The sermon title came from a song I heard while watching the Super Bowl.
The sermon text came from a biblical book and character I got to know well through the Crash Test Dummies series and book.
The sermon bottom line is one I fervently believed based on both biblical text and personal observation:
A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy rather than God to make you holy.
So I have to confess something and I am sure this will shock some of you and disappoint others of you. It’s this: I am not really up on my Lada Gaga trivia (AV). Stop the presses, I know. I mean, I don’t even have any of her cassette tapes; I just don’t. But in spite of my relative ignorance of all things LG, all that changed, at least temporarily, on Super Bowl Sunday. Because at the halftime show – apparently the most watch concert in like the history of the world – she did a snippet of her song Bad Romance. And my immediate thought was: THAT WILL PREACH! (And I might sing, too.) Not only will it preach, it will title! So here I am, months after SB Sunday, in a series called Love Handles & we’re addressing the reality that Bad Romance is not just a song – a catchy one at that (oh-oh-o-o-o-oh) but for a lot of you it’s a way of life.
Yes! It is. For a lot of you singles, a lot of you marrieds – either in your past relationships or, get this, in the way that you live as a married person today, and a lot of you single agains, bad romance is this bad dream that you keep living over and over and over. And each time you wake up and wash your hands of the last one you vow, “Never again!” And then six months later, in spite of your best efforts and your better judgments, you’re right back in the thick of it again. It’s part of your history, it’s possibly in your present, and I suppose a major reason I’m doing this message is that I don’t want it to be part of your future.
Because it’s too late for this message to help Samson. His story is done and gone and his life was ruined not by bad romance and not by Delilah but by BAD ROMANCES & by DelilahS. Because bad romances almost inevitably beget more bad romances. Now: Samson’s story takes up several chapters in the OT book of Judges, a book of patterned, cyclical history describing a period of ancient Israel’s history from 14-1100 BC. And the common thread in all the stories & chapters involving Samson is his problem with women – using them to fill some void, heal some wound, meet some need, give some purpose that he apparently believe he could not fill, heal, meet any other way. And the pattern starts extraordinarily early, literally the first scene after his birth (a birth that included a Nazirite vow which was to involve, um, celibacy). Anyway, look at 14:1-3:
Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
3 His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”
See that? SEE/WANT/GET. That idea is so perfect for the book of Judges which is all about everyone did what was right IN THEIR OWN EYES. These are Samson’s EYES at work and what/who he SEES, he wants and he gets.
I suspect in this sort of love at first sight: “She’s hot, she’s what I need, she will make me happy.” And look what else: he refuses to listen to the wisdom of his parents. Unheard of in those days. Some of you think back to bad romances you’ve had in the past – or the present – and you had voices clamoring for you attention: She’s bad! He’s not right! Stay away! You’re not mature enough! And those same people, every one of them, wanted to say when it turned bad, “I told you so!” I chalk so much of that under the fact that engaged couples are some of the least rational ppl in the world – something about the planning, the pressure, the expectations and wisdom gets thrown out the window.
And then the story gets worse, Samson plows ahead, and in the middle of a riddle with his new in-laws – involving a honeycomb in a lion’s carcass – this happens:
On the fourth[a] day, they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to steal our property?”
16 Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, “You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.”
“I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother,” he replied, “so why should I explain it to you?” 17 She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people.
READ 14:15-17 This is GREAT!! You hate me! You don’t love me! It is desperation coupled with exaggeration. Desperation leading to escalation. I see this all the time. Both Samson & Wife #1 are so desperate for meaning & purpose to be found in the other that they exaggerate situations and escalate conflict. Some of you know exactly what that’s like … it even happened this morning on the way to church! When you are looking for someone else to complete you, your romance to be the crowning touch to your happiness, and there’s the slightest bit of trouble …. WHEW! DesperATE. ExagerrATE.
I love what happens next, in a sick sort of way. Samson storms out of his in-laws place – and all this is connected w/ the wedding festivities; a LONG reception! – gathers his wits, returns a short time later, meets his father-in-law, and this happens:
Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, “I’m going to my wife’s room.” But her father would not let him go in.
2 “I was so sure you hated her,” he said, “that I gave her to your companion.
READ 15:1-2. “Oh, I thought you were gone so I gave her to your best man!” Guess what? Samson lived this song 3k years before it was released: (clip of My Best Friend’s Girl & She Used To Be Mine). And f-i-l goes on:
Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.”
“but how about her sister … she’s better looking anyway.” Listen: I’ve done three weddings the past three Saturdays and I GUARANTEE that did not happen at a single one of them!
This little saga ends in 15:6 with wife and f-i-l both burned alive (for real.) Can we all acknowledge that it’s a bad romance when not only bride but part of extended family doesn’t survive the reception? All because Samson had turned into a SEE/WANT/GET. She will do for me what I can’t seem to do for myself.
And we’re not done. Look at 16:1:
One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.
Oh by the way! (Now, ppl have historically tried to say that Samson is sort of a foreshadow of Jesus with his covenantal birth & heroic death … uh, no.) Again, see what he is doing (aside from not taking that Nazirite vow very seriously!): looking for someone to meet a need and fill a void. (Can you believe this stuff is in the library?!) But look what happens soon after in 16:4:
Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah.
You mean, Samson, that you just spent the night w/ a lady of the night but 3 verses later you’re in love?!?! There’s no skill, no deliberation, no malice aforethought, just more SEEING/WANTING/GETTING. And it’s sort of clear who he is: she can’t stand himself so he can’t be alone. Is he insecure? Volatile? Irrational? Probably all of the above. PLUS he has incredible potential; there is this enormous gap between who he COULD HAVE BEEN and who he ACTUALLY BECAME. He fills his void with one bad romance after another. I suppose there are more than a few people here looking in your rear view mirror of life right now and you’re seeing the exact same pattern.
And then look at this extended back & forth of 16:7-16, a back and forth that has started with the Philistines asking Delilah to uncover the secret of Samson’s strength:
7 Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9 With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
10 Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.”
11 He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
12 So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.
13 Delilah then said to Samson, “All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.”
He replied, “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14 and[b] tightened it with the pin.
Again she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.
15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.
They both know their relationship is bad. It’s built on deception and bribery. Yet they can’t help themselves. They keep running back to the very thing that is destroying them. This is toxic but it’s all I know!!! Talk about the Desperation/Exaggeration cycle! See how quickly love turns to frustration turns to hate! Finally, in 16:17, just like with his dear, departed, not-as-hot-as-her-sister wife, Samson gives in and tells her the secret:
17 So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
READ. So the Philistines cut his hair, sap his strength, gouge his eyes and leave him for dead in 16:21: 21 Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison. That’s where all his bad romance has gotten him: blinded, enslaved, so much less than he could have been. Some foreshadow of Jesus!
And you put all these relationships together – Now Dead Wife, Prostitute, Seductress Who Betrays and you add to it the SEE/WANT/GET pattern and add to those his inability to be content or complete without a mate & I realize what a bad romance is. A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy instead of God to make you holy. Yep! That’s it. That’s the story of life after life after life not only in the book of Judges but in the church of Good Shepherd!
Listen: no one can make you happy. No one. Come to think of it, no one can make you mad. They DO things and you chose anger. No one can drive you to drink. They DO things and then your drinking response is all on you, son. But when it comes to romance, if you spend all our life trying to locate a Significant Other rather than resting in the Sovereign Only, you’ll miss out on both! Bad romance happens for s when we want our spouse, fiancé, new dating relationship, and even short term fling or one night stand to provide for us what only God can do. A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy instead of God to make you holy.
You know what we do? We turn that relationship into an idol. That’s what Samson & Delilah did! Notice all the bribery & negotiation? That’s idolatry at the core! It’s so interesting … you know that I go to India & when driving along every couple of miles there is a shrine on the roadside. And what do the native ppl do with the shrines? Go and offer their stuff to their gods – food, mostly, but sometimes coin – in exchange for protecting. It’s idolatry and it’s bribery and it’s one and the same. That’s what’s going on with S & D! Idolatry & bribery mixed together. You turn a relationship – marriage, dating, fling – into an idol when you want it to meet a need that deep down, only God can do. That’s why love turns so quickly to hate in these stories because it was idolatry to begin with! A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy instead of God to make you holy.
And did you hear that I just mentioned spouse? Some of you here are married and it’s still a bad romance because your identity and meaning is defined by that STATUS rather than by your SAVIOR. And a lot of you have a sinking feeling right now because you know that what I’m saying is spot on true. Now: please do not hear what I am not saying. I am all for loving, strong marriages; I’ve been in one for almost 33 years. I’m passionate in counseling about preserving them. But I am leery about people who substitute relationship for Savior; of people who don’t understand who they are IN CHRIST well enough to keep them from pursuing a relationship – even a marriage – that could be toxic.
And can I have a word to singles & single agains? I think about a young woman, early in her engagement, who came to ask if I thought she should get married. So I said, “if you’re asking the question, it means you know the answer.” And she did. Engagement ought to be a time free of ambiguity. She broke the engagement and everyone around heaved a sigh of relief. The principle still stands: if you’re engaged and you’re wondering or asking, your very questioning strongly suggests you know the answer. You might just need someone to give you permission. There! I just did. Cancelling a wedding is a lot less hassle than completing a divorce. Get yourself settled IN CHRIST, secure IN CHRIST, stable IN CHRIST … and then you can stop the pinballing bad romances and locate a good one.
And one more word to marrieds? Those of you, perhaps, in what you’d call “loveless” marriages? And now she’s touching your arm at work, he’s making eye contact at the gym and you’re thinking, “Bad romance at home; this is a chance for good.” Listen: no one flirts from a position of strength. It’s a reflection of insecurity. She doesn’t think you’re hot! She’s just insecure! See, you’ve got a fantasy going on and here’s what I want to do to it: POUR Sewer water in bucket. Get out of your head and IN CHRIST. A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy instead of God to make you holy.
So A bad romance is when you depend on a mate to make you happy instead of God to make you holy. And what is good romance? Where love is not so much an emotion but a policy? I believe it’s when two people, each very secure that they are loved by God in spite of their flaws and not because of their skills, come together. It’s a reflection of the security of having the divine seal of approval so deeply imprinted on your soul that you’re not desperate for the applause of anyone else, including a mate. Pursuing God, pursued by God and knowing that even I’m alone, he is enough.
A bit like this:
My wife & I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest & best imaginable, like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact & the finish is unblemished. For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. My wife likes to say “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” The sooner we accept that as a fact of life, the better we will be able to adjust to each other and enjoy togetherness. “Happily incompatible” is a good adjustment.
The author of that?