Family vacation this year was one for the record books. One stop on our journey had us checked into a hotel that had a water playground on property that we thought the kids would enjoy. We were right. Justus was instantly hooked. It turned out to be a bit of a challenge to figure out ways to get him to leave the play area for little things like eating and sleeping. On our first day there, Justus spent the first few hours splashing around at the “kiddie” end of the park in the ankle-deep water and on the small slides. But it wasn’t long until he and I made our way over to the “big-kid” side of the park for the water cannons, spinning water spouts, and, most of all, the two great-big slides at the back. “You want to go down the slides, buddy?” I asked.
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” he said. We made our way to the top of the stairs and stood looking at the two slides: the blue one on our right and the yellow one on our left.
“Let’s go down the blue slide, Daddy.” The blue one was a standard, open-air, winding slide. The yellow one, on the other hand, was a closed tube with rushing water that propelled the slider into what looked like a black hole. It was also quite a bit steeper. So down the blue slide we went. He loved it! So we went again. And again. And again. He was hooked, and my skin was completely pruned. On my last trip up the stairs, I asked Justus one more time if he wanted to try the yellow slide. “No, Daddy, the yellow slide is for bigger boys. I can do it when I’m five years old, but now I’m only four years old, so I can only do the blue slide.” I wasn’t going to force the issue, but I did encourage him by letting him know that he was big enough to do the yellow, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Still, he stuck to the blue. So from my lounge chair, I watched Justus go up the stairs and down the blue slide over and over and over. I must’ve seen him do it thirty times or more. He would walk the stairs, get in line on the right side, go down the slide, and emerge at the bottom soaked and smiling. Then I saw something startling. Justus went back up the stairs, but this time it looked like he was getting in line on the left side. Wait a minute, I thought. Is he going down the yellow slide? All of the sudden, I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing encouraging him to try it. It was a much faster ride down a mostly dark tube that spit people out at the bottom, and the unprepared ones were getting a face full of water. I hurried out of my chair over to the base of the slides. I couldn’t be sure which one he got on, so I waited there halfway hoping that he had stuck with easy-breezy blue. But he hadn’t. And a few moments later, I saw my little boy come flying out the bottom of the yellow slide. I was almost sure it was too much for him, but when he came to a stop and wiped the water away from his face, he locked eyes with me, stood up with both fists raised high in victory, and shouted, “Daddy, God made me brave!”
“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can,” Jesus says (John 10:1 msg). “I am the Good Shepherd” (v. 11). “The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3). He leads them out. In the instant people invite Jesus to be the Lord of their lives, He begins then and there to lead them out: out of sin, bondage, sickness, darkness, and out of death itself. But what must be understood is that Jesus never leads His sheep out without simultaneously leading them in. We have not been led out into nothingness. He has led us out of sin into righteousness; out of bondage into freedom; out of sickness into health; out of darkness into light; out of death into life more abundantly. Out of. Into. But His willingness and ability to lead us is not limited to merely getting us out of the bad and into the good. That’s only the beginning. For anyone that will listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and make following His voice their way of life, He will lead them out of good into better, out of better into beyond all they could ask or think.
He has led us out of sin into righteousness; out of bondage into freedom; out of sickness into health; out of darkness into light; out of death into life more abundantly.
It’s evident from the pages of Scripture that when God’s people are in trouble, He’ll stop at nothing to get them out. There is no more obvious example than in the account of the deliverance of His people enslaved in Egypt. Pharaoh had devised a plan to put taskmasters over the children of Israel and to make them “serve with rigor.” The word rigor means to cause to break; this was his effort to break these people from the inside out. And it was working. That is until the day when “the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out . . . . So God heard their groaning . . . . And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them” (Exodus 2:23-25 nkjv). The New Living Translation says that God heard their cry and “knew it was time to act.”
If you’re reading this account and looking for some great demonstration of faith on the part of God’s people, you may be hard-pressed to find it. And yet, He is moved to go to work on their behalf. For everything we’ve learned about how to walk and live by faith, we must never forget that our faith belongs in Him, not in our ability to be technically perfect in our confession, our prayer, or our study. They cried and He acted. This is a revelation of His uncontrollable compassion on them and on us. And it was His compassion on them that led them out in style, literally loaded with silver and gold. Never forget that above all, our Father is merciful, gracious, and kind. His compassion on them brought them out, and it will do the same for you. When you stop trying to get yourself out of a mess and cry out for His help, His compassion will go to work on your behalf and rescue you out of your trouble. He delights in you, and if for no other reason, He will come to your aid when you call.
You know how the story goes: a man named Moses has a run-in with God who tells him that He has heard these people’s cries, and He wants them out. Long story short, Moses accepts God’s job offer, heads back to Egypt, and commences to lead the children of Israel out. But remember, God never leads anyone out of something without leading them into something else. God didn’t just tell Moses to lead them out of Egypt. He also told Moses to lead them into the sweet piece of property that He had picked out just for them—the Promised Land. After all God had done for them in getting them out of the old neighborhood, moving in should have been a snap. But it wasn’t. In Numbers 13, a group of spies went to check out this new land, but when they came back, the majority had made up their minds that there was no way they could take this land even though God, the One whose compassion had just moved heaven and earth to bring them out, said that this was their land and that He was just going to give it to them. They came back with all kinds of excuses. “This place has walls,” they said. “Really big ones.” “Also, the people that live there are tall. Like really really tall.” But while they were busy making excuses, there were two other guys, Joshua and Caleb, who saw things differently. The Bible says that Caleb quieted the people.
“Ya’ll, shut up!” he says. “We need to quit this complaining, get our stuff together, and go take this land right now. We are well able to overcome it.” (Exodus 13:30 nkjv.) Then Caleb’s good buddy Joshua speaks up and says,
“The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. [The Lord] will bring us into this land and give it to us . . . . The Lord is with us. Do not fear them” (Joshua 14:7-9 nkjv). But did they listen? No. Take note here that the majority is not always right. In this case, they were wrong. Dead wrong. That’s why God told Moses that these people would not be going in and that He was going to wait until every person in this unbelieving generation was dead and gone before anyone got to move into the new neighborhood.
“Everyone except Joshua and Caleb,” He said. “I like these guys. There’s something different about them.” Now let me ask the million-dollar question: if God’s compassion on them was enough to lead them out, why wasn’t it enough to also lead them in? Was He not still merciful? Was He not still gracious and kind? Of course He was and is still today. But when it came time to lead them in, He was looking for something different from them. In a word, He was looking for courage, but courage was nowhere to be found except for in the hearts of Caleb and Joshua. Courage today, as it was on that day, is precious, rare, and not commonly found among men. But God found it in these two, and He loved it.
The majority said they were unable. The minority said they were able. They all saw the same thing, yet cowardice and courage were both present. That’s because Joshua and Caleb saw something in addition to what the others saw. Hear the spirit of courage in Joshua’s voice, and find its source in these words: “The Lord is with us.” Unlike the others who were exceedingly aware of what was against them, he was fully aware Who was with them. With this revelation came courage. Years later when Moses had died, God came to Joshua and told him over and over again, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 niv). Joshua took courage knowing that God was with them, and he led his people into the Promised Land. God’s compassion on them had led them out, but His courage within them led them in.
Often we speak metaphorically of getting out of the boat to take a step of faith. But for a man called Peter, it was no metaphor. He was in the boat and scared out of his mind with the rest of them when they saw what they thought was a ghost walking toward them on the water. Jesus, knowing they were afraid, called out to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27 nkjv). This is one of Jesus’ favorite things to say, but sadly the true meaning of this statement is lost on us. We hear these words, and we think He is saying, “Cheer up!” But that isn’t at all what He is saying. Matthew 14:27 in the New Living Translation says, “Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘Take courage. I am here!’” Courage, like every other gift of God’s grace, must be taken by faith. And where were these guys supposed to get courage in this moment? From the revelation that this was no ghost—this was Jesus. Peter decided that if Jesus were offering courage, then he was going to take some. “If that’s you, then tell me to come to you on the water,” Peter said.
“Come,” said Jesus. So Peter took the courage that came with knowing Jesus was there, and he walked on the water.
Jesus, your Good Shepherd, has already done so much in your life to lead you out of trouble the moment you cried out to Him for help. In simple faith, you acknowledged that you couldn’t get yourself out and that you were dependent on Him. But now, whether it’s days, weeks, or years later, your heart is telling you that there is more—a great adventure awaiting you. Perhaps you’ve sensed that you’re in a season of change or transition that’s been coming for quite some time, but you haven’t been sure how to move into it. Remember this: His compassion on you has led you out. But His courage in you will lead you in.
It’s Christmas time now, and people everywhere know this as a season of cheer—the time when people across the world celebrate the birth of Jesus. We are celebrating the arrival of Emmanuel—God with us. This is our season of cheer—our season of uncommon courage coming from the revelation that our God is with us.
His compassion on you has led you out. But His courage in you will lead you in.
You’ve been climbing the steps for some time now, and here you stand at the top with a choice to make: will you go down the blue slide or the yellow slide? One option seems safe and predictable, while the other seems a little more risky. But be of good cheer. Go down the yellow slide knowing that you’ll never slide alone. Be like Peter and Justus, and don’t be afraid to get wet. There is greatness that awaits you, but you’ll never step into it without taking the courage that Jesus has offered to you. Take heart. Take courage. And come through the other side in victory and with your hands in the air shouting, “My daddy, my God, You made me brave!”