Monthly Archives: December 2019

Therefore Immanuel

Christmas Morning Sunrise

Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

This verse hit me with unusual force this morning. The beautiful prose strikes one softly, but also hard and true. After one considers its beauty and message for just a few seconds — and its peace with its mystery — the question arises…

What’s the there for?

I’ve studied Isaiah the past two years, so I know. King Ahaz of Judah is being threatened and terrorized by threats of conquest by two dark kingdoms working together to war against him and remove him from office.

The LORD sends His prophet, Isaiah, with a message to the king and the people whose “hearts shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” The LORD’s message is, “The enemy’s plan will not stand nor shall it come to pass.”

He also adds, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”

“Ask a sign for yourself. Make it hard,” says the LORD to the king.

“I will not ask, nor test the LORD,” says the king back to the Lord’s prophet.

It sounds pious and wise, but it’s full of disobedience, disbelief, and really “testing” the LORD, Who instructed him to ask for a sign.

The prophet responds with, “Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will birth a son — Immanuel.”

~~~

Don’t doubt it! Believe that the LORD Himself will rise up against your enemies, and you will be spared. You will stand.

There is a coming sign recorded in the ancient texts around 700 B.C.. There was a son born to a virgin around 2-3 B.C., and we now recon time by His appearing and work.

He lives… with us … within us.

Immanuel

~~~

Isaiah 6 sets the stage for all believers — seeing the LORD, high and lifted up.

Maybe in a year or years when a godly king is gone, the government is in turmoil, and you’re learning not to trust in man, or even yourself anymore.
But “God in us — God with us — Immanuel.”

“The holy seed is in it’s stump, “says the LORD to His prophet at the end of Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6 sets the stage.
Isaiah 7 gives the promise of help, deliverance, and power. Immanuel.
Isaiah 8 shows the outcome of the scenario.

We don’t have 2000 years of church history — but 50 years repeated 40 times. Not 4000 years of Jewish history — but 50 years repeated 80 times.

God’s judgment comes upon the culture swiftly — so much so it will catch them unaware and add to the terror and tenor of the recompense, which will appear merciless, but it was chosen by them. They forgot God to serve themselves and their idols, and thus fell into the traps and clutches of the enemy.

Yet to those of the house of faith He writes? (Isaiah 8:16)

“Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.”

And the disciples respond, “I will wait for the LORD Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him.”

“Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, Who dwells on Mount Zion.”

“Immanuel” appearing first in Isaiah 7:14 and three times in Scriptures is a beautiful Name, a beautiful thought, and a beautiful reality. “God, the Mighty One, is with us.”

Merry Christmas!

“Immanuel” Article by Jeff Benner

Immanuel” Article by Paul Summer

Immanuel” Article by Jack Zavada

A Final Hallelujah

Of course this isn’t to be my final Hallelujah, as far as I know; but my final thoughts after a week of reflection, study, and mediation on the poem and melody of Leonard Cohen entitled simply and profoundly, Hallelujah.

Of note to me, the song is going round and round in my head in this Christmas season 2019. I’m not sure why? But it gives me joy, peace, pause, and wonder.

I’ll share with you the best article I’ve found about the song, a 2015 Newsweek article by Zach Schonfeld. It’s insightful though written primarily about the song’s musical attributes and its popularity, from a secular point of view.

Schonfeld notes, “The album on which it appeared, the murky, mid-career Various Positions, had been rejected wholesale by Columbia Records in the U.S., and when it finally was released, “the song was still generally ignored,” as Alan Light notes in his 2012 book The Holy or The Broken.

The Holy or the Broken? That’s an insightful title for a book about the song. It’s also telling that the album on which it first appeared was entitled “Various Positions” isn’t it? Since he’s Jewish, to begin with, and the song, albeit quite short, addresses simply and profoundly the issues of God, the Bible, human sexuality, the philosophy of life and one’s earth journey, admissions of struggle and failures, and yet seems to somehow point to God as the answer from start to finish. Purposely it would seem, and honestly, in a mysterious and understated way. And people definitely have “various positions” on these issues— he did apparently.

Light would go on to say, “John Cale and Jeff Buckley, then dozens and hundreds of others lifted the song out of obscurity” but it is “something more mysterious that cemented its status as a modern standard, appearing on American Idol and in synagogue services in equal measure. It has become ubiquitous. Tallying versions by Cohen and plenty of others, Light estimates “Hallelujah” has been listened to hundreds of millions of times on YouTube alone.

The Newsweek article goes on to list “60 notable recordings of it that are readily available online and ranking them from worst to best.” 🙂 Feel free. For our purposes here I’m going to list and link my two favorites at the bottom, then one in Cohen’s own voice, as well as the lyrics he settled on and a few quotes that reflect on the man.

Etymology of Hallelujah

It doesn’t seem right to leave the song without a good look at the meaning of its famous title and course. It’s a Hebrew word lifted directly from that ancient language and dropped into English, simply transliterated as “praise the LORD.”

Wikipedia adds, “In the Hebrew Bible hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase, not one word. The first part, hallelu, is the second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hillel. However, “hallelujah” means more than simply “praise Jah” or “praise Yah”, as the word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God.

In Psalm 148:1 the Hebrew says “הללו יה halelu yah”. It then says “halelu eth-YHWH” as if using “yah” and “YHWH” interchangeably. The word “Yah” appears by itself as a divine name in poetry about 49 times in the Hebrew Bible (including halelu yah), such as in Psalm 68:4–5 “who rides upon the skies by his name Yah” and Exodus 15:2 “Yah is my strength and song”. It also often appears at the end of Israelite theophoric names such as Isaiah “yeshayah(u), Yahweh is salvation” and Jeremiah “yirmeyah(u), Yahweh is exalted”. The word hallelujah occurring in the Psalms is therefore a request for a congregation to join in praise toward God. It can be translated as “Praise Yah” or “Praise Jah, you people”.

With Cohen’s Hebrew roots and his love for poetry, there can be no doubt the word was well understood and meaningfully used with sincere intentionality. When it’s sung and heard, it seems all creation and the Creator pause with a heart smile to take note. The best is yet to be.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)

Hallelujah הללויה

Hallelujah – Pentatonix
Regina Spektor
Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah Lyrics

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

Leonard Cohen

“Hallelujah” Summary

Oddly, the summary I’m going to share is from the notes I wrote in one sitting after reading the lyrics before beginning all the meditation.

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is:
A hauntingly beautiful melody
Introducing
A true confession.
A humble confession.
To all mankind
From a fellow, broken pilgrim
About a hidden God.

Whose love is an
Open Secret.

Too holy and too precious to
Be passed flippantly around.
But for the hungry, humble heart
There to be found.

All of this
Given by the God of Grace
To His broken vessel.

It’s the only kind He has.
…But he who falls on this Rock
Will be broken. (Matt 21:44)

Cohen seemed to struggle by himself…
To know the Maker, Creator,
Sustainer of All.

All the verses from Cohen’s
Cutting room floor (80 or more)
Would bear this out.

A struggle largely unfulfilled
But grasped at
To find the One Who
Put eternity in our hearts.

Love is not a victory march,
Rather it’s hard fought.

Perhaps a priest at the end?
A Cohen at last?

Like Sampson fulfilling the purposes
Of God for his life,
After a mighty struggle marked with
Many failings.

His song leaves us to decide if it is a
Holy or Broken Hallelujah?
And also to ponder the difference .

With a victorious note at the end
He acknowledges the futility of
Being one’s own king.

The many heartbreaks, disillusions,
And disappointments of a life
Without faith.

Yet one senses at the end
A possible “Return of the Prodigal” (Luke 15:11)
Or at least an acknowledgment
Of a glimmer of faith
In the Father, the Name, the beautiful Light —

The Lord of Song

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Christmas Hallelujah

Part Two of Two

Then a summary of the priest’s life comes in the last verse, along with his final confession. You may ask, “Why did you call Cohen a priest?”

The name Cohen in Hebrew denotes a priest. To be a priest may have been a call on his life or his job description from the Lord? His destiny? To make God known to the people and to pronounce forgiveness, restoring relationships between God and men. It is a high calling.

Yet the calling is not that different from that of David or Sampson or any of us. To know God and make him known, in the time and place God plants us. (Acts 17:22-32)

All He requests from us is an invitation to let him tabernacle within us. (Revelation 3:20 and Isaiah 66:1-2) To be His image bearers again and anew. Then we have this treasure in earthen vessels. (II Cor 4:7) And let him be the light that dwells in us and shines through the brokenness of our lives, bringing healing to us and all who behold it.

As someone has accurately said, “No one can go back and make a new start my friend. But anyone can start from now, and make a brand new end.”

Whether Cohen made a brand new start or came to know the Light or made peace with the Light is unknown. That is a mystery known only to God, like so many others. But the summary of his life in his song and his final confession in verse four gives me hope that he did.

It’s a humble confession and one that finishes strong!

“I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you. And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

It’s almost as if he said, “I tried to live life on my own and figure out God on my own. I wasn’t successful, and I’ve told you as much. In fact I failed and it all went wrong.”

Then there is the blazing, strong confession at the end. Sort of like Job’s confession when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives and He will stand at last on the earth.” (Job 19:25-27) Cohen says. “I’ll stand before the Lord of Song.” There will be a reckoning with the Almighty which he gently, and beautifully addresses as “the Lord of Song,” since he is a musician, but one senses he knows Him to be Lord of All.

“With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

“God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecc 5:2)

Then follows the ending, the gentle, powerful refrain; not twice this time but four times, followed by a single, “Hallelujah”—“Glory to the Lord,” as Cohen defined it.”

My dad was a wildlife officer for forty years, also an accomplished hunter, naturalist, outdoorsman, trapper, and explorer. He was at home in the woods, and the deeper the better. If he came across a wet sandy spot, a mud hole, or any watering hole; he could tell you every animal that had been by the place and about how long ago.

I’m at home in the spiritual woods and feel with some degree of accuracy I can see someone’s spiritual tracks and identify them. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruit.” And Solomon said, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out.”

Leonard Cohen’s spiritual foot prints are complex and a little confusing, but telling.

As many people find his song depressing as find it hopeful. Many wonder how these words could have been written by a man of faith, yet with such admitted failure and questionable fruit in his life. Many see echoes of the thief on the cross, and an epiphany in his life.

It’s plain to any biblically-knowledgeable person, Cohen knew his Bible and had perhaps seen some deeper things about the Lord; as well as the end of life for every human being.

The Preacher says, “God has placed eternity in the human heart.”

Leonard Cohen gave voice and words to that reality. And it’s a voice and reality we humans recognize, whether we understand it or not.

It’s baffling to some and beautiful to others. It’s a mystery, like something God would do or say — a parable of Jesus or an instruction from the throne of God to the prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah chapter 6.

The fact that Cohen recognized that about God and wrote like this is telling within itself. It’s evidence that he knew something of the understated ways and purposes of God.

Most telling for me is that at the end, he seems to throw himself, all that he is, on the mercy of God. And that my friend is the only safe and worthwhile place to throw oneself.

“I beseech you…by the mercies of God” writes Paul the first century Jew and Christian.

Covering the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle of Israel, there rested the all important “mercy seat “over the law, the manna and the rod of Aaron that budded. The very presence of God with man. Emmanuel.

Yes, Leonard Cohen’s life is a mystery of sorts, especially his spirituality and standing before God. It is. Maybe it is so for a reason. His life is like his song.

But I sense strongly that God loved Leonard Cohen, even has he ran away from Him. And journeyed far away from Him. In His merciful and all-seeing eyes He found something good in Cohen’s heart towards God.

God gifted him with this melody, I believe, and helped him pen these words. A modern parable of the kingdom of God perhaps. Something a priest can tell the people who want to know, about God. Millions and millions of people. Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Thank you Leonard Cohen for painting your real life picture in song, a picture of us all, before God. Perhaps the strongest picture since Jesus painted with words the prodigal son and the incredible father in the trilogy of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coins, and the Lost Son. (Luke 15)

Hallelujah

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Hallelujah Christmas

Part One of Two

The Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” has really captured me for some reason in this Christmas season 2019. I’ve read about it and listened to several versions, my current favorite by Pentatonix, but including the Christmas version by Cloverton. I’ve printed the lyrics, meditated on them, and journaled about what I’ve seen for several days.

It seems it may be related to the verse we used on our Christmas cards this year, Isaiah 9:2. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Seems like I’ve been led to focus more on the broken hallelujah, and a house swept clean? How did we get where we are? Do we stay here? Or journey on in His love, power, presence, and grace? Celebrating Christ and Christmas? Immanuel? God with us?

On the same day I journaled those thoughts, December 10, I also journaled this quote from Bob Goff from his devotional calendar.

“Following Jesus is about having your paradigms shift as you navigate a wide range of emotions while living the big life Jesus invites us into.”

These thoughts seem like a fitting prelude or introduction to:

Hallelujah

(Song & Lyrics by Leonard Cohen 1934-2016)

I really see this song as a modern day parable or poem set to hauntingly-beautiful music that affects the human spirit immediately and demands attention — then politely gives the hearer the opportunity to hear no more if they wish. “But you don’t really care for music do you?”

Still it invites and draws the hearer immediately onward into a room of questions about life’s meaning with its successes and failures. Also the activity of the Holy with the continuing questions that arise from all of this.

Then follows the beautiful, one-word course so prevalent in King David’s collections of songs, “Hallelujah.”

The story gets stronger in the second verse as Cohen struggles with faith and reason— the supernatural meets the natural — the material meets the Eternal.

Immediately follows sexual temptation and seduction; the giving away of one ’s strength, destiny, and calling for one of this worlds’s greatest natural pleasures — but not according to God’s plan or ways. And the admission of this failure.

Here, one surely sees this is personal. This is autobiographical. This is too close, too intimate, too heartfelt not to be. We all feel it. We all know it. We all have experienced it in some shape form or fashion, with the sense of failure it brings. The sense of loss. The sense of shame.

What else touches us so deeply and personally in our earth journey as our sexuality? Common and mysterious as it is.

Then comes and follows immediately the hauntingly beautiful refrain; the one word course in Hebrew…”Hallelujah… Hallelujah”… Soft… Sweet… Soothing… Truthful… Honest… Real.

A word lifted unchanged from the ancient Hebrew language and placed into almost every language of the world; unaltered. A word not threatening, not objectionable, but soothing, peaceful, true. It seems easy on the lips, the ears, the heart — something our spirits find whole, good, true — even transcendent, and readily acceptable.

The third verse takes us back to life on earth. There comes more accusations from the enemy of our souls and those he influences and controls. And the human need we feel to defend ourselves, if we’re living in our own strength and not trusting God for our defense, our deliverance, our salvation.

But didn’t Cohen capture how we feel? And in so few words? If we’re honest and vulnerable about it. Like he is.

“You say I took the name in vain, I don’t even know the name, but if I did, well, really—what’s it to you?”

In this humble, honest confession we can all empathize. We don’t really know Him like we’d like to. And can He be known really? It’s personal—very personal. So “what’s it to you?”

Yet one senses Cohen has known the Name in some measure, and that has affected him deeply. His brilliant, deep-cutting insights into David and Sampson betray that fact, as does his next words in verse three.

“There is a blaze of light in and every word, it doesn’t matter what you’ve heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah.”

Ah ha! There it is. Did you catch it? “The holy or the broken hallelujah.”

There may be two kinds of hallelujah? But I think really only one, as far as humans are concerned. The broken variety. Or, if you can see it, by his power and demonstrated goodwill in sending Jesus and the Holy Spirit, a broken hallelujah restored, and set apart, which is the meaning of “holy.”.

But, “it doesn’t matter which you’ve heard” “the holy or the broken hallelujah,” “there’s a blaze of light in every word.” (John 1)

I want to pause here a moment to consider the broken. Because CR (Celebrate Recovery) comes to mind as the clearest picture of this “broken hallelujah” in my realm today, and thus far in my human journey, and I believe in the community of faith called the church.

A broken vessel is required really to let the light in; and then once it’s held within to let the blaze of light out. To be seen by others, beckoning them to come to the Light and experience the Light for themselves.

So we’re challenged to recall our knowledge of the Holy or our ignorance of the Same, and give credence to the Light we’ve seen in creation, the Word, or others around us. However it has been observed, “it doesn’t matter which you heard. The holy or the broken hallelujah.”

That soothing, that real, that transcendent hallelujah comes softly in the refrain. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

… To Be Continued…

The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson
Cloverton’s Christmas Hallelujah
Hallelujah – Pentatonix

Book Club 2020

Along with four good men and good friends, we’re starting a book club for the new year. Its main purpose is to meet initially twice a month and share lives while encouraging each other in our own spiritual lives to seek the Lord.

The name 2020 is two fold in its meaning. Of course it’s the Year of Our Lord 2020 A.D. And it’s about vision, 20/20, seeing things clearly, from God’s perspective, as He shares with us, in and about our day and times.

We’ve begun our introductory meetings and an introductory book this month to get established. And I’ll include an ever-expanding list of books that have come to our attention as possible good reads below.

While good books will serve as a catalyst for discussion and vision, the main purpose of our group is friendship, listening, speaking and praying into one another’s lives. May I humbly suggest you find a few friends, and do something similar this year, and soon.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Pursuit of God

Beautiful Outlaw

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness

Holy Sexuality and the Gospel

Waking the Dead

Fearless

Out of a Far Country

The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings

Scattered Servants: Unleashing the Church

Hell: A Final Word

Grace Works

In the media arena let me also list a few videos or movies we might consider watching together soon.

The Star of Bethlehem

Hell And Mr. Fudge

Patterns of Evidence: Exodus