1979 was the year I discovered sports, developing a fledgling interest in my home state’s greatest football team, the Georgia Bulldogs, watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, young stars on a woeful Atlanta Braves team, learning names like Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, and Greg Brazina. I started collecting baseball, football, and basketball cards. But my clearest memory and biggest sports’ memory in that seminal year of sports-fan-man-ship came when I walked into our living room in Cairo, Georgia, at the end of the Daytona 500. I can’t remember how many laps I watched, but I watched them all in utter fascination—including the historic final lap. The suspense, drama, and excitement was palpable, climaxed by Cale Yarborough coming down the inside in an attempted “slingshot” move and triggering a crash between himself and Donnie Allison. The maneuver cost them both the victory as Richard Petty took the checkered flag. But what I remember was not Petty’s win, but the altercation between Cale and Donnie’s brother, Bobby, who had stopped to check on his brother. Cale hit Bobby in the face with his helmet, then, as Bobby famously recounted, Cale went to beating Bobby’s fist with his nose. That moment (“the fight”) is credited with putting NASCAR “on the map” and leading it into the mainstream of American interest.
While it’s ultimately a matter of indifference that a fight led a sport to success, it’s profoundly sad that the religious world is often known for its division and difference rather than its being united in truth. One of the biggest arguments against Christianity is that “Christians” (as the world sees them and understands the term) argue with each other. As world religions spread and as secularism and atheism grow in our world, the strife and division among us is more negatively noticeable than ever.
This fragmentation could not be farther from heaven’s desire. Jesus prayed for His followers to be united (John 17:20-21). Paul condemned religious division (1 Co. 1:10-13) and called for the body of Christ to be one (1 Co. 12:13; Eph. 2:16; 4:4). The world is heading toward eternal punishment and religious people who follow manmade doctrine are said by the Bible to share that tragic fate (Mat. 7:21-23; 15:8-9; John 12:48; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19).
When the world looks at those professing to be Jesus’ disciples, what should they see? I know what Jesus wanted them to see. He said, “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Let’s be known to the world as lovers, not fighters!