UNPACK this…

One of the things I love about being a sports fan is engaging in conversations before and after big games. Pregame I enjoy back and forth discussion about story lines…and postgame I like to debate reasons the team won. 

When someone asks if I am watching “the game,” and tell them “no” because of another commitment, I feel I’m missing out. When they go on to say they can’t understand why I would miss such a huge game, I feel even worse.
 
A similar feeling comes over me when asked if I watched “the game” last night. I have to sadly admit I didn’t see the incredible finish and dramatic plays. Again, that person reminds me what a mistake I made by not being part of what took place.

In both scenarios, someone is passionate about me witnessing a great game.

As followers of Jesus, I find this is a picture for the type of approach we need to implement when sharing our faith with others.  
 
We should be upset about the possibility of our friends and family missing out on eternity with God, and all that He has for them this side of heaven.

Asking someone if they saw “the game” is easy, but why do we struggle with asking people if they know Jesus? Why aren’t we more passionate about making sure they don’t miss out?
 
God tells us in John 3:36“The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.”

Today, let’s tell someone how much we care about them, and how passionate we are that they receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Let’s remain steadfast in making sure this truth compels us to do our part in encouraging others not to miss out.

Prayer: Father, please give me the boldness and passion to make sure I tell others about You, so they don’t miss out. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

The 2017 NBA Draft has come to an end, and every team moves forward with the mentality they made the right selections. All of the drafted players now move on to prove themselves at the next level. Displaying

Interestingly, there is an overall sense of hope surrounding the draft – in the anticipation leading up to it, and also afterward. As fans, we personally have hope that our team drafts the players we want, and then we have hope that they will live up to our expectations.

Hours before the Draft, I heard a fascinating conversation between ESPN Radio’s Ryen Russillo and Will Cain. This comment especially grabbed my attention: “We fall in love with what we don’t know…we fill it with hope, what we expect and want to happen.”

That’s the mentality so many of us fans have during the Draft. Although we have no idea what’s going to happen, or how good these players really are, or how their game translates to the NBA, we trust the “late first rounder” is going to come through for our team.

We are mesmerized by their potential, and have great hope for how good these players are going to be. We’ll even find ourselves convinced that a college player who averaged less than 10 points last year will have an impact in the NBA. We love the uncertainty and the exciting possibilities.

Unfortunately, all too often our willingness to place hope in what we don’t know in sports is stronger than the hope we place in the uncertainty of our lives.

But what if our faith and trust in God was so strong that we could actually “fall in love with what we don’t know” during the difficult times we face?

When our circumstances seem bleak, we must remember that as followers of Jesus we are to place our hope in someone much greater and more powerful than some “late first rounder.”

Even when trials hit, what if we looked for the potential and had great expectations for what God was going to do? Why do we place hope in a 19-year old kid, and believe the impossible in sports, but hesitate to think God is going to do something remarkable in us?

God has made it clear we can trust Him and place our hope in Him. Romans 15:13 (ESV) encourages us with these words: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Also, Psalm 71:14 (ESV) says, “But I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.”

Today, let’s take a look at the depth of our hope, and truly view our circumstances as an opportunity to “fall in love with what we don’t know.” After all, the God we love actually knows what we don’t…and He wants us to trust Him in the unknown.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit it’s hard to have hope when things seem bleak, but I know I can trust You. I believe the potential of Your power outweighs any difficulty. I have faith that You will comfort me while I face the unknown. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for tonight’s NBA Draft. There’s always tremendous anticipation when waiting to see where the talented prospects end up, and how the swirling trade rumors will affect the future of franchises.  

When I look across the league, there are many teams that are in clear rebuilding mode as they look for young players to grow with. They love to stockpile draft picks and don’t mind losing in the interim.

Then you have the playoff teams who are looking to win now, so they want to add players through free agency or make trades to quickly get them one step closer to that championship.

Finally, you have teams that have no idea what they’re doing. They make one move that appears to signal a rebuilding process, but then follow up with a trade that brings in a veteran player who wants to win immediately. They have a roster that doesn’t put them in a position to win a championship, but they lack the necessary assets to rebuild.

These teams are in “no man’s land” with no clear direction. They waver back and forth, while continuing to struggle year after year. Fans can embrace a rebuild, and are thrilled with a playoff team, but it’s brutal to cheer for a team that is caught in the middle.

When it comes to life and following Jesus, it’s especially not good when people get caught in the middle. He’s not inviting us to be all-in one day and then go the opposite direction the next day. We’re either committed to following His way or we’re not. The wavering back and forth is a disaster.

People that keep changing their mind end up in great confusion and turmoil. However, when we fully surrender and give our all to following Jesus and sticking to His plan, we will bear fruit and experience all that He has for us now and for eternity.

Jesus is very clear about the seriousness of being His disciples, and the idea of being lukewarm or caught in the middle is not what He wants.

He says in Matthew 12:30 (NLT), “Anyone who isn’t with Me opposes Me, and anyone who isn’t working with Me is actually working against Me.”

The Message translation puts it this way: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on My side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” 

NBA teams tonight are sitting in their “war rooms” deciding which direction their franchise will follow. The successful teams know that each phone call they receive, and conversation they have, require clarity as to the route they need to take.

Teams that speak out of both sides of their mouth or stay neutral will remain confused. 

Today, let’s continue to be committed and fully devoted followers of Jesus, working with Him and staying on His path, while making clear decisions according to His will. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to be all-in each day and not waver back and forth on who I serve and who I follow. I want to remain on Your side and fully devoted. Thank you for allowing me to be with You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Colin Kaepernick is one of the most polarizing players in sports – thanks to his decision to kneel during the National Anthem last season. At the moment, he is a free agent quarterback looking for a team willing to give him a chance. 

Despite his skills and accomplishments with the San Francisco 49ers, it appears there is very little interest across the league. He put up solid numbers early in his career and took his team to the Super Bowl, but the 29-year-old is without an NFL job.

His protests and social media comments over the last year have created quite the media stir, and the fact he hasn’t been signed yet has caused lots of reaction. There are differing arguments as to why teams don’t want him at the moment, and it will be very interesting to see if anything changes. 

The part of the conversation that I’m drawn to is the concept that Kaepernick “deserves” to be in the NFL. There are media members that think commissioner Roger Goodell should step in and make sure he lands on a team. There are people that look at Kaepernick’s resume and believe he “deserves” the chance to be out there. 

I passionately dislike this mentality. Sure, you can make a case for why a team would want to sign him and list off his stats, but he doesn’t DESERVE to be an NFL player.

If teams don’t want to sign him, then that’s their decision. Maybe they’re missing out on having a talented QB, but jobs in the NFL are not just handed out. 

As much as I loved watching Tim Tebow, and thought he should have remained in the NFL as a QB, I don’t like to say he “deserved” a spot on the roster either. 

I think this philosophy carries over into other areas of life, as well. We easily get caught up in thinking we “deserve” a great job, a specific salary, certain luxuries, and a nice vacation.

We can probably make a case for each as to why we think that, but there is a level of arrogance at the root of our entitlement. 

We take this mindset a step further because we think that we “deserve” blessings from God. When we serve others or regularly go to church, we think we deserve God’s favor. We can quickly become very entitled…believing that God owes us something. 

Of course He blesses us, and we reap what we sow, but we have to humble ourselves by realizing that what we actually deserve is death. Nothing we do should cause us to think God is ever in debt to us. We don’t even deserve our next breath, but God gives it to us as a gift.

The Bible says in Romans 6:23 (ESV), “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thankfully, God is filled with grace, mercy, and love and gives us what we don’t deserve. And even though our sin should lead to death, He instead made a way through Jesus for us to receive salvation and eternal life.

The only one who deserves something is God. He should get all of our praise, love, and obedience. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please forgive me for thinking I deserve anything. I’m so grateful for Your blessings, and I pray I’d live in humble adoration of Your goodness and mercy. I pray I’d be reminded that I deserved death for my sin before the life-changing work of Jesus on the cross. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The NBA season may be over, but the action continues across the league with teams preparing for the draft and their future. 

On Sunday, a report came out with the big news that Paul George intends to leave the Indiana Pacers next summer. He openly revealed that when his contract is up, he is joining the LA Lakers. 

His decision to provide a heads up about his plans will cause the Pacers to try and trade him before he walks away in 2018. In turn, the Lakers will have to determine if they want to wait or trade for George now.

With George putting his cards on the table, the trade rumors and possible scenarios involving multiple teams will be interesting to follow. It’s pretty rare for a player to be so straightforward with his current team – especially having a year left on his contract.

There are probably many reasons and layers for his timing, but I appreciate his willingness to be honest about his intentions. It may not be the news the Pacers want to hear, but at least they know where Paul George stands. 

Many of us more than likely struggle when it comes to being totally transparent with people about our motives and plans. On the flip side, we don’t want to be told a half truth by our spouse or close friend…or be blindsided by a boss or co-worker with a hidden agenda.  

But when it’s our truth to explain, we must take a step of faith and boldly share with others where we stand. Although being totally upfront with people (both personally and professionally) is difficult, as followers of Jesus, we are called to a higher standard of honesty.

When we surprise people by sharing the truth of our genuine intentions, we are honoring God. 

The Bible says in Ephesians 4:25 (AMP), Therefore, rejecting all falsehood [whether lying, defrauding, telling half-truths, spreading rumors, any such as these], speak truth each one with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one another [and we are all parts of the body of Christ].”

Today, let’s be wise and fully reliant on God’s Spirit to show us when and how to be upfront and honest with people. Let’s remember we miss out on many blessings when we hide the truth.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess it’s easy to mislead people and it’s hard to always tell the full truth. I pray that I would be genuine, transparent, and wise as I’m honest with people about where I stand and what my intentions are. Thank you for Your strength. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Brooks Koepka won his first major championship by dominating the U.S. Open this past weekend, and finishing 16 under par while tying a record. 

As impressive as his victory was, there is even more discussion about who didn’t win. Where was Rory, Dustin, Day, and Spieth?

I was rooting for Rickie Fowler, who was in contention all weekend, but he ended up tied for 5th. He’s played well in majors (he added his sixth career top five in the last 24 majors), yet he hasn’t been able to finish on top. 

Fowler is one of the most liked golfers on tour, and was rallying the fans at Erin Hills. However, until he wins a big one, he’ll continue to receive criticism from the media.

The standard for all of the top golfers in today’s game is Tiger Woods. We all know how phenomenal he was as a player, as well as, how committed he was to winning.   

I read an article about this today on golfdigest.com. Brian Wacker wrote these intriguing comments:

“This isn’t to say today’s stars aren’t driven to succeed…but they don’t seem to burn with the same intensity as many past champions, and especially Woods. Not once did Fowler mention being disappointed, upset, mad or annoyed. It’s a different approach for this group.” 

I appreciate Fowler’s positive attitude and fun-loving spirit, but I also understand the point Wacker is making about wanting our stars to be more devastated by a loss. 

As I reflect on this mentality and how it affects our own lives, I consider the approach and response we have toward sin. When we give into temptation or disobey God, do we blow it off as just another loss…or are we devastated and mad about our decisions?

It’s not that we stay in a state of despair or shame, but instead, our grieving of sin leads us to the cross of Christ where we find forgiveness and grace. 

We acknowledge we sinned against God, but as we confess, we are driven deeper into thankfulness and love for Jesus. We realize even more clearly our need for His strength and grace and the ugliness of our brokenness. 

James 4:7-10 (NLT) says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

“Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.”

Today, as we desire the top golfers who fell short in the U.S. Open to allow their disappointment to cause them to strengthen their game for the next major, let’s be encouraged to allow the disappointment from our sin to cause us to humble ourselves and strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess my brokenness and desperate need for Your grace. I humbly come before You, grieved by my sin, but filled with thankfulness for the cross of Christ. Thank you for Your deep love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Yesterday, the Golden State Warriors held their second Championship Parade in the last three years. The question now becomes, how many more rings can they win? Displaying

They have four All-Stars, with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant among the the top five players in the NBA; two of the best role players in the league coming off the bench; and their under 30 core is right in their prime. 

Despite the majority of the players being free agents, everybody senses that most of the key players will re-sign with the team. Many say this dominant team will be back in the NBA Finals next year…and even in the following years.

Most NBA fans are convinced this year’s Championship Series is the one we will witness next year at this time. They consider it a foregone conclusion that no other team is going to knock off the Warriors or the Cavs. 

On the surface both teams appear to be guaranteed a rematch for the fourth straight year. However, we need to pump the breaks and recognize all the factors that come into play.

With injuries, team chemistry issues, and other teams making moves, there are plenty of unforeseen circumstances that could prevent the Warriors and Cavs from returning to the Finals. 

In life, we also have predictable and unpredictable seasons. But even when we think our planning guarantees the future, there are always unforeseen circumstances that get in the way of our timelines and outcomes.
Although we should have hope and faith while making plans, we should also be careful not to be too self-confident or boastful about tomorrow…and make sure we consider God’s will for our lives.

James 4:13-15 (NLT) says, “Look here, you who say, ‘Today ortomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’” 

As we look at the future, let’s be reminded that God sees what we can’t and His plans may be different from what we laid out for ourselves. Thankfully, even when circumstances veer off in another direction, we can trust in His power and goodness.

When we get used to saying “Lord willing,” it is an on-going act of surrender and believing His way is best. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess that my over-confidence can creep in when I make plans and predictions for my life. I pray that I would live with open hands and an open mind to follow Your will, and adjust accordingly to the changes that are sure to happen. I trust you! In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The U.S. Open at Erin Hills begins today, and we’ll be watching golfers from around the world compete in this major championship. 

Surprisingly, the 135 yard long, par 3 9th hole is expected to frustrate the players the most, while bringing extra entertainment to the fans.

With seven irregular bunkers surrounding the green, along with serious sloping and challenging crosswinds, this par 3 can quickly turn into double bogeys for golfers who get stuck in a bunker.

New York Times reporter, Bill Pennington, wrote an insightful article about the history of the hole with the headline, “To Win the U.S. Open, Golfers Must First Defeat a Tiny Terror.”

Although most golfers love a good par 3 (I know I do), this short hole is predicted to cause trouble with its many traps…and ultimately set some players back.

The same can be true in our own lives when we desire to stay close to the pin, but succumb to countless traps that get in our way. The Bible warns us of one especially dangerous trap in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 (NLT):

“But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

Just like it’s easy to love a par 3 at first glance, we can do the same with money. We’d rather downplay it as a “tiny sin,” but when we fall into its trap, getting out can be hard and this “tiny terror” can really set us back.

There is hope, however. As golfers land in a trap this weekend, they will ultimately look up to find the pin. Similarly, when we look to Jesus as our ultimate love and passion, we can escape the trap of our love for money.

This weekend as we watch the U.S. Open, and witness the golfers doing their best to get out of the bunkers, let’s reflect on our own bunkers around “the green.”

Let’s look to Jesus to satisfy our deepest longings and help us defeat our own “tiny terror.” I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I recognize the many traps surrounding the love of money and pray that I’d stay out of those bunkers. I don’t want to get caught up in always wanting more money and longing to be rich. Thank you that I can find rest and satisfaction in Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

The Miami Dolphins surprised us all by making the NFL playoffs last year. One of the main reasons they turned things around was the emergence of running back Jay Ajayi. 

Rushing over 200 yards in three different games, Ajayi ranked 4th in the NFL with a total of 1,272 yards. Heading into the new season, he is preparing for a strong follow-up year – hoping to prove he’s an elite running back. 

His head coach, Adam Gase, recently said this about him to the Miami Herald: 

“He wants to be a guy that can be counted on for second and third down. He does not want to come off the field. Everyone gets concerned with the amount of carries and his physical style of running and we’ll handle that as we go. But I love the mentality that he has right now.

“He wants to be a guy that’s relied on right now. He’s our bell cow running back. At the same time he’s our top third-down guy and red area and two-minute guy. He wants to be the guy that no matter what the situation is we’ll have him in the game.” 

Very few running backs remain in the game for every down in today’s NFL, as many teams use the running back by committee strategy. However, it’s extremely valuable when a team can fully rely on one player to carry them, regardless of the scenario the offense faces. 

I think the line by Gase, “He wants to be the guy that no matter what the situation is we’ll have him in the game,” is a perspective we can identify with as followers of Jesus.

In our journey of life, we will go through many trying and challenging situations. Thankfully, we have a “guy” we can trust and depend on…no matter what.

Whether we feel like we’re in the redzone or find ourselves up against a difficult third and long, we can continue to turn to Jesus. Instead of sticking with Him every once in awhile, we can stick with him on every “down.” 

Jesus is inviting us to be with Him always. There is no need to look to the sideline for someone else to replace Him. 

He tells us in John 15:4-5 (NLT), “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.

 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.” 

Today, let’s find tremendous joy, peace, and comfort in knowing we can fully rely on Jesus to remain in us as we remain in Him. There will never be another substitute worthy enough, so let’s remember that “He wants to be a guy that’s relied on right now.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you so much for sending Jesus to be my Savior. Please help me to abide in Him and produce great fruit. I’m thankful to know He’s worthy to trust and rely on in any and every situation. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Last night, the Golden State Warriors won their second NBA Championship in three years by living up to expectations and eliminating the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Knowing the great impact LeBron James has on the game, I thought the Cavs would win the series. But in the end, the Warriors proved to be too talented and too dominating. 

Even though LeBron was still incredible throughout the Finals (he averaged a triple double), the headlines are all about the Warriors winning and Kevin Durant being named MVP. 

Ever since the surprising news broke about Durant joining the Warriors, we’ve been debating whether or not we liked that decision and have been discussing how easy it would be for them to dominate.

Some people have enjoyed watching the greatness, but many have criticized Durant for joining the team that knocked his Thunder out in last year’s playoffs. They have asked how a great player like Durant could join an established and winning team like the Warriors. 

When it comes right down to it, fans and the media are more likely to support and praise individual efforts over team accomplishments. Because we’re more amazed when an athlete carries a team on his back, Durant joining other stars on the Warriors hasn’t been viewed as favorably.

However, there is something to be said about Durant’s display of humility. By admitting he needed help to win a championship, he was willing to surrender and join the winners…and give up some of the glory and credit he would have received if he had tried to do it on his own with another team.

As he made the decision to put aside his pride and adapt to the Warriors’ way of doing things, he was able to fit right in and follow their plan all the way to the Championship in his first year. 

Beyond the sports world, our mentality is often about our own accomplishments and the belief that our way is the best. There is a lot of value placed on individualism and self-accomplishments.

As hard as it is for athletes to go against this trend and admit they can’t do it on their own, the same is true for us. 

But as followers of Jesus, we must accept that we are in need of a Savior and can’t accomplish anything apart from God. We need to recognize that the “me mentality” is empty and worthless, and we will always fall short when we try to do it all in our own strength.

On the other hand, when we acknowledge how truly weak we are and how desperate we are for help, we can experience the unstoppable power of God working in us and through us. 

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NLT), “Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Today as we witness the Warriors celebrating their championship, and Durant experiencing what true NBA winning feels like, let’s be reminded that admitting we can’t win on our own is the first step toward true victory.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I need help from You and others to do anything worthwhile. I know that in my weakness your power makes me strong. I pray each day that I would surrender to Your way and submit to Your plans instead of my own. I’m thankful I don’t have to live life in my own strength. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Pittsburgh Penguins went to Nashville last night to beat the Predators 2-0 and secure their second straight Stanley Cup victory. A talented team led by MVP, Sidney Crosby, the Penguins remain the champions by winning the series 4-2. 

Unfortunately, there was a controversial play that has caused some second-guessing and lots of what ifs. When the score was tied 0-0 in the second period, Nashville’s Colton Sissons made a diving play to tap the puck into the net. Although he appeared to score the game’s first goal, the ref behind the net declared that is wasn’t a goal. 

Because the ref may have had a bad angle on the puck and lost sight of it, he blew his whistle thinking the goalie had secured the puck. As it turned out, the puck was actually still loose and Sisson’s athletic play should have led to a goal. 

However, refs are advised to blow the play dead when they lose sight of the puck, so the whistle was blown before the goal was scored and it was waived off.

It’s understandable why Nashville’s fans were so disappointed by this controversial call, as ultimately the ref’s lack of visibility of the puck cost them a goal. 

Regardless, I got to thinking how the concept of “losing sight of the puck” can parallel our own lives when we get out of position and lose focus on what’s most important in life.

Just as a hockey ref needs to be in the right position to know where the puck is going, we must also keep our sight on Jesus so we remain in clear view of His leading. 

The game of hockey is centered around the puck, and problems arise when a ref loses perspective on it. Similarly, when we allow distractions to get in the way of our life being centered on the cross of Christ, we set ourselves up for an unfavorable outcome. 

Ultimately we have to recognize when we lack the visibility of seeing Jesus for who He is, so we don’t make the wrong decisions or miss out on an opportunity for a “goal.” We don’t want sin to cloud our vision or hold us back from distinctly noticing Him. 

The Bible explains in Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT): “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” 

Also, Psalm 16:8 (NIV) says, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” 

As we begin a new week, let’s consider whether or not we have a clear view of Jesus and the cross. Let’s make sure to confess our sins and remove any distractions that cause us to “lose sight of the puck.” 

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to have a clear view of Jesus and a deep understanding of what He did on the cross. I know that when my eyes are fixed on Him, I can walk boldly and powerfully in a life of faith. Thank you for Your grace and love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Conversations about athletes and their salaries are prevalent among fans and media. With information so readily available, players are often judged on how much they get paid compared to others at their position – either on their team or around the league. We discuss their value and whether or not they’re paid according to their worth. 

Some players end up negotiating through the media by making comments about their salary, hoping it leads to a better deal. As the 5th highest paid quarterback currently in the league, Aaron Rodgers is the latest to discuss contract talks with the Packers. Most would agree he’s a top QB, so it will be interesting to see if his agent is able to get him a new deal. 

Of course, Rodgers is angling for a larger contract and can make a good case for it, but during a recent interview, this comment especially stood out to me: “I know my value in this league, and I know the team appreciates me.” 

Millions of dollars are one thing, but you can’t put a price tag on being appreciated…and you certainly can’t negotiate it. You either feel appreciated or you don’t. 

Rodgers is one of the fortunate few to have this as a bonus, when many other athletes feel taken for granted by their teams. 

But whether we’re a star quarterback or a parent of three, we all want to know we’re appreciated. My encouragement for us today is to think about the important friends and family members in our lives, and let them know how grateful we are for them.

We can easily get caught up in the busyness of life and not take time to thank the people who have made a difference in our lives…or continue to play a key role in making us who we are today. However, when we are blessed by others, we need to make sure they feel appreciated. 

This is especially important when it comes to thanking the people who impact our spiritual lives and contribute to building us up in our faith. 

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (AMP) says, “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to appreciate those who diligently work among you [recognize, acknowledge, and respect your leaders], who are in charge over you in the Lord and who give you instruction, and [we ask that you appreciate them and] hold them in the highest esteem in love because of their work [on your behalf]. Live in peace with one another.”

Today, let’s be filled with appreciation toward others…and also toward the God who has provided so many important people to enter our lives at exactly the right time.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m guilty of not appreciating the blessings and gifts You’ve given me – especially when it comes to the people in my life. Thank you for the spiritual leaders who have poured into me and for the friends and family members who have stuck by me. I’m thankful I don’t have to live life alone. I pray this in Jesus’ name,  Amen.

Last night, the Warriors went on an 11-0 run to close out the game and win 118-113 in Cleveland. It was a really hard fought game, with the Cavs finally in position to get a win in this series, but the Warriors once again proved how dominant they are.  Displaying

They became the first team in the four major pro sports leagues to go 15-0 in the postseason. Although they still need one more win to for the championship, it’s clear we’re witnessing something extremely rare and special with this team. 

I think many of us figured this would be a close series and we’d see Cleveland put up more of a fight. However, each game has confirmed just how remarkable the Warriors are and that they are playing on another level.

Despite the TV ratings being through the roof, many NBA fans don’t like seeing the Warriors play so much better than the rest of the league. It’s hard to embrace the greatness and dominance of the Warriors, and the fact they’ve set themselves apart from even a team like the Cavs. 

As an NBA fan myself, I love a 7-game series and games that come down to a final shot. I’m fine with parity across the league and the unpredictability of wondering who is going to win.

I’ve enjoyed watching the Warriors play, but it does make sense why so many support parity over dominance and balance over greatness. However, when this kind of mentality infiltrates our faith journeys, I think we miss out on the life God is calling us to. 

Unfortunately, I think too many people who claim to love God don’t actually want to pursue holiness – they’d rather settle for “parity.” Despite God encouraging us to be set apart from the world, while calling us to be more like Him, we trade in greatness for mediocrity.

As true followers of Jesus we should stand out, and our lives should operate much differently than the world we’re up against. We should strive for excellence, holiness, and Christ-likeness…and not buy the lie that we should be just like everyone else. 

The Bible is clear that we are to be set apart and have entered a new life that causes us to stand out above the rest. 

1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV) gives this command: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

1 Peter 2:9 (NLT) tells us, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.”

Today, as many are disappointed that the Warriors are just too good for the Cavs, let’s remember that this mentality doesn’t apply to our life in Jesus. Let’s desire true greatness for the glory of God and for the light of Christ to shine through us.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would have a passion for pursuing holiness. I thank you for Your grace, as I desire to obey You with all of my heart. I pray my life would be great in order to reveal Your glory, and I pray my life would point others to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Phil Mickelson continues to be one of the great American golfers, and a key draw for fans in every tournament he plays. Since turning pro in 1993, he has never missed or won the US Open. Phil has five major victories, but the US Open is the only major he hasn’t conquered.  Displaying

Finishing second by one shot in the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst, the following day his daughter, Amanda, was born. Eighteen years later, she is graduating from high school during the opening round of this year’s US Open. 

Phil doesn’t want to miss her ceremony or the commencement speech she will give as the class president, so he’s skipping the tournament in order to support his daughter. He had this to say: 

“Obviously, it’s a tournament that I want to win the most, and it’s a tournament – the only way to win is if you play and have a chance. But this is one of those moments where you look back on life, and you just don’t want to miss it. I’ll be really glad that I was there and present.” 

I love this story and appreciate the stand Phil’s taking to put his family before golf. Most fans have applauded him for his sacrifice, but I’m sure plenty are also disappointed he won’t be playing. 

Although we don’t know how we would handle the same situation if we were in his shoes, the truth is that each of us regularly face similar choices with a lot less attention and fanfare. 

We have to often choose between being selfish or putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own. Sometimes we have to say “no” to great opportunities or miss out on something we would enjoy, in order to do the right thing. 

The dilemmas we face are usually between work/hobbies and family…and other times they are decisions that test our faith and reveal the importance we place on pleasing God. 

The world is always pressuring us to seek our own pleasures, but ultimately when it comes down to decision-making and being where we need to be, we must be aligned with God. 

Romans 12:2 (NLT) tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” 

Even beyond pleasing our family, we should desire to do God’s will and listen to the direction He’s pointing us. Each of us can allow God to transform our thinking and empower us to be selfless, as we learn to say “yes” to the right things – even when it costs us something.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray You would give me a heart that is willing to seek You. Please help me know the right decisions to make and avoid making selfish decisions. Teach me how to put others ahead of myself, while ultimately pleasing You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals over the Nashville Predators, but after two straight wins in front of the home crowd at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators have now tied the series. 

Last night’s impressive 4-1 win in Game 4 showcased a dominating performance from Nashville’s goalie, Pekka Rinne. After struggling in the first two games of the series and giving up goals left and right, Rinne bounced back with diving saves, athletic stops, and demonstrated a quick glove.

He saw the puck coming in all directions and did whatever it took to protect the goal. He did let one sneak by, but he made sure it didn’t lead to any more goals for the Penguins. 

I’m not a hockey expert, but it’s pretty clear that a team can only go as far as their goalie takes them. As soon as he starts letting pucks in the net, a team is in trouble.

This same concept is true in our own lives. Each of us has a responsibility to guard our hearts and minds from allowing evil, negativity, discouragement, and impure thoughts to enter in. 

Each day we have “pucks flying” in every direction, trying to sneak in and penetrate our lives to cause pain and trouble. We must always be aware and ready to defend “our net,” and be willing to dive in front of the sin that comes through culture, media, people, and our past desires.

When these “pucks” are inching closer, we must have a quick glove ready and prevent them from having any room to get in. In hockey, a puck only needs a little space to get by the goalie. The same is true when we give the enemy a little room in our lives.

The Bible says in Ephesians 4:27 (AMP), “And do not give the devil an opportunity [to lead you into sin by holding a grudge, or nurturing anger, or harboring resentment, or cultivating bitterness].”

Although remaining on guard and blocking sinful thoughts and actions from our lives is challenging, as followers of Jesus, we are given power and strength through the Holy Spirit to think differently and battle well. 

Romans 8:5 (NLT) tells us, “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.”

As we watch the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals, and consider Nashville’s goalie Pekka Rinne controlling the net, let’s submit to the Holy Spirit’s control as we fortify our “net” and protect our hearts and minds from everything that’s trying to destroy us.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please help me to remain on guard and willing to fight against the evil thoughts that try to enter in. I pray that I would focus on You and the wonderful things that please You, instead of the sinful things that cause me great trouble and pain. Thank you for providing me the strength and power I need through Your spirit. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Last night we witnessed another dominating performance by the Golden State Warriors, and were wowed again by their two stars, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. 

Although it doesn’t seem like the Cavs have any answers to stop them, they will hopefully implement some changes to make this a more competitive series.

There is a lot on the line in these NBA Finals, and the coaching for both teams is crucial. Rejoined with head coach Steve Kerr last night (after his health kept him away from the sideline during the playoffs), the Warriors received a big boost from his leadership.

As I think about the coaching, adjustments, and mindset of both teams with the Warriors leading the series 2-0, I realize the importance of affirmation and simple reminders.

Over the next couple of days, both teams will be reminded how they got to the Finals, how talented they are, and what it takes to win. Of course the players already know this, but their coaches have to tell them over and over again so they don’t lose sight of the keys to winning.

The Cavs, in particular, have to be told not to turn over the ball, to get back on defense, and remember they beat the Warriors last year after being down 0-2. 

On the other side, the Warriors have to be reminded not to let their emotions get the best of them…or get overconfident with a 2-0 lead that can quickly vanish.

As followers of Jesus, we also need to be affirmed while embracing simple reminders. We can’t lose sight of the truth by panicking when we’re “down 0-2” or becoming arrogant when we’re “up 2-0.”

When we forget how deeply loved we are by God and how much grace we’ve been shown through Jesus, we can easily get off track or get discouraged.

When we start to think we’re self-sufficient and begin to believe our own greatness is leading to some sort of success, we need to be reminded of our deep need for God’s power and sustaining mercy.

So today as we begin another week, whether we’re “down 0-2 or up 2-0,” let’s be affirmed by being followers of Jesus…and allow the simple reminders of God’s truth to be at the forefront of our minds. 

As we think about the coaches writing down the “Keys to Game 3” on their whiteboards, let’s consider these verses to be the “Keys” in our own lives:

Proverbs 3:6 (NLT) – “Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

John 8:12 (NLT) – “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Galatians 4:6 (NLT) – “And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray I would continuously be reminded of how much I’m loved by You, and how much I need Your grace and mercy each day. Help me not to forget the new life I have because of Jesus, and not lose sight of the importance of seeking Your will each day. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Game 1 of the NBA Finals started off close with great intensity, until the Golden State Warriors pulled away and knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-91. 

The Cavs were careless with the ball and weak on defense, which led to wide open dunks and easy shots for the Warriors. We can’t count out the Cavs just yet, however, but they need to make some major changes before Game 2.

On the flip side, it was enjoyable watching the Warriors play with such ease as they knocked down shot after shot. Kevin Durant finished with 38 points and Steph Curry added 28. 

As impressive as their scoring was, their passing and the fact their two leading scorers also led in assists, really stood out. Curry had 10 and Durant had 8.

Their offense was beautiful to watch, as the ball kept moving and guys were willing to pass up their own shot in order for a teammate to get an even better look at the basket. 

During the broadcast, there were comments made about how much fun the Warriors had passing the ball. It was amazing to see how each player looked to get the other guys involved in the offense.

The Warriors’ ball movement is definitely one of the major keys to their all around success. So when I think about what passing means and what is truly at the core, I find the principles can also translate into our own lives. 

A pass represents:

  • Letting go and no longer being in control of the ball.

  • Trusting someone else to make a decision.

  • Being willing to share and giving to another person.

  • Moving the attention away from yourself.

The Bible encourages us to demonstrate these principles. Hebrews 13:16 (ESV) tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” 

We should declare the words in Psalm 115:1 (NLT): “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name goes all the glory for Your unfailing love and faithfulness.” 

And Romans 12:10 (ESV) implores us to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” 

As followers of Jesus, we should be known as good passers – not people always looking for our own “shot.” 

If we are willing to humble ourselves, love, and honor others, while also desiring to pass the glory to God, our lives will be beautiful to watch and experience.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray You would show me ways to become a better passer, giver, and servant. I pray that my life would bring glory to You as I sacrifice, love, and honor others. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

For the third year in a row, NBA fans will spend their June watching the Warriors and Cavs battle for the NBA Championship. 

The expectation is another epic Finals, since the past two series were so phenomenal. (I’m pulling for the Warriors, but think the Cavs will get the win.) 

When Kevin Durant joined the Warriors last summer, everyone figured they would make it back. And, of course, we all knew the team with LeBron James would remain at the top. 

So here we are, ready to watch the NBA Finals we’ve been waiting for! 

Both of these teams weren’t automatically placed in the NBA Finals. They endured the long 82-game regular season while facing injuries, making team chemistry adjustments, and dealing with the controversy over resting players.

Then, they each had to battle through the process of winning four games per round in the playoffs, and beating three teams to win their conference. 

Many of us fans got tired of the regular season and playoffs, and have just wanted to witness the inevitable – the Warriors and Cavs facing off in the Finals! 

It’s been hard watching most of the other series, but knowing the early rounds would eventually come to an end, we’ve been able to hold onto the hope of finally seeing a fantastic rubber match between two great teams. 

In some ways, the regular season and the rest of the playoffs seem like a waste of time. Most of us probably wish we could have just skipped all of that and jumped right to the Championship.

However, there is a process that needs to take place in order to learn, grow, and build into teams that are better prepared to compete in the Finals.  

My guess is that many of us today wish we could fast forward through waiting periods or difficult times in our lives.

We don’t want to have to wait one more day for the new job or promotion. We don’t want to go through the process of getting healthy or graduating college or finding a spouse or having a baby. 

We ask ourselves the question, why do we have to wait so long for an outcome we so desperately want? 

Truth be told, the process before the blessing is what makes the blessing so worthwhile. It’s in the buildup, the delays, and the waiting on God that draws us to Himself.

He’s preparing us, developing our character, and testing us to make sure we are trusting Him. Although the experience can be brutal and painful, we must stay the course, keep obeying Him, and remain in His will.

When we finally receive answered prayers at the end of difficult seasons, we can be filled with even more thanksgiving and a deeper faith. 

The Bible offers us hope in Galatians 6:9 (NLT): “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” 

As we wait for tonight’s tip-off of the NBA Finals we so desperately wanted, let’s be reminded that the frustrating regular season and playoffs ultimately came to an end.

In our own situations, let’s be encouraged not to give up. Let’s believe that at the right time, we’ll experience the “Finals” we’ve been waiting for. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray for strength and patience during the process of waiting, and that I wouldn’t waste the time before the blessing. Help me trust that You are working in me as You prepare me for what is next. Thank you in advance for the blessing that is coming. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday’s game between the Giants and Nationals has created a stir in the baseball world with Bryce Harper charging the mound to attack Hunter Strickland after being nailed in the hip with a 98-mph fastball. 

The two exchanged blows, landed some punches, and the benches cleared. Harper didn’t appreciate the pitch hitting him, and all indications point to Strickland intentionally sending a message to Harper for his antics during the playoffs years ago.

Their roles in the melee resulted in Strickland being suspended for six games and Harper for four games.

I can’t deny that something inside me loves a good ole’ fashioned fist fight or a pitcher-batter scuffle on the mound during a baseball game. It usually comes out of the blue and always raises the intensity of the game.

There has been debate over these types of fights being good for baseball, since they create interest and bring attention to the sport. There are even conversations taking place about Harper having the right to respond the way he did because the pitch seemed intentional.

I heard one broadcaster who was calling the game say, “I do not blame Bryce Harper for being upset.”

There appears to be a natural reaction from many of us. We either understand why a player would have frustration after being hit or enjoy watching retaliation take place.

However, as we address our personal feelings about situations like this or ones in our own lives, we must consider how Jesus wants us to react. 

Although the desire for revenge is usually our initial thought, as followers of Jesus, we are called to obediently do the unthinkable: NOT retaliate.

Of course we can’t do that in our own strength, so we must heavily rely on God’s power to hold us back from responding poorly…even while experiencing pain and frustration.

The Bible is very clear that we are commanded to view revenge in a different light. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (ESV) says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”

1 Peter 3:9 (AMP) also tell us to …never return evil for evil or insult for insult [avoid scolding, berating, and any kind of abuse], but on the contrary, give a blessing [pray for one another’s well-being, contentment, and protection]; for you have been called for this very purpose, that you might inherit a blessing [from God that brings well-being, happiness, and protection].”

Today, instead of getting even by retaliating and “charging the mound,” let’s get blessed by seeking to do good to one another – even to those who hurt us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit that sometimes my first thought is to get back at others for what they’ve done to me. Instead, please give me strength, peace, and patience, so that I respond the way You’ve commanded me. Help me to remember the grace that has been shown to me through Jesus. It’s in His name I pray, Amen.

After 600 miles and just enough fuel left in his tank, Austin Dillon won the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night – his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of his career. 

Dillon drove the No. 3 Chevrolet into Victory Lane for the first time since the late Dale Earnhardt won his last race on October 15, 2000.

Being a significant win for Dillon (grandson of owner Richard Childress), he made this comment following the race: “I can’t believe it. I was just really focused on those last laps. My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in first place, He will take you places you never imagined.’”

This race was about surviving until the end, and Dillon won despite only leading the final two laps. On the other hand, Martin Truex Jr. led the race for 233 laps (the most among all of the drivers), but ended up finishing third.

When the guy who wins the race only leads for a lap or two, there is a sense that he doesn’t quite deserve the win as much as the driver who leads most of the night. He just seems to sneak in at the end to take the checkered flag.

The parable in the Bible about vineyard workers, which Jesus uses to explain the Kingdom of Heaven, relates well to this NASCAR scenario.

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus speaks of a landowner who hires workers early in the morning and then adds others to the group at different times throughout the day.

When they are all set to be paid at the end of the day, “each received a full day’s wage” – regardless of what time of day they were hired. As a result, the workers who came first weren’t happy to be paid the same as those who came last.

In verse 12, their response to the owner is this: “Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.”

The owner then responds in verse 13, “…Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?”

This parable points to the grace of God and reminds us that we receive the same grace – regardless of what time in our lives we accept the call to follow Jesus.

Instead of being jealous that someone receives victory and eternity, despite only following Jesus for the last “couple of laps” in their life, we need to remain thankful that they too receive the wonderful gift of salvation.

None of us actually deserve the mercy of God, but He generously gives it nonetheless. It’s not fair for any of us to receive heaven, when you consider our sinful nature, but God has made a way for us to be with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Today let’s celebrate the grace and mercy of God, and not get caught up in unfairness or jealousy about who and when He decides to give. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know I don’t deserve Your grace and mercy, but sometimes I’m guilty of thinking I’ve earned it more than someone else. Forgive me for this mentality, and help me to remain thankful for the salvation You’ve given me. I pray for those who don’t know You yet, and believe they can even come to know You in their final hour. I pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Sports Illustrated’s latest cover story is titled, “Why the Curveball is Taking Over the Game.” The story describes how the 150-year old pitch is making a resurgence, and helping many of the top pitchers battle well with today’s great hitters in Major League Baseball.

The Houston Astros have especially relied on the curveball. They have built their rotation with curveball specialists who have helped them jump out to their best start in franchise history at 29-15.

A very fascinating part of the article is the description of the pitch: “The break of a well-thrown curveball holds illusory power. All pitches pass from a hitter’s central vision—two eyes tracking its path—to his peripheral vision as the ball gets closer to the plate. (Pitches move too fast and too near for central vision to track it all the way to the bat.)  

“The curve moves the most just as it passes from a hitter’s central vision to his peripheral vision, which means the hitter swings at where he thinks the pitch is headed, not where it actually is.”

Wow – no wonder the curveball is so difficult for hitters to handle! As the Sports Illustrated article unpacks the role this pitch plays in baseball today, I want to unpack the old cliche of life throwing us curveballs.

 We have great anticipation and visions for our plans and expectations in life – just like the batter has central vision on the ball.  But all too often where we think “the pitch is headed, is not where it actually is.” 

Plans can unexpectedly “curve” at the last minute with smaller situations throughout the day, as well as, with bigger circumstances throughout our lives. 

So, as batters must figure out how to respond to the curveball, we must too. The task isn’t easy when our plans get messed up and we get caught off guard, but the more we accept the fact that a curveball will come, the more likely we will respond well…and not get rattled by the surprising change in direction. 

Ultimately, as followers of Jesus, we must be filled with trust and faith to embrace the curve and make the most of it – maybe even hit a home run!

Isaiah 43:2 (NLT) tells us, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” 

When the curveball comes, we can have hope in Psalm 32:8 (NLT): “The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” 

As we face difficulties, changes, surprises, and trials, let’s remember God promises to be with us…and a curveball doesn’t have to result in a strikeout! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know that the unexpected happens in life and my plans get derailed all too often. I pray that I will trust You in those moments, and follow You on the path You have for me. Thank you for being with me and watching over me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The NFL concussion issue continues to be at the forefront of conversations surrounding the game. How do we keep players safe? What age should kids start playing? At what point should players be allowed back in after suffering one? 

Now, the latest discussion has centered around the lack of willingness players have in admitting when they actually have a concussion. It’s clear they do what’s necessary to hide the effects, so they can keep on playing.

We know there is a lot on the line for NFL players, and any missed time can cost them money or wins for their team. Their shortsighted perspective causes them to ignore the damage that is being done, and conceal any indication of having a concussion. They rely on their toughness to keep going and hide any of the pain.

This topic has blown up even more after Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele, revealed in a TV interview that her husband “does have concussions” even though there are no records of it.

Brady has hidden this truth from many people and has continued to play. Now he has to consider if he needs to try harder to keep the secret from his wife, as well.

Columnist Sally Jenkins, from The Washington Post, wrote an article with the headline: “If Tom Brady Wanted To Show Real Toughness, He’d Admit He Did Something Dumb.”

Her story urges NFL players to set the tone of honesty and transparency when it comes to acknowledging the poor decision of playing through a concussion.

This is a very complicated situation, as we know the dangers and “importance” of the game of football. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to decide every day whether or not we play through a concussion or admit that we have one.

However, we can all relate to the concept of concealing and transparency, and having the choice to confess our sin and admit to mistakes that we make.

Our initial response is to hide or keep our transgressions in the dark. We don’t want anyone to know what we’re struggling with or concede to having a problem.

Unfortunately, like a concussion, the damage gets worse the longer we “play through it” without getting the proper treatment and taking the necessary steps to healing.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, puts it this way in verse 28:13 (NLT): “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”

Sometimes we think we are sneaky enough to have everyone fooled because we’ve hidden something about ourselves so well. However, I believe God knows all, sees all, and judges all while also offering grace and forgiveness.

Ecclesiastes 12:14(NLT) says, “God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.”

God knows the truth in our hearts, so we can come before Him with great honesty and receive the strength we need to confess to others. In the long run, it’s exhausting to live a lie and hide our struggles and secrets.

As difficult as it is to admit our faults, today let’s allow the process of revealing to bring us tremendous healing. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please give me the strength to be honest with You, myself, and others when I face struggles or make mistakes. I pray that I wouldn’t just try to be tough and pretend I have it all together. Please show me when and how to confess my sin, so that I can experience healing. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

We watch the NFL for fun and entertainment each week. We root for our favorite teams and celebrate when players score touchdowns. However, even though we are encouraged to go crazy as fans, over the last few years the NFL has become known as the “No Fun League” because of the limits they’ve placed on players.  

With its strict rules on players celebrating in the end zone, last season there were 29 penalties called for unsportsmanlike conduct during touchdown celebrations. 

But surprisingly, yesterday the NFL announced they will be loosening up and relaxing their celebration rules.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said to fans, “We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown, and players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.” 

I agree that fans enjoy seeing “spontaneous displays of emotion,” as well as experiencing their own…with high-fiving or hugging after big touchdowns. Everyone wants to have the opportunity to express their excitement. 

This is a big step for the NFL to lighten up, and I’m anxious to see how players will respond during the upcoming season. 

As I think about football and life, I realize we were all designed and created to celebrate, worship, and cheer. It’s great to be filled with joy and excitement, but sometimes our desire for worship ends up being misguided and directed toward ourselves…instead of the God who created us.

We get caught up praising creation more than the creator, and celebrating each other over the Provider and Source of life strengthening us. 

As followers of Jesus, we should live a life of worship, joy and cheer, but instead of making it all about our own accomplishments, we must remain aware of the work God is doing through us that causes us to celebrate. When we point our praise toward Him, this leads to genuine worship. As a result, our awe is put in its proper place. 

Today as we think about the “No Fun League” loosening up, and realizing the importance of freedom in expressing joy and the spontaneity in our displays of emotion, let’s stop being so stiff when it comes to our worship and the celebrating of our all-powerful and loving God. 

Let’s be encouraged by Psalm 150:1-6 (NLT): “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heaven! Praise Him for His mighty works; praise His unequaled greatness! Praise Him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise Him with the lyre and harp!

“Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flutes! Praise Him with a clash of cymbals; praise Him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!” 

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would be filled with joy and awe as I praise You and worship You above all else. You are worthy to be honored and glorified. I pray I would enjoy life and have fun celebrating Your goodness and the blessings that come from You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Peyton Manning is one of my favorite athletes of all time, and just when I thought I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his, a tremendous story has surfaced involving him and football official, Butch Hannah. 

Retiring after 30 years, Hannah is now revealing that he had a surprising interaction with Manning while he was with the Broncos. 

Hannah told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “I called back two Denver touchdowns. But they pulled it out by two or three points [39-36]. But late in the game, the clock about to run out, Peyton mistimed a snap and they had to run one more play.

“Peyton said something off-color to me, which was not at all like him. I told him, ‘Peyton, you’re better than that.'”

Hannah went on to explain that a few weeks later he received a FedEx package in the mail from Manning. It included a letter asking if he would accept his apology for reacting the way he did on that day the Broncos played against the Dolphins.

Hannah shared that this was the only time anything like that happened to him in all his years of officiating, and that Manning even went a step further by going up to him before a preseason game a few months later.

When asked by Peyton if he had gotten his letter, Hannah said, “Peyton, you’ve got to let this go.” Peyton replied, “You have no idea how upset I was with myself.”

The legend of Peyton Manning continues, and I hope this story is an encouragement to all of us today. Apologizing to others can be difficult, but it’s so important and impactful.

We must battle against our pride and humble ourselves to admit when we do something wrong. Reconciliation always begins with “I’m sorry” – even though the moments we blow it can’t be redone. 

Of course, it takes the other side being willing to forgive, but it’s our role to initiate the attempt to make things right with an apology. 

The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:23-24 (AMP), “So if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering.” 

Proverbs 14:9 (NLT) says, “Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation.” 

Today, let’s be willing to say we’re “sorry” and apologize for our mistakes. When we do, we can be at peace with others…and continue to pursue holiness and integrity. I’m Byrce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please give me the strength to admit my faults and the times I hurt people. I pray that my pride would not get in the way, and that humility would drive me to reconciliation. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

The Cleveland Cavs were beating the Boston Celtics by 21 points in the third quarter of last night’s game 3, and I’m sure most people thought the Cavs would take a 3-0 lead in the series. 

Just as the Cavs were probably thinking the same thing, the Celtics rallied with an incredible comeback that ended in a 111-108 win for Boston in front of Cleveland’s fans. 

Considering the Celtics’ best player, Isaiah Thomas, is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a hip injury, this was a remarkable feat. With the other players stepping up in his absence, and Avery Bradley shooting a game-winning 3, the finish was both exciting and impressive.

Although the outcome was shocking, no one could deny the magnitude of the Celtics’ character, grit, and determination. TNT’s game analyst, Chris Webber, spoke highly of their effort and made the comment, “heart trumps skills at times.”

Webber went on to explain how Boston’s heart got them over the hump and allowed them to overcome the talent of the Cavs. 

Seeing some drama in the conference finals was a nice change from the many blowouts so far. It’s always fascinating in sports when the less talented team is able to pull out a win because of their heart.

When a team relies on attitude, effort, belief, and perseverance to win against the favored team or the team with a significant lead, that is true heart. 

Webber’s insightful comment that “heart trumps skills” reminds me that all too often we mistakenly think the only way to serve God is by having amazing skills and impressive talents.

We work hard to get better at everything so that we stand out more and feel more worthy of being used, but when we put too much emphasis on our skills and forget about the heart that’s needed, we miss the point. 

Of course we want to grow and develop our skills and knowledge, but God places greater emphasis on using people with the right heart to bring Him glory. He wants us to have an obedient attitude, solid integrity, strong belief, and a deep desire to persevere and do His will.

When we look at people in the Bible, or others who have been mightily used by God, they aren’t always the most skillful or talented on paper, but they are the ones who are genuinely committed. They have the heart to serve God, and He in turn, gives them what they need to overcome what they lack. 

2 Chronicles 16:9 (NLT) tells us, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him…”

David writes in Psalm 40:8 (NLT), “I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your instructions are written on my heart.” 

The Cavs are clearly the more talented team in this series, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the heart of the Celtics impacts the remaining games.

Today, let’s be encouraged that “heart trumps skills” when following Jesus and serving Him in powerful ways. Imagine the impact we can have if our hearts are fully committed to Him. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful You look at my heart instead of my skills. I trust You will use me for Your glory as You see fit. Please give me the strength I need to stay committed. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote an article for a feature called “The QB Confidence Index,” in which he ranked the current quarterback situation for all 32 NFL teams. 

He began his article by asking, “How confident are you in your team’s quarterback situation?” His list wasn’t just about the starting quarterback, but each team’s overall status at the position. The end result was the Patriots finishing first and the Jets ranking last.

While putting the index together, and determining how fans were feeling at the moment, Graziano also factored in these questions: “How confident are you that your starter can play all 16 games? How much longer can he play? How good do you feel about the backup if he has to play?”

This is a fun list to examine (especially this time of year) because we all know that the hope we have for our favorite team’s success is connected to the quarterback.

This QB Index got me thinking about our own lives and asking ourselves these questions: “How confident are we in our God?” How confident are we that God loves us and hears our prayers? How confident are we that God’s Word is true?”

The following verses should increase our confidence level:

Psalm 118:8 (ESV) gives us the promise, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

Galatians 6:9 (ESV) encourages us with these words: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

We can have the same confidence that Paul had when he wrote in Philippians 1:6 (ESV), “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

As we think about our confidence level in God, are we more like Patriots fans or Jets fans? Do we fully trust and believe that God is good and faithful and can do the impossible?

Even when God seems silent or we’re waiting on Him, we must continue to have confidence in Him and cling to Jeremiah 17:7 (ESV): “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”

Ultimately and simply, let’s hold onto the assurance found in 2 Corinthians 3:4 (ESV): “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.”

We know that God loves us and saved us, so we can have great confidence in the One we’re following because we know our “quarterback” won’t let us down.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know at times I doubt and lack confidence that You will work things out in my life. Please help me to trust You and Your Word, so that I can live with great confidence and remember how much You love me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Atlanta Falcons are probably still reeling from their brutal Super Bowl loss, but a new season is around the corner and they’ve made changes to both their coaching staff and roster. 

One of the more intriguing decisions they made was to add former college coach, Steve Sarkisian, as this year’s offensive coordinator. 

The Falcons had a potent offense during their run to the Super Bowl last season, but their previous coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, has taken over as the head coach in San Francisco.

Now with Sarkisian in charge of the offense, it’s important he’s working well with two-time Pro Bowler, Devonta Freeman, and continues to get him involved. 

Based on recent comments from Freeman about his new coach, it sounds like their relationship is off to a good start: 

“The thing I like about him is he’s very flexible with every guy on the team — the whole coaching staff is. If it’s something that we have a problem running, we can go to him and talk to him about it and explain [it]. And I believe that if it’s a good enough reason, he’ll let us do it our way. … I definitely think he’s going to put us in the best situation to have success.” 

In football, many people contribute to the success of a team. With input coming from multiple places, it makes sense that flexibility is an important characteristic. Freeman has positive thoughts about Sarkisian because he’s open and willing to adjust. 

I know in my own life, I enjoy being around and working with people who are flexible. We can all have strong convictions and stand firm at the right times, but it’s nice when people aren’t so stuck in their ways and are willing to listen to the advice of others.  

With flexibility, comes a great openness to change and a willingness to alter our plans when life doesn’t go the way we thought it would. If we really submit to God’s will and pursue the path He wants us to take, we have to let go of our resistance and be more flexible to His promptings for change. 

When we stop fighting Him with our hard hearts, we can be completely open to what He’s wanting to do in us and through us. 

Philippians 2:13 (NLT) teaches us: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”

Today, let’s be encouraged to be flexible in our interaction with others, and let’s surrender to Jesus so that we can experience freedom from our stubborn ways.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the stubbornness I hold onto. Please help me to daily surrender to You, and experience freedom and flexibility to do what pleases You. I believe You are working in me with Your power, and I pray I would know Your desires for my life. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

During last night’s NBA Draft Lottery, the Boston Celtics came away with the number one overall pick for the draft next month. Fourteen teams had a chance to win the lottery, but the winning ping pong ball had the Celtics name on it. 

ESPN televises this quick event, filled with anticipation and hope as each envelope reveals the corresponding draft order from 14-1. It’s funny to watch the build up and effort that each team makes to contribute to their “good luck,” as they wait for the unveiling of the picks.

The team representatives sometimes bring good luck charms or items they feel will give them a better chance at winning the lottery. Certain teams think they deserve the top pick, but as the ping pong balls bounced last night, the Celtics were the lucky lottery winners.

When thinking about luck or coincidence in light of faith and truth and God’s will, the one thing worth unpacking today is our view of prayer. How often do we use it as another “good luck charm” hoping that God will grant us our every wish? 

Unfortunately, prayer isn’t always an on-going conversation with God, but rather a last ditch effort for good luck to swing our way.

As we consider our own prayer life and the approach we take in our pursuit of God, do we just reach out to Him when we want something or when we think it’s our turn for good to come our way? 

Do we pray with boldness, confidence, and deep faith…or is prayer just another way of crossing our fingers and knocking on wood?

I believe in an all powerful, loving God who desires His children to know Him and do His will. It’s important we seek Him in prayer as we speak and listen.

When we begin to understand His will and keep our desires rooted in Him, then we know what to pray and how to pray. We no longer just throw up empty or selfish prayers, but our communication with God is meaningful, continuous, and vibrant. 

Prayer reminds us where to place our trust and hope. When we pray with humility, and believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have faith that God hears us and sees the big picture.

He will either answer us with a “yes,” “no,” or “wait,” and will provide the strength we need to respond well to His response. 

Great encouragement is found in 1 John 5:14-15 (ESV): “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” 

Today, let’s find comfort in the truth that God is good, loving, and involved in our lives. The creator of the universe hears us, answers us, and transforms us through prayer.

Who needs a good luck charm when you know the almighty God intimately? I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please help me to understand how to pray and what to pray, so that I can experience the power and joy of staying in Your will. I believe You hear me and know that You answer prayer in ways that I don’t always understand, but I trust that Your will is the best. Thank you for allowing me to know You and hear You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

With a sizable 78-55 lead, Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was going San Antonio’s Displaying way until their best player, Kawhi Leonard, left the game with an injured ankle in the third quarter. 

During a controversial foul by Warriors player, Zaza Pachulia, Kawhi landed on his foot after Zaza stepped into him while coming down from his shot. The Spurs played the rest of the game without their star, and the Warriors came back to win.  

The Spurs are upset they lost the game, and head coach Gregg Popovich is especially angry about the play that precludes Kawhi from playing in Game 2.

Popovich and the media are questioning Zaza’s intentions and motives behind the foul, and accusing him of being a dirty player. When people look at the replay, they see Zaza preventing Kawhi from having enough space to land from his jumpshot.

Popovich commented, “Nobody wants to do anything that would put anybody else in danger for a game or a career. This guy’s history is different.”

The debate over Zaza playing dirty, and intentionally wanting to injure Kawhi, will be a topic of conversation throughout the series. Although the series has been altered, it’s hard to know for sure what the motives of athletes really are. Figuring out what is exactly in their hearts and minds on any specific play is nearly impossible. 

The same is true for us in our own lives. Time and time again, people do things under false pretenses…disguised as a worthy effort. Unfortunately, they may act like they care about us, but something self-motivating is driving them. 

Although it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on in someone else’s heart or mind, we can take an inventory of our own intentions. As followers of Jesus, we want to live with a pure heart that includes pure motives.

We must consider what’s really driving us to make the decisions we make, and the reasons behind our behavior. We need to address and let go of the “dirty plays” we are pursuing for the wrong reasons. 

The Bible says in 1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT),“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.” 

1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT) tells us, “For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.”

Ultimately, God is the one who knows our hearts and what’s behind the actions we take. Let’s trust Him to reveal the changes we need to make…and give us strength to be pure in our intent to love Him and love people. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please forgive me for my impure thoughts and intentions that have hurt people. Please show me the actions in my life that are driven by the wrong motives, so that I can be pure in the way I love and serve You and others. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I had a great Mother’s Day weekend and hope you did too. When I think about the sacrifices and love my mom has demonstrated throughout my life, it’s easy to honor and celebrate her. She has done so much for me and I could never repay her, but she is very deserving of my appreciation and respect. 

I’m encouraged by this well-known and powerful scripture found in Ephesians 6:1-3 (ESV), “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

As many sons and daughters were recognizing their mothers on Sunday, the New York Yankees organization and their fans honored Derek Jeter for his illustrious 20-year career, while retiring his #2 jersey.

It’s a joy for Yankees fans to stand and cheer for “Captain” Jeter because of all the great memories he provided them, as well as, his strong commitment to the franchise for so many years. He did a lot for the city and Major League Baseball, and was a great representative of both.

With all the honoring taking place for our moms and Jeter, I decided to look up the definition of “honor.” According to the dictionary, it means to “regard with great respect.” The synonyms for honor include esteem, admire, defer to, appreciate, value, cherish, adore, revere, praise, exalt, and worship.

When I hear those words, I think how easily we honor athletes and our mothers, but sometimes hesitate to show God the highest and most passionate honor that He deserves.

When we really think about what He’s done for us and contemplate who He is, our hearts should be filled with deep appreciation and adoration. Our lives should pour out praise and worship, and reverence to the One who saved us and showed His great love for us.

1 Timothy 1:17 (NLT) says, “All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; He alone is God. Amen.”

I don’t think we have to stop honoring the people we love and respect, but let’s not hold back our ultimate honor for the one and only God of the universe. He’s the one we defer to, esteem, and exalt above all else because He’s worthy of all our praise. I’m Bryce Johnson and you canunpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful for the important people in my life and I desire to honor them well. I pray, too, that my strongest praise and worship will be directed toward You. You are deserving of my full adoration and I pray I don’t hold back. You are worthy of my appreciation and adoration. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Legendary Yankees’ shortstop, Derek Jeter, will have his #2 jersey retired on Sunday night in front of the home crowd. He’ll be remembered for his clutchness and leadership demonstrated throughout the 20 seasons he played in New York – including five World Series wins.  

Before being honored, Jeter made these interesting comments when interviewed by the YES Network:

“Someone asked me recently, do I have any regrets in my career? My last season, I kept a journal; every day I’d write something in there. The one regret I do have is that I wish I would’ve done that my entire career, because there are so many things that you forget.

“Still to this day I haven’t looked at it. It’s locked up and I haven’t looked. I’m going to be a father soon, so I’m sure one day when I sit down with my kid — or kids, if there’s multiple — I’ll get a chance to reflect and maybe brag like my dad used to do when I was younger.”

I have personally found immense value in journal writing, and understand what Jeter is saying since the practice has been very rewarding in my own life.

But beyond the idea of writing things down in order to brag to our kids, I think the more important reason for recording what goes on in our lives is to document God’s faithfulness and goodness.

As followers of Jesus, it’s crucial to recollect what He has done in us and through us over the years. That way we can look back and see how far we’ve come and recognize the wonderful work of God. Our faith and love for God deepen as we recall His power and miracles from the past.

We are told in Psalm 77:11 (NLT), “But then I recall all You have done, O Lord; I remember Your wonderful deeds of long ago.”

The story of Joshua in the Old Testament is a notable example of remembrance, as stones were used as a memorial to remind future generations of the significant work of God.

Joshua 4:21-24 (NLT) recounts, Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’

‘For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and He kept it dry until you were all across, just as He did at the Red Sea when He dried it up until we had all crossed over.

‘He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.’”

In sports, teams and leagues do a tremendous job of remembering and recognizing the greats with jersey retirements, plaques, and statues.

Today, let’s ask ourselves, what we are doing to reflect on and remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Do our keepsakes and memories point to our own accomplishments…or do they humbly show us God’s power working in our lives?

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, when I pause to remember all that You’ve done, I’m blown away! Please help me not to forget those moments where You came through and revealed Yourself in such amazing ways. I pray that I recollect Your power and the faithfulness You’ve shown me in the past, so that I can be encouraged to face what I’m dealing with today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

As sports fans, one of our favorite things to do is debate who and what is the greatest. We routinely argue the best games, coaches, and players…and this time of year, attempt to answer the question, “Who is the NBA’s greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.)? Displaying

Most would say Michael Jordan has been the G.O.A.T. for many years, but some old school fans have claimed Kareem, Magic, and Russell. Kobe Bryant has also pushed his way into the conversation, but he has never passed Jordan. 

Presently, Lebron James is moving up in the NBA record books to prove his worth as the G.O.A.T. During the playoffs, fans, media, and former players are actively making their case for what LeBron needs to accomplish to be seriously considered better than Jordan.

Some people will never give LeBron the nod. But because LeBron is gaining the edge in enough statistical categories, many fans are becoming more open to the possibility that he could be the G.O.A.T. 

This intriguing question of who is the greatest has been around since Jesus walked the earth. While involved in His amazing work, the twelve disciples were recorded as saying in Matthew 18:1 (NLT):“About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’”

There is something inherent that causes us all to wonder who is the greatest, and even the disciples had their reasons for placing value on this question. They were most likely concerned about where they stood in line with one another…and probably wanted to know how they compared to each other in the eyes of Jesus. 

Although they obviously had their reasons, Jesus quickly squashed their motivations in Matthew 18:2-4: “Jesus called a little child to Him and put the child among them. Then He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.'” 

His lesson on humility being the key characteristic in God’s kingdom, is one that we can learn from today. Instead of getting caught up in our accomplishments, power, and abilities, Jesus wants us to be like children who are dependent, free, teachable, and lowly.

To truly become great, we must realize our weaknesses and brokenness. Our desires must become more about serving and obeying – not driven by the world’s standard of greatness.

As we have fun debating the NBA’s G.O.A.T., let’s also consider Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s pursue a childlike faith and humility, while being devoted and dependent on our loving Heavenly Father.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray I would be great in Your eyes, and focus on humbly submitting to my need for You. Help me not to worry as much about worldly greatness. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

The NBA playoffs were getting a bit boring and quiet, but last night fans finally saw an exciting game with the Spurs winning at home against the Rockets. 

Thanks to the strong performance of the 39-year-old Spurs’ legend, Manu Ginobili, they pulled it out in overtime 110-107. Manu came up clutch to help the Spurs take a 3-2 lead in the series and win the very important Game 5.

Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in overtime (due to an injured ankle), so the other guys had to step up in his absence. The Spurs had the 3-point lead, but the Rockets had the ball in the closing seconds of OT when James Harden went up for the tying shot from the 3-point line.

Manu saw what was happening and put himself in position to come up with the game-saving block. He prevented Harden from even getting his shot off, and rejected his opportunity to tie the game.

The game-changing block by Manu can encourage us today. In this life we have an opponent who is out to defeat us and looks to “put up shots” on us. Each day we face temptation with the evil enemy trying to “score on us” when we’re not alert and out of position.

 We need to be like Manu…aware of what’s going on, while staying ready to reject and block the temptation that is coming. We can’t give our opponent any space or opportunity to get a good “shot off,” so we must stand firm and be willing to block the attempts that come our way.

 As followers of Jesus, we know we don’t have to fight this battle alone, and must recognize our need for strength when temptation appears. We must remember who we are in Christ and who we serve and obey. Thankfully, God gives us the ability to block “shots” and win in those intense situations.

 The Bible simply says in James 4:7 (NIV), “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The Amplified version says, “So submit to [the authority of] God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him] and he will flee from you.”

Today, let’s block, reject, and resist the devil and the evil, selfish temptations that are sure to pop up. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful that with Your strength I don’t have to give into temptation, but have the ability to block the devil’s attempts to try and defeat me. Please help me to stand firm and alert, so I don’t give the enemy any space to work. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I enjoy watching the best basketball players in the world compete in the NBA Playoffs, but there is one element of the game that is annoying – continuous complaints from players to refs. 

Players seem to have an issue with every call, and rarely acknowledge their wrongdoing. They are incredulous when refs call a foul against them, and pout and whine when calls don’t go their way.

Jeff Van Gundy, former coach and current TV analyst, has been very vocal about his concerns regarding this situation. He is especially frustrated that players dispute blatant calls which shouldn’t be challenged, and thinks referees should carry a flag to eject players from the game when they do. 

Overall, I think he’s on to something and agree with his assessment that it’s “the absurdity of every play complaints.”

When I think about players being dramatic and emotional after every play, I can’t help but wonder if we have similar behavior in our own lives. 

Do we have a bent toward complaining and whining every day? Are we always looking for something to be upset about in our circumstances?

We can easily slip into a mindset of not owning our mistakes. Or pouting and whining when things don’t go our way and people don’t live up to our unrealistic expectations.

It’s understandable when players take refs aside to reasonably discuss missed calls, but it’s outrageous when they find fault on every play. Likewise, we should fight for what is right in life, but not spend our days complaining about every issue that arises.

As followers of Jesus, we need to look at every day as a gift from God and as an opportunity to bring Him glory. Instead of whining at every turn, we should be filled with love and grace, and desire to stand out with a joyful and thankful attitude. 

The Bible says in Philippians 2:14 (NLT), “Do everything without complaining and arguing…”

Players hold themselves back from making a difference on the next play when they pout over calls made by refs. We fall into the same trap by holding on to things that don’t go our way, and spending time being upset over them.

Today, let’s be encouraged to see things through a different lens. Instead of regularly getting caught up in “the absurdity of everyday complaints,” let’s be filled with hope, joy, and thankfulness…and truly embrace having a positive attitude.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for my daily complaints and for whining about the things that don’t go my way. I pray I would be less selfish and prideful. I ask that You would fill me with thankfulness and joy, even when I don’t get what I think I want or deserve. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

In high school, I had the memorable opportunity to watch the Yankees take on the Cubs at Wrigley field. I fondly look back on that opportunity, and realize the magnitude and rarity of these two teams playing an interleague game.

Displaying Last night provided another legendary battle with the Yankees pulling out a 5-4 win, after 18 innings and over six hours of play. It turned out to be the majors’ longest interleague game ever by innings – a crazy two games in one! 

Going into the evening, I’m sure nobody was expecting to endure the length of time it took for the game to come to an end. Every extra inning required players and fans to dig a little deeper in order to hang on a little longer.

In sports, but especially baseball, you never know how long a game is going to last. Usually fans love extra innings because a great game is being extended. 

The intensity and competitiveness between the teams grow after each completed inning, and fans are watching and waiting to see which team will finally win. 

In life, you and I aren’t as eager for “extra innings” to take place when it comes to waiting on challenging circumstances to change.

When we experience tests and trials during a season that lasts longer than we ever imagined, we don’t think we can endure as long as we end up having to. 

However, every “extra inning” causes us to dig even deeper, rely on God more, and seek His strength to hang on a little longer. 

When we face “extra innings” and find ourselves waiting for victory, the intensity and struggle can grow after each completed day or week or year.

As the intensity builds, so should our faith. We can all agree waiting is one of the hardest things we are forced to do, but as followers of Jesus we can trust there is purpose and growth in the endurance.

The fans last night who made it through the 18-inning game, can share that story for the rest of their lives. They can speak about how the game was that much better and even more rewarding because they waited so long for it to end.

There was ultimately relief, but the joy was heightened for every Yankee fan who stuck with it until the final out. They can now look back in amazement that their love for baseball caused them to keep waiting inning after inning. 

I’ve learned that “extra inning games” will continue to pop up throughout our lives and waiting is never easy, but when we seek God and place our love and hope in Him, we’ll be amazed at how He sustains us as we persevere. 

The Bible encourages us in Isaiah 30:18 (ESV), “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” 

Lamentations 3:25 (ESV) also reminds us that “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” 

Today, people are setting their own records for how long they’ve been waiting for a specific victory, and struggling to know what God is up to.

As we cling to these verses, let’s also hold onto the truth of the ultimate victory we already have through Jesus…and remember that we wait from a position of strength because of Him.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, sometimes I can’t believe I’ve had to wait another day or another year for a circumstance in my life to change. I pray that I would trust You as I wait and place my expectant hope in You. Thank you for Your graciousness, mercy, and blessing. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Cleveland Cavs have yet to lose a game in this year’s playoffs, and they appear destined for another trip to the NBA Finals. 

There is plenty of talk about LeBron James and the rest of the talented players on the roster, but what about the man standing on the sidelines coaching this team? 

Although Tyronn Lue seems to stand in the shadows, he has played a vital role in the success of this team since taking over as head coach during last year’s season.

As dominant as LeBron is, he still needs another trustworthy voice in the huddle and the locker room to keep the team on track. 

Lue may not have a large personality and isn’t looking for the spotlight, but his coaching style has some qualities that suit the Cavs very well. 

In a recent interview with ESPN, he said the following: “But I’ve always learned throughout my years in the NBA, just being poised on the sideline. Not going crazy every possession — on the officials, on your players.

“When you get to the timeouts in the fourth quarter, late-game situations, everyone is poised. Like, no one is all over the place. Everyone is locked in and you can execute better.” 

This mentality seems rare for head coaches in any sport, yet it makes so much sense. Lue helped lead the Cavs to an NBA Championship in his first season, so he must be doing something right. 

You and I may not be standing on the sideline of an intense playoff game, but we all face situations where we must decide to remain poised and calm or “go crazy and be all over the place.” 

Pressure and challenges can cause us to lose our composure and fly off the handle, but it’s clear that’s not the best answer. 

The Bible says in Proverbs 14:16-17 (NIV), “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil, but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure. A quick-tempered person does foolish things, and the one who devises evil schemes is hated.” 

As followers of Jesus, let’s rely on His peace and strength to remain poised and calm during the intense moments of life.

Let’s lean on God’s spirit inside of us to empower us to keep our composure, instead of looking like a hotheaded crazy man running up and down the sidelines of life!

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit it’s challenging for me to always remain poised and calm during stressful situations. I pray I would pause and depend on Your peace and strength to keep my composure, instead of being quick-tempered. Thank you for Your grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is one of the best in the business, and this week signed a contract extension that will keep him in Tuscaloosa until at least 2024. 

He’s built an incredible powerhouse program at Alabama, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The upcoming season is a few months away, and the new players are already being implemented into the team. However, Saban and the Crimson Tide are still just a few months removed from their National Championship loss to the Clemson Tigers.

The loss was heartbreaking when you consider they had the lead, but ultimately allowed Clemson to pull out the win in dramatic fashion during the closing moments of the game.

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Saban hasn’t moved on yet from this overwhelming disappointment. He told ESPN a couple of weeks ago, “I’ll never get over it because you never do with those kind of losses. I never got over the returned field goal at Auburn.

“I never got over playing poorly against Ohio State and losing that game late. And then in this game, we didn’t play very well, and Clemson did when they had to. That’s what eats at you.”

With Saban being so competitive, I can only imagine how he replays the tough loss and second guesses every play that took place in that game.

Losses in sports and life can motivate us and change us for the better. However, when we allow difficult moments and the brutal mistakes we’ve made to “eat at us,” the pain and suffering remain.

As followers of Jesus, I think we can look at the tough losses and know that God’s faithfulness and goodness help bring us out of those seasons while healing us from the pain.

However, when we continue to dwell on the worst “plays” of our life and allow them to hold us back and distract us, then we are missing out on what’s in front of us and what’s coming next.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT), “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Like Saban, we could look back at upsetting moments that eat away at us. But if we focus on Jesus instead, then we don’t have to say “I’ll never get over it.”  

Today, let’s decide to move on with God’s power…and embrace the fresh season in front of us.  

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I need Your strength to help me process the brokenness and pain I still feel from the difficult circumstances of my life. I believe You are a healer and can give me the ability to look straight ahead toward Jesus, and not dwell on the past. Thank you for Your love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

A very unfortunate scene took place in Boston’s Fenway Park when Baltimore was in town this past Monday night. Red Sox fans were heard taunting Orioles’ center fielder, Adam Jones, with racist and hurtful insults. 

Of course, it’s unacceptable behavior and the Red Sox organization and Major League Baseball have spoken out against this type of language from the fans.

A redemptive response occurred the following night when the two teams played again. This time the Red Sox fans throughout the stadium gave Adam Jones a standing ovation when he came to the plate. This clearly demonstrated that the select few racist fans didn’t represent their entire fan base.

The fallout and questions surrounding the issue of fans’ behavior and derogatory comments coming from the stands is ongoing. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote an article with the headline, “MLB Must Declare War on Racist Language at Ballparks,” while emphasizing the importance of change and how this problem must be taken seriously.

The league and individual stadiums should absolutely make sure the fans are living up to a certain standard, and clearly enforce consequences for this type of behavior. 

It’s also crucial that the mature fans in the stadium hold the people sitting next to them accountable. Fans need to know there’s an acceptable way to act, and when they cross the line they will be called out by each other. This allows everyone to enjoy the game to its fullest, and not be distracted by foolishness.

When I think about stadium behavior, and the standard fans should be held, I see the parallel to life outside of the ballpark. When we decide to be a follower of Jesus, there is a new life we are called to live with a high standard to pursue.

We can no longer act any way we please because God has provided guidelines for us to live, and has given us His spirit to empower us to follow His way.

We know there are moments when we get off track and find ourselves caught up in foolishness. However, similarly to fans sitting in the stadium, these are the times our brothers in Christ need to call us out with love, grace, and truth.

As followers of Jesus, we need to take sin, repentance, and accountability seriously. We rest in the grace we have through Jesus, but God has shown us the way He desires us to live. When we don’t, it must be addressed by each other. Similarly to Olney’s thoughts on baseball, “We must declare war” on the sin that is holding us back.

The concept of fans looking out for other fans and brothers watching brothers is explained in Luke 17:3 (AMP): “Pay attention and always be on guard [looking out for one another]! If your brother sins and disregards God’s precepts, solemnly warn him; and if he repents and changes, forgive him.”

Today, let’s be encouraged to keep seeking God and His ways, while also gracefully and lovingly watching out for each other…so that foolishness isn’t taking away from enjoying Him to the fullest.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would continue to show me the way You’ve called me to live. Please give me humility to be pointed in the right direction by others. Help me pursue forgiveness, repentance, and grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The city of Philadelphia did a standout job of hosting this year’s NFL Draft. The fans came out to support the event, and of course, did their fair share of booing and cheering. 

The draft’s highlight was Drew Pearson (former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver) coming to the podium and dynamically announcing the Cowboys’ draft pick with these words (see video):

“I am honored as an undrafted free agent to be selected to make the Cowboys’ second-round draft pick, and on behalf of the five-time world champion Dallas Cowboys, Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones, Gene Jones and the Jones family, coach Jason Garrett, all the players that played before me, that played with me and played after me, with the second pick, the 60th pick in the second round, the Dallas Cowboys select defensive back from Colorado, Chidobe Awuzie.”

He boldly yelled this announcement over the loud boos of Eagles fans, and just kept saying what he wanted to say – confidently holding his ground. Despite the negative feelings many have toward the Cowboys, Pearson’s passionate energy seemed to be respected and appreciated – even by the commissioner.

There are some valuable takeaways from this legendary draft selection announcement, which can inspire us in our own lives. As followers of Jesus, are we proud enough to represent Christ boldly and confidently even in times of opposition or “booing?”

How often do we passionately and enthusiastically shout praises to the Lord? Are we willing to tell the whole world how great our God is…and stand firm as we boast about Him?

The Bible encourages us in Psalm 98:4 (NLT) to “Shout to the Lord, all the earth; break out in praise and sing for joy!”

Psalm 47:1 (NLT) says, “Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise!”

1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV) tells us, “So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

Today, let’s remember the team we’ve joined and how proud we are to represent Jesus to those we meet. Let’s not allow the “boos” to hold us back from shouting about the love and passion we have for the One who saved us.

Even the opposition will respect us when we stand firm and boldly proclaim who we serve. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would fill me with boldness, confidence, and passion as I represent You and bring You praise. Please help me to stand firm in the face of opposition and enthusiastically proclaim my love for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

As the 2017 NFL Draft comes to an end, many people will remember it for the big Mitchell Trubisky trade. 

The Chicago Bears were so convinced they wanted him as their quarterback, they were willing to trade the No.3 pick…a third-round pick…a fourth-round pick…and next year’s third-round pick to the 49ers – all so they could move up one spot and get Trubisky.

From the Bears’ perspective, they counted the cost and gave up what was required in order to guarantee Trubisky would be their quarterback.

Sacrificing their other draft picks didn’t prevent them from making sure the former UNC QB would be wearing a Bears uniform this season.

Many draft analysts thought the Bears gave up too much, and questioned how they could surrender so many valuable picks. But Chicago demonstrated a bold conviction to go after what they needed, instead of worrying about what they were letting go.

In our own lives, especially as followers of Jesus, there is a need to surrender, sacrifice, and let go of something in order to receive what’s most important.

People may criticize us from the outside looking in (questioning that we’re giving up too much), but we must stick to our convictions and boldly follow Jesus.

There is a story in the Bible about the “rich young ruler” who came to Jesus as someone who obeyed the commandments, but was still wondering what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus told him, in Matthew 19:21-22 (NLT), “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

This man wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice needed for Jesus to be his ultimate prize, and placed a higher value on all of his possessions. 

Jesus explains in Matthew 19:29 (NLT), “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”

 I’m not sure if Mitchell Trubisky will be worth everything the Bears gave up, but I do respect their willingness to do whatever it took to get him.

On the other hand, I know that Jesus is worth following and each of us must consider giving up what’s needed for His sake. We can trust He’s the ultimate prize worth sacrificing for!

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I thank you for the eternal life and salvation that is offered to me. I pray I’d have a willingness to give up anything You ask me to, so that I can receive Jesus and all that is available through Him. Please help me not to value anything more than You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The NFL Draft got off to a great start last night with surprising trades and nonstop action. General managers made limitless phone calls attempting to work out critical deals…and draftees anxiously awaited to hear the life-changing ring from a team. Displaying

These young players (either sitting in the “green room” or at home in their living room) eagerly anticipated the call from a coach or owner telling them they’ve been chosen to join their franchise.

After hearing the words, “We’re thrilled to have you join us,” the draftees undoubtedly experienced overwhelming joy and thankfulness…and quickly realized they accepted an invitation to step into a team’s plan and play a key role in what they want to accomplish.  

This scene is a wonderful illustration of what we experience as followers of Jesus. We’ve been called to join God’s plan of redemption, as well as, an invitation to experience salvation and eternity with Him.

How incredible to think He’s called us with the words, “We’re thrilled to have you join us.” Our level of excitement should show overwhelming joy and thankfulness to God for making this possible. 

He’s called us to live according to His will, and to pursue a life that represents Jesus. He’s called us to love and serve, and also strive for unity with other members of His team.

In addition, God has individually assigned us a specific role to carry out what He wants to accomplish through Jesus in this world.

1 Corinthians 7:17 (ESV) tells us, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” 

We are told in 2 Timothy 1:9 (NLT), “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus.” 

The players who were sticking by their phones during the draft made sure they heard the call from a team because they didn’t want to miss out on the life-changing words on the other line.

Today, let’s make sure we’ve accepted the call to be children of God…and be ready and open to what He’s calling us to do each day. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that You’ve invited me to join in Your wonderful redemptive work. I pray I would live the way You’ve called me to, while hearing the specific calling that You have on my life. Please help me be ready and willing to accomplish Your plan for me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Former Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson, will be one of the top quarterbacks chosen in this year’s NFL Draft. After an accomplished college career and a National Championship victory, he will take his winning mentality to the next level. Displaying

In a recent interview, Watson made some bold comments that reveal his level of confidence and the standard he sets for himself: 

“If I’m blessed to stay healthy and play for a while, I’m chasing the GOAT. I’m chasing Tom (Brady). I’m going six. That’s the big thing. I know it’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be hard, and I gotta have the right situation, have some luck along the way, but that’s what I’m chasing.” 

Although his comments have been criticized and questioned, I disagree with the notion he came across as being “full of himself,” and don’t believe his desire to chase greatness shows a lack of humility.

On the contrary, if I’m drafting a quarterback, I want him to be a confident player who has big goals and holds himself to a high standard. 

He may never come close to the level of Tom Brady, but at least he’s willing to set his mind on such an admirable pursuit. 

As followers of Jesus, we will never live the perfect way He did on earth. However, He holds the standard we should strive for, and each day we should set out to be more like Him as we love and serve others. 

The Bible says in 1 John 2:6 (NLT), “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT) further explains, Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

The players drafted tonight will choose the greatness they want to chase and the players they want to imitate, as they begin this new journey.

Today, let’s be encouraged to take steps toward pursuing true greatness in Jesus, as we imitate and follow Him. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!  

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I acknowledge I’m not perfect like Jesus is, but as I rest in Your grace I desire to become more and more like Him. Please help me to imitate Him and chase after His standard. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead last night in their win over the Grizzlies. There is no guarantee they will move to the next round, but as we consider what they’ve already accomplished this year and over the last two decades, it’s ridiculous. 

Michael C. Wright wrote an article for ESPN about their winning and consistency. This is what he had to say: “This year marked the first time in NBA history a team has won 60-plus games the season after losing a former MVP [Tim Duncan] who spent his entire career with the same team.

 “And it’s just the second time in league annals a team captured 50-plus wins in the same scenario. The other time? You guessed it: The Spurs did it the season after David Robinson’s departure.”

In the article, Wright further explored how the team has been able to continue their success and just keep on rolling – even after a key player like Duncan retried.

Admittedly, they have had great fortune with the players they’ve drafted and signed, but they also have key attitudes and fundamentals that make them special.

I especially enjoyed reading what head coach Gregg Popovich had to say when he explained, “We’re not full of ourselves thinking we invented the wheel or did some amazing thing.”

Although his accolades are hard to match, Popovich is a simple, no nonsense kind of guy whose team isn’t filled with flashy players drawing attention to themselves. Because they’re not “full of themselves” and just win, they’re greatly respected and stand out among other teams.

In our own lives, how do others view us? Are we “full of ourselves” and consumed with arrogance, pride, and conceit? When we do something well, do we feel the need to tell everyone about it?

If we desire to be more and more like Jesus, and follow Him, our lives should represent humility. We should be filled with love, grace, and kindness instead of being full of ourselves.

The Bible says in Romans 12:3 (NIV), For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: ‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.'”

Galatians 5:26 (NLT) also tells us, Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.”

Today as we follow Jesus, let’s remember to be filled with His character…not “full of ourselves.” I’m Bryce Johnson and you canunpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please fill me with humility so that I’m not full of myself. Help me to live in view of what Jesus has done on the cross…give me the strength to serve others…and point people to You instead of myself. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL, but his time with the Minnesota Vikings has come to an end. He has signed with the New Orleans Saints to become another member of their backfield. 

Although hard to predict how much Peterson will contribute at this stage in his career, I do think he’ll have an impact on their offense and take some pressure off of Drew Brees.

There are always many factors a free agent must consider when switching teams. As one of the last big name free agents to sign a new deal, I appreciate the response Peterson gave about his decision-making process:

“Most importantly, I chose this team because it just felt right within my spirit. Additionally, my wife and family added their confirmation with the same feelings.”

Of course, a player wants to sign with a team that has a good quarterback and a likeable coach, but ultimately, feeling right in his spirit is very important. 

As followers of Jesus, we’ve been given God’s Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we submit to His promptings, the more familiar and comfortable we become with knowing the difference between our own ideas and God’s will.

If we continue to yield to the Lord’s guidance, study His word, and seek Him in prayer, we will know the right decisions we must make.

By walking closely with the Lord, we can confidently trust our choices when they feel “right within our spirit” because we’re trusting God’s Spirit within us.

On the contrary, when we move forward without that peace, we can find ourselves in unnecessary or problematic situations.

Thankfully, we can cling to what the Lord promises us in Psalm 32:8 (NLT): “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”

One thing we know to be true each day, is having to face decisions. Sometimes they are major and other times they are minor, but either way, let’s pursue God’s will and the Spirit He’s given us, so we can continuously say, “It just felt right within my spirit.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful I can rely on You to make wise and Spirit-led decisions in my life. I pray I would walk in Your ways and yield to the Spirit’s promptings. I pray that Your will would be done in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

The NFL’s Draft Week is finally here with the first round beginning on Thursday. There are many mock drafts to look at as we get ready for this year’s big event. Players have expectations about which teams will pick them, and at what point in the draft their name will be called. 

We know there will be plenty of surprises, and undoubtedly, players will be drafted later than they hoped or thought that they would. Circumstances will quickly change and teams will go different directions at the last minute.

Players always seem to remember how many rounds went by before they were selected, and which franchises rejected them. This can fuel them to play with a chip on their shoulder throughout their entire career.

Many athletes need that extra incentive to prove people wrong, and are motivated by making those teams regret overlooking them. However, an alternative mentality is to focus on the franchise that did select them.

Instead of worrying about who said “no” to choosing them, they could be filled with thankfulness for the one who said “yes.” Even if 31 other teams didn’t want them, they could choose to embrace the one that did.

We can all relate to being passed on or being rejected by someone, and might be motivated to show those people what they are missing. However, when we spend too much time looking back, we miss out on fully enjoying where we are at the moment and who we’re with in the present.

As followers of Jesus, we know we are wanted, chosen, and selected by the ultimate King. Even when we face rejection in our lives, we can handle it with peace because of the thankfulness and blessings that come from being one of God’s children.

Why would we focus on who doesn’t want us, when we can join a transforming and eternal team, and gain tremendous power and joy because of whose we are?

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 1:3-6 (NLT), “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

“God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son.”

Today as we begin a new week, let’s not be discouraged by the job we didn’t get…or disappointed by the person who rejected us…or frustrated by the school that passed on us. 

Those are all tough temporary setbacks, but let’s not allow them to get in the way of embracing our eternal hope and faith in the God of the universe who does want us. God made a way for us to be with Him, and welcomes us with open arms!

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I still have thoughts and pain about the times I’ve been rejected. Please help me to move forward and focus on the reality that you love me and want me. I pray I’d be filled with thankfulness and peace because of my union with Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was a triple-double machine during the regular season, and set NBA records for his historic stats. 

His eye-popping numbers are continuing during the playoffs. In game two against the Houston Rockets, he had a career-high of 51 points to go along with 13 rebounds, 10 assists, a blocked shot, and 4 steals. 

Although Westbrook’s stat line “had it all,” and he once again revealed he can do everything on the court, his team didn’t win.

The Thunder now trails the Rockets 0-2 as the series heads to OKCtonight. His numbers are great, but his team isn’t accomplishing their purpose in the playoffs.

When Westbrook was asked about his impressive game two performance, he made sure everyone knew he didn’t care about his scoring line because they lost the game.

The reality is, his stats are basically meaningless unless his team is winning games. Westbrook could score outrageous amounts of points in this series against the Rockets, but if his team loses, then what’s the point?

In life, we can also “have it all” and still come up short. We can accumulate everything the world has to offer, yet still feel empty inside. We can gain power, wealth, prestige, and success, but if we aren’t accomplishing our purpose in this life it’s basically meaningless.

Everything else won’t fully satisfy us because only Jesus can fill the void in our soul. We were made to know, love, and worship God. If we live selfish and worldly lives without experiencing victory through Jesus, then what’s the point?

Each day, we must decide what life’s about and choose what we want to pursue. Are we chasing the individual “stats” of life or is our soul resting in Jesus as we seek Him?

Jesus asks us important questions in Matthew 16:26 (AMP): For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], but forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Today, let’s ask ourselves these same questions as we get pulled in so many different directions. Let’s continue to stay rooted and grounded in Christ, as we have already gained everything we need in Him. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that my heart would be in the right place and my soul would rest in You. Help me be aware of the things I’m chasing that are empty pursuits and taking me off track. Please give me the strength to live with purpose, while loving and worshiping You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

As sports fans, we rarely witness an historically great player. Each year we watch good players, but every so often there is a once-in-a-generation athlete who enters the sports landscape.

LeBron James is that player in the NBA. Clearly, he’s extraordinarily talented with the ability to perform at a high level in multiple areas on the floor. 

However, he has struggled with free-throw shooting throughout his illustrious career, and this past season he actually shot his lowest percentage (67.4) from the line. 

LeBron could easily blow off his struggles at the line (considering how elite he is at every other facet of his game), but he has humbled himself by seeking the advice of his teammate, Kyle Korver.

Korver has a high percentage from the free throw line, and is one of the best shooters in the game. As great as LeBron is, he is committed to working on the weak area of his game. 

This is what Korver said after LeBron asked him for help: “I think you’ve got to give LeBron a lot of credit for being open to changing something. One of the things I really respect most about him since coming here, is just how hard he works and how hard he prepares, how open he is to being coached. It just says a lot about him.”

In our own lives, we all have shortcomings and areas of weakness. Often we downplay them and make no effort to improve, but when we’re willing to ask for advice from those with strength, the result is tremendous growth. 

The key is being willing to admit our struggles…being open to change…and being humble enough to acknowledge someone else is able to assist us. 

As followers of Jesus, we develop character when we seek wisdom from people who can guide us in overcoming sin and weakness. There is great value in allowing people to give us Biblical counsel and practical instruction, and share how God has changed them from the inside-out. 

The Bible consistently explains the importance of this in our lives. Proverbs 12:15 (ESV) tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” 

We know the best wisdom is rooted in God and His Word. James 1:5 (ESV) encourages us to understand that ”If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Today, let’s stop pretending that we have it all figured out. Instead, let’s put aside our pride, and ask God and others for help. Truth be told, even the “best” are willing to ask. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please show me the areas of my life that need improvement…and give me humility and strength to ask others for help, so that I can grow. Please fill me with Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Memphis Grizzlies are down 0-2 in their series against the San Antonio Spurs. After the 96-82 loss on Monday, Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale gave an epic postgame press conference that included the lines, “But they’re not gonna rook us” and “Take that for data!” 

I’m not a big fan of refs being blamed for losses, but Fizdale laid out the facts and gave legitimate reasons why “it was a very poorly officiated basketball game.” He was angry and frustrated over the lack of respect the officials showed his guys.

He explained how his whole team only shot 15 free throws, yet Kawhi Leonard took 19 free throws himself, and overall the Spurs shot 32 times from the line. Fizdale compared the number of times each team shot in the paint to the number of free throws, and was beside himself about the lopsidedness.

Fizdale also said, “That’s unacceptable. That was unprofessional. Our guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game. And they did not even give us a chance.”

I love a passionate press conference from a coach – especially one with memorable lines. I appreciated that Fizdale spoke honestly, didn’t swear, and overall kept his cool. We knew he was angry, but many would agree the game was unfairly called.

We can all identify with the emotion of anger, and at times have difficulty managing it. What I find very interesting and worth unpacking is how anger can actually come from a good place, and that not all anger is bad.

The Bible describes how sin makes God angry, and also explains how Jesus got angry when money changers and animal-sellers were disrespecting the temple by doing business in a place of worship.

That kind of anger can be described as righteous anger, and is different from most of our prideful and self-motivated anger. We don’t get a free pass for justifying any kind of anger just because God gets angry. Instead, our heart needs to be in the right place in order for anger to lead to something constructive.

The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26–27 (ESV), “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

Our anger should be toward injustices and everything that goes against God’s design. We should be angry and frustrated when we see sin in the world, and how it ruins people’s lives.

We should also be angry about our own sin, and let it lead to repentance and growth. We shouldn’t stay angry, but remain filled with grace and love.

From a sports standpoint, David Fizdale’s anger was warranted. It was motivated by love for his team, and frustration in seeing his players blatantly wronged.

I hope we’re encouraged to think about why we get angry and turn away from any unrighteous anger. Instead of anger leading to sin, let’s get angry about sin.

Today, let’s rely on God’s strength to withstand the moments and situations where our pride wins and anger takes over. Let’s allow good anger to fuel our efforts in love…while making a difference in a very broken world.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can “take that for data”…I mean unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess my anger can come from a very prideful place. Please help me rely on You for strength to battle those emotions that swell up. I pray my heart would be in a place to have righteous anger, in order to make a difference in the injustices of the world. Thank you for Your grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

Former Chicago Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler, is a free agent contemplating retirement or playing for a team in need of a veteran quarterback with a big arm. Displaying

Cutler has had a nice career, putting up solid numbers during certain seasons, but he’s never been considered an upper echelon quarterback.

Not known as the most affable and gregarious quarterback in the league, one could argue he’d already have a new contract if his persona was different.

One of his former teammates, Antrel Rolle, recently made some interesting comments: “I just felt like, honestly, if Jay involved himself more with the team, more with his receivers, I think he’d get more better results on the playing field.

“Like I said, I just honestly feel like he would get much better results if he involved himself more in the team collectively, with all individuals. It doesn’t have to be offense, defense, special teams, but just everyone as a collective unit, I think he would get more out of his game for himself.”

Rolle’s opinions are very valid and certainly not surprising. Even as fans we love to see the quarterback as the leader, high-fiving his teammates and showing enthusiasm from the sideline. It’s important for the quarterback to be engaged and well connected to the other players.

When it comes to our own lives, there is great value in having this same mentality. We get much more out of life when we’re “involved with the team” and interested in serving others.

There is no fulfillment in just putting our heads down and doing our job without forming any meaningful connections to those around us. Enthusiasm and engagement with people are worthwhile for ourselves, others, and the overall team.

As followers of Jesus, we’re connected to a team – more specifically, the body of Christ. There is significance in embracing the unity and fellowship we have with one another. The body of Christ has many parts, and God’s design is for us to come together as one while each playing a different role.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT) tells us, “This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

We shouldn’t isolate ourselves when we have the privilege of being part of such an awesome team. Keeping our heads down while doing our own thing is not the answer. Instead, when we’re involved in each other’s lives, we can encourage, challenge, and engage.

Today, let’s listen to the thought behind Rolle’s comment, “I just honestly feel like he would get much better results if he involved himself more in the team collectively,” and allow it to ring true as followers of Jesus.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us to be connected to each other to form the body of Christ. I pray that I wouldn’t isolate myself, but be fully invested in others. Help me use my gifts to serve them, suffer when they suffer, and rejoice when they rejoice. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The NBA Playoffs had a strong start over the weekend, with Cleveland escaping to win Game 1 over Indiana, and Utah hitting a game-winner to knock off the Clippers.

Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, and Washington all did what they were supposed to do by winning on their home court.

Then we saw two impressive upsets with the 8-seeded Bulls beating the top seed in the East, Boston, and 6-seeded Milwaukee heading to Toronto to go up 1-0 against the 3 seed in the East.

All eight winners from the weekend are feeling great today after celebrating victory and giving their fans something to cheer about.

However, it’s a best of seven series and they have only won one game. Teams that won Game 1 must show up again in Game 2 and continue to pursue winning.

Those who know and follow Jesus also had a special weekend. We celebrated His death and resurrection, as well as, the saving power of the cross in our lives.

I love Easter because we acknowledge the truth that He is risen and have new life found in Him. But even though we all felt good remembering the victory of the empty tomb, our celebration isn’t just for this one day out of the year.

As we get back to our weekly routines and responsibilities, we can know that the joy, power, and victory we encountered on Easter empower us again today to continue pursuing Jesus.

When we believe in Jesus and His wonderful work on the cross, it truly changes everything as He calls us to a serious commitment. He tells us in Luke 9:23 (ESV), “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

The eight teams who won “Game 1” can’t stop now – they must remember what it was like to win and go out and do it again.

When we daily remember the cross and surrender our selfish ways, we rest in His forgiveness and grace. Then we can joyfully go out and follow Jesus in victory…and never be limited to just “Game 1.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful for the heightened awareness of You and the cross that we experience on Easter. I pray that I would daily encounter Your grace and love as I commit to following Jesus each day. Please give me an understanding of how to view life through the victory of the cross and the empty tomb. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

One of the biggest debates in sports right now is who should be named the MVP for the NBA’s regular season. Multiple players are deserving (I tend to think LeBron is the MVP every year), but this year’s award will come down to Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Media members and fans make their own decision based on how they view the candidate’s story and stats. 

Westbrook lost the other half of his dynamic duo when Durant left for the Warriors, but he put the Thunder on his back while becoming only the second player in history to average a triple-double for the whole season. He also broke the record for the number of triple doubles in a season – a record Oscar Robertson held for 55 years.

James Harden’s story is impressive, as well, considering he made the switch to playing point guard under a new coach. He was the league’s leader in assists and finished second in points per game. After a disappointing season last year, he responded by leading the Rockets resurgence to a third-place finish in the Western Conference.

The story of the NBA season has centered around what Westbrook and Harden accomplished, and now the MVP voters must decide what to do with the facts on the table.

As we focus on Easter this weekend, we are reminded that the story of this world is centered around Jesus and what He accomplished while He was on earth. Now, each of us must decide what to do with the facts on the table.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT), “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” 

He also tells us in Romans 3:23-25 (NLT), “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in his sight.

“He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding his blood…”

This remarkable historical story has eternal life-changing implications. How we all respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ determines how we live today and where we spend eternity.

Praise be to God that He made a way for us to be saved through the powerful work of Jesus. We must believe and trust that what He says and what He did is true. And, yes, He’s the real MVP! 

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I believe You sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the punishment for my sin. I believe the Bible is true and You are a Holy God. I admit that I’m a sinner in need of grace. I believe Your amazing redemptive story is the truth, and I’m thankful to receive the free gift of salvation through faith. It’s in Jesus’ powerful name I pray, Amen.

The Chicago Cubs continue their celebration tour after winning last year’s World Series. During a pregame ceremony this week, they received their illustrious rings and a championship banner was raised before Monday’s game against the Dodgers. Displaying

Reaping the rewards of winning the World Series is a memorable experience for a team, but the Cubs begin shifting their attention to winning another one this season. 

They have kept a majority of their team intact, and 24 of the 25 active players sport a championship ring (three players won with other teams). Pitcher, Brett Anderson, is the only one left out from this exclusive club.

Anderson jokingly said, “Maybe the rallying cry for 2017 should be ‘Win one for Brett.’ I’m the only one without one.”

Every player desires to be a champion and get that ring. The Cubs will set out to win again, and if they do, Brett will be brought into the winning family…no longer feeling like an outsider.

The Cubs situation of having 24 of the 25 active players with a ring, and one still searching, reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the “Lost Sheep.”

Luke 15:1-7 (ESV) gives us this narrative: 

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ 

“So He told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

“‘And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’” 

Jesus came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again so that sinners could repent and be saved. His mission is for the lost to be found and to be brought into the victorious family of God.

We must continue praying for those who don’t know God and are still searching…needing to be found. But, we must also remember that we are all sinners in need of grace.

Today, let’s be mindful not to be like the “religious” Pharisees who didn’t understand repentance and questioned Jesus for associating with sinners. Instead, let’s decide to have a heart like Jesus.

If the Cubs are able to win again, there will be a big celebration for Brett Anderson. With that in mind, let’s try to imagine the indescribable celebration in heaven when someone turns from their former life and begins to follow Jesus. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would have a heart for the lost and continue to be grateful that I’ve been found. I pray You would use me in ways to help draw people to Yourself. Thank you for Your grace. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Warriors’ Steph Curry has already had an incredible NBA career and a remarkable rise to stardom. He burst onto the scene when he led Davidson’s improbable run during the NCAA tournament. 

Since then, Curry has won an NBA Championship, two MVPs (one was unanimous), has the number one selling jersey, and is thought to be one of the most likable athletes in sports.

Unfortunately, as much as fans and media love him, there are rumors circling around the NBA world that other star players don’t share this sentiment.

Marcus Thompson recently wrote a book about Steph Curry, and during an interview, revealed his understanding that guys like LeBron, Westbrook, and Chris Paul are resentful of Curry. It’s unlikely those guys would fully admit that, or talk about it openly, but the perception is worth exploring.

Are the reasons for resenting Curry because he’s so liked…has big endorsement deals…has had individual and team success…lured Kevin Durant to join him…has a great family…and his dad played in the NBA?

Fans embrace all of those aspects of his story, but it’s understandable that resentment would come from his competitors. With the playoffs about to begin, the intensity of the rivalries between the Warriors and everyone else will continue to increase.

The dictionary definition of resentment is “a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will.” We must be aware of how this plays out in our own lives, so that major harm in our relationships and to ourselves are not the result.

There may be reasons for building up resentment – someone else is having success and we aren’t, or we feel like we deserve something we aren’t receiving, or we may even resent God for not delivering on what we think He should.

But by recognizing these attitudes aren’t helping us, and negatively affecting our heart toward God and others, we can rise above the resentment. By focusing our feelings on gratefulness instead, we can prevent bitterness from stealing our joy and love for others.

The Bible commands us in Hebrews 12:14-15 (NLT) to “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”

Resentment is poisonous and can infiltrate many areas of our lives. As followers of Jesus, let’s be reminded of His grace and the work He’s doing in us, so we don’t get caught up in worrying about someone else’s journey…and live freely at peace with others. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess that sometimes I allow resentment to build up and rob me of joy and peace. I pray that You would replace it with love and a deeper understanding of Your grace. I thank you for the work You are doing in my life, and I pray I would focus on what You’ve called me to do…instead of worrying about someone else. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Sergio Garcia is the Masters Champion, and now proudly wears the Green Jacket after an impressive four days at Augusta National. He recently gave interesting insight regarding his relationship with this special course:

“When I came here in 1999 as an amateur, I felt like this course was probably going to give me at least one major.

“I’m not going to lie, that thought changed a bit through the years because I started feeling uncomfortable with the course.

“But I made peace with it the last three of four years and I accepted that Augusta gives and takes. And I think because of that I’m able to stand here today.”

One common characteristic among golfers is the desire to control their game. Since it’s an individual sport, guys have the ability to dictate a lot of what happens during the course of a tournament.

But what especially jumped out from Garcia’s comments was he “accepted that Augusta gives and takes.” The truth is, there are many variables that golfers can’t control (as much as they try to) while walking the beautiful fairways at the Masters.

I think it’s natural for golfers to get frustrated when the course gives them something they aren’t expecting, and get out of rhythm because of it. However, the more peace and acceptance a golfer can have about facing what they can’t control, the better off they’re going to be.

Following his win, Garcia admitted, “It was the calmest I ever felt at a major championship on a Sunday. Even the bogeys did not bother me.”

We can learn something important based on Garcia’s realization about Augusta. There are many factors in our own lives which we have no control over, and get discouraged when the shots we take turn out differently than we thought they would.

Although we can’t believe we ended up “in the rough” or hit a “double bogey,” we need to accept that God is in control. The sooner we come to grips with that, the calmer we will be. We can have peace in knowing God is the One who gives and takes away.

In the Bible, we learn about the testing of Job – one of God’s most faithful men. Job 1:21 (NLT) explains how he experienced much, and then lost it all: “I came naked from my mother’s womb,  and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

Job realized that God was the one who gives and takes away, and he worshiped Him faithfully. Once we stop trying to control everything, and accept that unexpected moments are going to happen, we can experience His amazing peace and comfort. We must trust the One who holds everything in His hands and knows what’s best.

Today, let’s remember to find peace in God when He changes our plans. As He gives and takes away, His love and power always remain…so let’s continue to worship and praise His name! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, it’s so easy for me to desire control. Please forgive me for getting frustrated when my plans don’t turn out how I think they should. Help me to recognize that You are in control, and the One who gives and takes away, so in the end that is for my good. Thank you for Your immense love and power. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

“It’s been a long, long wait, but it’s that much sweeter because of that wait.” Those words sum up the sentiment of Sergio Garcia following his memorable Masters win on SundayDisplaying

Considered one of the better golfers in the game, Sergio has had a wild career spanning 30 tournament wins, ranking 2nd in the world at one point, 2nd and 3rd finishes in multiple majors, but never finishing first…until the 2017 Masters. 

After being known as one of the best to never win a major, Sergio finally got over the hump in his 74th attempt, by beating Justin Rose in a playoff winning putt. You could see the relief and happiness on his face as he celebrated the long-awaited victory of taking home the Green Jacket. 

When I think about success in sports, especially golf, there is a distinction between winning early versus winning later in your career. Jordan Spieth was 21 when he won the Masters, yet Sergio had to wait until he was 37.

Winning at both stages of a career have their advantages and challenges, but one thing is for sure, Garcia appreciates the win because he’s had to endure a journey of waiting.

Because of all the disappointment he dealt with along the way, it makes a lot of sense that it would be “that much sweeter.” Coming up short year after year, he had to keep waiting for another chance to win a major. 

That’s more than likely the reason why so many fans were cheering for Sergio yesterday. We can all relate to the struggle of waiting and questioning if something is ever going to happen.

Whether waiting for a job, a spouse, a child, physical healing, or for a loved one to change, often times when we think we’re close, we end up having to wait even longer.

But if we force ourselves to see the value in a delay, we can usually discover a time of growth, maturity, evaluation, and developing a deeper faith and dependence on God. 

Ideally, it’s during the waiting period that we shift our focus from our desired outcome to a complete satisfaction in Jesus, as we find our rest and peace in Him. Our worry and impatience turn into a deep trust in God’s will.

Then, when what we’re waiting for does happen, it becomes “that much sweeter” because of the process we went through to get there…and God’s goodness and faithfulness magnificently shine through.

We can be encouraged by these two scriptures while we are waiting: Lamentations 3:25-26 (NLT) tells us, “The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” 

Micah 7:7 (NLT) says, “As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me.”

Today as we wait, let’s think less about our desired outcome and more about the God who loves us. If that desired outcome is rooted in Him, then it will happen in the right time and it will be “that much sweeter” when it does. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, it’s so difficult to wait, but I pray You will grow my faith and develop my character in the meantime. I know you are good and faithful, and I ask that my desires would come from You, so that I can rest in knowing they will come through in Your timing. Thank you for giving me the strength and grace I need to keep going. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Before the Masters teed off on Thursday, there was a wonderful scene with Augusta National chairman, Billy Payne, placing Arnold Palmer’s Green Jacket on an empty white lawn chair with his widow nearby. Displaying

The Masters won’t be the same without Arnie, but his memory lives on and opportunities to honor him will continue.

ESPN writer, Ian O’Connor, wrote an article with the headline stating: “Pay Tribute to the King by Acting like Arnie.” This article is a letter to the players in the Masters field and the following is a bold challenge to them:

“Get your heads out of your yardage books, and remove those invisible-yet-ultra-conspicuous ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs dangling from your necks as you march from the practice green to the first tee.

“Make as much eye contact as possible with the men, women and children on the other side of the ropes. Smile at them. Nod at them. Give them a thumbs-up.

“And then when your round is over, be sure to spend 20 extra minutes signing autographs than you normally would. Sign as many as Arnie would sign, and you {darn} well better be certain your signature is legible, too.”

That’s quite the standard to live up to, but if more golfers incorporated this selfless approach to those on the other side of the ropes, imagine the positive impact that would make.

In our own lives, do we negatively view people who are less successful than we are while seeing them as being on the “other side of the ropes?” Do we struggle to show respect to those in a lower socio-economic class, and sometimes avoid them all together?

The way Arnold Palmer respected and interacted with those who weren’t on his side of “the ropes” can be our inspiration. Instead of always putting his head down and quickly getting to the “next hole,” he stopped and engaged with them.

I know it’s one thing for a golfer to pay attention to an adoring fan (a middle-aged man in a polo shirt wanting a high five), and yet another story when faced with responding to the needs of someone less fortunate…whose hand is out.

But, do we reach out to help the homeless family…or our brother who lost his job…or the single mom down the street? Or do we just ignore them and walk on by?

The Bible challenges us to reach out in 1 John 3:17-18 (ESV): “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Proverbs 21:13 (ESV) encourages us not to just walk by: “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”

Arnold Palmer was considered the King of Golf, and his standard will not be forgotten. However, as followers of Jesus, we respond to an even higher standard when we serve people sacrificially and show them God’s abundant love.

We become more like the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords when we’re willing to go to the “other side of the ropes” – just like He did. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to the other side of the ropes when he came to earth to die for me. I pray I would follow His example in how I care for, respect, and love others. I pray I would be willing to stop more and help those in need. Please empower me with Your love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

One of the best weekends in sports is well underway with the Masters beginning today. Golf fans love the “tradition unlike any other,” as we know we’ll witness impressive rounds, amazing shots, and surprising performances.
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When you look at the golfers in the field this year, you can see the depth of great players, past champions, as well as, up and coming stars. With names like Spieth, Bubba, Rory, and Rickie, we have plenty of intriguing golfers to cheer for as they chase the Green Jacket.

There is one name, however, who is not in attendance this year, and that of course is Tiger Woods. But whether we admit it or not, he’s still the most captivating guy in the game, and the fact that he’s not playing, remains a key story. Even though we have Spieth and Bubba, we don’t have Tiger…and we miss him.

This is also the first year without the legendary Arnold Palmer being present for the honorary tee off. Rightfully so, everyone wishes we still had him.

Throw in the back injury and uncertain status of Dustin Johnson, and many stories swirling around the Masters seem to be about the golfers we don’t have instead of the ones we do have.

Wanting these golfers out on the course is understandable, but the mentality of wanting what we don’t have in life can play out in detrimental ways. There are negative consequences when we spend more time worrying about what we don’t have instead of being satisfied with what we do have.

We may look at our bank account and think about the extra 0 that is missing from the balance…or get frustrated that our beautiful home doesn’t have another bedroom…or drive a car that doesn’t have as many features as the guy next door.

By getting so bogged down with what’s missing, we stop appreciating the wonderful blessings that surround us each day. When we receive Jesus we have everything we need to be content, but unfortunately we lose sight of that when we allow worldly distractions to trick us into thinking that what we have isn’t enough.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:5 (NLT), “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’”

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (ESV) further explains, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

As we watch golf this weekend, will we be filled with aMasters’ contentment because of the tremendous golfers we get to watch…or will we be distracted by the few that we’re missing?

Today as we follow Jesus, let’s be filled with our Master’s contentment. He’s given us a life filled with many blessings. Let’s not allow another day to go by focusing on what we don’t have. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would fill my heart with satisfaction and contentment as I rest in the salvation that Jesus has provided. I pray I’d be thankful for what I do have in life, instead of always worrying about what I don’t have. Thank you for blessing me beyond what I deserve. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Yesterday we received the unexpected news that Tony Romo is stepping away from playing football to become a CBS broadcaster.

Honestly, I’m pretty surprised he wouldn’t want to prove himself one more time on the field and be a starter somewhere else. I’m bummed he’ll no longer be a quarterback, as I’ve loved watching him play over the years.

Nonetheless, I’m pumped he’s joining Jim Nantz in the broadcast booth – the duo will make a great team! Hearing a new voice during CBS games will be refreshing, and Romo should prove to be highly interesting and informative.

The Romo-Cowboys saga has dragged on for awhile. But with this decision finally being made, most people involved have ended up as winners. 

The key to the resolution of this situation was Romo’s willingness to let go and leave. He didn’t kick and scream about remaining a starter, he didn’t cling to being an NFL QB too long, and he parted ways on good terms at the right time.

By letting go and leaving, Romo’s able to embrace a new opportunity with CBS…Dak Prescott doesn’t need to look over his shoulder…and Romo remains a Cowboy great without playing in another team’s jersey. 

This is an excellent example of the value in letting go and leaving something behind to pursue something new. Often times God wants to use us in a different way, but in order to receive what He has in store for us, we must faithfully act in obedience by letting go and leaving.

If we stubbornly hang on too tightly to one thing, and are unwilling to let it go, we could be missing out on tremendous blessings from God.

After having lived on earth for awhile, Jesus let his disciples know the importance of returning to the Father and that good would come from Him leaving them in a physical sense.

John 16:7 (ESV) says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

As followers of Jesus, we are now empowered by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us because He was sent when Jesus went away. As we pursue God’s will and are led by the Spirit, He will make it clear when it’s time to leave one situation to embrace an even better one.

It takes faith to let go and leave, but God will strengthen us and provide for us as we do. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to earth, and for providing the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us. Please show me what steps I need to take, and give me a willingness to let go and leave what I need to, in order to do what You’ve called me to do next. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Last night’s sloppy, foul-filled, and competitive game resulted in UNC knocking off Gonzaga and becoming the National Champions for the sixth time. The finish was unique with the tug of war abruptly coming to an end, and UNC all of a sudden winning the game.

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It was a huge win for North Carolina when you consider they were in this position a year ago, but Villanova’s confetti was falling from the ceiling instead. Since that heartbreaking loss, “redemption” has been what UNC has desired and is what they received last night.

Not only did the team redeem themselves by making it back and this time winning the championship, but individual players also found moments of “redemption.”

Isaiah Hicks couldn’t seem to hit a shot in the Final Four or earlier on last night, but his fancy one-hander in the paint helped seal the win in the closing minute, and redeem his previous poor shooting.

Joel Berry II was playing on two bad ankles and shot 2-14 against Oregon, but then redeemed himself by scoring 22 points against Gonzaga and being named the Most Outstanding Player.

Kennedy Meeks was in foul trouble and seemed to have disappeared for awhile, but ended up making the game-winning block…and finding redemption.

UNC’s best player, Justin Jackson, went 0-9 from the 3-point line, but came up with an enormous layup in the final 2-minutes, along with the final dunk, to put an exclamation point on the team’s redemption.

It’s hard not to love another redemption story in sports (unless you’re a Duke fan) because there’s something wonderful about watching a team experience the joys of winning after knowing they went through heartache and disappointment.

When it comes to faith, the word “redemption” is even more powerful and incredible. Although rare in sports for a team or player to even have an opportunity for redemption, thanks to Jesus we are all offered a chance to be redeemed – and it’s not even based on anything we do.

Redemption in sports means “the act of making up for,” but Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross means “the act of saving from sin.”

The Bible says in Romans 3:23-24 (ESV), “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 1:7 (ESV) tells us, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”

All of us have a story of losing, brokenness, heartache, struggle, sin, and separation from God. However, as followers of Jesus, we’ve received grace and forgiveness. Thankfully, the victory on the cross turns our story into a redemption unlike any other. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross and redeem me from my sin. I’m thankful to live a life of redemption because of Your grace and forgiveness. I pray that I’d help others see the wonderful gift of redemption You offer them, too. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I really enjoyed the Final Four on Saturday, and I’m looking forward to the National Championship between UNC and Gonzaga tonight, but before moving on I want to look back at the incredible runs made by South Carolina and Oregon.

I’m always intrigued to hear the postgame interviews with the losing coaches outside of the locker room. South Carolina’s head coach, Frank Martin, especially didn’t disappoint.

These are the profound thoughts he shared with his team just moments before:

“People keep score when you play games 35, 36, 37 times a year, and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. That score eventually goes away. When you impact people by the masses the way these kids have, that means you’re a winner as a human being and that’s what matters.

“When we get home and they realize what they’ve done in our community, their hearts will open up with joy because they’ll be so happy that the pain of losing a game eventually goes away.”

Not only in sports culture, but also in life, people are focused on winning and defining success by a scoreboard. As an extremely competitive guy, I struggle with viewing anything less than first place as a success. After all, how can we view falling short of a goal as positive?

But when looking at the bigger picture and realizing what truly matters to God, we see that He cares about our heart, our faithfulness, and how we love others.

He doesn’t look at the scoreboard like we do (filled with championship wins, sales numbers, money in the bank, audience size, and awards on the shelf), but is concerned with our character and the people we impact along the journey.

Whether or not we reach our goals in sports and business, can we say we are a “winner as a human being?” Do we believe the “run” is about more than just finishing first? Are we willing to place value on our impact, instead of the score?

God sees our heart and is looking for love and faithfulness. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:3-4 (ESV), “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”

As followers of Jesus, we must take an honest look at what we consider success, and be willing to see the impact and joy that can even come from being on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Enjoy the game tonight. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for being so concerned with the wrong kind of success and winning. Help me to focus on the impact I can have on others along the journey, and embrace the work You’re doing in my heart. I pray I would be loving and faithful through everything you call me to do. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The NBA season is winding down, and some teams are fighting for a playoff spot…while others are battling for seeding in their conference.

Teams like the Cavs and Warriors have been challenged by injuries and making adjustments to new players. The Warriors appear to be heading in the right direction, but the Cavs are still struggling.

Although once believed Cleveland would be the top seed in the East heading into the playoffs, that is no longer imminent. Lately, they seem to be lacking the effort and intensity needed to be consistently great, and have experienced some tough and embarrassing losses.

Their defense is particularly in question, as it’s not performing at the necessary level. Even so, it’s still only the regular season and we’re talking about the reigning champs with LeBron James. So the intriguing question being raised is, will they “flip the switch” for the playoffs and start playing the way they’re capable of playing?

My guess is they will stop coasting and begin taking winning more seriously. I think they are still the team to beat, but the “flipping a switch” strategy is an interesting concept to consider.

The reality is, teams can turn it on and off depending on the night of the week or who they’re playing. But even though it sometimes works in sports, this type of mentality isn’t the answer when living a life committed to Jesus.  

If our desire is to please God, we can’t be okay with turning our faith on and off depending on the day of the week or who we’re with. If we think we can just “flip a switch” and follow Jesus when it’s easy and convenient, and other times not take it as seriously, then we must check our passion and love for God. 

If we’ve experienced God’s love and grace in a profound and genuine way, we won’t want to flip the switch toward sin or our former way of living.

When you think about the literal flipping of a light switch, as followers of Jesus we want to remain in the light with that switch turned on – no matter what the situation. 

By God’s grace, when we receive Jesus into our hearts, the switch is flipped to the light of Christ within us. The Bible says in John 8:12(ESV), “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” 

1 John 1:7 (NLT) tells us, “But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Today, let’s stay in the light and not flip the switch on and off. Let’s remain faithful to God’s leading and guiding by remembering the promise in Ephesians 5:8 (NLT): “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that the light of Christ would shine through me and I would consistently walk in the light. I pray I wouldn’t just turn my faith on and off or only flip the switch toward You on certain occasions. Thank you for Your grace and for strengthening me to remain in the light. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’ve been fascinated that for the past month I can’t avoid seeing something about LaVar and Lonzo Ball every day when consuming sports media.  

Lonzo had a strong freshman season at UCLA, and has already declared for the NBA draft. He’s talented, confident, and fairly soft spoken.

LaVar, on the other hand, is loud, bold, and crazy. He’s a very proud father who has become a “national sensation” by making outrageous claims and almost daily being interviewed on as many sports outlets as possible.

His comments steal headlines and have caused the media to shake their heads, laugh, and get angry. Here are a few of LaVar’s questionable quotes:

“I have the utmost confidence in what my boy is doing. He’s better than Steph Curry to me. Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

“I’m going to tell you right now before you see it. UCLA is going to win the NCAA championship. You think I’m playing? Right here and right now. Guaranteed. Come see me when they win it.”

“Back in my heyday, I would kill Michael Jordan one-on-one.”

Very rarely do we see a father of a young star athlete become such a media presence and controversial figure. The debate has gone back and forth on whether or not he’s doing his son a disservice by his on-going comments, or if he’s just a supportive dad who is helping his son.

We can agree that fathers should be proud, loving, supportive, and willing to stand up for their kids, but is there a line that gets crossed when it becomes too much?

We’ll see how the strategy plays out for the Balls moving forward, but one thing we can all take a look at is the underlying evidence of bragging.

LaVar is not the first dad to brag about his son and make sure others know how awesome he is. However, I think we all need to take an inventory of our own heart and ways we either brag about ourselves or our children.

We live in a world where self-promotion seems crucial and standing out is desired. As a result, pushing out our chest is common, and letting others know how special we are…or how incredible our children are…is the norm.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my parents’ support and encouragement, and their belief in my abilities. Kids need to know their parents have their back.

But there is a difference between parents proudly talking about their children versus being overly braggadocios to the point of exuding arrogance.

As followers of Jesus, this is an area of life that gives us an opportunity to stand out and point people toward Him instead of ourselves.

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV), “So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”

In Jeremiah 9:23 (NLT), we are told that this is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches.”

Today as we work hard and accomplish great things for the Lord, let’s seek humility and recognize that God is the source of who we are and the provider of what we have.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please forgive me for the times I brag about myself and I selfishly desire praise and acknowledgment. I pray my heart would be filled with the motive to praise You and point others toward Your goodness. I humbly ask that any success I have as an individual or as a parent brings honor and glory to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I have a confession to make. Even as a Duke fan, I cheered and celebrated when Luke Maye hit that amazing game-winning shot for UNC on Sunday evening because it was such an exciting finish.  

With Maye’s tremendous shot on our minds, we also reflect on the anniversaries of two iconic game winners.

Yesterday was 25 years since Duke’s Christian Laettner caught the Grant Hill pass and hit the buzzer beater to knock off Kentucky.

Today marks 35 years since Michael Jordan hit the jumper to win the NCAA Championship for UNC over Georgetown.

As we look at these three wonderful plays, what do they all have in common? Each player had the willingness to step up and take the final shot.

They also had confidence, boldness, and a belief that their teammates and coaches trusted them. They couldn’t have feared failure, and more than likely would have been more disappointed if they didn’t take the shot than they would have been if they missed it.

How can we apply this principle to our own lives? Ultimately, these players must have had faith that it was the right shot to take, so we must be willing to step out in faith to take the shots that come our way.

We can’t be hampered by fear, but instead seek the Lord for wisdom, direction, and opportunities to step out in faith. He clearly lets us know what we should do, and reveals which shots to take.

Although He provides the the strength and confidence we need to go for it, we must first listen…and then be willing.

There is a great illustration of this in the Bible where Jesus shows up when his disciples are fishing and not having much success.

John 21:4-6 (ESV) tells us, “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.”

This story is an encouraging example of how the disciples “took the shot” and threw their nets where Jesus told them. Do we boldly take the shot when He tell us to…or do we continue living in fear and discouragement?

We have opportunities to take “game winners” and “catch our own fish,” but we need to have faith that it’s the right shot to take. Today, let’s decide to listen to Jesus’ voice and follow where He’s leading us to go. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to live a life filled with boldness and confidence because of my faith in You. I want to trust You fully and know when You’re leading me to step out or step up. Please make it clear what shots I need to take, and help me rely on You for strength. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few has been extremely successful during his 18 years as head coach of the Bulldogs. They have made the NCAA tournament each year, and have participated in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 multiple times. 

Few has consistently coached competitive teams who have won numerous games, while being considered one of the best coaches in college basketball.

Even so, in order for his success to be validated and to “get the monkey off his back,” people thought he needed to lead his team to the Final Four. Fortunately for Few, he’s finally done that…and they are actually favored to win it all. 

When asked about that “monkey” after the West Virginia game, this was the interesting response he gave:

 “First of all, I don’t know that I have a monkey on my back. I don’t certainly wake up with one or walk around with one. So I don’t think these guys think I have one. I don’t think my wife thinks I have one or anybody in my family, close friends. Fishing buddies never talk about it. So those are the only people that really matter to me.” 

What a great answer! I’m glad Few can joke about the “monkey on his back,” and it seems he hasn’t worried too much about the media and fans placing undue pressure on him.

Although they love to create the narrative that a coach needs to prove how good he is by performing to a set standard and reaching a certain level, it’s usually a moving target. As soon as a coach accomplishes one feat, there is a new expectation waiting for him. 

When considering life, religion, and faith, mindsets creep in that mirror the idea of having a “monkey on your back.” Too many people pursue success or do good works or check off religious boxes to get the “monkey off.”

However, all of those feats are a moving target, and if we think they’ll earn God’s love and grace, we will only be overwhelmed and burdened that they’re never enough. In reality, our efforts don’t remove the “monkey” we’re carrying. 

That’s why the news of Jesus is so great! Because He removes our sin debt, we don’t have to worry about validating our worthiness. Our value, identity, and salvation are found in Him alone and it’s not about what we do, but instead, what’s been done for us.

We can rest in Jesus’ grace, instead of attempting to find peace through our own strength and accomplishments. 

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29 (AMP), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls.” 

I’m happy for Gonzaga, and hopefully the “monkey” is off Mark Few’s back as a basketball coach…at least for now.

Today, let’s be encouraged to rest in Jesus’ work on the cross, and the fact that He died on our behalf so we can find peace and rest in Him.

It’s not about our religious efforts or attempting to reach another level of success, but instead we rely on the freedom and free gift of salvation that only Jesus offers. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the days I make it about myself by trying to prove my worthiness and attempt to earn your love. I pray I would rest in the work of Jesus, and walk with peace and freedom because He paid my debt. Thank you for taking my heavy burdens. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Final Four is set for Saturday, and unfortunately my bracket didn’t include any of these teams. 

Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed the tournament and I’m very intrigued with the surprising runs that No. 3 seeded Oregon and No. 7 seeded South Carolina have made.

I’d also throw Gonzaga in that, despite having a No. 1 seed, because this is their first time making the Final Four and it was hard to predict how good they really are.

Then we have UNC, who we know is tough with Luke Maye making one of the best shots of the tournament yesterday to beat Kentucky. Since UNC was in this situation last year, it’s not unexpected that they’ve made it this far, but for the other three teams, the mantra has been, “Why not us?”

South Carolina star, Sindarius Thornwell, said, “We’re not going to settle for this. We’re still going into that [Final Four] game thinking we can win. Why not? Why not us? Why not go win it all? That’s our mindset. We feel like we can compete with anybody right now in the country.”

What a great mentality to have! When teams start thinking there’s no reason it can’t be their year to win, and that they can keep on going, it removes the barriers and doubts that prevent them from being champions. They refuse to go home and watch someone else “make a run.”

With the NCAA Tournament filled with motivation and inspiration, it makes sense that the “Why not us?” attitude really resonates with teams wanting to win the tournament. But, what if this attitude translated to our own lives?

I think too often we buy the lie that we can’t do something or that someone else will do what we should do. Instead of seeing someone in need and thinking, I sure hope someone helps them, we should say, “Why not us?”

Rather than believing someone else will be the one who makes the effort, gives of themselves, accomplishes the impossible, we should declare, “Why not us?”

Jesus wants His followers to do incredible work on His behalf to serve others and bring Him honor. When we submit to Him by letting go of our pride and fear, and start saying, “Why not us,” we will be amazed by what God will do in us and through us.

We must stop counting on other people to do what we’re supposed to do and stop sitting at home watching someone else “make a run.”

Jesus says in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

God is powerful and wants to use us to make a difference in the lives of others while accomplishing His will on earth. With His help, we can do something extraordinary – something that will have tremendous impact and eternal value.

When we believe in Jesus and recognize He lives within us, we can boldly claim, “Why not us?” I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpackthat!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing me to be used by You for Your glory. I pray that You would remove my doubt, fear and pride, and replace it with a boldness and attitude that I can do great things with Your power and strength. I pray I would be focused on serving others instead of expecting someone else to do what You’re asking me to do. Thank you for Your grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Last night, the Madness continued as No. 11 seed Xavier knocked off No. 2 seed Arizona 73-71. Although the game was back and forth, Arizona had a 71-64 lead toward the end until Xavier got hot and went on a 9-0 run to steal the win. 

Xavier is headed to the Elite 8, and the 8th team seeded 11th or lower to reach this round in tournament history. Making the win even sweeter is the fact that Arizona knocked out Xavier in the 2015 Sweet 16, and now the roles are reversed.

When you add the intrigue of Arizona’s head coach Sean Miller playing against his former team, and former assistant Chris Mack, a great rivalry has been developed.

Many people were picking Arizona to win the NCAA Tournament this year, as Sean Miller is considered one of the top coaches in the game. There has been pressure placed on him to lead a team to his first Final Four, but unfortunately, he’s going to have to wait another year.

This was certainly a disappointment for Miller – losing the 7-point lead at the end, seeing his team miss the final shot, and knowing his former team was moving on. But realizing that a lot of coaches get angry after a tough loss such as this, I was blown away by his post game actions.

While Xavier’s players were hugging each other and running around the court in excitement, Miller was determined to congratulate the guys that just sent his team home. He interrupted their celebration to make sure he acknowledged them in some way.

Normally we witness the traditional post-game line of handshakes, but this was such a big upset that chaos ensued. Although the losing coach usually storms off to the locker room, Miller made a surprise effort to chase after the exuberant winners with his sincere congratulations.

This special moment really jumped out to me because as difficult as it must have been to “make the effort” to encourage the winning team, that’s exactly what he did.

This extraordinary gesture has made me think about finding ways to do something similar in our own lives. I’m sure we can all think of someone who needs to be congratulated or thanked or acknowledged.

What are ways we can put aside our pride and make a humble gesture for someone? How can we stand out as followers of Jesus in our response to losses in life? How can we sacrifice in order to make others feel valued, appreciated, and celebrated?

I know that when we follow Jesus’ example of humility and selflessness, we make a difference in people’s lives. We don’t always have to make grand gestures, but just show them we are willing to “make the effort” and be supportive in their special moments.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:3 (ESV), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

1 Peter 3:8 (ESV) also tells us, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

Today, let’s consider the ways we can put aside our pride in order to celebrate or encourage someone else. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, it’s hard letting go of pride and not being upset when someone else is doing well and I’m not. I pray that I would be more like Jesus – filled with humility and selflessness, so that I can make a difference in other people’s lives. I pray I would have sympathy, brotherly love, and a tender heart. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

As the Sweet 16 games begin tonight, I hope to see closer and harder fought games. With the intensity rising, boxing out, diving for loose balls, and tight defense all become extremely important for a team to advance. Displaying

When I watch games and observe players standing around on defense, unwilling to dive on the floor or fight for a rebound, I have to question their effort and passion.

I especially get frustrated when I see good offensive players who love to hit threes, disappear on the other side of the floor. Are they playing to win a championship or are they just there to hit some shots and receive the applause?

 The teams that have players who are willing to put forth effort in the little things, and do whatever it takes, are the ones that move on – especially when teams are so evenly matched.

A player’s effort and attitude on the court ultimately reveal his heart, love, and motivation. There is a distinct difference between the players that leave it all out there and those that hold back.

If a player is driven to win a championship, execute his coach’s game plan, and sacrifice for the team, he is playing for something much bigger than himself.

In our own lives, we have jobs, tasks, and responsibilities that reveal our motivation and love. Are we showing a maximum effort and a passionate attitude?

As followers of Jesus, we must constantly remind ourselves that our efforts don’t have to be in our own strength or for our own glory. If our motivation in our work is to accomplish God’s purposes and show Him our love, then we stop standing around and start diving on the floor for loose balls.

The Bible says in Colossians 3:23 (ESV), “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”

The amplified version challenges us even further: “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men…”

 As we approach our jobs and other responsibilities, let’s consider our effort, attitude, and motivation. Are we filled with laziness and negativity or are we inspired because we’re doing everything for a bigger purpose and from the soul?

Today, let’s allow our love for God to shine through in how we attack each task…and be motivated through the power and passion from Jesus to give maximum effort. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpackthat!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for not always giving my best effort and having a bad attitude about certain tasks. Please continue to remind me that I’m not working for man or myself, but for You and Your glory. Please help me approach each day recognizing that passion and power are always available through Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

We were all able to sleep better last night knowing that Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey has been found! On a serious note, I’m glad the FBI and other authorities were able to track down and recover the missing keepsake.  

This has become a huge wake-up call for the NFL, as the guy who took the jersey had been a credentialed media member over the last few years because of his previous position at a Spanish-language newspaper.

Important questions to raise are how could someone enter the Patriots’ locker room and walk out with the jersey in hand? Where was security? Why wasn’t anyone guarding Brady’s stuff? Why was this kind of access given? 

This situation will result in necessary changes, as the NFL should be protecting their players and doing a better job of tracking who is going in and out of the locker rooms. 

I think this debacle can actually be a wake-up call for us too. Are we aware of what we’re letting into our minds and hearts each day? Are we guarding our thoughts? Are we allowing media, culture, TV, music, or movies to alter our views and affect our character? Are we giving negative thoughts and emotions access to our heart and mind? What kind of effect are the people we’ve invited into our lives having on us? 

We must recognize the danger of filling our mind and hearts with negativity and harmful thoughts and attitudes because once let in, greater damage can be done. Our actions flow from our hearts and what we think about, so we must stay alert and be on guard. 

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” 

As followers of Jesus, we must lean on the truth found in Colossians 3:1-3 (NLT): “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” 

The battle of the mind is a daily fight, but thankfully we know with God’s strength we can remain watchful, and careful as to what and who we allow enter into our lives.

Today, let’s place an importance on protecting our heart and mind. By making sure we are filled with God’s truth, our joy and peace will not be stolen. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would place an importance on protecting my heart and mind, and be aware of what I’m allowing into my life. Please give me the strength to reject the negative things of this earth, so I can focus on the realities of heaven and my new life in Christ. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Can you imagine playing in the final minute of an NCAA tournament game when it’s back and forth and your team has a chance to win? Factor in the pressure, the crowd, and being 18 years old, and I’m sure the feeling is extremely overwhelming.  

With that said, one of my biggest frustrations in watching the final minutes of close games is the shot selection. From my recliner, I can’t believe guys force up deep 3’s or throw up off-balance shots while fading away.

I have a hard time watching players take unnecessary 3’s when their team is only down one or they have the lead. Words like, “Get a better shot” or “You don’t need that” or “Why did you shoot that? come to mind as I yell at the TV.

Although I understand the atmosphere is intense and the playing is fast, poor shot selection usually reveals a level of impatience, selfishness, and unawareness.

Too often a player quickly comes down to throw up a 3 when he doesn’t need to rush the shot. Or a guy wants to be the hero with the final shot, so he forces it when the defense is all over him.

The other scenario is when a guy dribbles with his head down, and is unaware of his open teammate underneath the basket ready for an easy layup.

Typically, the result of all three situations is a player settling for a bad shot that he ends up missing…and a team losing because of it.

Criticizing these players for their shot selection, reminds me of the moments in our own lives when we settle for “bad shots.” How often do we have a decision that needs to be made, and instead of waiting patiently, we throw up a shot too hastily?

What about the times we desire to be the hero and our pride and selfishness take over, so we force an off-balanced shot? Or how about the times our head is down, and we lack awareness of what is happening around us when an open teammate is hoping we find him under the basket?

Let’s face it, we could all use extra patience, less selfishness, and more awareness for our “shot selections.” When we settle for a “bad shot,” we aren’t experiencing God’s best. There is a better option available, but we choose to force something we want to happen or settle for less than God’s perfect will.

As we wrestle between selecting our impatient and selfish shots, and God’s best, let’s focus on what 2 Corinthians 5:15 (NLT) says about Jesus: “He died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”

The closer we follow Jesus and the longer we pursue Him, our lives become less impatient and selfish, and we become more aware of what’s happening around us.

We no longer have to live for ourselves and settle for less than God’s best because we receive a new life. Today, let’s live for Christ and stop taking bad shots. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please continue to remind me of the new life I have in Christ. Show me the right shots to take, and help me not to force anything or settle for something that is less than Your best. Please help me be less impatient and selfish, and much more aware of what’s happening around me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Throughout the past few days, we have witnessed many tight games and multiple surprising upsets…and have gone from 68 teams to the Sweet 16.  

My bracket is officially done, as I picked my favorite team to win it all, and they got outplayed by South Carolina last night. I’m bummed, but there are still many great matchups in store and the madness continues on Thursday.

So far I’ve watched a lot of basketball in this tournament, and must say I’m disappointed we haven’t seen a true buzzer beater yet. The close games have been thrilling, but there is an added layer of drama and excitement when a team wins as a shot goes through the net with the clock hitting zero.

I was so committed to not missing a classic buzzer beater that I put myself in position to watch all the games with the hope of witnessing something wild. I always made sure I was near a TV or computer when the games were winding down, just in case an epic shot was going to happen.

Of course, I had to sacrifice some other things in order to be available for the possible memorable moment, but that’s what it takes as a true follower of March Madness.

Should I consider giving up on the tournament at this point? After all, why should I continue sacrificing my time when there haven’t been any amazing buzzer beaters and my favorite team is already out?

But the bottom line is…as a devoted follower of college basketball, I must continue to watch closely – even if the tournament doesn’t go exactly the way I want it to.

Simply put, I love March Madness and must stay true to viewing each game, clinging to all the great memories from the past…and knowing an unforgettable buzzer beater is bound to happen.

Following this tournament only requires a commitment for a few weeks, but as followers of Jesus, our dedication is on-going. Placing ourselves in position to be used by God and to witness His amazing wonders, is a crucial sacrifice we must make.

Even when we go through times when our circumstances aren’t what we want them to be, we must continue to wait with expectancy and reflect on memories of His past faithfulness.

As we remain sacrificially available to God, we know our situations will eventually turn out for good, and that we shouldn’t give up when the “buzzer beaters” don’t come in our timing.

Today, as we surrender our lives to Jesus and closely follow Him, let’s hold on to Romans 12:1 (NLT) where Paul says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.”

When we love God and recognize the incredible grace and mercy He’s shown us through Jesus, we willingly sacrifice our lives as worship…and wait with expectancy for how He’s using us to accomplish His will. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that my life would be a living sacrifice to You. I know you are good and faithful. I wait with expectancy to see Your will unfold. I pray I would remain committed when it seems I’ve been waiting too long, or when something doesn’t turn out how I thought it would. Thank you for Your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

We’re one day into the NCAA Tournament and we’ve already witnessed a 12-seed beat a 5-seed…a school get their first tournament win…and 1-seeds experience first-half scares.

After 16 games, many of us look at our bracket and can’t believe we actually picked some of the teams we did. We hoped they would have pulled the upset, but deep down we knew we should have “erased” those picks. Unfortunately, we stuck with them anyway. 

The thoughts swirling around in our mind or the comments being made by our friends and co-workers most likely sound like this: “I should have picked that team – I knew it in my gut, but was scared and went the other way” or “I was about to pick them, but changed my mind at the last minute.” 

Our gut feeling is usually at the core of making decisions on who will advance. The analysis we hear, our history in watching a team, and our thoughts on a coach all factor into that gut feeling. However, we don’t always follow our gut for one reason or another, and go against our better judgment. 

As followers of Jesus, we have something even stronger than a “gut feeling” because we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us. We make decisions all day every day, and we must choose to follow the Spirit or go the other way. If we are walking closely with the Lord we know what to pick, but when we choose to be disobedient instead, we deal with the consequences. 

Many times the Spirit is convicting us of something that needs to change in our lives, but we are too stubborn to let go and won’t “erase” the sin.

There are also times when God is leading us to step out in faith, but at the last minute we let fear win and hold us back. We know we should pick the “12-seed in life” because God has made it clear to us, but then we let doubt take over and change our mind at the last minute. 

There is a daily battle between our human nature and God’s Spirit within us, but Philippians 2:13 (NLT) gives us encouragement to be victorious: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” 

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with the same “should ofs” and “would ofs” that we experience when making bad choices on our brackets. Instead, we can choose to follow God as He clearly leads us, grows us, protects us, and gives us the power to do what He desires us to do. We don’t have to guess!

So today, let’s choose to please Him above all else…and also rest in the grace He shows us when we do blow it and make the wrong pick. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would walk in step with Your Spirit. Please help me choose You over fear or temporary pleasure. I desire to please You and follow Your path. I pray I would avoid the would ofs and should ofs, while resting in Your grace when I do miss the mark. Thank you for loving me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

A tremendous four-day stretch of games in the NCAA Tournament is finally upon us! I’m ready for the upsets, buzzer beaters, and crazy finishes.  

I love college basketball, but one of the biggest changes over the years has been the trend of players leaving school early to head to the NBA.

Unfortunately, we see less and less upperclassmen contributing to tournament teams because a big focus is being placed on talented freshmen. 

However, teams that do have juniors and seniors have a significant advantage and can be a key factor in the success of a deep tournament run.

Teams that understand what it takes to win, and have experienced the tournament’s atmosphere, are worth considering when filling out our brackets.  

Clark Kellogg, of CBS, recently made this great illustration: “A good salad needs a little seasoning and that’s what Kentucky has with those seniors.”  

In considering the point Kellogg was making, I not only question whether we place enough emphasis on seasoned players in college basketball…but also if we adequately recognize the importance of experience in life.

In business and relationships, shouldn’t we appreciate the value of having seasoned employees and friends? After all, these are the people we can look to for guidance, leadership, and stability. 

Undoubtedly, young guys can rely on passion and natural ability, but they lack what those with more know-how have to offer. We need to embrace those with seniority and leverage their understanding, so those behind them reap the benefits.

During the tournament, instead of questioning a senior player’s talent level since he hasn’t already left for the NBA, shouldn’t we be acknowledging that his veteran leadership can make a huge difference beyond his visible athleticism? 

These principles also are important when it comes to having a mature faith. People who have experienced walking with Jesus for a number of years can share the lessons they’ve learned. There is infinite value in the seasoning that comes from a lifetime of commitment to God. 

The Bible’s book of wisdom sums it up this way in Proverbs 20:29(NLT):The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.”

College basketball teams sometimes hide their seniors at the end of the bench, despite their worthy experience, and we’ve been known to conceal the gray in our hair. 

Today, I hope we are encouraged to look at the older and wiser with an appreciation of their seasoning. Let’s accept our role of seniority, so we can share our wisdom with others. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray I wouldn’t downplay those who are more seasoned than I am. Show me how to rely on their knowledge, and admire them for what they offer. Help me embrace my role as I gain wisdom, and be willing to share with those who are behind me. Thank you for helping us grow through experience. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are 351 schools in the country who have an NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball team. Each of these teams are filled with players, coaches, and fans who hoped to be one of the sixty-eight schools making it into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  

When underdog teams get invited to the “Big Dance,” it’s especially thrilling to see. But the question gets raised as to whether teams like South Carolina, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Vermont, and Bucknell are just happy to be there or if they actually expect to win? Does winning matter to them…or are they rewarded by “just getting in?”

Teams like this don’t normally admit to having a mindset that how they play doesn’t matter, but their goal could be simply making it into the tournament.

Of course, not every team has the same talent, but giving everything they have in order to go as far as they can, should be important. The goal for any team that gets in should be to win as many games as they can.

Although hard to admit, many of us have a similar mentality when it comes to faith and good works. We can easily fall into taking our faith lightly, viewing salvation as a ticket to heaven, and settling for “just getting in.”

We can claim to believe in Jesus, but our lives aren’t always filled with obedience, fruit, and good works. The grace, mercy, and eternal life that Jesus offers us are appealing, but then we can think “the way we play” once we “get in” doesn’t really matter.

God’s Word helps us realize that His amazing grace and mercy, and offer of eternal life, compel us to do great things.

Ephesians 2:9-10 (NLT) tells us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

What is our perspective today? Are we asking what can we do now that we’re in? If we’re true followers of Jesus, salvation is the starting point to a life of transformation and God doing amazing things in us and through us.

Our brother, co-worker or friend may be more talented or called to bigger responsibility, but each of us has been uniquely designed to accomplish His will and give Him all we have. God has good things planned for us to do, so let’s go as far as He’ll take us with His power and strength.

We should absolutely be thankful and excited about going to heaven, and find peace in that realization. But at the same time, there is still work to be done on earth, and what we do after we “get in” truly matters. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful for Your grace and the salvation You’ve offered me. I know I’m not saved because of my good works, but please lead me to do the good things You have planned for me to do. I want to go as far as You will take me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The 68 teams that made it into the NCAA Tournament have all traveled a unique path to get to this point.

Northwestern’s remarkable accomplishment especially stands out. They are playing in their school’s first NCAA Tournament after previously being the only member of a power conference to never get in. 

Despite the basketball program’s struggles, in 2013 former Duke player and assistant coach, Chris Collins, decided to take on the challenge of becoming head coach.

During his first season, they were 14-19, but a few years later he has turned things around with a 23-10 record and a number eight seed in this year’s tournament. What appeared impossible, became possible.

The word that continues to come up, when I listen to coach Collins in interviews, is the word “belief.” He took this job because he really believed he could have success at Northwestern, and was able to recruit players who had a similar belief.

Even during the initial difficulties and tough losses, they relied onbelief to take them to where they are today. It’s hard to make the tournament if you don’t believe you can get there, but belief is what this team is built on.

I think I join a lot of college basketball fans who are excited for them and rooting to see them make a run. As we consider the importance of belief in the basketball world, I hope we’re reminded that belief is key in our lives as followers of Jesus.

When we believe God is who He says He is, and rely on His word to be true, we are led to fully place our faith in Him. We follow Him as we overcome losses and difficulties…and experience the impossible becoming possible.

Belief is the starting point for so many wonderful things. When we genuinely believe He is powerful, we see transformation take place. When we believe He loves us, we are then able to love others. When we believe He saved us because of the cross, we live with peace and confidence.

In the Bible, John 1:12 (ESV) speaks about what happens when we believe: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…”

Jesus tells us in John 14:12(ESV), “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

He also says in John 14:1 (ESV), “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.

Seeing what belief has done for Northwestern should challenge us to take even greater steps of faith because we believe in a loving and powerful God who is right there with us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please help me with my unbelief. I pray I would believe wholeheartedly in You and Your Word, and that my faith would lead me on an awesome journey with Jesus. I know so much can happen when I believe and place my trust in You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The NCAA brackets have officially been released, and the games begin Tuesday night. If you’re like me, you can’t wait to watch all the action and experience game after game during the tournament.

What strikes me as unfortunate is how quickly we blow past the conference tournaments that took place this past weekend. It’s a big deal to win four games in four days, and knock off familiar opponents from your league.

Duke beat UNC Friday night on their way to winning the ACC Championship, and Michigan made an impressive run to win the Big 10 Championship.

But is there any time to soak in those wins? Everyone quickly moves on to the “Big Dance” and soon forgets the great accomplishments that took place during those conference championships.

It seems to me, there needs to be a little more time and emphasis on those wins, so teams can experience the elation of their incredible feat…instead of having to shift their attention so quickly.

Of course, I understand how important the next tournament is, and teams are playing for a National Championship, but I find the concept of rushing through and moving on so quickly as an issue we all face beyond basketball.

The truth is, we have a tough time pausing to appreciate the blessings we experience each day. We’re always thinking about starting the next thing on our to-do list or landing the next deal or taking on the next project.

We’re already planning the next move or the next kid or the next vacation without embracing the joy of our present circumstances.

As followers of Jesus, I believe we should live with gladness and thankfulness – pausing in the present to acknowledge the blessings we have right now…instead of worrying about what’s next and always wanting more.

If we don’t embrace each amazing moment during the tournament, then March will just fly by, and unfortunately, the same will happen in our own lives.

Job reveals this in the Bible when he says in Job 9:25 (NLT), “My life passes more swiftly than a runner. It flees away without a glimpse of happiness.”

Life on this earth is short, but we can still pause to enjoy today and remember the words in Psalm 118:24 (ESV): “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

As we think about the now instead of the next, let’s ask God to open our eyes to see what He’s doing…and allow us to look around with joy and thanksgiving for today. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for not appreciating the many blessings You give me each day. Please help me to slow down and be aware of all You’re doing in the present, so I can live with joy and thankfulness. Please help me not to get so wrapped up in what’s next, and miss out on what’s happening now. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

What a wild week in college basketball! As conference tournaments take place throughout the country, this is the last chance for many teams to earn a spot into the NCAA Tournament that officially begins uon Tuesday

The conference tournaments are especially important for the smaller leagues and mid-majors because most of them only send one team to the “Big Dance.” There are 32 automatic bids for the NCAA tournament, which teams qualify for by winning their conference tournament. 

Selection Sunday is coming up this weekend and the brackets will be revealed. These 32 winning teams will be resting easy with their assured spot into this year’s tournament. 

On the other hand, the rest of the teams will be anxiously awaiting to hear their name called as one of the remaining 36 teams to get in. With great anticipation, they will hope the selection committee determines their wins outweighed their losses and that they proved themselves worthy throughout the season. 

In thinking about the teams with automatic bids, this is an important illustration of the promise we have as followers of Jesus. When we receive His free gift of salvation by faith in His work on the cross, we are given a guarantee and “automatic bid” into eternity with God.  

Thankfully, this isn’t determined by anything we do or by our worthiness, but instead solely based on the grace and mercy through Jesus. As we continue living in this world, we can be confident of our faith and that we’re “getting into the Big Dance.”

We no longer have to wonder if we’re good enough, or hope our wins outweigh our losses, because we know we have an “automatic bid” into heaven because of Jesus. 

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT), “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

We no longer have to worry or question our eternity because Jesus tells us in John 10:28 (ESV), “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” 

Today, let’s live with certainty that we’ve been given an “automatic bid” into eternity with God, and allow that assurance to give us tremendous peace and joy. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that! 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know that I don’t deserve Your grace and mercy, but I’m extremely grateful that You made a way for me to know You and spend eternity with You. I’m thankful it’s because of Jesus and not based on anything I’ve done. I pray I’d be filled with hope, confidence, and assurance while removing all doubt. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The NFL free agency period officially starts today, and deals are already being made left and right. Well-known players are leaving their former teams to sign somewhere else, and other key players are re-signing and not going anywhere. 

The job of an NFL GM is fascinating. By getting a taste of it from Fantasy Football and the Madden video game (okay, maybe not!), I respect how difficult it must be. The key for a GM’s success is deciding who to build the team around and making sure to establish the right foundation. 

We know the Patriots have had success because they developed their team around Tom Brady year after year. When a team has a cornerstone like him, it’s easier for everyone else to fall into place. Most teams try to figure out who their mainstay will be, so the team can be built up around him. 

Usually a team looks to have their cornerstones at quarterback, middle linebacker, and one guy from each of the offensive and defensive lines. If these positions are strong, a team typically builds a solid foundation that can withstand challenges and really grow. 

As we think about teams making free agency decisions based on their foundation, let’s also consider how this translates to our own lives. Is our life built on a solid or shaky foundation? What or who is our cornerstone? 

Are we making temporary or eternal decisions? Are we building a life based on worldly accomplishments and pleasures that don’t last…or are we trusting Jesus Christ as our everlasting cornerstone? 

Jesus explains this concept in Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV): “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Today, let’s take an honest look at our lives to determine what foundation we want our lives built. I hope we choose to stand on God’s Word, His will, and His love…and remember Jesus is the cornerstone who gets us through the storms of life. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please help me evaluate my life and reveal to me where I’m building a shaky foundation. I pray that my decisions and my trust would be centered around Jesus, so that I can have a strong foundation and withstand the challenges that are sure to come my way. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Last night, Dallas Mavericks’ forward, Dirk Nowitzki, became the sixth player in NBA history to reach the impressive accomplishment of 30,000 career points. 

Throughout his 19 seasons in the league, Nowitzki has been impossible to guard because of his size and ability to score in multiple ways. But even with his unique skill set, consistency, and NBA Championship ring, he’s been an underrated player. 

Recognizing his remarkable milestone, NBA fans need to also realize he’s only the third player to hit 30,000 points with one franchise. Nowitzki was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and amazingly remained there for his entire career.

This is especially noteworthy and commendable when you consider he accepted a lower salary to stay loyal to the Mavs, and didn’t leave them to chase another championship elsewhere. 

Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, has also made sacrifices to keep Nowitzki around – including not trading him for assets now that he’s older. The two of them are tightly connected and maintain a solid commitment to each other. The bottom line is, you can’t separate the Mavs and Nowitzki. 

Strong loyalty, whether in sports or life, appears to be uncommon these days. Players continually switch teams, people often change companies, and many marriages sadly come to an end. Unfortunately, people rarely seem to stick together for a long time. 

Although we will always face situations where people let us down, we can’t allow a lack of loyalty to affect our relationship with God. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and begin to follow Him, we are promised a strong and unbreakable bond.

He doesn’t trade us when we get old or make a mistake…and He doesn’t stop loving us when our life gets hard. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross so that we could become one with God – there’s no separating that! 

Paul assures us of this in Romans 8:38-39 (NLT): “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Today, we can rest in confidence that God loves us. We’re united to Him through Jesus and His loyalty is unmatched. In response to this reality, let’s be encouraged to remain loyal to Him in the way we live our lives. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m blown away by your love and faithfulness toward me. I’m so thankful that I can trust in the fact that nothing can separate me from Your love. Please give me the strength to remain loyal to You and demonstrate my love for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Last Sunday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks was unlike any other because of Madison Square Garden’s decision to eliminate music, video, and in-game entertainment during the first half. 

Players, fans, and broadcasters weren’t quite sure how to handle this unfamiliar atmosphere since they’ve grown accustomed to loud music and lively entertainment while watching on court action.

Most of the feedback I heard was negative, but I love what Frank Isola from the New York Daily News tweeted: “No wonder it’s so quiet in here. Thank you NBA & Knicks. No bells & whistles, just basketball.”

I appreciate the idea to let everyone experience the game in its purest form because we often get caught up in everything else and ignore the simple sounds of the game.

 The music and videos drown out and distract us from what the players and coaches are saying and doing on the court, and as fans we typically miss out on these elements to their fullest extent.

This idea probably won’t catch on because people love to hear Justin Bieber songs, instead of the ball bouncing on the court, but I think we can still be challenged by the motives behind the arena’s decision on Sunday.

In our own lives, do we become distracted by the “bells & whistles” or the “music, video, and in-game entertainment” that surround us every day? How often do we really experience silence or life in it’s purest form?

More importantly, are we making sure we hear God’s voice or is He being drowned out by all of the other sounds and voices we’re listening to instead?

Psalm 29:3-4 (NLT) says, “The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders. The Lord thunders over the mighty sea. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.”

I believe God desires to speak to each of us, but we can’t clearly hear Him when other sounds are turned up so loud. Today, let’s be encouraged to eliminate the unnecessary noise, and actually listen to our loving Heavenly Father powerfully speak to our hearts. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know You’re speaking to me all the time, and I pray that I would clearly hear Your voice above all the other noise. Please help me to eliminate the sounds I am listening to that are distracting me from Your powerful and majestic voice. Thank you for your willingness to speak. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

The Duke and UNC rivalry gave us another phenomenal game with the Tar Heels coming out on top 90-83 Saturday night. Both teams have now won a game on their home court this season, with each matchup being tight and competitive. 

During the exciting game this weekend, we witnessed 24 lead changes and 14 ties. We saw incredible performances from UNC’s Joel Berry II, who dropped 28 points, and Isaiah Hicks, who was hard to stop as he scored 21. Duke also played great with Luke Kennard getting 28 points and four other players scoring in double figures.

All night long the game was intense – going back and forth like tug of war with both teams making a little run, then the other team answering with a big shot. One minute it looked like UNC would win and the next minute it favored Duke.

UNC finally had a breakthrough and pulled away to victory with Berry II scoring seven straight, Justin Jackson hitting a big 3, and Duke’s Grayson Allen missing three important free throws.

After a night filled with lead changes and ties, and constant back and forth action, the Tar Heels came out on top…proving to be the clear winner.

This game reminds me of the times I experience my own back and forth action. When faced with difficult decisions, or when I try to accomplish something in my own strength, I feel a tug of war battle going on.

I get a little momentum to go one direction and then I quickly get pulled toward something else. My mind deals with many “lead changes” and “ties,” which creates great confusion as I try to figure out what the clear winner should be.

However, in order to experience a breakthrough and stop the back and forth action, I must pause and seek God for clarity. None of us can figure it all out in our own strength and with our own knowledge. Instead, we need to surrender our concerns to God and trust Him with the confusion we have in making decisions.

When we desire to experience victory, we must genuinely go to Him in prayer…expecting a breakthrough according to His will. If we remain in our own tug of war, we will be left with anxiety and frustration.

Paul challenges us in Philippians 4:6 (ESV) to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Although we love the close battles that come down to the wire in sports, we don’t enjoy facing situations that cause us to go back and forth with our decision-making.

Today, as we wait for a breakthrough in our lives, let’s rely on prayer. Let’s depend on God to show us clarity and give us peace about which way to go. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, sometimes I feel so confused and anxious with a decision in front of me. I don’t know which way to go, but I trust You to provide the breakthrough that I need. Please give me clarity, so that I don’t have to keep going back and forth in my head. Thank you for hearing my prayers and giving me peace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The NBA recently announced they are making some changes and putting an emphasis on improving the league’s referees. They are launching an Officiating Advisory Council and adding more available refs, while increasing reviews and evaluations of their work. It’s good to hear the league is placing great value on their refs.  

Even though as basketball fans we love to complain about refs, and yell at them during games when they make bad calls, we know they’re needed. We realize they bring order and authority to the game by calling out players who make mistakes and blowing their whistle when the ball goes out of bounds.

Without refs to call fouls and hold players accountable to the rules of the game (instead of doing whatever they want on the court), teams would have a difficult time performing at their best.

Ideally, refs are unbiased and stick to the standards in place so the game can stay on track. They’re responsible for keeping their eyes on the players to let them know when a rule has been broken, while the players are trusting them to make the right calls for a successful game.

Crazy as it may sound, we should desire having active “refs” in our own lives. As we follow Jesus and discover the life He wants us to live, having someone run alongside us “blowing the whistle” when we step out of bounds or get off track is crucial.

If we want to live a life of obedience and honor God’s Word, people pointing out concerns and holding us accountable in love and humility is extremely valuable.

Unfortunately, most of us push against this concept because we have the wrong perspective or people have acted with the wrong motives toward us in the past.

But if we really want to hold ourselves to a higher standard and stick to the boundaries God has given us, we will welcome being called out…and being steered toward the cross of Christ where His grace is found.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:1 (NLT), “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”

As the family of God, we are in this together – helping one another grow and mature, and pursuing a deeper understanding of how to follow Jesus on the right path. It takes humility, gentleness, and grace, as well as, awareness to the temptations that surround us.

None of us have all the answers, but don’t you feel loved when someone keeps a thoughtful eye on you? Today, let’s consider our responsibility as a “ref” to others and evaluate our need to have someone “blowing the whistle” in our own lives.

Let’s allow trustworthy people to “make the call” when they need to, in order to help us get back on track…while resting in God’s grace. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray I would have the right perspective on accountability and being called out by people who I trust and respect. Help me be a humble and grace-filled friend, as I help others get back on track as well. Thanks for the grace You always show us. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Spring training is underway and people are fascinated that Tim Tebow is suiting up and once again trying to make the New York Mets roster. It still seems like a long shot that he’ll make it to the big leagues, but what if that’s the point?  

ESPN’s David Fleming wrote a really interesting article about Tebow’s journey (from the NFL to the Mets) titled, “Tim Tebow’s Relentless Pursuit of Failure.”

In the article Flemming writes, “In parting ways with the Patriots, Tebow tweeted 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, in part, that ‘power is perfected in weakness’ and, therefore, the best way to have Christ’s power dwell inside you is by boasting of your weaknesses.

“This seems to be the moment where Tebow was able to meld his rapidly dwindling prospects as an NFL quarterback with the universal connection to, and the spiritual rewards of, failing with honor and purpose – sometimes over and over and over again.”

We know Tebow’s professional career has been filled with disappointment after disappointment, but what if God is doing something deeper in him and the people around him? It’s one thing when athletes give God praise and glory after a win, but Tebow has been able to point to God through his multiple failures.

Mark Anshel, author of In Praise of Failure, was quoted in Fleming’s article saying, “I think Tim Tebow knows exactly what he’s doing. If helping people deal with failure is how you believe you were called to serve God, then I’d say attempting to become a professional baseball player out of the blue at 29 is the absolute best place for him to be.”

It’s not something we really want to believe, but what if God is truly leading Tebow or ourselves on a path that includes tremendous failure? What if our lives on earth aren’t about revealing God’s love and power through our wins and successes, but instead through hardships and failures? Will we still trust and follow Jesus down that path?

Do we believe that God’s glory and goodness are actually on full display when we are weak and broken? What if a place of failure is exactly where we need to be in order to surrender to Jesus or to show others just how dependent we are on Him? Do we truly believe there is a purpose in our failure?

Failure is essentially at the core of the Gospel because failing reflects our need for a Savior. Beyond failing in life’s pursuits, we also fail in our efforts at being “good enough” to earn salvation on our own. The essence of who we are is actually a failure, and that’s why we rely on Jesus.

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT), “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Today, let’s view failure in a different light and recognize that God and His goodness can be found in the middle of it. Salvation, purpose, and strength are available to us in our weakness. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m blown away at how You use failure in my life to draw me closer to You and deepen my dependence on You. I need Your grace and strength in my weakness and I trust You to mightily work in my brokenness. I believe there is a purpose in my failure and I pray You would help me see it. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rickie Fowler, the ninth-ranked golfer in the world, won the Honda Classic last weekend. Winning on tour for the first time since 2015, he also overcame an obstacle he’d been dealing with in previous tournaments. 

Before this latest win, Fowler was 0-4 in tournaments when having the lead after 54 holes. Starting out on Sunday with a four-stroke lead, this became the big storyline. Would he be able to break through this problematic barrier and pull out the win?

With another chance at victory, how could he respond differently to the same scenario he experienced in the past? Could he fight through his previous mindset and hold on to the lead? Could he ignore the lie that he couldn’t win with a 3-day lead?

As we found out, Fowler fortunately fought through to overcome the hurdle of winning after having a 54-hole lead in a PGA tour event.

This situation leads me to think about the challenges we have in our own lives – specifically temptations that we have to fight through and overcome. We often find ourselves in similar spots that we’ve faced in the past and always responded a particular way.

Whether dealing with traffic, a boss, a substance, or any other type of hurdle that trips us up, we are tempted to give into how we’ve always handled that circumstance. We know we have a “0-4 record,” but deep down we no longer want to repeat what we’ve always done before.

Regrettably, we end up buying the lie that leads to a similar outcome. Fowler had to finally believe that a 54-hole lead could actually end in a win. Likewise, we must believe by trusting and surrendering to Jesus, He will help us overcome temptation so that we can receive a breakthrough.

We don’t have to get mad every time someone cuts us off in traffic or do something stupid when we have a bad day or respond poorly when dealing with others. However, we have to stop settling for the idea that “it’s just what I do” or “that’s just who I am.”

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT), “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Rickie Fowler accomplished the results he set out to do, and wasn’t going to settle for the same ‘ole same ‘ole. If we truly desire to overcome temptation and allow God to change our hearts, He will.

Let’s not make excuses and give into the same mistakes over and over again. We serve a powerful God who gives us victory and helps us to endure, so let’s trust Him. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would help me overcome the temptations in my life. Please help me respond differently when those moments to do the same thing I’ve always done, pop up. I trust that You are faithful and will strengthen me to endure and not give into temptation. Thank you for Your grace and power. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The 59th running of the Daytona 500 took place on Sunday with Kurt Busch pulling out the victory. Making a strategic pass on the final lap, the veteran driver won his first Daytona 500 on his 16th attempt. This was a big moment for Busch when you consider how he’s been on and off the track over the years.

Foxsports.com writer Joe Menzer wrote, “Busch left the 2.5-mile Superspeedway Sunday evening as a Daytona 500 champion, his transformation from a frequently troubled, often angry driver into something better, more at ease with himself and all his surroundings, seemingly complete.”

George Diaz from the Orlando Sentinel further explained, “Kurt then closed the deal, driving with blinders on after his rear-view mirror fell off with 30 laps to go. But all he needed to do was look ahead and zero in on the finish line.”

I have a tough enough time driving around town at 45 MPH with a rear-view mirror, so I can’t imagine winning a huge race like the Daytona 500 without one. Nonetheless, Kurt Busch remained focused by looking straight ahead toward the checkered flag.

His remarkable finish to this legendary race has come to symbolize what he’s also doing in life. Moving forward and not looking back. But what about you and me…are we going through life looking in the rear-view mirror with our eyes set on all of our regrets, mistakes, hurts, and disappointments?

Or are we looking straight ahead at the finish line where Jesus stands in victory? By receiving His grace and forgiveness, we no longer have to look back and dwell on our past, but instead we can “look ahead and zero in on the finish line.”

The Bible says in Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT), “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Kurt Busch finally won the Daytona 500, and he did so by not looking back at his rear-view mirror. Today, let’s be encouraged to take a similar approach and let go of what’s behind us, so we can fully embrace victory in Jesus both now and for eternity.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for the new life You’ve given me and the transformation that continues to take place. I pray that I would not dwell on who I used to be, but instead continue to look ahead toward Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

During every college basketball season, we wonder if we’ll witness an undefeated team who ends up with a National Championship win. Indiana was the last team to experience this extraordinary achievement with a 32-0 record all the way back in 1976.  

Gonzaga was heading down that path this season, with a 29-0 record, until they fell to BYU 79-71 on Saturday. They are a talented team, and many people still expect them to make a run in the NCAA Tournament in March, but now they must deal with an upset loss on their record.

Of course a team wants to go undefeated and never deal with a loss, but any time a team goes this late into the season undefeated, the question is raised whether a loss is good for them.

Gonzaga wishes they maintained the momentum to do something historic, but a loss like this could end up being beneficial to them. It could actually refocus them and force them to make crucial adjustments moving forward.

ESPN’s Mike and Mike and PJ Carlesimo were talking about this earlier today. They made the point that “you make it work to your advantage.”

They went on to explain that Gonzaga’s approach should be “this is the situation, let’s make it work best for us,” and that the coach should “use it to fuel them.”

Just because Gonzaga lost, and their hopes at an undefeated season are over, doesn’t mean they give up on the bigger goal of winning a National Championship.

In life, we also wish we could go undefeated and be free from any losses or disappointments. The reality is, however, that we all face a “loss” of some sort at different times throughout our lives.

When we experience major losses, they may derail our plans or temporarily set us back. But as followers of Jesus, we can’t give up on the bigger goal of becoming more like Him and bringing glory to God as we experience His love and grace.

When we view a “loss” through this lens, we can allow God to “make it work to our advantage” and “use it to fuel us.” The loss can be beneficial by deepening our faith and dependence on God, as well as, developing our character.

The Bible puts our “loss” and suffering into perspective in Romans 5:3-5 (ESV): “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We all want to win in sports and life, but enduring a loss can actually be a valuable game changer. If we choose not to give up and lean in closer to God, He will turn our loss into future victory and “make it work to our advantage.” I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, as much as I want my life to be free from pain and suffering, I believe that You can use it to grow me and change me. I know through the loss You reveal yourself and strengthen me, while also develop my faith and character. Please help me to have the right perspective when I experience a loss. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Major League Baseball is coming off one of their best seasons with the epic World Series win by the Chicago Cubs. There is great momentum and anticipation, but the commissioner’s desire to make significant rule changes to the sport are stealing the headlines. 

Commissioner Rob Manfred is pushing to make pace-of-play changes to speed up the game. He’s in the process of trying to implement changes that include a pitch clock, limited pitching mound visits, a new strike zone, and a simplified intentional walk.

These rule modifications are being met with resistance. Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs has this to say: “The game’s been the same to me since I was young, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think that’s what makes our game great. It is a long game and we play 162 games a year and there’s more strategy involved with it. I think it could be a slippery slope once you start changing all these things.”

I am actually in favor of speeding up the game, but there is something to be said about staying true to the game and sticking with the rules in place. Perhaps there is truth to Bryant’s thought that “it could be a slippery slope.”

This whole discussion about adding or taking away baseball rules reminds me of the way we view the Bible and the principles God has made clear. Let’s face it, when people read the Bible and decide they don’t like God’s commandments, they either alter them to fit their lifestyle or pick and choose which ones they want to follow.

But this can become a “slippery slope” if we don’t accept the authority of God’s truth in Psalm 19:7 (NLT): “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”

We aren’t given commands and guidelines to ruin our lives or keep us from “fun.” On the contrary, God is showing His love for us by setting parameters for our good and His glory, and to protect us from harm. His principles are timeless and we don’t need to let cultural group-think or the opinions of others cause us to question God’s infallible Word.

2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT) says, All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Life is continuously changing and baseball, as we know it, may too. But God remains the same, and the truth of His Word provides commands (“rules”) worth following. Today, let’s stand on the authority of Scripture, and rest in the grace that’s found in Jesus. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please give me the proper view of Your Word and Your commands, as I know they are in place to protect me. Help me stand firm when the outside world wants to discredit Scripture, and fill me with wisdom and understanding as I read and follow Your Word. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Today at 3 PM EST, the NBA trade deadline passes. NBA junkies, like myself, enjoy the days and hours leading up to that time. We have fun guessing the possible trades on the table, and analyzing all of the rumors swirling around about which move each team should make. Displaying

As general managers call each other to propose deals to make a trade happen, I imagine the first questions they ask are, “What are you willing to give up?” and “What players are you willing to let go of?” These conversations help determine the seriousness and willingness to make a trade, and the passion behind receiving a particular player.

The big trade earlier this week was between Sacramento and New Orleans with DeMarcus Cousins heading to the Pelicans. Other teams around the league missed out on receiving him because they weren’t willing to give up what it took to land the All-Star center. New Orleans was willing to sacrifice a few assets in order to receive a much better player.

“What are you willing to give up?” isn’t only a question NBA GMs are asking today, but one that we can daily ask ourselves as followers of Jesus. If we truly want to follow Him closely, we must be willing to surrender what He asks us to, so we can receive all of the many blessings He has available.

Ultimately, we’ve traded our former life for the life we now have in Christ. Each day we must make the sacrifice to let go of anything that holds us back from fully experiencing and wholeheartedly enjoying Jesus and the life He’s given us.

Are we willing to give up worry for God to give us peace? Will we let go of bitterness and anger so we can receive joy? Will we sacrifice selfish pleasure in order to experience abundant satisfaction in Jesus? Will we allow Him to replace our pain with comfort? Will we trade our worldly mindset for a heavenly one?

The Bible says in Romans 12:1-2 (ESV), “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Today, let’s not hold onto the things we no longer need and hinder us from living a holy, renewed, and transformed life. When we sacrifice our lives for Jesus, we are making the best trade possible. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful that You care enough to allow me to trade my pain, selfishness, and bitterness for the spiritual blessings found in You. Please give me the strength to surrender and sacrifice for Your purposes, and help me remain in Your will. I’m so thankful to receive Jesus! In His name I pray, Amen.

The NFL free agency period is right around the corner, and teams are making tough strategic decisions regarding the direction of their franchise. Usually teams are in a total rebuild stage or “win-now” mode, and their choices for free agency will line up with one of those strategies. 

CBSSPORTS.COM wrote an article about the six teams in a “win-now” mode and explains how the Cardinals, Giants, Chargers, Chiefs, Texans, and Saints must approach the off-season with the mindset their window is closing for a chance at the Super Bowl.

Based mainly on the age of their quarterback and current construction of their roster, they are looking to add a piece here and there to enhance their team and need those guys to contribute right away.

This mentality leads to teams going all-in, and being willing to pay for a high-priced free agent if they believe he can make an immediate difference.

Fans understand the different cycles of a franchise and realize patience is key during a rebuild. But when we recognize our team is doing whatever they can to win now and not delay, there’s an overall excitement.

Likewise, as followers of Jesus, we go through seasons of relying on patience to see us through, but there are also moments when we must decide to have a “win-now” mentality.

God continuously gives us opportunities to bring Him glory by honoring and serving Him, growing closer to Him, and by spreading His Word to others. Unfortunately, too often we pass on them and tell ourselves we’ll address them later.

However, when we overcome fear and procrastination by stepping out in faith, we know God will equip us and strengthen us.

Whether the Holy Spirit is prompting us to make personal changes, start a Bible study, go on a mission trip, talk to the person at work, forgive someone, or pursue a different job, we must remember to have a “win-now” attitude instead of delaying and missing our window of opportunity.

The Bible says in Psalm 90:12 (ESV), “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 119:60 (NLT) challenges us with these words: “I will hurry, without delay, to obey Your commands.”

Today, let’s be encouraged to feel a sense of urgency and excitement to obey God and follow Him as we make the “win-now” decisions He’s leading us to make. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I place my faith and trust in You to make it clear when I need to do something without delay. Help me to recognize the many great opportunities to serve You and glorify You with my life, and make the most of them with great wisdom. Please give me the strength and confidence to implement the “win-now” strategy. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

What an unpredictable and unique season for the Duke Blue Devils! They have experienced winning streaks, losing streaks, injuries, crazy behavior from their star player, and back surgery for their head coach.
They began the season as the number one ranked team in the country, but slipped midway through the year, and at one point had a 3-4 record in ACC play.

They have a very talented roster that consists of young guys and veterans, but getting everyone healthy and playing together has been challenging.

At one point, Coach K took away their privilege of wearing Duke gear and entering the locker room. Now, they have won seven games in a row and are looking like a championship contender.

ESPN recently wrote an article with the headline, “It took some time, but Duke is finally finding its identity.”

Senior Matt Jones said, “At that point [the first meeting against Wake Forest], we really didn’t know who we were. We were just trying to get wins. Now we’re becoming a much tougher team. We’re starting to create an identity for ourselves, and that in itself gives us confidence.”

As an avid viewer of Duke games, I noticed how lost and confused they looked earlier in the season. They didn’t appear to be on the same page, and definitely weren’t clicking. They have finally come to understand who they are and where they are heading.

Having an identity as a team is crucial to the success of a team because when the players and coaches know what they need to do to pursue that identity, winning is the result. The qualities and beliefs of a team distinguish them from others and give them an identity as a team.

The concept of identity can be complicated, yet an important matter in sports and life. Many of us find our identity in our jobs, or accomplishments, or status, or bank accounts, or even past mistakes. We attach ourselves to one of those things and allow it to define or represent us.

However, as followers of Jesus, the identity we must place the most value is rooted in who we are because of His work on the cross. We are no longer defined by what we did or what we do, but instead we are identified as forgiven and redeemed children of God.

When we rest in that identity (the qualities and beliefs that distinguish us), we can experience tremendous freedom while living a satisfying and God-glorifying life.

Ephesians 4:22-24 (NLT) says, “Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

As we live in view of these life-changing words, we can experience the great peace that comes from knowing our identity isn’t based on anything we do, but is rooted in someone so much more powerful.

Because of Jesus, we now know who we are…whose we are…and where we’re heading. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful that my identity is found in Christ. I am no longer who I used to be and I am now seen through a new lens. Please help me live in a way that isn’t focused on my identity being wrapped up in the wrong things. Remind me that my identity isn’t defined by what I do, but instead by what’s been done through Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

The NBA All-Star Game took place last night with the Western Conference team knocking off the East 192-182. Many offensive records were broken, including most points scored, and as always, there were dunks galore and loads of highlight plays.

The All-Star Game gives players the platform to display their extraordinary skills to a captivated crowd. For the most part, fans really enjoy the alley-oops and behind the back passes, but there’s also a level of frustration because of the player’s lackadaisical attitude on defense.

When you have a basketball game with a score of 192-182, you know there is minimum effort being made on defense. Unfortunately, the players didn’t take the competitive side of the game very seriously and became too focused on lazy defense, carelessness with the basketball, and letting each other show off.

Even broadcasters of the game, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Marv Albert, commented on their concern for the overall lackadaisical attitude of the players.

Ultimately, it’s an exhibition game that doesn’t really count for anything and the regular season resumes this week. However, some of the characteristics represented by the players last night can actually creep into our own lives.

We can be lackadaisical with our faith and not take our walk with Jesus seriously enough. Too often we become lazy on our defense to sin or in our pursuit of God. It’s easy to fall prey to carelessness with our words or be more concerned with our selfishness and “showboating.”

By allowing an apathetic attitude to take over, our intensity and effort level toward the work of God becomes minimal. We easily lose sight of the fact that God is calling us to much more than the selfish “alley-oops” and “behind the back passes”…and that our lives have eternal consequences.

This nonchalant attitude is a reflection that we don’t fear the Lord properly and take His commandments seriously. 2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV) reminds us, Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Psalm 25:14 (ESV) affirms, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”

And finally, Psalm 112:1 (ESV) encourages us with these words:Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!”

Just like these All-Stars are given a wonderful opportunity to be out there on the court, and should care about the integrity of the game, we too, are given amazing opportunities to show a commitment to integrity while bringing God glory in everything we do each day.

Today, let’s be encouraged to take our faith seriously with a healthy fear of the Lord and an understanding of the incredible grace He shows us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for taking Your Word lightly and being lazy in my faith. I pray that I’d have a proper fear of You that would compel me to obey and follow You closely. Thank you for all the blessings and opportunities You give me, and I pray I wouldn’t take them for granted. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I may be in the minority on this one, but I love NBA All-Star weekend – especially Saturday night’s dunk contest. The exciting scene is set with one guy, one basketball, one rim, and one big crowd watching incredible dunk after dunk. 

Hoping to see clever dunks that make me jump out of my seat, I always look forward to this seasonal spectacle. Over the years, some of my favorite dunkers have been Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Andre Iguodala, and Aaron Gordon (he was especially awesome last year!).

Although their athleticism and creativity are on display during the contest, the one crucial element to every top dunk is timing. The players must jump, spin, release, throw and catch the ball at just the right time. If they rush a dunk or mistime their jump, the dunk ends up being unsuccessful.

To win a dunk contest, the timing of the players performing each unique slam is also important. They usually want to save their best one for last, but need enough good dunks to get in the final. Determining the right order is critical for getting the scores needed to win.

There is generally a lot of truth in the saying, “timing is everything,” as it affects many areas of our lives. For me personally, the timing was right when I was single and bumped into my wife in the coffee line at church…when I started UNPACKIN’ it…and when I went to Appalachian State during the championship years. I can look back at my life and see how important timing has always been.

Waiting for the right time is part of the process. As we trust that God is in control and place our faith in Him, there are seasons and situations where He allows us to wait. During the wait time, God develops our character and dependence on Him.

Usually this means that some of the details aren’t ready yet, but God is still working everything out and answering our prayers at the proper time, according to His will and plan. We’re able to look back and see the significance in waiting, and ultimately realize that rushing things wouldn’t have been in our best interest.

In order to persevere while waiting, we must have tremendous faith and gain our strength from God. We must continue turning to Him during these moments of uncertainty, and trust in His perfect timing.

We can be encouraged by the words found in Micah 7:7 (NLT), “As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me.”

Today, let’s not try and get ahead of God, but instead seek Him and believe He’s working in us and through us for His purposes. As we wait, we know He’s in control and His timing always leads to a slam dunk! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit how much I struggle with waiting. I’m impatient and frustrated when things take longer than I think they should. Please help me trust You and Your timing, and believe You are moving in amazing ways. I thank you in advance for my answered prayers that align with Your will. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Last night, Houston Rockets’ guard, James Harden, scored 38 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists. He put up his 15th triple-double of the season, heading into the All-Star break as one of the leading candidates for the MVP award. 

The Rockets are currently the third best team in the western conference, and Harden has helped propel the team to a new level. However, last season was disappointing for Harden and the Rockets, and changes needed to be made. 

Harden realized he wasn’t reaching his full potential or thriving as an all-around player, and recently admitted the problem in an interview with ESPN’s Hannah Storm: “I wasn’t giving the game the love I needed to be, the passion I needed to have.” 

There’s no question that the greatest athletes in sports have a true love and passion for “the game” they play. That strong passion drives them to work hard, improve, commit, and consistently do what needs to be done. Their love and passion are evident every time they step on the court. 

When considering our own lives, we too, need to give “the game” the love and passion that are needed. This means loving our family and friends with compassion and sacrifice…and bringing a passion to our jobs, so we are making a real difference and having a significant impact. 

Even more importantly, when we think about our relationship with God, are we giving Him all of the passion and love He deserves? Is our love and passion for Him leading to a grace-filled and obedient life?

When we desire to make changes in our lives, do we first begin with our love and passion for Him? Do love and passion drive our lives, so there is evidence to those who are watching? 

Jesus put an emphasis on the two greatest commandments, which are both centered on love. He says in Mark 12:30-31 (ESV), “‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

James Harden made changes to his approach in playing basketball by unlocking his love and passion for “the game.” Today, let’s keep in mind that God wants to unlock the same in us…to have great passion and love for Him and others.  I’m Bryce Johnson and  you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to love You with everything I have. I pray that You would give me a passion to live for You with a deep love for others. Please show me the areas of my life where I’m not filled with love and passion, and do Your work to change my heart. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

NBA players make a lot of money and many people ask why they earn so much. Simply put…fans pay hefty prices for tickets and rack up exorbitant amounts of time watching games and commercials on TV.

When we buy our tickets to a specific game, or watch at home because one of the top players is playing, we expect him to suit up, compete, and not be a bench warmer. 

With that said, however, there is an ongoing debate about coaches giving top players the night off once in awhile – especially during long road trips.

We all know that LeBron James loves to play basketball, his team depends on him, and fans want to watch him on the court instead of cheering from the sidelines.

But LeBron has led his team to six NBA Finals in a row and this season is leading the league in minutes played per game. Because he plays so hard and carries his team night after night, his coach understands his need for rest and is willing to sit him out of certain games.

When that happens, however, the media and fans throw a temper tantrum. There are comments made such as, “He’s the best player, he better play,” or “We’ve paid big money for these tickets….he needs to play, not rest!”

I certainly understand the fan’s perspective, but I also understand the importance of athletes taking care of themselves and not burning themselves out. The NBA regular season is long, and the playoffs last for a couple of months on top of that, so guys like LeBron must be wise and pace themselves.

Although rest and taking breaks seems to be frowned upon more and more often in sports and life, an NBA player needs to be physically strong to take on the rigours of his sport and get re-energized to perform well. Likewise, we must do the same mentally, emotionally, and even physically, if we want to remain healthy and function at our best.

We live in a culture that requires being full-throttle and completely engaged all the time. We never stop or even slow down because we must keep going to keep up with everything. We work longer hours and more days without pausing to catch our breath – all the while trying to cram as much in as possible.

Most of us want to take a break or work less, but we feel guilty or fearful when we do. We end up pushing each other to work even more, and view any slowing down as a weakness.

But as followers of Jesus, we should have a different perspective on rest and slowing down. Jesus gives us a great example of what it looks like to pull away from the craziness of life (and even ministry) after feeding the 5,000.

Mark 6:30-32 (NLT) tells us, “The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told Him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.”

If Jesus needed to rest awhile, I know we do too. Let’s stop buying the lies that we have to go-go-go every minute of every day. Today, let’s decide to slow down, re-energize, spend time with God, cherish our loved ones, and enjoy the many blessings we have all around us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for getting so caught up in busyness. I pray that I would recognize the need for stillness and serenity. Please give me the strength to take a break, and trust that You will work in me as I rest and regroup. I pray that I would find my deepest rest in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Virginia Tech basketball team got a big home win (80-78) over their in-state rival and 12th-ranked Virginia in double-overtime on Sunday night. Virginia Tech won when Seth Allen hit a shot with just over 3 seconds left to secure the upset. 

UVA actually had a strong chance to win in the first overtime until something crazy happened. The score was tied at 68, with under 30 seconds left, when Virginia’s London Perrantes drove through the lane and put up a solid layup that would have given his team the lead with 21 seconds left on the clock.

The problem was, however, the ball didn’t make it through the net. Instead, it bounced around and incredibly ended up stuck on the very back part of the rim. As the ball remained on the rim, the refs called it a jump ball with the possession arrow pointing toward Virginia Tech.

 This unlikely situation ended up being a key turning point in the game, which benefited VT as they went on to get the win. That image of the ball being in a stuck position, and UVA feeling helpless, illustrates a feeling we have all experienced from time to time.

 There are many of us today who feel like we’re stuck in a bad situation and things aren’t going the way we had hoped. We need something to happen, but there’s no movement and we’re really struggling. Maybe it’s a standstill in our career or we’re in a relationship where pushing through seems difficult. We can totally relate to that silly ball on the back of the rim being stuck because we feel stuck too.

 Unfortunately, we also go through seasons of feeling spiritually stuck. When God doesn’t appear to be moving in our lives, we can lose our passion for Him. We can become spiritually drained by relying too much on our own strength during these challenging times.

When we find ourselves “sitting on the back of the rim” waiting for God to move, we must continue seeking Him with all of our heart and trusting Him to get us unstuck. Even when He seems silent, we can be assured He’s working in our lives and remaining faithful.

Psalm 143:8 (NLT) reminds us that we can cry out to God with these words: “Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to You.”

 We can be confident of His ultimate response by claiming Psalm 32:8 (NLT): “The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'”

 There is great value and purpose when being stuck forces us to be still before the Lord and rest in Him. Thankfully, when we feel like that ball on the back of the rim, we can trust the possession arrow points toward Him and His plan leads to victory. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would use my current situation where I feel stuck to draw me closer to You. I pray that I wouldn’t give up, but instead push through with Your strength. I pray that I would rest in You and Your love. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

New York Knicks’ fans are one of the most passionate fan bases in the NBA, despite their many years of frustration and disappointment. 

This season has been especially brutal as they’ve watched their team lose 20 of their past 27 games, and have witnessed the franchise’s owner, president, and star player steal headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

The fans are still wondering whether or not their best player, Carmelo Anthony, will be traded, and why Phil Jackson continues to make the decisions he does.

Last week, fan-favorite and former Knick, Charles Oakley, was confrontationally kicked out of a game at Madison Square Garden because of his poor relationship with owner, James Dolan.

I don’t see how this entire situation in New York gets better anytime soon, but I do feel somewhat bad for the fans. They have placed their trust in Jackson, Dolan, and Anthony to bring an NBA Championship to New York, and all they have seen is disaster.

We shouldn’t be that surprised, however, when we realize where they’ve placed their trust. Phil Jackson is an amazing coach, but he’s never run a front office before.

His moves have been extremely questionable, considering he placed his confidence in a rookie head coach, Derek Fisher, and traded for and signed injury-plagued players, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Whether viewing the New York Knicks through the perspective of the fans or the franchise, the bottom line is they’ve placed their trust in people who have let them down, and are now left figuring out how to fix the mess.

 In sports, and in life, trust plays a big role in relationships and decision-making. We must ask ourselves who we trust to provide peace, security, and satisfaction.

Do we trust people, possessions, and our jobs more than God…and place more importance on them to fill the longings of our hearts? Do we trust in our own abilities over God and His power?

The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:5 (ESV), “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.'”

On the flip side, Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV) tells us, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The situation with the New York Knicks is a good reminder to take a look at our hearts today, and decide if we’ve given our full trust to Jesus to be the Lord of our life…and believe He’ll provide everything we need. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please forgive me for placing too much trust in myself and other people to provide what only You can. I pray that my full trust would be found in You. I believe You are good and faithful, and that I have no reason to be anxious when I trust You. Thank you for never letting me down. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

One of the best duos to ever play together, suit up on opposite teams in Oklahoma City Saturday night. Although emerging in the NBA side by side, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have now gone their separate ways.

After spending nine years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant made the decision last summer to leave and join the Golden State Warriors, a Western Conference rival. With their deep playoff runs and a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals, the duo once had big dreams of becoming NBA champions with the Thunder.

But the plan changed when Durant sent Westbrook a text (instead of calling) to let him know he was heading to Golden State. As a result, Westbrook was hurt and angry because of Durant’s ultimate decision and the way the situation went down. Their relationship as former teammates and friends took a major hit and they are no longer speaking.

Saturday’s game is intensified with Durant wearing the visiting team’s jersey for the first time in the Oklahoma City arena (where their fans cheered him on for so many years)…and the tension between two superstars/former teammates being closely monitored.

The media is embracing the drama, and Durant is placing some blame on them for building up the feud, but either way, he and Westbrook have a strained relationship at this point.

Most of us understand that Durant made a sports decision, but unfortunately there was also a personal side that led to Westbrook feeling betrayed, disappointed, and resentful.

Similar feelings can take place in our own lives when a colleague leaves our company, or neighbors leave our subdivision, or our roommates transfer colleges, or friends change churches. These feelings of being left behind can lead to every emotion Westbrook experienced when Durant made his decision to leave OKC.

Even more difficult than feeling left behind, are relational situations where pain runs much deeper and hard feelings set in. But when others do what seems impossible to move on from, as followers of Jesus we must embrace forgiveness as the proper response.

We receive an infinite amount of grace from God and are called to give that same grace to others. Although difficult, with God’s strength and power we can experience forgiveness that completely restores broken relationships.

When letting go of our grudges and resentment, and truly forgiving those who hurt us, we must remember God’s grace through Jesus and live out the words in Mark 11:25 (NLT):

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: “Heavenly Father, I pray that I would be filled with a grace-filled heart that allows me to forgive others who hurt me. I pray I would let go of the grudges I’ve held onto and experience freedom and restoration. Thank you for the grace and forgiveness You’ve shown me through Jesus. I pray this in His name, Amen.”

One of the best rivalries in all of sports resumes tonight when #8 ranked UNC travels to Durham to take on #18 ranked Duke. As these two teams continue their intense rivalry, this should be another memorable game. Displaying

In the last 96 games they’ve played each other, ESPN Stats reveal UNC has 48 wins and 7,437 points…and Duke has 48 wins and 7,437 points – an absolutely unbelievable stat!

Of course, the elite players and close games make the rivalry entertaining, but the fans take it to an ever greater level. The Cameron Crazies are creative and excitable, and the Tarheel fans are passionate and loyal.

If you grow up in the state of North Carolina, you are presented with the choice of being a fan of one or the other. With both programs so successful, determining who to give your rooting interests isn’t always easy. Unless you have family ties to either school, one of the key factors in deciding the team you cheer for is the fan base.

The people in your life who are Duke and UNC fans may influence your choice, but the problem is some of these fans can be annoying, obnoxious, outrageous, mean, and in your face about how great their team is. Interactions with them can actually turn you away from the team because of their ridiculous behavior.

 Although some of this craziness makes the rivalry that much better, this scenario illustrates something much more concerning. How many people don’t want to follow Jesus because they look at people who are supposed to represent Him, but are turned off by their absurd behavior?

Unfortunately, certain people who claim to be Christians can sometimes be annoying, mean, outrageous, or in your face. When someone rejects the pursuit of Jesus because of a misguided “fan” who isn’t demonstrating God’s love in the way they live, it’s devastating.

If we are more than a “fan” and a true follower of Jesus, we should represent Him well and be strong advocates that draw people to Him – not push them away. But everyone ultimately must have their own encounter with the real Jesus and can’t blame their rejection of Him on imperfect people misrepresenting Him.

However, when interacting with others, we should be challenged to make them so intrigued by our love for Christ and them that they want to become a follower of Jesus. We are in an important position of pointing people to Jesus and encouraging them when they inquire about our “rooting interests.”

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15 (AMP), “But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please forgive me for the times I’ve been a misguided fan of Yours instead of a true follower. I pray that my life would draw people to You and they would see Your love in me. I pray I wouldn’t lose my passion for You because of others who represent You poorly…but instead help me to keep looking to Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

The lovefest for Tom Brady probably won’t calm down anytime soon, as most people are now declaring him the greatest quarterback of all time. He’s receiving respect and acknowledgment from current and former players…and most of the media. 

We know he gets credit for his passing ability, leadership, hunger, work ethic, and incredible accomplishments. But one characteristic I find very admirable is Brady’s “coachability.” Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports 1 used this term when describing one of the crucial components of Brady’s greatness.

You would think a player of his stature would “have all the answers” or at least think he did, but all indications are Brady is eager to improve, learn, grow, and listen to his coaches. He’s willing to submit to the authority and instruction of Bill Belichick, and is just like the other players when it comes to being coached up and held accountable.

To see that Brady is playing as well as he’s ever played at almost 40 is amazing. However, he’s been willing to change and adapt, and learn how to improve on and off the field to be at peak performance.

There’s a lot of truth that a key difference between good and great athletes is having a great coach, but more importantly athletes must be coachable. This principle is crucial in sports, and evident in Brady’s career, but I believe it’s just as valuable in our own lives.

Whether receiving instruction or constructive criticism from a boss, teacher, mentor, coach, pastor, parent, or a friend, we can grow and improve if we’re actually “coachable.” But it’s detrimental when we think we have all of the answers and are never willing to submit to the wisdom and the knowledge of others.

When growing in our faith, we should be extremely passionate about having a “coachable” spirit and learning from those who have been following Jesus closely and consistently. It’s worthwhile to place ourselves under solid leaders who can help guide us and speak wisdom into our lives. This requires a deep level of humility and hunger, and also an acknowledgement that we don’t know everything.

The best instruction is rooted in Biblical teaching and should encourage us in the area of “coachability.” The following three verses explain the importance of acquiring knowledge and seeking wisdom:

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 9:9 (ESV) – “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

Proverbs 18:15 (ESV) – “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Even in Brady’s 7th Super Bowl, he leaned on his coaches and learned from them. It’s no surprise that he’s lasted this long at the elite level he’s played.

Today, let’s be encouraged that we’re never too old or accomplished to embrace the knowledge and wisdom that’s available from others. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please give me a humble and coachable spirit so that I can continue to grow as a follower of Jesus, a husband, father, and friend. Please give me a heart that desires knowledge and wisdom rooted in You, and given by leaders You speak through. Help me to listen to You clearly, and thank you for being my ultimate coach. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The Atlanta Falcons must have been feeling confident when they took a 21-point lead over the New England Patriots in the first half of Super Bowl LI. Everything was clicking as their offense scored a rushing and receiving touchdown…and even their defense got into the end zone.  Displaying

They extended their lead to 25 points in the 3rd quarter, and all they had to do was finish strong to become the champs. 

As everyone still tries to figure out how they allowed the Patriots to come back, it’s clear that the Falcons couldn’t handle playing with the lead. Instead of being wise and calling the correct run plays, the Falcons foolishly put Matt Ryan in positions causing regrettable mistakes. 

There was a key 3rd-and-1 situation where the Falcons attempted to throw the ball and Ryan was strip-sacked. Although the Falcons had countless opportunities to keep the lead, they carelessly allowed their opponent back in the game.

The big takeaway is this…the Falcons were in a tremendous situation, yet they didn’t understand how to play with the lead.

They may have been playing too stiff or afraid of messing up, which caused them to do so anyway. Or perhaps they were too comfortable and complacent with their big lead, so they got sloppy. Or maybe they weren’t willing to adjust, so ended up being stubborn and foolish.

The concept of not playing well with the lead is unfortunately found in the lives of believers, as well. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given eternal life and covered in God’s grace. This incredible gift allows us to live in this world by “playing with the lead.” But even though we are already victorious and won’t lose our salvation, we are also called to finish strong. 

By being aware of our opponent and recognizing the challenges that come from “playing with the lead,” we are able to enjoy the blessings that come from our life in Christ. However, being saved from sin and death doesn’t give us an excuse to be disobedient or complacent. Because of God’s grace we should desire to finish strong and play well with the lead.  

On the flip side, we shouldn’t be so concerned about tripping up that we become too rigid or legalistic or prideful, and miss out on the freedom of experiencing Christ and the fullness of life He gives us. 

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 10:10 (ESV) where Jesus says,The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

As followers of Jesus, we are filled with His power, joy, and peace. The abundant life is found in Him now and for eternity. We get to play with the lead every single day, but we must rely on Him to help us fight our enemy and the complacency that can creep in. Blessings and favor are found in Him, so let’s finish strong as we “keep the lead” forever. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, thank you for the abundant life that is found in Jesus. I pray that I would rest in Your grace and favor, and finish my life in this world strong. Please help me fight against complacency, legalism, or abusing the freedom I have because of Christ. I thank you for the joy and peace You’ve given me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

With a 28-3 score in the third quarter, many sports fans were both surprised and disappointed by the Falcons running away with Super Bowl LI. What was wrong with the Patriots? Weren’t Brady and Belichick the greatest? How could they let Atlanta do this to them? 

At this point in the game, many people got on social media declaring the Patriots were done. The Falcons fans were already celebrating, and Patriots fans were conceding. I’m sure people were turning off the TV or leaving their Super Bowl parties early, and questioning if Brady had the ability to bring his team back.

With eight minutes left in the third quarter, there was just enough time for Tom Brady to lead his team to 25 unanswered points…force overtime…and accomplish the most sensational comeback in Super Bowl history. INCREDIBLE, EXCITING, AMAZING, and THRILLING all describe the Patriots’ feat of knocking off the Falcons 34-28!

Despite the Patriots appearing to be down and out and succumbing to defeat, the 4th quarter reminded us of Brady and Belichick’s true greatness. Most of us quickly wondered why we would even consider counting them out? Did we really forget what the duo was capable of doing?

Of course loyal fans stuck by them until the very end, instead of bailing at the first sign of defeat, and the rest of us are still in awe after witnessing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

But as we give the New England Patriots our sports praise for their epic triumph and amazing historic achievement, I want to pause and recall the ultimate comeback – one that far exceeds anything taking place on a football field.

2,000+ years ago, a man claimed to be God and the Messiah sent to save the world. Despite his on-going miracles and amazing power, His enemies took an early lead when they nailed Him to a cross and crucified Him.

At this point, many of Jesus’ followers bailed and stopped believing that He was the greatest because He was now down and out. How could he die like this? Why wouldn’t He save himself? His followers went home discouraged and disappointed, while His enemies were celebrating what they thought was a big “victory.”

However, on the third day, Jesus completed the most extraordinary comeback of all time when He walked out of the tomb and did exactly what He came to earth to do. He died and rose again for you and me, and deserves all of our praise and honor. His glory shines above all because He saved us and changed the world!

The Bible says in Luke 24:44-47 (ESV), “Then He said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'”

As we watch the highlights of last night’s legendary Super Bowl comeback, let’s also be reminded of the most astonishing and eternally significant event in history. Let’s reserve our highest praise and awe for the One who bled and died for us…and stand with Him in victory today! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I thank you that I could experience the excitement of a great Super Bowl. However, I pray that I would be reminded of Your great love and grace, and how Jesus completed the comeback that changed my life. Help me to live in view of that, and point others toward that wonderful truth. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.