“Our Cup Overflows”
James C. Denison
Pastoral transitions are always difficult times, for the church and for the pastor as well. For instance, Bill Austin, the former Baylor chaplain, once told me about a time when God called him from one pastorate to another.
An older member of the church came to him, absolutely distraught. “We’ll never find a pastor who is as good a preacher as you,” she complained. He tried to comfort her: “Oh, I’m sure your next pastor will be a much better preacher and leader and pastor than I have been.” “Oh, no,” she replied, “that’s what they said the last time.”
In the midst of the emotions of this day, my call from God this morning is simply to remind you of the identity of your true Shepherd. “Pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd.” It is a kind title, but it’s not really true. Your real Shepherd is no mere, fallen mortal. You may not be able to see his hand today, but you can trust his heart.
David will show us how.
Know our love for you
Eleven years ago, the pastor search committee of Park Cities Baptist Church contacted Janet and me as we were serving Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.
We were deeply in love with our church family there and tremendously excited about all God was doing in our midst. Even though we had long admired Park Cities, we had no sense of release from Second-Ponce and finally had to tell your search committee that we could not come to Dallas.
The next Monday, Janet and I had no peace about that decision. I spent the afternoon alone with God in prayer, and sensed God’s clear call to come to Dallas. She had the same experience. We called the committee back, and were preaching here ten days later.
Across all these years, we have been truly grateful to God for calling us to serve this wonderful congregation. Our sons were entering the seventh and fourth grades when we came to Dallas. Their first activity at Park Cities was Vacation Bible School, where they were welcomed with great love and compassion.
Ryan still remembers the water balloon fight which ended his week of missions projects. We have often said that God called us to Dallas so our sons could grow up in this church. Ryan is now in seminary, Craig a sophomore in college, both sensing God’s call to ministry.
You have encouraged and enabled Janet and me in wonderful ways as we have pursued our ministry calls.
You have affirmed Janet in her teaching, speaking, and writing ministry across all these years; the Father’s Day sermon she preached for me remains the best-selling sermon tape in the church’s history.
You have supported me as I have been led by God to expand my ministry of writing, teaching, and cultural engagement.
My mother loved this congregation, her Sunday school class, and her pew near the back of the Sanctuary on the left. You prayed for us with great compassion when she went home to be in heaven with my father last fall.
You have been God’s great gift to us for more than a decade. To paraphrase David’s statement, “our cup overflows” today. Now we follow God’s call into a new phase of ministry, but our hearts will always be grateful beyond words for you. We look forward to all the ways God will lead us to partner with you in Dallas across coming years. We step forward together in faith, trusting that the God we cannot see can see all we cannot.
There’s a place in your life today where you need to trust that God personally and intimately. A place where you don’t understand his ways or plan, where you cannot sense his presence or feel his power. What do we do then?
Claim God’s unseen provision
“You prepare a table before me,” David celebrates. “You prepare” is in the continuous tense in Hebrew: “you keep on preparing a table” is the sense here.
The “table” for a shepherd is the high mountain country, much sought after for grazing. But these tablelands must be prepared before the sheep arrive. Salt and minerals must be distributed over the range; camps located for bedding; vegetation assessed for food.
Poisonous plants must be dug up and burned; wolves and cougars and bears must be spotted, hunted, or trapped. The table must be prepared “before” the sheep can come.
God prepares this table “in the presence of my enemies.” In the very midst of trouble, strife, and danger we are invited to the table of our shepherd. We don’t need to wait until circumstances improve; we can come to our shepherd’s table right now.
“You anoint my head with oil,” the king continues.
Now David turns to his experience with sheep and their injuries. He knows that sheep often cut themselves on rocks while grazing. The shepherd must inspect them every night and put oil on these cuts so that they do not become infected.
Sheep also have a terrible problem during the summer months with flies. Nose flies will lay eggs on the sheep’s nose. But the shepherd puts oil—in David’s day, a mixture of olive oil with sulphur and spices—on the sheep’s face and nose, and these flies are killed.
Scabs are a skin disease which is highly contagious among sheep also, and oil is the only remedy to cure it and prevent its transmission.
And the rams fight during the summer for the ewes, butting heads until one is wounded or even killed. But if the shepherd puts oil on their heads and horns they slide off each other and no one is hurt.
Our shepherd knows exactly where we hurt, and knows precisely what oil will heal and help us. And so, in the continuous Hebrew tense, he constantly anoints us with oil where we need him most.
“My cup overflows,” David testifies. The shepherd had a large earthen jug of water for his sheep. He would dip down with his big cup and bring up a brimful running over. And the tired, thirsty sheep would drink to their fill. So God provides for us.