According to his personal testimony as recorded on Petra's Captured In Time and Space live album, John was born in Japan and was subsequently adopted by an American family from Michigan. Some sources cite John as having grown up in Flint, Michigan, others cite Millington, Michigan, but both cities are in the same general area of the state.
Lawry showed musical skills from an early age. When he was 9, he learned to play the accordion. When he grew up he went to Millington High School and was involved in the school band. He graduated in 1969 and continued working in music. Lawry contributed to several projects during the following years.
In 1982, he joined the Joe English Band and recorded three albums with them. He also recorded with the band Forerunner. In 1984 he joined Petra recording a total of nine albums with the band. During this period, the band won two Grammys and several other awards.
John's first appearance with Petra was on their Beat the System album in 1984. While Petra had stocked a resident keyboardist (John Slick) for some time, Lawry's entrance into the band brought a new, more "modern" sound that would stay with the band for the entirety of Lawry's tenure.
In 1986, Lawry played a keyboard solo on Greg X. Volz (former Petra lead singer) first solo effort. He also released a solo album called Media Alert in 1990.
Lawry left Petra in 1994 to dedicate to a career producing and recording. He was replaced by his keyboard technician, Jim Cooper. He also released another solo album in 1997 titled Excursions.
In 2005, Lawry joined the stage again with Petra during one of the band's final presentations that was released as the Petra Farewell CD and DVD.