Sunday, December 2, my niece, Hillary McCoy, was baptized in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at Central Baptist Church, which sits in the shadows of Bryant Denny Stadium.  She had a lot of family present: her mother and father, twin brothers, her newest sister-in-law, and her grandparents.

There was at least one celebrity in attendance, Barrett Jones, the 2011 Outland Trophy winner and starting center for the University of Alabama. Barrett was at church on crutches, having sustained an ankle injury the night before in the SEC Championship Game with Georgia. He injured his ankle in the first half but refused to take himself out of the game because he said he knew his team needed him.  The injury got increasingly worse during the game.  By the end of the game, he needed crutches to walk.

The last three national football champions have come from the state of Alabama.  Should Alabama beat Notre Dame in the BCS Championship on January 7 it will be four in a row, three for Alabama, with one for Auburn sandwiched in between.

Not many people would argue with you if you were to say that football in Alabama is a religion. At times, it’s the kind of religion that brings out the worst in people, like the hateful act of Harvey Updyke, who admitted poisoning the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in downtown Auburn.

This is the reason Barrett Joneses of the football world are so important to talk about.  Here’s a young man who had every excuse not to be in church Sunday.  The bus from Atlanta must have arrived back in Tuscaloosa long past midnight.  Barrett couldn’t have gotten much sleep.  His ankle probably still hurt.  Yet he didn’t want to let his teammates at church down either.  He knew the importance of his presence in worship for others and for himself.

The week after Alabama’s loss to Texas A & M, Barrett Tweeted, “This weekend was a great reminder that nothing (including Alabama football) can truly fulfill you besides a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Barrett understands the difference between true religion and football.  He understands that true religion is not about a game, but it’s all about relationships.

Because of his relationship with Jesus, he spends time in Haiti building schools and orphanages.  He’s helped in cleanup projects in Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the tornados that decimated parts of the city.  Because of these caring acts and time given to other community organizations, he was chosen to receive the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy, given to the player who best combines exemplary community service with academic and athletic achievement.

Hillary’s grandmother went up to Barrett after church and told him how proud of him she was for the game he played the night before, but more than that, she said, “we are proud of you for the stand you take for Christ.”

While he may not have had a direct influence on Hillary’s decision to be baptized, Hillary’s grandmother knew that it had taken a community of witnesses, a group of loving friends in that church, not just one person, but a team of friends to lead Hillary closer to Christ and to her decision to be baptized that Sunday. That’s usually the case for us all who come to Christ.

That’s the reason none of us should discount the importance of the part we play in the lives of others.  Our witness, even when it’s just our presence at church, can be of great encouragement to others.

It is one reason why stories like Barrett’s need to be told.  Our young people need to know that you can play ball on Saturday night and get yourself to church on Sunday morning.  When you think about it, our adults who go and watch ball games need to hear that you can play ball on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday, too.  It really comes down to how committed you are to the Coach and to the team.

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