I knew I’d found a kindred spirit as soon as I read her front door mat inscription: “Just so you know, there’s like a lot of kids in here.” Bronwyn Lea has a front porch way of looking at the world, and her love for Jesus and her desire to welcome brothers and sisters into His family fuels her to do all sorts of things, including making gallons of home made ice-cream, and writing books about awkward side hugs. It’s a grace to welcome Bronwyn to the farm’s front porch today…
I got lost the first time I tried to find St. Matthew’s Church.
I’d been abroad for a couple of weeks, and I was sorely missing Christian community.
The dean of my seminary had recommended St. Matt’s. So late one Sunday afternoon the week before Christmas, I borrowed a car, printed out driving directions, and set off in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar street signs bearing names I struggled to pronounce. (I’m looking at you, Australia, with your Goondiwindis, Mudgeerabas, and Woollongongs.)
Between a handful of wrong turns and my snail’s-pace driving, it had taken more than twice the estimated time to get there, but I finally arrived, found a parking spot, and took a deep breath before opening the car door and stepping into a worship service with two hundred strangers.
It had been a long time since I’d been the new person at a church, and I’d forgotten how awkward it felt.
I gave a half smile to the friendly face who greeted me at the door and sank into a spot toward the back.
Minutes later we were invited to stand and sing, and as the opening chords were played, I sighed out a knot of anxiety. I recognized the song, and it was a relief to add my voice to the singing.
Perhaps I wasn’t such an obvious stranger here.
Song by song, the feeling of kinship among these strangers grew, and when the minister stood to welcome us and give the announcements, I understood why.
With characteristic Australian openness, he began, “G’day! One of my wife and I’s great joys at Christmas is welcoming brothers and sisters from the family of God to celebrate Christmas tea [dinner] with us. We’d be stoked [happy] if you all could be there. We know many of you probably already have plans with the rellies [relatives], but if you don’t, we’re going to cook up a beauty of a meal and I reckon it’ll be all the better if you joined us.”
It was a fair dinkum Aussie invite, and even though I already had plans with my “rellies” for Christmas, his invitation made me feel right at home.
Why? Because he’d reminded us all of who we were to him: brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Not strangers, or guests, or even neighbors or friends.
His invitation made church feel like a family reunion where I might meet third and fourth cousins I didn’t yet know but was somehow already connected to.
There’s something ineffably comforting about that.
This was not a room of strangers. This was a gathering of brothers and sisters. I just hadn’t learned their names yet.
From beginning to end, the New Testament speaks of how, by grace and through faith in Jesus, we join the family of God. We are invited to call him Father. All those who believe in Jesus’ name are given the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
Children are usually born into a family, but Jesus explains that those who believe the gospel are “born again” (John 3) into the new family of God and adopted by him—having all the rights and privileges beloved heirs and children do (Romans 8). New Testament ethics are not a set of rules issued to servants; they are appeals to learn the family lifestyle.
“Dear friends, now we are children of God,” explains John. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3 NIV). You used to be aliens and strangers, explained the apostle Paul, but because of what God has done in Christ, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
This letter is crammed with pointers to the big picture of life in God’s new family. He prays to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15), and frames his moral instruction in exactly the same way: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1 NIV).
I forget, sometimes, that I am one of God’s dearly loved children.
And perhaps even more often, I forget that I am one of His children among an entire family of dearly loved children.
What I share with other believers is not just a mutual interest, as if we were all members of a global fan club.
We are members of His global family, with the same Father, the same Spirit, the same hope.
Blood might be thicker than water, but Jesus’s blood is thicker still.
In a moment of loneliness in a room full of strangers, God gave me a fresh glimpse of how He saw me: a beloved daughter among a room of His favorite children.
The minister dismissed us to greet the people around us, and I stood up.
I had some brothers and sisters to meet.
Bronwyn Lea joined Jesus’ family when she was six years old, and has spent more than twenty years in vocational ministry seeking to encourage and equip believers all around the world. A graduate of law school and seminary, she serves on the pastoral team of her local church and also heads up Propel Sophia, the Christian living wisdom resource for Propel Women.
Have you ever squirmed through an awkward side hug? Ever wondered how relationships between men and women in the church got so weird? Have you ever wondered what it means to be a Christian woman if you’re not a wife? Or a Christian man if you’re not a husband? Or in an age where things so often go wrong between the sexes, whether it really is possible to be in community with other men and women?
Beyond Awkward Side Hugs lays out a biblical vision for relationships between men and women in the church. If Jesus’ pattern for church living was one of family, and following His example we can chart a path towards living as brothers and sisters in intimate, healthy community.
If you’ve ever felt frustrated by the awkwardness of simplistic “don’t talk, don’t touch” rules when it comes to men and women and long for holy, healthy community, don’t miss Beyond Awkward Side Hugs.
[ Our humble thanks to Thomas Nelson for their partnership in today’s devotion ]