John Piper, “The Gideon Venture,” a sermon when the church was considering a building project, sending out part of the congregation to plant a new church, and doing all of this without incurring debt….
…we began to meditate on God’s unusual ways of doing things in the Bible. We saw his strange ways everywhere. God loves to do things in a way that seems foolish to men, but displays his glory more clearly. Build an ark in the desert. Escape through, not around, the Red Sea. Speak to a rock when you need water. March around a walled city and blow trumpets when you want to defeat a city. Send a boy with a slingshot when there is a giant in the land. Pour water on the wood at Mount Carmel before you ask for fire to fall from heaven. Tell twelve men to feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish.
We asked ourselves: Are these stories in the Bible to encourage us to do things the way the world does them or to encourage us to venture on God in ways that may look foolish?
We are quite aware that you can abuse this kind of thinking. People have drowned from trying to walk on water. People have died from drinking poison or being bitten by snakes. Children have been refused medicine because God supposedly would get more glory if the healing happened without it. We are aware of these things. That is why our presentation does not have the flavor of triumphalism about it. We are not saying God commanded this approach. We are not condemning you or any other church if you pursue funding in different ways. We are not saying God is bound to bless us because of this -or that it will infallibly come to pass.
We are very calmly saying: We see a pattern in the Bible and, as a Council of Elders, wrestling in prayer and sometimes fasting and studying, we sense that God would be pleased at this time in the life of our church if we would venture something very unusual – the pursuit of a vision of Education for Exultation, including a $9 million building expansion without debt in the next two years from a church with about 1300 members.
Bethlehem, Send People Away!
One of the key moments in pursuit of God’s leading in this was when we pondered Judges 7:1-22 and Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. What makes this story so stunning for us now is that in June of 1998, when we first pondered this story as a Council of Elders, there was not a hint of Grace Church Richfield on the horizon. In other words, what looks like the main application of this story today (with people leaving us to go to Grace Church Richfield, just when we might seem to need all the givers we can get), was not even in our head when the story became the rallying cry for our debt-free approach.
Let me show you what we saw in those days and then add what God seems to have been planning for us now. Get the situation into your mind: Joshua is the leader of Israel after Moses has now died and the people are without a great leader and there is no king. This is the period marked by the people doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Repeatedly they sin and God gives them into the hands of their oppressors (Judges 2:11-14). But again and again God mercifully heard their cry and raised up judges to deliver them out of their troubles (Judges 2:16).
Gideon was one of those judges. The people sinned, according toJudges 6:1, and God gave them into the hands of Midian. Then the Lord came to rescue them from the very people whom he had appointed to judge them. He approaches Gideon in Judges 6:14and says, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon says in verse 15, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” But then the LORD said to him (in verse 16), “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” So already God is planning to save Israel in an unusual way that highlights his power, not Gideon’s ability.
So now we come to Judges 7. According to verse 3, Israel had about 32,000 troops. But according to verse 12, the Midianites and Amalekites “were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” In other words, the odds against Israel succeeding against the Midianites were already small. They were outnumbered.
What does God do now?