
This meant that Johnny never walked. By the time I met him he was completely bed ridden. He has lost the ability to swallow and in later years had great difficulty communicating. In the blessed providence of God, Johnny came to age in the days of increased computer technology which he was able to master with his limited mobility. With the advent of email I began a ‘professional’ relationship with Johnny in the early 1990’s as he would kindly distribute emails from our church to others for their prayers. At some point along the way personal notes began to be exchanged and we went from being simply brothers involved in mutual ministry to being friends with one another. Through one means or another Johnny and I discovered that we were firmly entrenched on either side of baseball’s greatest rivalry. The first time I was in Florida to preach at Johnny’s church he found out that the Yankees were playing the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon and he invited me and my wife to come, enjoy some pizza and watch the game on his big screen TV. To make things interesting we said that the loser would have to wear the rival’s cap for a time. Sad to say this day’s game meant that I wore the Red Sox cap for some hours. When the Sox finally won the World Series I was able to rejoice with Johnny (several times over the years at it turned out). I was fond of telling him that I loved him more than I hated them!
I truly did come to love Johnny. Not just as a figure on the internet or a man seen through videos, but as a man who battled hard for his joy and who was determined to do what he could do for the Savior. His emails always ended with the words of Edward Everett Hale, “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.”
Through the years when I thought of the resurrection and the glory of the final triumph of Jesus over the full extent of the curse I would think of Johnny. What, but the power of God could undo the cruelty of the curse on that body? How God will be glorified in that day when all the bodies of the redeemed will be forever without the curse.
I am thankful that because for him to live was Christ, death is now his gain. Johnny joins his voice now and forever with saints and angels with unending and sinless joy. I envy him.
I first met my sister in law, Gini in 1986 when my relationship with my wife to be took off. Gini and her husband Steve had met at Wheaton College and were gifted musicians. Those who knew Gini were impressed with her vibrant personality and gifts in playing the piano, singing, and acting. Gini grew up in a godly home and had some struggles with her faith but had in recent years returned to her foundation. A little over two years ago we had some concern about some numbness and tingling in Gini’s hands and some slight slurring of her speech. A battery of tests indicated that there might be some vitamin deficiencies. We soon found out that the diagnosis was much more grim. ALS is one of the most devastating diseases to plague mankind. All who loved Gini watched helplessly as the disease took it’s toll. The ability to sing and then to talk, and then to walk. She and her family bore these sufferings with both grace and joy. There was no hint of bitterness towards God, no self pity. What would have struck most folks who saw her was a radiating happiness in the midst of crushing disappointment and increasing pain. Her life was focused outwardly to others. She made painful journeys to attend my daughter’s play and another daughter’s graduation. She went to our niece’s wedding in September and with grit and determination rose from her wheelchair when the bride came down the aisle. With the hope of eternal life in Christ, there is a sense of relief as one leaves the pains of this world. J. C. Ryle once preached a sermon to children where he spoke of three places. One place is this world where there are many tears. The second place was hell where there is nothing but tears. And the final place was heaven where there are no tears. This past week these two loved ones entered that place where there are no tears. At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. Tears have been and will be shed on this side but not theirs. Emptiness is felt here and fullness there. Their joy, though now complete, will get better when their bodies, ravaged and battered and now fading away are raised with power. The lame will leap with joy and the mute will sing. Oh, glorious day!