I had a chance to show someone today "what I see" when I look over a congregation as a pastor.
A young man has been walking to church for a few weeks and he stopped by today in bad shape. Life is hard for him and he is baffled about where God is and whether he is paying any attention. A couple of us had a chance to talk with him and pray with him, but I have to tell you, these conversations are often very hard to get through. It is a common truth that life is often very hard, and most every Christian will experience seasons when they believe God is absent, and despair.
At one point he mentioned what he sees when he walks in the doors of our church. He sees people with smiling faces and happy children. He sees people who love God. He sees people raising their hands in worship. He sees people who feel the presence of God, and he keeps coming back because he feels the presence of God here as well. He wants what they have.
So I took him into the sanctuary, we walked down to the front, turned around, and I showed him a little of what I see every Sunday. I also see people happy to be with the family of God and who worship with all they have each week. I also see beautiful families, and I revel in the sounds of children racing through the halls, hugging their parents, and carrying around whatever craft they glued and colored that morning. I even get to hold a few of them.
I also see the saint who is twice widowed but who pours her life into her brothers and sisters in Christ. I see the families dealing with severe mental and physical disabilities who bring their kids and family members because worship soothes them. I see teens and young adults who have lost parents at an all too early age, but who come and find friendship and strength in church. I see blended families following God but who struggle with the rotten choices of their other family members. I see parents with wayward children who struggle in prayer constantly. I see single parents doing their dead-level best. And the story goes on, and on.
To my eyes, this is part of what makes church so beautiful. It isn't the perfection. It is more the quality of the mercy and grace of God alive in imperfect and hurting lives. It is the beauty of lumps of coal being turned into diamonds by the power of a loving and nail-scarred God. It is the cross leading to resurrection.