Years ago there was an undergraduate literary club at the University of Wisconsin. Each of its members were males who demonstrated outstanding writing abilities. At each of their meetings a student would read aloud a story or essay he had written. Then, other members of the club would submit criticism.

This criticism was brutal and students would hold nothing back. In fact, these sessions became so negative and hateful that the members of the club began calling themselves “The Stranglers.”

On the same college campus, a similar group was formed. This club called itself “The Wranglers.” These female students also demonstrated outstanding writing abilities. Like their counterparts, The Stranglers, they would read their writings at meetings and critique one another. Yet there was one noticeable difference between the two groups. The Wranglers’ criticism was gentle and kind, thoughtful and positive. They lifted one another up and encouraged one another.

Some 10 years later, a university researcher studied the careers of these two groups. Can you guess what they found? Not one of the bright literary talents of The Stranglers ever achieved success or a reputation of any kind in literature. On the other hand, The Wranglers produced over a dozen prominent writers!

What made the difference? The Stranglers cut each other down, while The Wranglers lifted each other up. The Stranglers literally strangled the life out of one another, while The Wranglers were life-producing.

Do you know “Stranglers” or “Wranglers” in your life? People who cut others down, or people who lift others up? Would people describe you as a “Strangler” or a “Wrangler”? Do they see you as “life-giving” or “life-draining”?

Sadly, Christians too often have reputations for being critical and nit-picking. (You may remember the old “Saturday Night Live” skit, “The Church Lady”? Sometimes that stereotype was too close to home to even be funny, because we knew people just like her.)

If anyone has a reason or a right to be critical of us, it’s God. Who could possibly know us any better and see all our faults and foibles as human beings? Who could be more potentially demanding and critical than our Heavenly Father who sees and knows all?

Yet, amazingly, this is not God’s style at all! In fact, the common theme throughout the New Testament is an example and attitude of affirmation and encouragement. No wonder sinners felt so comfortable and welcome around Jesus! He was irresistible with his endless supply of mercy and grace. Jesus had a habit of bringing out the best in people.

Think about the people you consider most Christ-like. Are they “Stranglers” or “Wranglers”? Do they cut others down or build others up?... Of course, what makes them so irresistible, attractive, and godly, is their affirmation and encouragement. They, of course, take their example and cues from the God who not only showers his people with inspiration, but then expects his followers to do the same with each other!

Listen ... “Therefore, as God’s picked representatives of a new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all virtues. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of one body, you are called to live in harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-15 Phillips Translation)

“Strangler” or “Wrangler”? Which will it be for you today? Life-giving or life-draining? May you be irresistible to others in your Christ-like example!

John Lestock is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson.