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Sermon Illustrations on Manipulation

Background

Being Silent Makes Us Feel Helpless

One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust. The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image.

We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand) and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action! Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.

Richard J. Foster, Seeking the Kingdom, HarperOne.

The Forces Behind Modern-Day Advertising

Advertising as we now know it started not on Madison Avenue but in another city: Berlin. With another group of power brokers: the Nazis. They took the ideas of an Austrian psychotherapist named Freud, then unknown in America, and used them to manipulate the masses. Freud was one of the first modern thinkers to point out that human beings aren’t nearly as rational or autonomous as we like to think.

We constantly make irrational decisions based on what he called our “unconscious drives” (similar to what the New Testament calls “the flesh”). We are far more emotionally tricked and desire driven than we care to admit.

The Nazis picked up Freud’s ideas (which was ironic, seeing as he was Jewish) and used them to shape their propaganda machine. They appealed not to reason but to Germany’s “unconscious drives.”

Hitler was a master of fanning the two most basic human emotions: I want, and I fear. After the war, it was actually Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who first used Freud’s ideas in America. An intelligence officer during the war, he found himself in need of a job. His theory was that if the Nazis could manipulate people in wartime, then surely business owners and politicians could manipulate people in peacetime. He called his new idea “public relations” and became the so-called “father of American advertising.” Never heard of him? Most haven’t.

He predicted as much in his book Propaganda:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. In almost every act of our daily lives…we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who pull the wires which control the public mind.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, The Crown Publishing Group, 2019.

Hope In God

Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.

And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God. “I pray to GOD-my life a prayer-and wait for what he’ll say and do. My life’s on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.”

Taken from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson Copyright (c) 1980, 2000 by Eugene Peterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Stories

Lord Halifax

Lord Halifax, a former foreign secretary of Great Britain, once shared a railway compartment with two prim-looking spinsters. A few moments before reaching his destination the train passed through a tunnel. In the utter darkness Halifax kissed the back of his hand noisily several times. When the train drew into the station, he rose, lifted his hat, and in a gentlemanly way said: “May I thank whichever one of you two ladies I am indebted to for the charming incident in the tunnel.” He then beat a hasty retreat, leaving the two ladies glaring at each other.

Bits & Pieces

The Origin of the Term “Gaslighting”

In His book When Narcissism Comes to Church, Chuck DeGroat describes a common tool employed by narcissits: gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that draws its name from a 1938 British play called Gas Light. In the play, a man named Jack Manningham terrorizes his wife, Bella, by making her doubt her perception of reality. Bella is comforted only by the one reality she can trust—the dimming of the gas lights that correspond with Jack’s afterhours antics.

Among his antics, Jack hides household items and blames her for misplacing them, which throws her into perplexion and self-doubt. Her only shred of sanity is in the gaslights flickering flame, and the audience is held in suspense as she vacillates between self-doubt and clarity.

Taken from When Narcissism Comes to Church by Chuck DeGroat Copyright (c) 2020 by Chuck DeGroat. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Toss them to Me

A priest who has spent a fruitless day fishing picked out three fat fish in the market. “Before you wrap them,” he said to the store manager,” toss them to me, one by one. That way I’ll be able to tell the monsignor I caught them and I’ll be speaking the truth.”

Bits & Pieces, July 21, 1994, p. 15.

Humor

Lord Halifax

Lord Halifax, a former foreign secretary of Great Britain, once shared a railway compartment with two prim-looking spinsters. A few moments before reaching his destination the train passed through a tunnel. In the utter darkness Halifax kissed the back of his hand noisily several times. When the train drew into the station, he rose, lifted his hat, and in a gentlemanly way said: “May I thank whichever one of you two ladies I am indebted to for the charming incident in the tunnel.” He then beat a hasty retreat, leaving the two ladies glaring at each other.

Bits & Pieces

The Secret Formula for Writing a Bestselling Book

I recently found, hidden in plain sight, the secret formula for writing a bestselling book. Yes, you read that right. My discovery created a surge of power that I could hardly handle. It felt like learning the winning lottery numbers before the tickets had even been sold. Everything in my life was about to change. Okay, I might’ve overstated a bit. It’s bad form to begin with a lie, so I confess that I didn’t actually find the secret sauce of publishing. But what I did discover is that many of the bestselling books have three things in common—three characteristics that undoubtedly help them climb bestseller lists and empty our wallets.

Because I love books, I’m going to share my findings with you—just in case you want to write a bestseller one day. First, use provocative language in your title—swearing is best. I could give some examples, but you get the idea. Second, write a self-help book. People seem to like learning about themselves and finding ways to make themselves better. Go figure! Third, include something about “the good life” in your title or subtitle.

Those three words grouped together, in that order, seem to have a magical power. After all, isn’t that what we all want? The good life. If the good life could be turned into a product, everyone would want a piece of it. Nothing would be more profitable. Can you imagine selling such a thing? “Get your good life and find everything humankind has wanted since the beginning of time. Adam missed it. Plato couldn’t find it. Nietzsche tried his best to give it words. The good life slipped through their fingers, but today you can have yours for a deal of a price!”

…Many of these books have a promise. If you will just start doing this, your life will change for the better. One book will declare that less is the key to happiness, offering foolproof ways to manage your frantic pace of life and encouraging a divorce from busyness so you can enjoy an unhurried life, free from the tyrannies of incessant doing. But its shelf companion—collecting dust only inches away—will assert that more is, well, more, revealing never-before-heard-of tricks to do more with less time so you can accomplish more with the free time you have. Hmm . . .

Addison D. Bevere, Saints: Becoming More Than “Christians,” Revell, 2020.

Toss them to Me

A priest who has spent a fruitless day fishing picked out three fat fish in the market. “Before you wrap them,” he said to the store manager,” toss them to me, one by one. That way I’ll be able to tell the monsignor I caught them and I’ll be speaking the truth.”

Bits & Pieces, July 21, 1994, p. 15.

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Related Themes

Click a topic below to explore more sermon illustrations! 

Accountability

Addiction 

Betrayal

Deception

Disobedience

Lies

& Many More