Be ‘Better Friend’ Spiritual Resolution For 2012
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"I tell you, brother, no dancing foot is attached on the same leg with a praying knee!!"

Those are preaching words straight out of a rural church in the remote mountains surrounding High Point, N.C.

No "saying" since childhood has touched me like that "dancing foot" and "praying knee" creed.

In my own Missouri country Baptist upbringing in the 1950s, I was taught "no dancing" and "no Rook" playing. And if a lady, Lord help, wore "britches" (man's clothing) to church, she was going to "bust hell wide open," I heard more than one old-time preacher man "pound" against all of the above from the pulpit. Amen!!

Boy, has that changed since the 1950s!!??

I guess "Rook" was "a sin" last century, for we draped bed sheets over the windows when Daddy and Momma Whittle brought out the cards.

Now, most Baptists I know admit to both "dancing" and "card playing," not to mention "dominoes"!! I even have one Church of Christ friend (in another state), when he's not selling sewing machines, can often be found "cutting a rug" at area social events.

I overheard a comedian recently, with the following quip: "Baptists warn against pre-marital sex, for it could lead to dancing."

Are we talking "dysfunctional" organized religion here, since card-playing, dominoes, dancing and women wearing pants to church are "declassified" as sin in the new century, at least in my place of worship?

I can't claim credit for the "dancing foot" and "praying knee" connection, spiritually speaking. But, wish I could.

"That 'no dancing foot can be attached to a praying knee' is a favorite saying of my beloved church-going mother (Betty McDowell Sheffield), one of the most devout kind-hearted Christian women ever to grace a home and church-house," accounted a church-going man from La Vergne.

Meet Ivan Sheffield, friend.

But, not just any ol' ordinary "pal."

Ivan is a confidant, a man one can trust with innermost "good, bad and ugly" personal matters.

He's in that "closest friend" ledger with other male buddies I'm honored to call "friends." He's one of those who inspire me to be a better, more loyal friend as 2012 approaches.

But Ivan is different from my regular cast of close friends. He's an educated "Bible man" with a doctorate, as in Dr. Ivan Sheffield, a minister with divinity school sheep-skin "credentials."

But, this obvious "learned man of God" has not one uppity bone in his ministerial soul in spite of all his Bible-book-learning.

In 45-plus years of newspapering, I've ran across more than one preacher who were "uppity" in their Bible knowledge and ultimate "judgment" business.

"Like everyone who is a Christian, I'm just a sinner saved by Grace," accounted my humble "Bible Man" friend.

To a country boy, who had a childhood-based "phobia" regarding the Bible, Ivan has been a God-send. For Ivan's down-to-earth Bible teaching for men taught me a lot of practical "Good Book" things, especially about compassion that helps in modern-day life. No longer do I feel "ignorant and unholy" because I don't know a bunch of Bible.

His home Bible teaching sessions have touched others…

'My husband, Sid, has also enjoyed and greatly benefitted from Ivan Sheffield's men's Bible study," confirmed devoted church-goer Mary Sue Salmons.

"I've also benefitted from Ivan's home Bible studies," concurred Smyrna resident Michael Slaybaugh. "I respect the humility and service to others approach that Ivan explains from a Biblical perspective."

That's among reasons many tears were shed on a recent Sunday morning when it was announced Ivan and his lovely bride, Carolyn, are moving back to Ivan's North Carolina roots because of employment opportunities, and to be closer to aging and ailing parents.

My personal Bible-phobia started back in boyhood, when my own sweet church-going mother would use the Bible like a weapon on our father, a good provider who had a gift/curse (?) of being a successful farmer and gambling man. Lord only knows, how humiliated Daddy must have felt when Momma Whittle would use the "Bible" on him like a "whip" because he was good at gambling. But the good Lord surely knows that we "thankfully" ate the vittles that Daddy's gambling proceeds put on the breakfast table during sparse food periods of hard winters.

On the other hand, Dr. Rev. Sheffield credits his mother with being his "best Bible teacher" and "humble" example of living the "Chrisitian life."

"Mother is a great Bible teacher back in our North Carolina mountains, and has played the piano at church since she was six years old," the ordained minister described. "She is my greatest Bible teacher of all time, including those paid professors I had in college."

Ivan comes from a long lineage of mountain preachers.

"Great Grandfather Reverend Jesse Edgar Shaw was a pioneer preacher," the Rev. Sheffield accounted. "Grandfather Rev. Charlie Fletcher McDowell was an ordained Wesleyan Methodist preacher. I have notes and sermon texts from their ministerial days that I hope to make a part of a book one day…"

Bible scholar Sheffield is a living illustration that preachers are mere humans too. In this era of his life (in his 50s), the obviously gifted Dr. Sheffield no longer pastors a church.

"I'm a divorced man," the ordained man confirms. "In my former Baptist denomination, when I divorced for reasons not of my own doing, I still had to leave as a church pastor…"

But, he can "preach" or "pastor" in my church, to me and my grandkids, anytime. Amen!!

Although he and Carolyn have only been moved away now for a few days, I already "miss" my humble Bible-teaching FRIEND!!

May God's warm breeze of "Grace" always blow at their backs in those cold wintry North Carolina mountains where they sometimes preach "no dancing foot can be attached to a praying knee."


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