Rev. Brian K. Sixbey
Thoughts from the Woods
The following is the text of an article I wrote for the Daily Press on Feb 9, 2018
While walking in the woods last week, I had an thought-provoking conversation with God. I was pondering a passage in the Bible, Jeremiah 17:7 and 8, which compares trusting God to being like a tree planted by the water, a tree that produces fruit even in a drought. I was raised, like many of you, to be self-reliant and to put effort into planning and preparing. I was raised in a church-going family as well, so I tempered my self-reliance with God-reliance, because after all, the best plans can and will fall apart. However, as I thought about the passage, I realized I was missing out on something deeper.
We can put our trust in the Lord, and we can plan and prepare, and we can do both without damaging the other. As an old saying goes, “Pray as if it all depends on God. Work as if it all depends on you.” But a problem emerges with this common philosophy. Is our trust merely “in” the Lord, or is our hope, our confidence, the Lord Himself? That is, the old saying that I have used many a time might just have a great big hole inside itself! Notice the structure: Pray and work are the verbs, and the unspoken actor the verb silently references is “you.” Thus, I began to realize as I walked through the woods, that perhaps the reason I still experience some fear for the future is because I am the one who is trying to wrest control over the future. I can and do trust in God, absolutely, but I also depend on planning and preparation.
This walk was not the first time I have had these thoughts, which frequently end in a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders, but this was the first time I moved beyond a sigh, As I looked at the trees and saplings, I noticed I was judging them for their height, their beauty, their weakness, or their decay, as if I planned to cut down some lumber and was trying to value each tree. Suddenly, a voice spoke within me (it could have been breakfast that spoke, but I prefer to think of it as the Lord), “Which one of these trees does not reflect my glory in its own way, in its current state?” I looked again at the same trees, but with new eyes.
The fallen trees were giving of their essence so new life could appear. The decaying trees provided shelter for small creatures. The sickly trees reflected a harsh life and had character the sprouts could not attain. The sprouts were small and, insignificant, except they would become the great trees of a future generation. Even the old, small, shriveled, and diseased trees provided nourishment and cover for insects, each of which had a job to do in the woods.
And so, I went back to the group with whom I was on a brief retreat, and I saw young and old, male and female, strong and weak…. But on second thought, I realized I saw a small section of the woods, where each had a purpose, a plan, and untold possibilities for blessing lives. And when the voice spoke again, I heard, “Which one of these cannot reflect my glory, even as they are?”
The difference between trees and human beings is that trees are true to their nature by their very being, whereas we have infinite possibilities for self-deception, self-injury, and self-aggrandizement. Nonetheless, if we take Jesus’ words and life seriously, no one is beyond the scope of God’s love or is incapable of reflecting God’s glory. That is, everyone, as they are, can reveal the glory of the Lord, not because we are so great, but because the Lord is so great. What does this insight have to do with making the Lord our confidence? Everything, because if God’s glory can be discovered in the most decaying and mutilated tree, how can it not be found even in fallen humanity – you or I? And in the grace of the Lord, our roots can be spread into the living waters from where no drought is to be feared. Happy are those whose trust is the Lord!
I was born in Roanoke, VA, 1970, to Tom and Connie Sixbey, as the last of three sons. My oldest brother, Steve, lives in Chase City, VA, and Mark is my older brother, living near Rochester, NY. Believe it or not, I wasn’t born with a Bible in hand or a beard on my face! I grew up in the United Methodist Church, attending First UMC, Salem since I was a newborn. I attended Northside High School (Roanoke County), was involved in Scouts (my brothers and I all completed our Eagle in Troop 410 – Dad was our Scoutmaster), high school band, and Roanoke Youth Symphony, playing percussion. I was surprised to be accepted at UVa in 1988, and there I met my wife, Shan, at the Wesley Foundation, where I explored my calling to pastoral ministry. I graduated with a BA (Religious Studies, minor in Philosophy) in 1992, and began attending Duke Divinity School that year. The next year, from 1993-1994, Shan and I were married and moved to Anchorage, Alaska to serve a year-long youth minister internship at Anchor Park UMC . We came back, and I finished at Duke in 1996. During those four years at Duke, I served as an intern in 4 churches, served as a part-time chaplain at Rex Hospital for a year, and as an intern at the Raleigh Wesley Foundation for two years.
In 1996, we accepted our first appointment to pastor Woolwine and Ross-Harbour United Methodist Churches in Patrick
County, while Shan began working on an MBA at Virginia Tech, which she completed in 1998. From there, Shan has worked full and part-time at Patrick Henry Community College, Ferrum College, Radford University, Virginia Western Community College, Johnson and Wales University, Tidewater Tech Online (now Centura College), and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Needless to say, Shan is as resourceful as any person you will ever meet. I went on to serve Gogginsville United Methodist Church from 1999-2004, and Beech Grove United Methodist Church 2004-2010. Being both in need of more training and torture, Brian began a D.Min. program through Asbury Seminary in 2007. (Actually, I started the program because I realized I didn’t have enough skills or understanding to fulfill the basic pastoral responsibility in Ephesians 4 – to equip the saints for the work of ministry.)
Our family has expanded with the birth of our children, and recently the temporary adoption of a Chinese exchange student, who is teaching us new things about the world and himself daily. It is never too early or too late to gain knowledge, especially when applied with love and grace. I completed a D.Min. from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2014, and my project was to see whether clergy peer groups had any effect on the health & wellbeing of pastors. They do, a measurable effect, which bolsters the point I have been making for years – we were created to be in groups. Whether you join us for worship, for Sunday School, for Bible Studies, for ministries, for outreach and service, or for anything, I sincerely encourage you to find, make, or borrow a group of friends who will support you on your journey. Sure, people complicate life, but they also bless it and make it more worthwhile.
Come, be a disciple who makes a difference in the community!