Whatever. It is a word uttered by countless people on television and by many disgruntled children and adults alike. For decisions as simple as what to have for lunch to major ones such as which school to attend or what job to apply for, the casual response of “whatever” seems a little indecisive; as if the person is not focused enough to truly concentrate on the issue at hand. Yet, with all of the shortcomings this word may hold, it is used with much abandon on issues even more crucial than meals, colleges, and careers.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the word whatever was recorded in the fourteenth century. While the word has multiple meanings, one of the definitions is “anything and everything that.” Wikipedia states that the slang term means “I don’t care what you say.” In reality, the entire world has adopted a “whatever” attitude.
Many people today feel that they can do or say anything they like without acknowledging the consequences of their actions. They recklessly run wide open, like a loose cannon rolling around on the deck of a ship. Without any respect for the destruction they may cause along the way, they keep living their lives with selfish ambition, disregarding the way their actions are affecting others.
From superstars who live with reckless abandon to doctors who promote abortion, this world is filled with instances of people whose existence is essentially based on a “don’t care” attitude, devoid of values, morals, and in many cases, even common sense. This idea of “anything goes” may be popular for the moment, but history has shown that this pattern only leads down a dead end road.
Recently, I have been saddened when I turn on the news, hearing the way many Biblical principles have largely been tossed aside in favor of more secular ones. Many of these secular views are not just being casually referenced to, but instead, they are being promoted in the public eye at widely popular events such as the Grammy Awards and the upcoming Super Bowl. Instead of focusing on musical talent or athletic ability, events like these are now becoming political arenas.
While the word “whatever” may relate to many things that are wrong on this earth, this word is used in a positive way in the Bible. The Apostle Paul used this word six times within one single verse in his letter to the Philippians. Instead of telling them that he didn’t care or that they could do whatever they pleased, he gave them advice for how they should live their lives. He imparted wisdom, so that they could find joy for their journey, no matter what was going on around them. His message also applies to you and me today, even in the year 2014. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
Paul begins by telling us to think about things that are true. In reality, the old adage is true: if you tell the truth, it’s easier to keep your story straight. Yet the devil often tempts us to tell falsehoods on a daily basis, also imparting his own lies to try to undermine what God wants to do in our midst. Instead of getting trapped in his evil snares, we should focus our attention on the true and living God. Our hearts should be tuned to His still, small voice, so that we can hear the Truth, the Life, the Way, Jesus Christ. Only by thinking on what is true will we be truly content.
He continues by saying that we should think about “whatever is noble.” In this context, noble refers to things that are moral, upright, or honorable. We should not even be thinking about engaging in immoral behavior. As Christians, we have to set ourselves apart from the worldly ways, so that we can be an example to the world. We should strive to be like Jesus, walking daily in His Father’s will, always shining our light for all to see, like a beacon in the night.
Paul also encourages us to think about things that are right. This concept brings to mind a child who is learning the difference between right and wrong. You can tell them multiple times not to eat several handfuls of candy before bed. Inevitably, they will sneak into the candy jar, testing their limits just to see what happens. In their case, this results in a stomach ache that eventually subsides. Sadly, our human inclination to “push the limit” often does greater damage, resulting in permanent injury or even death. We know it is right to obey the speed limit, yet we all find ourselves going a “little over” at times. We need to remember that a slight increase in speed can be so much more detrimental if we have a blowout or a deer runs in front of our car. By doing what is right in all things, we will certainly avoid unwarranted heartache and disappointment in life.
Then Paul says we should think about “whatever is pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.” When I hear the word pure, I am reminded of the precious blood of Jesus that washes us white as snow. Our sins have been forgiven. We have been cleansed. We are pure through Jesus Christ. Yet this world imparts so much corruption, from immoral living arrangements to the disregard for human life. Instead of hiding in a corner somewhere, we need to take a stand for Jesus, showing the world that Jesus saves. We must carry the message of His love to a lost and dying world, keeping our minds pure, focused on the One who is the purest of the pure, the most admirable, and worthy of our praise, Jesus Christ.
Finally, Paul tells us that our minds should be centered on anything that is “excellent” or “praiseworthy.” Paul doesn’t tell us to think about the expletives we heard on that “family friendly” television program. And he doesn’t tell us to dwell on the fact that we told a lie, cheated someone out of something, or engaged in any other inappropriate behavior. Instead, he tells us to live of a life of excellence. We should think about things that will allow us to be a positive role model for others to look up to and to think about things that are worthy of our praise.
You may be reading this, thinking, “I can’t think about all of those things right now. There are too many things about me you don’t know. It’s just...too difficult.” You might even respond to this blog by saying, “Whatever.” Friend, I want to encourage you today. Your situation may be dire, but so was Paul’s when he wrote this scripture. Paul wrote this letter while he was confined in prison. Even so, he uses the words “joy” and “rejoice” in the book of Philippians a total of sixteen times. He knew that Jesus would deliver him from behind those bars. And he also had the assurance that whether he remained in prison or was soon set free, God would take care of him.
Paul unlocked the secret to living in peace, despite our current situations. In Philippians 4:6-7, he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul knew there was more to life than the bars that surrounded him. Whatever happened, he knew that God would be faithful to the end.
God will do the same thing for you. No matter what your circumstances, Jesus Christ loves you with an everlasting love. Every mountain you have to climb, He will help you summit every peak. Every river you have to cross, He will be your lifeline. And every day you wake up wondering how you will get out of bed in the morning, He will be there, holding out His hand, giving you strength to face another day. And when you give God all of your worries and cares, you’ll find that it becomes easier to think about the positive instead of dwelling on the negativity. So set aside your fears, cast aside your “whatever’s,” and rejoice in the Lord always!
In Christ’s Love,
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of SGN Scoops Digital Magazine (www.sgnscoops.com). It was a joy to write the cover story on the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I pray it is a blessing to you, just as it was a blessing to me to write it. May God use the testimonies given below to encourage your heart and lift your spirits! No matter what circumstances surround you, remember that God is always faithful!
From the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to the Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York seems to have it all. But, for thousands who visit or reside in Brooklyn, the most iconic location is not a bridge or pizzeria. It is a house of worship, a lighthouse shining with remarkable brilliance in a vast sea of humanity.
The anointing of the Holy Spirit and the overwhelming love of Jesus Christ can be felt before you even walk through the doors of The Brooklyn Tabernacle. The presence of God permeates the exterior of this historic building and spills out onto the sidewalks. Whether Pastor Cymbala is delivering an anointed message or the choir is joyfully raising their voices in song, you will be reminded that you’ve been redeemed. You will know that you are loved. And you will be reassured that Jesus Christ will always be faithful to the end.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle has over 16,000 members and receives an astounding number of visitors from around the world each year as well. The 280-voice Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has won six Grammy Awards and five Dove Awards. They have performed at renowned venues in New York City such as Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and the Madison Square Garden Theater. Most recently, they had the opportunity to sing at the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.
“Senator Schumer called me and asked if the choir could sing at the Presidential Inauguration,” said Carol Cymbala, director of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. “This was an opportunity to get up and sing before a billion people and sing the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It talks about ‘mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea...’ To be able to sing those lyrics to the world just meant so much to us. It was an amazing experience, probably one that we’ll never forget. And the intensity that the choir gave that day, that’s the intensity that they give every Sunday because they realize every Sunday, there’s new people coming through those doors that are so broken that need the answer, they need hope, they need peace, so that same intensity is what they sing with week after week here at The Brooklyn Tabernacle.”
While they have been greatly blessed to walk through doors that only God could have opened unto them, it is evident that they do not sing for the glory of it all. Instead, their sole purpose when they step on stage is to give all of the glory, honor, and praise to Jesus Christ.
Carol stated she does not want the choir to simply be putting on a performance, but she wants them to be able to minister to people who are listening to the songs they sing. Carol talked of her musical background and spoke of how the choir began during our recent conversation: “Honestly, I’ve never been trained in music,” Carol said. “I started [the choir] in the 1970’s. We made our first album in 1981. We’ve made 27 albums. I was a high school graduate, but I hadn’t gone to college or been trained in music, but I had an ear for music as a young child and I had an awareness of music when I was very young and started to play the keyboards, and I would listen to songs and harmonies. I would be mesmerized by them. I did come from a musical family.”
“My family has always supported me,” Carol continued. “My husband and I work together. I’ve been so blessed because I’ve been given carte blanche and I’ve been able to do whatever I want to do and my husband supports me when it comes to the music ministry because he knows that God has entrusted me with it through the years and he believes that when God entrusts you with something, He will lead you. I’ve always had wonderful support from both of my children and my husband.”
“My husband and I began the church with very humble circumstances. We had a little run down building here in downtown Brooklyn that seated 150 people to 200 at the most. When I started the choir,” Carol recalled. “I had nine voices. The church was so small. We had about 15 people in the church. Most of those people were tone deaf, so you could imagine! I would play the piano, I would sing solos, and I would direct from the piano. I was doing everything, but I knew at that point that if we didn’t pray and if we didn’t depend on the Holy Spirit and cry out to God, I knew what we would do would be just mere performance. That’s something that I’ve never wanted. I want to be able to have the choir minister to the people through the power of the Holy Spirit. So from the very beginning there’s been dependence on the Lord and His help. That’s how it began and that’s how it remains. Today, when we come in for choir practice on Wednesday nights, the first thing we do is go to prayer.”
There are times when this prayer time is extended, due to the Lord’s leading. Marcia Frazier, choir member, shared, “I’ve experienced in the choir over the years where that 30-45 minutes would become the whole rehearsal, where God would just come and minister to our hearts. On Sunday, the Holy Spirit would just come and bless the people because He knew what He needed to do in that particular rehearsal, where He would come and minister to our hearts and take us to that place of worship. And that’s the best part of the choir, actually worshipping God with the gifts that He has given me and the ability that He’s given me all these years to sing for Him.”
Marcia told how she got into the choir. Having been involved in music in many different capacities throughout her life, she auditioned for the choir two times unsuccessfully. She was accepted in to the choir on her third time trying out, a year and a half after the first time she auditioned. “As I was waiting for my time to sing for Carol,” Marcia recalled, “her older daughter Chrissy came up to me and said, ‘Don’t try to impress my mom, just sing.’ I just said, Okay, Lord, I’m just gonna sing. I sang and I was accepted in. More importantly, it was the right time for me to join the choir. Two months later, they produced an album, “How Jesus Loved,” which is the third album the choir recorded. That’s the first album I sang on and the rest has been pretty much history.”
One of Marcia’s most memorable performances was in Jamaica. She gives a recount of the choir’s performance there: “This was the most memorable choir trip to date because of the reception of the people. We sang in this open field in Kingston, Jamaica. There had to be more than 10,000 people there. We looked out to see a sea of people just like a wave of the sea with their Bibles up in the air and just singing the song “We Are United in Jesus Christ” with us. They were just so on fire and relentless for the Lord. That was a very, very special trip.”
Dr. Scott Pilgrim also shared how he became involved with the choir: “I came to New York to finish up medical school, and my clinical rotations were in Brooklyn. I knew about the church prior, so I decided to check it out. I’ve been in music my whole life, through various symphony orchestras and marching bands. I had sung choir music at my local church in Oregon where I grew up. So that’s one of the reasons I decided to start attending the church, just because I knew of the choir, I knew their music, some of their music anyway, and that’s how I got involved in the choir. I just wanted to try out. Six months after I joined the church, I tried out and that’s almost thirteen years ago.”
Scott said the best part of singing in the choir is the fellowship with its members. “A lot of them become friends and even prayer warriors when you’re going through struggles,” Scott said. “I’ve met a lot of lifelong friends in the group. In fact, I met my wife in the group about a year after I joined. It’ll be eleven years this month that we’ve been married. The choir’s always held a special place in my heart just because of all the people you meet there and certainly the one that I met that is the most important person in my life.”
The diverse congregation and choir definitely make the church special and unique. “What thrills me is our diverse congregation,” said Carol. “We have people from all over the world in the church. I think almost every country is represented. They’re from different cultures, but because of the love of God, we’re all able to come together and worship Him. You know, Heaven’s going to be like that. From what I read in the Bible, people will be there from every nation, every tongue, every tribe, so that’s what thrills my heart because we have people from everywhere and it’s exciting.”
“The choir is an interesting group of people,” Scott commented. “They’re from all walks of life. I’m a physician, but it has less to do with who we are than what we are there for. If I could just impress on people, it’s not about ‘the ministry,’ it’s not about ‘the choir.’ Because that’s not we’re trying to address people to. It’s through our music, the songs, the words, the lyrics, everything that gets published through Carol is really meant to draw people to God.”
“When my husband and I came to The Brooklyn Tabernacle,” added Carol, “we both saw early on the value of music and how it was so important to lead the people into the presence of God through music and through worship and praise. It prepares him to minister the word. Through the years, I’ve been in charge of music and he’s the pastor, so by ushering the people into the presence of God through the music ministry, it opens their hearts and when he preaches, their hearts are open to receive the Word of God. So the music is very important.”
For Marcia, the presence of God spoke to her the first night she entered the sanctuary. Her mom invited her to church. She stated, “I rejected her [invitations] a number of times and this one particular Sunday, I thought to myself, let me just go to church with her this one time and she’ll leave me alone. That was the night I went forward with my 10 month old son and gave my heart to Jesus Christ. He took this rebellious teenager that was cursing Him, fighting against Him in every way, with low self-esteem who had a young baby at 19 years old and just wrapped His loving arms around her, cleansed her with His blood and gave her a reason to live. I’m so grateful for Him, for my pastor, for my mom, for Jesus for dying for me.”
In addition to her mom being an influence in her life, Marcia says Pastor Cymbala has also influenced her greatly. Marcia said, “He’s been someone I could glean wisdom from personally and from the pulpit.” She added, “Carol, of course, is my biggest role model of a Godly woman. Someone once told me that I act like Carol and I told them thank you because that was a big compliment for me. She’s funny and she’s amazing. When it comes to loving God and being sold out, she’s all of that and more.”
Scott says his influences span from Abraham Lincoln to his parents, wife, and Pastor. “I’m a history buff, so I like drawing from historical context, particularly about our U.S. presidents. My father and my mother both have been a very strong influence in my life, encouraging me on in music as a hobby, but also in medicine as my career. Certainly, my wife has been a very strong influence on my life. Pastor Cymbala has been an incredible inspiration for my wife and me as our spiritual leader and teaching me personally how to be a better man, how to be a better husband, how to be a better father, how to be a better Christian.”
Recently, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir released a digital single titled, “Redeemed.” Carol heard the song on the radio while driving through Nashville and immediately knew that the choir needed to sing this song. “I was moved in my heart through that song,” remembered Carol. “And I said to the people who were with us, when I get home, I’m making a choir arrangement of that song because it’s so special because it sums up the Gospel. It talks about God’s love and Christ dying on the cross, your sins being forgiven and new life in Him. It sums it all up.”
Scott talks about how we’ve been redeemed: “Being redeemed means that you are covered by His blood. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter what background you come from, and it doesn’t matter what race you are or what gender you are. When you put your faith and trust in God, He’s redeemed you and He’s called you to be His child. Some of the words of that song probably fit every single one of us, that you’re my child, no matter what you’ve done, you’ve been redeemed. You can shake off those chains, lift your hands, and praise God, because He’s redeemed you from the past.”
Marcia shares her personal story of how she has been redeemed from her past: “I grew up in a home where my mom loved God and my dad was an alcoholic. He verbally, physically, mentally abused her and all of us. I hated my dad. I hated him, but my mom would tell us that we didn’t have to hate them, but that we had to love him as it states in Exodus 20:12. That made me even more resentful of God because I couldn’t understand why I had to love him. My dad didn’t come to my wedding when I got married because he wanted to have alcohol and I told him I was having a Christian wedding, so he withdrew helping me financially with the wedding and refused to walk me down the aisle. I resented my dad for a lot of that and God has brought me to a place of healing, forgiveness, and love. My dad is now 77 years old and has some physical ailments. God chose me to be the one to take him to the doctor. Now I’m able to present Jesus to him, not just through my words, but through my actions and being there for him. Now, I can love my dad and I can actually say the words, ‘I love you’ and he says it back. When I was growing up, he could only say it when he was drunk. When he was sober, he was so mean; love was not even in his vocabulary. That’s my personal testimony of God’s faithfulness and His love and the ability for Him to work in our hearts to love someone that at one point you thought it was impossible to do.”
Scott has also had his share of struggles, even though he grew up in a Christian home. He shared, “I knew about God from a very early age and I knew all of the right things to say. Sometimes you’re able to put up a façade, and not necessarily live the life that you’re painting. You paint a very false picture of what’s going on inside. When I went away to college, I was away from everybody that I knew, so I didn’t have to have that façade up. My life took on a very different flavor. I got involved in some things I definitely should not have been involved in. It wasn’t until medical school that God really got ahold of me. The Bible says, ‘those who put their trust in God, He will make their paths straight.’ Mine haven’t always been straight. When you live 100% devoted to God, He’s going to take you places and He’s going to take care of you. He’s going to make sure you have food on the table and your bills are paid and your kids are protected when they go to school. It’s not just for the things He does for you, but it’s for the love that He shares with you. The love that He has for us is so overwhelming that just to sit down and think about it almost brings us to tears.”
While the church and choir have both been supportive of Pastor Cymbala and his wife Carol, there have been times when their faith was tested as well. The song “He’s Been Faithful” was born through one of these trials. “It was during a time when my daughter was away from the Lord,” Carol reflected. “She was a teenager and she had actually gotten involved with some young people that were in the church that had a very bad effect on her. To make a long story short, she got into trouble and became very rebellious and for a period of time, left our home. It was a very difficult time for my husband and me because we’ve ministered here in the inner city for many, many years and now our oldest daughter was out there and I can’t tell you how difficult that was for us. Then, at the same time, I went to the doctor and the doctor let me know that I had the beginnings of cancer, so I ended up in the hospital and I had an operation, so during this time, my daughter away, going through this operation, my world was falling apart. Right there, in the hospital room, lying in the bed, I was feeling really sorry for myself. I just needed the Lord to come and comfort me, which He did and He gave me that song, ‘He’s been faithful, faithful to me. Looking back, His love and mercy I see. Though in my heart I have questioned, even failed to believe, yet He’s been faithful to me.’ That’s my testimony, because He continues to be faithful today.”
Marcia said God has been faithful to her because He has healed her body from a disease the doctors told her she would have to live with. “That’s His ultimate faithfulness in my life. He’s just all around faithful in my life. Everything that you could place under the heading of faithfulness, God has been to me,” she said.
“He’s been faithful to me because I have no idea why. But He is,” Scott added. “He’s been faithful to me every single time. He has unconditional love for us and He calls us His children. He’s faithful because He’s an all-powerful God who cares for His children.”
To anyone reading this article that may be going through a battle of their very own, Carol offers the following advice: “Don’t give up. Continue to pray and believe because God will definitely see you through. Sometimes we look at everything through time and sometimes the answer doesn’t come exactly when we want it to come, but the answer will come. God will bring you through. He’s done that so many times in my life, when I’ve had adversity and challenges, and I’m like, what am I going to do now, but I’ve had nothing else to do but trust Him and through trusting Him, I’ve seen Him come through every time.”
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has earned much respect in the music industry and garnered many accolades. When asked about their achievements, Carol said that winning souls for Christ is their greatest overall achievement. “We have thousands of people that walk by our doors every day in downtown Brooklyn,” said Carol. “Brooklyn is a borough of New York City and it’s the fourth largest city in America. We have so many people passing by our doors. Just to see the people come in to the church from all different walks of life. We have people who come in who are homeless, we have people come in who are doctors and lawyers, professional people, then we have people who come in who have very difficult circumstances, so seeing them come in, ministering the Word of God, ministering salvation through Jesus Christ and seeing them stand and come forward and receive Jesus Christ probably is the most exciting thing. And I feel that’s a great achievement because that’s lasting and that’s eternal. That’s what’s so beautiful. Everything’s going to pass away, but what we do for Christ lasts forever. So seeing people week after week receiving Christ is probably our greatest achievement.”
“You don’t know who’s putting a CD of yours in their car, or in their home,” stated Scott, “or whose father or mother just died or whose child was in the hospital, or whatever’s going on in their life. Music draws them closer to God and that’s the purpose of why we do what we do.”
Carol added, “In the past eight months we’ve been able to baptize almost 500 people here at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. They’ve received Christ and that has been amazing and that means that the Gospel is touching hearts and changing lives, so that’s been a great victory and we’re very thankful for that.”
The idea of drawing people toward Christ is the number one driving force behind this Grammy Award-winning choir. For the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the goal and aim of all music is to draw people closer to God and to lead them into His presence. Their hearts are on fire for God and they are devoted to spreading the love of Jesus through song. God’s Word says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV). Through their songs, their testimonies, and their lives, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is answering this call, faithful to continue the ministry that God has entrusted to them. Carol Cymbala and the members of the choir are living proof that Jesus Christ is as close as the mention of His name. He will deliver us from all harm. He will redeem us. And He will always be faithful!
I want to personally encourage you to visit The Brooklyn Tabernacle this month for their special Christmas musical production, “Christmas in the City.” The dates and times for the production are December 15 (3:00 p.m.), 17 & 19 (7:00 p.m.), and 22 (12:00 & 3:00 p.m.). “It’s a totally new production with new songs and everything, so we’re really excited about that,” Carol added. Having personally enjoyed Christmas production last year, I can assure you that it will be a life-changing experience that will remind you of the joy of Jesus this Christmas season! Visit www.brooklyntabernacle.org for more information.