I’m still hoping to see a loon. If in fact they really exist.
A generation ago, the Henry Fonda/Katharine Hepburn move “On Golden Pond” hooked America on the loon. The old couple sits on their porch in late evenings enjoying the sounds of the loons on the lake while the setting sun does fascinating things on the water, and a hundred thousand people–me included–were ready to move to New Hampshire. Until that movie, I had no idea how fascinating or desirable these birds were. And since loons are yankees (i.e., based in northern climes) and I’m a southerner (Alabama originally, New Orleans at present), I did not expect to actually see one.
In the late 1980s, our daughter Carla married New Englander Frank Peters. When they moved up north and started having babies, Margaret and I found ourselves flying to Boston and renting cars and driving north, first to New Hampshire, later Maine, and now New Hampshire again. The last time I was there, in the fall, I noticed on the map that the town of Moultonborough, less than an hour’s drive away, boasted a loon center, sort of a state park sanctuary devoted to this water fowl. I talked the two oldest granddaughters, Leah and Jessica, into making the drive and we checked it out. Alas, the loon, we discovered, had flown south for the winter. This southerner had gone north only to find that the yankees had gone south. How do you like that. We picked up some literature, walked the wooded trail, took some nice pictures, and determined to come back at a better time.
A few days ago, Margaret and I were back in Laconia, NH, visiting Frank and Carla and their three incredible daughters. Now, these granddaughters were worth every mile of the long drive from New Orleans, but after a couple of days of visiting, we decided to check out the loons. It’s Springtime and that’s when birds nest, right? “Too early,” said the lady at the loon center. So, no birds. But, we walked the trail again, took more pictures, bought the t-shirts, watched a video, and read the literature. This time we purchased a cassette tape which we listened to repeatedly on the drive south. Push in the tape and instantly we’re on Lake Winnepesaukee enjoying the loons as they splash and cry and do whatever loons do. At least, we imagine that’s what’s happening. Not having seen an actual loon, who knows?
In North Carolina we visited with our son Marty, his wife Misha, and their two incredible children (that’s the only kind of grandchildren we have, you might as well know). Mother-in-law Peggy Bynum said, “Oh, I go to New Hampshire often. And stay on Lake Squam. That’s the ‘golden pond’ lake where they made that movie. Loons are all over the place. You ought to go.” Yeah, thanks a lot.
I recalled seeing in the loon center a large wooden model of a loon, complete with hinged neck. Underneath was this note: “The charming loon scene you enjoyed in the movie ‘On Golden Pond’ was actually this model, manipulated by a professional diver under the water.” The illusion of movie-making.
At this point, as you can tell, I’m beginning to wonder whether loons actually exist. I’ve visited their center, met their spokespersons, read their literature, seen their videos, listened to their tapes, and bought the t-shirt. But I have yet to see one.
Once upon a time there was a church. Twice a week its sanctuary was filled with people led by professionals who spoke of God as though He came by regularly. They sang the songs, told the stories, and played the videos. They kept the buildings and sold the t-shirts and took in contributions. “Yes, this is the Lord Center,” they said. But alas, there was no evidence the Lord had ever actually been there. No lives were changed by His touch, no homes transformed by His power, no one forgiven and no one convicted. No joy, no repentance, no surrender. No matter, for the tourists knew from the signs and the brochures that this was His home and sooner or later, the Lord would show up.
Day after day, then year following year, the groundskeepers kept the campus, the custodians kept the buildings, and the ministers kept the faith. “This is the Lord Center,” they insisted, “because the sign out front says so.” So did the map and the chamber of commerce, and they never lie.
So, people came and saw the videos and read the stories and heard the claims, then went away puzzled, wanting to know more about the Lord–to meet Him personally, even–but wondering if He really exists at all.
Some of the professionals are rumored to have built their own contraption to take the place of the Lord. That way, whever someone needs guidance or blessing, the leaders manipulate it from behind the scenes and get the results that satisfy the members. Of course, a few are not fooled by the decoy, but most members demand so little from the Lord that they are easily satisfied and quickly revert to their passive, non-inquiring states.
It’s all so unnecessary. The Lord has promised to go wherever He is invited. See Revelation 3:20. He promised to bless those who make Him welcome, to forgive those who turn to Him in faith, to “draw nigh” to anyone drawing nigh to Him.
In the wilderness, God told Moses, “My presence shall go with you.” “I’m counting on that,” said Moses, “because if you do not, there’s no point in our going. The only thing that makes us different from all the people on the face of the earth is that you are with us.” (Exodus 33:15-16) The presence of the Lord is everything.
Worship is not about buildings or clergy or literature or videos, as important as these can be. It’s about the Lord and His presence among us. If He is here, everything falls into place, we have all we need, and there is nothing to fear. But if He is not among us, nothing else matters.
One of the earliest names for Jesus was “Immanuel,” a compound Hebrew word meaning “God With Us.” Wherever Jesus was, there was God. Believers are people who have received Jesus Christ into their lives (John 1:12) by an act of personal faith and commitment. Thereafter, find a believer and you’ve found God. Not a God of man’s making, but the real, authentic Creator of the Universe. Not to be manipulated or confined to a sanctuary somewhere, but to be honored as God, obeyed as Lord, loved as Father, and worshiped for all He is.