I wanted to scream “nooooo!” but it was too late. She jumped! I was at a Christian concert and stage diving was in vogue-something I am grateful was not around in the 70’s. Several kids had jumped off the stage and their friends caught them, and so this rather large girl decided to join in the fun. With great faith in the crowd, she leaped off the stage. As she was in her mid-air flight, she had the horror of witnessing everyone scatter. She face planted on the ground, bounced, and rolled to a stop. I must confess that I was conflicted between inappropriate laughter and compassion for her; of course the laughter won out.
The song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” sounds so sweet, but is far from the truth. Most of us carry a lot of baggage and make for heavy lifting. Jesus tells the story of a crippled man that was unable to get to Him for healing on his own, but he was blessed to have four friends who carried him to Jesus (Mark 2:3). These friends go to great lengths to help their friend, they even “dug a ditch” in a roof to get him to Jesus. (See Ugly Ditches) The fact that Mark tells us that it took four friends to carry this guy makes me wonder if he was a big dude. These guys were straining under the dead weight of their friend, probably praying, “O God, O God, O God, Help”-as they sang “He is so heavy, but he’s my brother”.
I will confess, I am a heavy load for my friends. I often remind them, “it costs to be my friend.” I am so blessed to have a number of really good friends in my life who have, on many occasions, helped carry me to Jesus. I know these friends are a gift from God, but I have had to cultivate these friendships. Proverbs tells us that “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (11:25). Friends may come into your life by the providence of God, and He expects us to be friendly and to serve others without putting expectations on them. Nothing will ruin a friendship quicker than unhealthy expectations.
Loneliness is a plague in our hooked up society. We may have acquaintances, but few friends. Again Proverbs warns, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). The question is not how many people do you know, or how many “facebook friends” do you have, but who are you investing in as a friend without expecting something in return. Friendships take time, and are deepened through hard times. It has been in the dark places of my life where my deepest friendships have been forged. Seeing me in all my ugliness and still loving me, “A friend loves at all times.” (Pro. 17:17)
You might ask,” How many friends do you need?” My answer is how heavy are you? The bigger the load you are, the greater number of friends you need. I know I am heavy, requiring many strong friends. That obligates me to do a lot of heavy lifting for others, investing in them and acting as a friend. We must sow friendship to reap friends. You must catch stage divers before you expect to be caught!
There are no perfect friends out there, only broken people who are just like you. If you are expecting someone to never hurt you or let you down-a pretty friend-you are going to be greatly disillusioned. Only Jesus is a friend that will never fail us. All my friends are Ugly, because I am Ugly. We show each other grace to cover our weaknesses with a “love that covers a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8). Here is one of my Ugly Friends reviews of my book The Power of Ugly:
“I once read this, ‘Friendship is like a prism through which the many variations of beauty are revealed in our lives.’ Jamie Stilson has been one of those great friends ever since I first met him nearly twenty-five years ago. But in this case, he has been the kind of friend that has helped reveal the ‘ugly’ in my own life. Whether traveling to Africa together or just doing lunch together every Monday for the last fourteen years, Jamie has shown me how to take God seriously without taking myself too seriously. Jamie has helped me to see my own ugliness and my need of God’s humbling grace. I absolutely loved reading his book, The Power of Ugly, because it so represents who he is-authentic, earthy, funny, insightful and in love with Jesus. This is a must read, you will laugh and you will cry. You will be challenged and you will be blessed. For sure, you will get a fresh new view of your ugly self and of God’s beautiful grace.” Dennis Gingerich, Founding Pastor Cape Christian Fellowship, Cape Coral, FL.
There are few people who, like Dennis, know all my ugliness and still love me. It is so humbling to have friends like him. Beautiful friends who never have a weakness are usually artificial, superficial and terrible stage diving catchers. Give me any ugly friend who loves me in spite of all my weaknesses any day over a fake pretty friend.
Here is a simple friendship test:
1. You need to move-who do you call to help pack? Who have you helped move?
2. You have two tickets to the NBA playoffs who do you bring? (assuming your wife hates b-ball).
3. Your teenager has not come home and it is 3 in the a.m., who do you call? (excluding the police and your pastor)
4. Who do you pray for regularly? Who are you aware of that prays for you?
5. Who will serve as pal-bearers at your memorial? Whose funeral have you attended?
6. If you are extremely sick, lying in a bed in Africa with only your tighty-whities on, who will dare to come in and pray for you?
7. Who do you tell your struggles, fears, and sins to?
8. Who will catch you if you go stage diving?
Let me end with a short list of some of my burden-bearing ugly friends who know I am ugly and heavy, but still choose to carry me. Bobby H. (36 yrs.), Dennis G. (25 yrs.), Jorge A (16 yrs.), Bob H. (12 yrs.) ,Jeff S. (5 yrs.), David C. (12 yrs.), David R. (16 yrs.), Bob M. (33 yrs.), Kevin F. (20 yrs.), Gary S. (32 yrs.), Steve L. (20 yrs.), Charles M. (30 yrs.). You all have helped carry me to Jesus to find healing, your love has covered a multitude of my sins and my life is richer because of you. Thank you my ugly brothers from another mother.
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