UNPACK this…

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.

After all the hype and build up, Super Bowl weekend is finally here! I’m sure most of us are excited about the game…wondering how the Falcons will handle the bright lights…and curious to see if the Patriots can slow down Atlanta’s high-powered offense. 

Amidst the action on the field, we know the Super Bowl is an event filled with music, pregame analysis, parties, food, and yes…commercials! Let’s face it, they play a major role in the big day – whether we like it or not. 

The NFL and their ad partners are so savvy that they’ve convinced us we can’t miss anything throughout the day, including their product-pitching commercials. They know that as we’re gathering in homes around the country to eat chips and dip and break down every play on the field, we’re also absorbing the greatly anticipated commercials. 

We want to make sure we witness the hilarious commercials with a crazy monkey and a talking baby, and eagerly await the latest tech gadget reveal. I admit to getting sucked in myself, and by the end of the night I have watched countless ads telling me how to spend my money. 

Although seeing these clever commercials can be a lot of fun, I think we should also be aware of what is really going on. Each Super Bowl is filled with 30-second messages that tell us what we need or what will make our lives better. We don’t like to admit they have any influence on us, but the reality is…they do. 

It’s not just on Super Bowl Sunday, but every day we are affected by the noise we hear all around us. There is so much information and enticing promotions being spread, that we often don’t even realize our thoughts and actions are being influenced. 

But as followers of Jesus, we are called to view life through a different lens than the world deems important. The Bible says in Romans 12:2 (ESV), “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.” 

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) also tells us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

On Sunday as we sit around and watch commercials and interact with our friends, let’s allow God and His truth to be at the forefront of our minds. Let’s remember that we are forgiven and loved, and true satisfaction is found in Jesus.

We can still enjoy the Super Bowl and embrace the festivities, but let’s not buy into the lies…or the gadgets “they” tell us to. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would make me aware of the negative influences and messages that come my way. Please renew my mind so that I see things through a different lens. Help me be satisfied and joyful because of Jesus. I pray this in His name, Amen.

There is no denying the important and impactful role fathers play in a person’s life. The presence of a good dad or the absence of a dad all together have a major affect on us. Either way, when we reflect on the relationship we have with our fathers, most likely a certain level of emotion is revealed.  Displaying

Earlier this week, Tom Brady showed this type of emotion when a 7-year-old boy (who won a chance to be a Super Bowl reporter) asked him this question: “Many people say you’re their hero, but who’s your hero?”

Despite immense focus on the upcoming Super Bowl, Brady got a little choked up, paused to gather his emotions, and responded: “Who’s my hero? “That’s a great question. Well, I think my dad is my hero. Because he’s someone I look up to every day.”

This turned out to be a memorable moment in the midst of a crazy media day. Both the question and response are worth thinking about in respect to our own dads and also the role we have in our children’s lives.

Should a hero be someone who accomplishes amazing things…or someone who is supportive, encouraging, and present? Should a dad be respected for great wealth and success…or for having a steadfast faith and loving heart?

Some of us reading this devotional today don’t have a dad to look up to, or a child that looks up to us. However, we can all relate to admiring someone in our lives, and hopefully desiring to be the type of person others admire.

The father-son dynamic is a powerful one and on full display in the Bible. Jesus looked to the Father for guidance and did according to His will.

John 5:19-20 (ESV) tells us, “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that He himself is doing. And greater works than these will He show him, so that you may marvel.'”

When unpacking the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, we can see how Jesus honored Him in all that He did. In light of Brady’s comments about his father, let’s be thankful for the impact our own fathers have had on our lives, or address the negative impact we’ve had to face.

Ultimately, let’s desire to be a hero to our own kids…and remember the reconciling power of Jesus who grants us access to our faithful and loving Heavenly Father. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful that You sent Your son Jesus to redeem the world and allow me to have a right standing with You. Thank you for Your Fatherly love toward me, and for the important role you give earthly fathers. Help me be a father that points others to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

More than any other sport, football seems to put the largest emphasis on the locker room, brotherhood, and teamwork. Successful football teams represent a strong bond among the players who line up next to each other every game. 

The Atlanta Falcons have specifically been discussing this throughout their journey to the Super Bowl. Head coach Dan Quinn said they adopted the Denver Bronco’s winning motto from last season – “iron sharpens iron.”

Writer Roy Cummings recently wrote, “Quinn sought to turn the entire Falcons team into a band of brothers who practice and play for one another, and as hokey as it may sound, it’s clear the team has bought into his ‘iron-sharpens-iron’ methodology.”

I realize this phrase can feel cliche or “hokey,” but when pausing to consider its meaning, I believe there is immense power.

In Proverbs 27:17 (from the Bible’s book of wisdom), the verse proves its value with these words: As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”

The Amplified translation puts it this way: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion].”

We can clearly see the importance of a football team being filled with guys who push, challenge, and encourage one another, while discussing ways to get better and relying on each other for strength to keep going.

An iron blade is used to sharpen an iron blade to improve its effectiveness and remove its dullness, and when players take on this strategy they experience something similar.

As followers of Jesus, the value of this method goes even deeper. When we pursue friendships and intentionally meet with other believers in Jesus with the purpose of strengthening our faith and character, there’s an amazing sharpening that takes place. We become more effective and stronger in our understanding of God and His Word.

We need each other to push, challenge, encourage, and lean on in order to grow in our pursuit of holiness and love for God. We need the accountability and strong bond that comes from being close enough to someone else for sharpening even to take place. There is great reward when a friend helps us in our “dull” areas, and we do the same for them.

Today, let’s not consider “iron sharpening iron” as a throwaway line that coaches or pastors often say. Instead, let’s honestly consider the positive results when we implement this powerful process into our lives.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so thankful I don’t have to be on this journey of faith alone. I pray that You would give me the boldness and confidence to pursue friends that are willing to go deeper and sharpen one another. I pray I can help challenge and encourage others, while they do the same for me…always pointing each other toward Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

Bill Belichick is one of the most fascinating and intriguing people in sports. We know he’s successful and arguably the best NFL coach ever. But as respected as he is for football strategy and managing an NFL team, he seems to be mischaracterized as a man. 

It’s hard to know if he’s to blame for coming across as standoffish and arrogant, or if it’s the media’s narrative of his personality. The legend of Belichick is certainly unique with his short answers to the media…his infrequent smiles…and his cutoff hoodie…however, when you see how the NFL Network depicts him in their documentaries, he isn’t at all who he appears to be.

By following him behind the scenes and showing how he interacts with people away from the limelight, his talked about “persona” completely disappears. One documentary showed him dressing up for Halloween, fishing on his boat, interacting lovingly with his kids, and explaining to his team the importance of celebrating together after touchdowns.

Witnessing a completely different side of Bill Belichick makes me wonder why he doesn’t want people to see him for who he really is? Why does he want to be perceived as the “other guy” instead? It also makes me dig deeper into my own sincerity, transparency, and persona.

Do I let people know the real me? Do others know how much I truly love Jesus? Have I allowed myself to live up to how people think I am, instead of who I am deep down? Am I scared to be genuine and vulnerable? Have I explained to people how Jesus has changed me and that I’m no longer that “other guy?”

We all wrestle with being open and honest with ourselves and others about who we truly are (both the good and the bad), but as followers of Jesus, we must understand we are being transformed and called to a new life.

Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:12We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.”

Today with confidence and sincerity, let’s conduct ourselves in a way that depends on God’s grace and reveals to the world who Jesus is and what He means to us. Let’s not hide or pretend to be someone we’re not. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would help me be sincere and transparent in who I really am, instead of misleading others and pretending to have some kind of persona. I pray that people would see You shine through me, and there would be evidence of the change that has taken place in me because of Jesus. I pray this in His name, Amen.

Like most sports fans, I am fascinated when athletes unexpectedly win at the highest level – especially because of their “old age.”

The sport of tennis experienced this over the weekend with Roger Federer and Serena Williams (both 35) winning the men’s and women’s Australian Open. As champions and legends in their sport, they have each had long and decorated careers. 

Federer had a crazy win when you consider he missed six months of tennis (from July to January) and hadn’t won a Grand Slam singles title since 2012.

But the thing about former champions, and the very elite in any sport, is their ability to dig deep and recapture that winning formula. As long as they are still out there, there is a chance they’ll win again – even though it doesn’t make sense or they’ve been written off because of their age. 

The true greats can win late in their careers because they have the heart of a champion. Even without all of the physical abilities they used to have, they maintain a special athletic power within them…and an intangible winning spirit they tap into. 

Stars like Michael Phelps, Peyton Manning, and John Elway have all relied on their inner champion one more time. Tom Brady has the opportunity right now…and I don’t count out Tiger Woods from making a surprise run in a big tournament for this very reason.   

The heart of a champion can make athletes stand out, overcome challenges, and always expect victory…even when seemingly unlikely. 

As followers of Jesus, we have a special heart and unique power that live inside of us. We can live in victory because of the spirit we’ve received through Christ. 

The Bible says in Romans 8:9-11 (NLT), “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.)

“And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” 

One of the most exciting truths we can claim as followers of Jesus is found in verse 11. We are told the same Spirit that raised Jesus lives in us. 

That same power that changed the course of history, and altered our eternal destiny, continues to work inside of us. We truly have a heart of a champion because we’ve already won. 

Today, let’s allow that winning spirit to lead us, guide us, and empower us to overcome every challenge that comes our way…even when it seems unlikely. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing me to receive your Holy Spirit through Jesus’ work on the cross. I pray that I would live in a way that represents the victory I’ve experienced over sin and death because of Him. Please empower me to overcome the difficulties I will face today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

We all know that Tom Brady will steal most of the spotlight leading up to the Super Bowl, but Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, Matt Ryan, has taken his game to another level throughout their successful season. Ryan has led his team to the big game by putting together an MVP-caliber year for the league’s best offense. 

Recognized as one of the better quarterbacks in the league, Ryan has had a solid Falcons career, but his playoff record was 1-4 heading into this year’s postseason. Quarterbacks are judged on how they play in the most important games of the year and whether or not they win Super Bowls. A regular season MVP award is nice for a quarterback, but winning a ring carries even more weight.

The question swirling around Ryan is whether or not he’s an “elite” quarterback. With standards set for what constitutes being elite, we love ranking players at this position and determining who is on the path to elite status. Ryan is taking the steps toward that level, and if he wins next Sunday, many will give him the nod for being one of the league’s elite QBs.

We know when discussing elite quarterbacks, there will never be a perfect one. No quarterback will complete every pass, win every game, and never get sacked. However, there is still the desire for every great QB to pursue “eliteness” and to stand out above the rest by reaching this highest standard.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to a similar mindset. Although we will never be perfect, we should still desire to stand out from the world and reach for the highest standard. We aren’t pursuing “eliteness” as much as we’re striving for “holiness.”

The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NLT), “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’”

Holiness can sound overwhelming, but today let’s be encouraged to desire a life that is devoted, pure, and dedicated to following Jesus and becoming more like Him. We are set apart because of our faith in Jesus, so let’s walk in confidence as we pursue holiness and rely on Him to give us the power to do so. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know that I’m saved and forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross. I could never live the perfect life. However, I desire to pursue holiness so that my life is honorable and reflective of what Jesus has done for me. I know I’m called to a different standard as a follower of Jesus, and I need Your strength to be holy in everything I do. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Growing up as a sports fan, and as someone who paid close attention to broadcasters, I am disappointed that so many legendary voices have stepped away from their roles in recent months.

Verne Lundquist, Dick Enberg, Vin Scully, and Chris Berman are all broadcasting legends who have decided to move on, but will be remembered for their great contributions to the sports world.

Brent Musburger will also be added to that list when Kentucky takes on Georgia in college basketball, and he calls his final game. His remarkable career has spanned four decades and included play-by-play duties for the NFL, NBA, tennis, college basketball, college football, MLB, Little League World Series, and as a studio host for The Masters, NASCAR, and the World Cup.

Before becoming a key face and voice on TV, Musburger worked in the newspaper and radio business. As a young media member, he covered Super Bowl III between the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts.

This was the big game where star quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would beat the 18-point favored Colts, which they did by a score of 16-10. The picture you see above was where Joe casually predicted the Jets would pull off the upset – taken just days before the game.

On the left side of that picture is the young Brent Musburger sitting at Namath’s feet, listening to the quarterback, and soaking in this incredible opportunity to be poolside with the superstar before Super Bowl III. (It’s amazing how relaxed everyone appears!)

This famous picture and classic story reminds me of an important scene in the Bible. Luke 10:38-42 (NLT) tells us, As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

“Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’

“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Although we don’t have the opportunity to physically sit at the feet of Jesus until we are with Him in heaven, we still have the ability to enjoy His presence and spend time with Him now.

Unfortunately, we often get caught up in the worries and details of life, instead of being more like Mary who discovered what was most important.

Today, let’s sit at Jesus’ feet listening to what He wants to teach us, and hear what He’s specifically speaking to us. Let’s be more concerned with what truly matters…and soak in the incredible access we have to our Lord and Savior. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to save me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to experience His presence in my life, and I pray I would choose rest in Him above the busyness and details of life. Help me not to get so concerned and worried about everything else that I miss out on the joy of sitting at Jesus’ feet. I pray this in His name, Amen.

The combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have led the New England Patriots to seven Super Bowls, and now have the chance to win their fifth.  Displaying

With that I say, haven’t they already won enough? What do they still have to prove? Aren’t they satisfied with four rings? Will one more do it?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are presently in pursuit of back to back NBA Championships, and LeBron is complaining about their roster and demanding improvements so the team can win again.

Remember how joyful LeBron and Cleveland were when they won last June? Has that already worn off? Is one championship not enough? LeBron is chasing his fourth ring because he won two in Miami, but will one more do it?

The motivation behind the very best athletes and coaches in sports is fascinating. One thing they always seem to have in common is wanting more and more. Their strong drive for success and real thirst for winning keeps them chasing after the next championship.

When you consider all that the Patriots and LeBron have accomplished throughout their careers, it’s extremely impressive. Their desire to keep winning and experience the thrill of victory over and over again makes sense. Of course, the best in the world wouldn’t be satisfied or have any interest in stopping.

However, we all must recognize (sooner or later) that any worldly pursuit will never truly satisfy our deepest longings. A Super Bowl is great to win, but if that’s the source of fulfillment, then emptiness is the result.

Ultimately, God designed us to be satisfied in Him above all else. When we follow Jesus, our desire for “more” switches from things that are fleeting to things that are eternal. Our pursuits and accomplishments can be put in their proper place, so our main drive becomes loving and pleasing God.

Determining what we want more of, and what we pursue for fulfillment, is a daily battle. We think one more promotion, one more zero, one more bedroom, one more kid, or one more car will do it. Something is always trying to steal our focus and trick us into thinking it will give us lasting satisfaction.

Instead, we can pursue God above all else and seek to know Him deeply with a hunger that’s described in these verses:

Psalm 63:1 (NLT) – O God, You are my God; I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You; my whole body longs for You in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalm 34:8 (NLT) – Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him!”

Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT) – If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know any pursuit apart from You will never truly satisfy. I pray my hunger and thirst would be rooted in wanting more of You. Help me to desire things that are eternally good, while experiencing the true joy that’s found in You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

As we look at this year’s Super Bowl matchup, it’s fun to marvel at each team’s journey to the big game. We think about their victories along the way, and also admire their wise decisions when constructing their rosters. From draft picks to free agents to trades, everything has to click to create the right combination of players.  Displaying

The Atlanta Falcons have made some impressive moves, but the most momentous (and pricey) was their trade for wide receiver, Julio Jones, in the 2011 NFL Draft. They knew they needed a big weapon at that position, and truly believed in his ability and potential coming out of Alabama.

The only way the Falcons were going to get Jones was to trade a significant amount of draft picks to move up and select him, but they felt he was worth it.

They ended up trading their 26th pick, a second, and two fourth-round picks in 2011…and then a first-round pick in 2012 to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the sixth overall pick, which resulted in Jones.

We now know that Jones is one of the very best wide receivers in the NFL, and a key reason why the Falcons are playing in the Super Bowl. They trusted their decision to give up what they had to, so they could have this dominant player on their team. Although costly at the time, Jones has been everything they needed.

The story of how the Falcons acquired Julio Jones reminds me of the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl in Matthew 13:44-46 (NLT) where Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. 

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”

We all have the opportunity to know Jesus, follow Him, and spend eternity in Heaven with Him. The value and treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven far surpass anything we must give up or sacrifice.

There is a cost to surrendering our selfish desires and worldly pleasures, but those things pale in comparison to knowing God and being a part of His Kingdom. What an AMAZING trade for us when we consider what we receive! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I surrender to You and thank you for allowing me to receive salvation and experience Your Kingdom now and forever because of Jesus. I pray that nothing would get it the way or be considered more valuable than knowing You. It’s worth trading everything else in order to be with You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

unnamedSuper Bowl LI is set between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. For the next two weeks, media and fans are going to dissect both teams and countless story lines are going to surface.

One of the juicier stories out there to follow, involves NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Patriots. You didn’t think the conversations about “Deflategate” were over, did you?

A dream scenario for many fans is seeing the awkward interaction between the Commissioner and Tom Brady, along with owner Robert Kraft, standing on the podium to accept the Lombardi Trophy as winners of the Super Bowl.

After Brady was suspended the first four games of this season, everyone knew there would be extra motivation for the Patriots to “get the last word” by winning the whole thing.

The Commissioner hasn’t attended any Patriots games since “Deflategate” began – making his relationship even more uncomfortable and distant. Now tension between the two sides has the potential to be on full display during football’s biggest night…and many are rooting for something dramatic and controversial to take place.

Patriots fans have already had fun with the fact that Goodell hasn’t shown up, and chants from yesterday’s crowd involved “Roger, Roger, Roger” and “Where is Roger?”

It’s hard to believe that years later there are lasting effects from a deflated football incident. Although I doubt we’ll ever know what really happened with the ball, or what took place behind closed doors between the Commissioner, the league, Brady, Kraft, and the lawyers, I am convinced that the Patriots and Roger Goodell are enemies at this point.

In sports we like enemies and rivalries. Of course, this story line is sure to create plenty of intrigue over the next two weeks, but when we consider the enemies in our own lives, Jesus calls us to a different approach.

He says in Matthew 5:43-47 (NLT), “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”

As followers of Jesus, we are held to a higher standard and have a greater opportunity to stand out by how we treat people who hurt us. It’s difficult to do, and we can’t love our enemies in our own strength, but as we humbly surrender to Jesus, He fills us with the love and grace we need to view them differently.

Today, let’s take on the challenge to forgive and love in a way that shocks our enemies and reflects the love and grace Jesus showed us when we were His enemies. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, it’s hard to love those who attack me, criticize me, or are out to get me. I pray that I would rely on Your power to forgive them and somehow love them. I know it’s an amazing testimony to the world when I’m able to show others the grace and love You’ve shown me. Thank you, Jesus, for what you did on the cross. I pray this in Your name, Amen.

The NFL’s final four teams play in the conference championship games on Sunday, and as sports fans, we are set up for an intriguing day of football.

The biggest story lines leading up to the games, and even throughout the regular season, have centered around the Patriots, Steelers, and Packers. The Falcons, on the other hand, have been flying under the radar – despite their 11-5 record and league-high 33.8 points per game.

Early on, the media and fans were caught up in discussing what was wrong with the Packers and Steelers, but now both teams are playing well and remaining in the spotlight while receiving tons of acknowledgment for turning it around.

The Patriots are always in the sports conversation because of their success, and Tom Brady’s suspension added an extra layer of interest to their season.

The bottom line is, the Falcons have gotten lost in the discussion and have taken a backseat to the other three teams still alive. However, not paying closer attention to this impressive team who has one of the top quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers in the NFL is probably a mistake.

The Falcons have a coach with Super Bowl experience and a defense that has come on strong. Although they’ve been overlooked, underrated and underappreciated by most of the football world, we shouldn’t be surprised they are playing in the conference championship game on Sunday with the chance at making it to the Super Bowl.

Whether in sports or life, it’s easy to get caught up in one thing while missing something else. This happens when we focus on our jobs or watching our favorite teams at the expense of paying attention to our families…or when we’re more concerned about our own problems and issues, instead of being concerned with what others are going through.

More importantly, we don’t always stay in tune to what God is doing in us and through us. But as followers of Jesus, we must pay attention to what He’s revealing through His Word and everything around us. When we stay alert each day, we can hear what He’s telling our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit.

The Bible encourages us in Hebrews 2:1 (AMP) –For this reason [that is, because of God’s final revelation in His Son Jesus and because of Jesus’ superiority to the angels] we must pay much closer attention than ever to the things that we have heard, so that we do not [in any way] drift away from truth.”

Today, let’s be aware of God’s presence and truth. Let’s pay close attention to everything He’s revealed through Jesus…and recognize all that He wants to continue to show us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you canunpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know too often I get distracted and caught up in the wrong things and don’t pay attention to what You’re saying or doing. I pray I would have a heart that is centered on You and what You’ve revealed through scripture. Please help me to pay attention to what’s most important, and forgive me for the things I’ve missed. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Yesterday, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Tim Raines were all voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As exciting as it is for those three players, many others on the ballot were not deemed worthy of enough votes from the national baseball writers this year.  Displaying

Guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were two of the best players in their era…and maybe ever…but being associated with steroids has prevented them from receiving enough support.

Each media member with a vote must make their own decision on how to handle the success of players during the “steroid era.” Interestingly, Bill Livingston, a columnist from The Plain Dealer, stated in an article this week:

“I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note. I’m not voting again until baseball decides what to do about the elephant in the room, the so-called steroid era….Until they decide what to do about the stain on the game, I abstain.”

By choosing to omit his vote, Livingston is neglecting his responsibility as a voter. Although there’s valid reasoning behind his decision, when asked to do something, he did not follow through. He said “no thanks” to the opportunity to vote for the candidates.

Whether Livingston’s decision is right or wrong, this mentality of neglecting often creeps into other areas of our lives. Daily situations arise when we know what we should do, and instead choose not to. These are called “sins of omission.”

When God calls us to do something good or moves our hearts in a certain direction, and we say, “no thanks” or “I don’t want to,” we are choosing to be disobedient and neglecting what we know is the right thing to do.

The Bible puts this very simply in James 4:17 (ESV): “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

God desires for us to follow His will, and has great things for us to do for His glory. When we clearly know we’re supposed to do something right, but decide to turn the other way, we’re missing out on tremendous blessings and opportunities.

As followers of Jesus, it’s not just about saying no to the wrong things, but also saying yes to the right things. Today, let’s not omit ourselves from being obedient. Instead, let’s choose the good things He has available for us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would clearly hear You lead me toward good things and take full advantage of the opportunities you place in front of me. I pray I would not be disobedient by resisting Your will and failing to do what I know I should do. Please forgive me for the situations where I’ve said no to you, and please give me the strength to follow You wherever You want me to go. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and his Pittsburgh Steelers are one win away from making it to the Super Bowl. 

Brown has a big personality and takes full advantage of social media to create a “brand” for himself. This is what many athletes do, but sometimes it goes too far…like it did on Sunday night.

 I’m sure you’ve seen or heard by now the Facebook Live video that Brown did in the locker room following his team’s win. While his head coach was speaking “privately” to the team, Brown was in the background filming himself and revealing to the world what was taking place behind closed doors.

There was plenty said by Mike Tomlin that wasn’t meant for everyone to hear, and now Brown is in trouble for his foolishness and selfishness.

The whole situation is rather ridiculous, but one of the the biggest reasons this was a bad idea was Brown not paying attention to his coach.

Brown was so self-absorbed that he wasn’t aware of what was going on around him, and wasn’t listening to what Tomlin was telling his team.

Brown’s poor decision was put in the spotlight, but he’s not the only one who chooses to block other people out in order to focus on himself. Many of us prove to be more concerned about posting on social media than listening to those sitting next to us.

Instead of hearing what others are saying face to face, we can be guilty of drawing attention to ourselves and missing out on what’s being communicated in front of us.

When it comes to growing our faith in wisdom and understanding, we must be able to hear the voice of God. Unfortunately, when we are so self-involved and either pretend to have the answers already, or tell God what we want Him to do for us, we miss out on what He wants to share with us.

Ultimately, we must humble ourselves…submit to God’s instruction…block out our selfishness…and open our ears to hear.

The Bible teaches us in: Proverbs 19:27 (NLT), “If you stop listening to instruction, my child, you will turn your back on knowledge.”

Proverbs 2:2 (NLT) also tells us to “Tune your ears to wisdom,and concentrate on understanding.”

Today, let’s pursue God with open hearts and listening ears while letting go of being self-absorbed. Instead, let’s absorb the wisdom and knowledge that comes from the Lord. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for being so self-absorbed and bringing attention to myself. I pray that I would be aware of my selfishness and have a willingness to be a better listener to You and others. I pray that I would grow in wisdom and understanding as I open my ears to hear. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Steph Curry has won back-to-back NBA MVP awards, has led the Warriors to an NBA Championship, and continues to be one of the most well-liked athletes in sports. 

Growing up with a dad in the NBA, Curry now has his own multiple endorsement deals and is in the final year of a four-year $44 million dollar contract.

From the average fan’s perspective, we can’t imagine how much money $44 million truly is, and at first glance, it’s difficult to think that anyone making that kind of money would be “underpaid.” We know when discussing money in sports, it’s a completely different frame of reference.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to think that Curry is the fourth highest paid player on the Golden State Warriors. Not only does the reigning MVP make less money than three of his teammates, but 73 players across the NBA make more than he does.

When the topic was recently brought up in an interview, Curry responded this way: “One thing my pops always told me is you never count another man’s money. It’s what you’ve got and how you take care of it. And if I’m complaining about $44 million over four years, then I’ve got other issues in my life.”

Although Curry makes more money than most of us can comprehend, his approach to money is encouraging. As we consider our own financial situations, how many of us find reasons to complain about how much we make? How much time do we spend thinking we should make more than the next guy because we’re more “valuable” than he is?

Whether it’s $44 million or $44 hundred, the heart behind our view and stewardship of money is what’s truly important. If we constantly have a lack of contentment and want to always have more…and no amount is ever enough…then maybe we do have “other issues” to address.

The truth is, as followers of Jesus we should work hard and be thankful for every blessing we’re given. God is the ultimate provider, and we need to hold what He’s given us with an open hand.

When we fill our lives with complaining, discontentment, worry, and dissatisfaction because of our salary (or anything else for that matter), we aren’t embracing the peace that comes from resting in God’s goodness and love. We think we always deserve more instead of being truly grateful for what we have.

As we do what we can this year to work hard, make money, and use it for God’s glory, let’s avoid complaining and replace it with thankfulness. To help us do that, let’s hang on to these two verses:

Philippians 2:14 (NLT): “Do everything without complaining and arguing.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV), “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for complaining so much and taking for granted all the wonderful blessings You’ve given me. I pray I would be a good steward, while bringing you Glory with everything I have. If you choose to give me more, help me to remain humble. If I never receive more, help me to remain content. Please fill me with thankfulness. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Yesterday, NFL fans were finally rewarded with two intense and close games that had dramatic finishes. On the road in Dallas, the Packers’ final drive was especially exciting with 12 seconds left and the score tied at 31. 

Third and 20 from their own 31-yard line, Aaron Rodgers made a ridiculous throw to his tight end, Jared Cook, for a 36-yard sideline catch. That set up the game-winning field goal, and now the Packers are heading to the NFC Championship in Atlanta.

The cool part about that play is how Rodgers drew it up in the huddle. It wasn’t an official play call, but he just told the guys what to do like they were playing in the backyard. What an amazing play when you consider he left the pocket, rolled left, and threw the ball across his body to complete the crucial pass.

Rodgers is continuing to strengthen his reputation as one of the most confident and poised quarterbacks ever, while showing how incredible he is when out of the pocket.

It’s one thing for a quarterback to make impressive throws while his offensive line is giving him plenty of time in the pocket, but it’s another story when a QB is forced to move out of the pocket and improvise on the run.

Rodgers has mastered those kinds of throws and proven that he doesn’t have to stay in the typical comfort zone of the pocket to have success. He is bold enough to draw up a play in the final drive of a road playoff game…not scared to be out of the pocket…and willing to make difficult throws across his body to a receiver on the sideline.

As I think about the mentality and action required to pull those things off, I consider the “similar” scenarios in our own lives. How do we handle the pressure of difficult situations?

Do we rise to the occasion or just give up? Do we allow fear to run our lives, so we never step out of our comfort zone, or do we step out of “the pocket” and really thrive? Do we obey God when He’s clearly calling us to do something, or do we sit in the pocket and take the sack instead?

I believe we all have opportunities to demonstrate boldness and confidence, as we step out of our comfort zones and do incredible things for the Lord with His power and strength. We must have the right mentality and willingness to get out of the pocket and run where He wants us to go.

The Bible says in Joshua 1:9 ESV, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Today, as each of us face our own game-winning drives, let’s remain strong and courageous. Let’s be willing to make that outrageous throw down the field because we know the Lord our God is with us wherever we go. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for allowing fear to keep me in my comfort zone. I pray that I would rely on Your strength and power to step out in boldness and confidence to do everything You are calling me to do. I pray I would have the right mindset, and be willing to do difficult things that ultimately bring glory and honor to You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Clemson Tigers are continuing to celebrate their National Championship. They are looking forward to the future with great excitement because of the strong program that has been built. Displaying

Head Coach Dabo Swinney has done a phenomenal job, and I’m amazed at the way Clemson showed patience early on when he took over the team. Never having been a head coach, Dabo was not considered a “hot coaching candidate.” When first put in charge, many questions were raised, and there was concern and criticism about the program’s decision.

During his first full season in 2009, the team went 9-5 and then 6-7 the following year. Most unproven coaches don’t survive that kind of start, and Dabo thought he was going to be fired when his athletic director called a meeting after the 2010 season. Instead, he got a vote of confidence and was given time to grow.

We know now that the school’s patience was well worth it. Aaron Torres wrote in an article for Fox Sports stating, “They’ve proven there is more than one way to build a program. That cycling through coaches isn’t always the answer, and that it’s OK to hire a guy you believe in, and be patient as his vision plays out.”

Patience in sports is rare and most owners or athletic directors want to win a championship overnight – instead of waiting for a coach to grow and build his team. Often rash decisions are made when winning doesn’t happen as quickly as they think it should.

Similarly, we are impatient in our own lives. We want answers right away and desire for God to move immediately in the ways we think He should. We can’t understand what’s taking Him so long!

It’s very difficult for us to acknowledge that during the waiting period, God is growing and building our faith. We also don’t realize all the pieces that will fall into place at the right time because we have a limited view. Thankfully, God sees the bigger picture.

The Bible is clear that waiting is important. Lamentations 3:25 (ESV) says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. Psalm 27:14 (ESV) also tells us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Today, we can be encouraged that while we wait God is still moving in us and around us. Let’s not step outside of His plan because we’re impatient…instead, let’s learn to wait well while being filled with trust and hope. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I need Your strength as I wait. It’s easy to be impatient because I want You to answer my prayers right away. I pray that You would fill me with trust and hope as I remember Your power and faithfulness. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The last couple of weeks have been filled with criticism and discussion about the behavior of two young stars in the sports world – New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and Duke’s Grayson Allen.

Displaying Beckham Jr. was seen taking pictures on a party boat in Miami the week before their playoff game and then ended up playing poorly against the Packers.

Allen has been in trouble for his tripping incidents in multiple games, and is in the spotlight each time he steps on the floor. This week he’s being questioned for his physical contact with an assistant coach on Florida State’s bench.

Both players are talented and fun to watch, but their emotions and decision-making put them in difficult spots. Allen is 21 and Beckham Jr. is 24, so they are young and in many ways immature.

Their choices have resulted in negativity not only drawn on them, but also their teammates. I’ve personally gotten tired of the hatred and attacks from the fans and media, but at the same time I see that both players need to grow in maturity and wisdom.

If both of them want to be the type of players that others respect and cheer for, they must recognize the changes that need to take place. They are letting unnecessary things get in the way of their extraordinary potential as athletes.

Wisdom is extremely valuable and available to those who desire to have it. It’s something that allows us to make the right decisions and avoid painful mistakes. We must all choose to leave immaturity behind to seek wisdom in our lives.

As followers of Jesus, we should desire to make wise choices each day of our lives, according to God’s will. Thankfully the Bible says in James 1:5 (NLT), “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

If we want to be all that God calls us to be, we must rely on the wisdom that comes from Him and the wise people He’s placed in our lives. In humility, we can pursue an honoring life filled with wisdom.

Today, let’s cling to what James 3:13 tells us: “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”  I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to live a life filled with wisdom and humility. I’m thankful that You give wisdom to those who ask, so please provide me the ability to make wise decisions. I pray I would seek You and Your Word as the source of wisdom. Thank you for your generosity and love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Displaying The Pittsburgh Steelers have an explosive offense with two of the best weapons in the league, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. This pair of aggressive players are a threat to score every time they touch the ball.

Last Sunday, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the offense had a great day and knocked off the Miami Dolphins 30-12. However, with4:34 left in their playoff game, Roethlisberger injured his right foot on a passing play.

The conversation surrounding his injury has centered around whether or not he should have even been in the game at that point, considering they had a significant lead and not much time left in the game.

Beyond that, there are questions as to why the Steelers were attempting to throw the ball, and why they would put their quarterback in a potential position to get injured.

Head coach, Mike Tomlin, took the blame for the play call that led to the foot injury by saying, “I got a little over-aggressive there.”

I love a high-powered offense and a coach’s willingness to go for it and not let off the gas, but there does come a point where being “over-aggressive” can be costly and unwise.

As followers of Jesus, we should represent a certain level of aggressiveness and willingness to go for it when it comes to sharing the love of God with others. I’m convinced we should claim Romans1:16 (ESV): For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

Having the boldness to tell others how God has transformed our lives, and being unashamed in doing so, is important. But if we aren’t relying on God for discernment to know when and how to approach people, we can find ourselves forcing our faith on people or being “over-aggressive.”

We must prayerfully consider the right time and place, and then be obedient. We want to be ready when God leads us to go for it and share the Good News, while at the same time avoid coming across the wrong way.

The Bible says in Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT), “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

Today, let’s be bold, wise, and unashamed as we attract others to Jesus…without being “over-aggressive.”  I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire for others to experience the wonderful grace You’ve shown me in my own life. I pray that I will navigate the conversations I have with others with a level of wisdom and boldness without pushing them away. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Last night’s National Championship game was epic with Clemson knocking off Alabama in the final seconds. The rematch lived up to the hype – especially watching Clemson pull out an exciting clutch win that many will consider an upset.

Among the countless storylines, moments, and reactions surrounding the matchup and victory, the words of senior linebacker and defensive MVP, Ben Boulware, resonate the most: “I’m so happy to see the fruit of our labor. All the hard work paid off. We controlled the input. We controlled our attitude, our mentality, our mindset and let the output take care of itself.”

Clemson impressively responded to last year’s loss in the Championship by working hard, staying focused, and keeping a motivated attitude along the way. I personally think Dabo Swinney is a coach you can root for because of the joy, excitement, and love he consistently shows his players.

He’s steadily built this program into a winner over the last eight years, and now the Clemson Tigers are the National Champions. As they celebrate such an amazing win, they will be enjoying the fruit of their labor.

When it comes to our own lives, we have journeys, challenging seasons, goals, opportunities, and plans in front of us. We have desires and dreams and are striving for accomplishments. We may never stand on a podium holding up a trophy, but we still have the chance to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

The Bible tells us, however, that we must first consider the root of the fruit. Psalm 128:1-2(ESV) says, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” 

Ultimately, if we want to experience God’s greatest blessings…the fruit of our labor…we must begin with a proper fear of the Lord. It’s essential that we worship, revere, acknowledge, and obey Him.

Blessings are awaiting us, but let’s remember to have the proper attitude and mindset toward the Blesser who deserves our reverence and praise. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for not showing you the proper respect and worship that you deserve. I pray that I would honor You with my life while obeying Your ways. I desire to enjoy the fruit of my labor, but more importantly, I want to please and serve You. Thank you for all of the blessings that come from You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tonight’s National Championship game is a great rematch between Clemson and Alabama. Although it always comes down to what the players do on the field, the head coach plays an integral role in college football.

Dabo Swinney has been leading Clemson with a fun and upbeat attitude, and is considered a true player’s coach. While attempting to win his first National Championship as a head coach, he’s facing Nick Saban who is competing for his sixth. Swinney is the new elite coach in college football, but Saban has sustained dominance for a long time.

When former player and current ESPN analyst, Booger McFarland (coached by Saban while at LSU), was asked about what makes Saban so good, he said, “His ability to relate to people…the ultimate relationship person…he can sit down and talk to anyone…and make them feel comfortable.”

From the outside looking in, this may not be the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about Saban. However, having this characteristic is clearly important in his ability to recruit the very best athletes in the country. He brings all types of players from multiple backgrounds into his program, and finds ways to work well with each of them.

I believe the ability to relate to people is extremely valuable in all walks of life. When we find common ground and look for ways we are similar to others, we can connect to almost anyone in some way. When this happens, it’s amazing to see the doors that open!

As followers of Jesus, we should desire to make people feel comfortable around us, and figure out how to sit down and talk with them. The easiest way for me is talking sports, but the important part is letting people know you care about them and really listening to what they have to say.

When we relate to others because of our common interest in sports (or work or hobbies), we can develop a bond that leads to the possibility of communicating the love and Good News of Jesus.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9 about being like the people he’s serving, so that he can ultimately bring them to Christ. He says in verses 22-23, “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

Nick Saban has done a tremendous job of finding common ground with players, so he can attract them to Alabama. Today, let’s be challenged to bring purpose to our relationships, and point others to the transforming power of Jesus. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray You would give me discernment when it comes to finding common ground with others. Help me to look past our differences and find areas we can relate to. Strengthen me to even use sports as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus, and to share with them how You’ve transformed my life. Please give me opportunities to do this today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

The most anticipated game this weekend is the New York Giants taking on the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field. Both franchises are led by veteran quarterbacks and know what it takes to win Super Bowls. Either team has the potential to make a run deep into the playoffs. 

I’m especially intrigued by the Packers, who were 4-6 at one point in the season. Everyone on the outside was questioning head coach, Mike McCarthy, and starting QB, Aaron Rodgers, and thinking the team was done.

However, they turned things around by winning six straight games and the division title, and are hosting a playoff game this Sunday.

Rodgers proved why he’s still one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and his mentality and attitude proved to rally his team during the impressive turnaround.

He recently explained, “You have to exude confidence at times when to the outside world there is no reason to believe confidence should exist. That is what I did. I believed in myself, but I also believed in this team. I had confidence in my teammates that we would handle adversity better.”

There is no question that confidence contributed to the Packers’ ability to overcome the early season struggles and prove the doubters wrong. 

As followers of Jesus, we should also be filled with confidence – every day of our lives. Not because of who we are, but because of the power that lives within us.

When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts, everything changes. God is with us, for us, and empowers us to do incredible things for His glory.

This allows us to “exude confidence at times when to the outside world there is no reason to believe confidence should exist.”

Our confidence should be in Him and His ability to do amazing work in us, around us, and through us. It should lead us to have the mentality and attitude that we can overcome struggles, adversity, and doubt because of His goodness and faithfulness.

The Bible says in Ephesians 3:16-20 (NLT), “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

“Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

 Today, let’s embrace this wonderful truth and allow it to provide the confidence we need to face whatever comes our way. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I acknowledge I can do nothing without You, but believe I can do incredible things with Your power inside of me. Please help me to live with the confidence and fullness that comes from knowing You and trusting You to work and move in mighty ways. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

As the playoffs begin, NFL teams are preparing for Wild Card weekend. I’m intrigued to see if the Packers can keep winning and continue their hot streak. It will also be interesting to see how the Raiders do without Derek Carr playing quarterback.

Each team that made the playoffs has a certain level of confidence because of their successful season. But now the coaches and leaders on the team are doing their best to raise the bar and have their team believe they can win the Super Bowl.

If a team lacks faith in being able to make a run through the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to pull off. The Raiders especially have to believe they can win with their rookie quarterback, Connor Cook, if they’re going to have a chance at knocking off the Texans.

Just having faith that your team can win will only go so far, however, as action on the field is also required. A team must believe they can win, which then empowers them with the energy, motivation, and proper mindset to go out and execute. Faith is then followed by hard work out on the field, but faith without action is worthless.

When it comes to our faith in Jesus, we can relate to this process. We believe that Jesus came to earth and died on the cross to save us and rose again. We don’t deserve the grace He offers and our good works don’t earn salvation – it’s a free gift.

But, our belief and faith compel us to obey God and do good works. It begins with faith, followed by action and execution. We can’t just say we believe without living it out.

The Bible says in James 2:14-17 (ESV), “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Today, let’s take God’s Word seriously and believe in what it says. Let’s also take action to do good works in committed obedience to His plan, while remembering the grace that’s been given to us. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus. I believe He died on the cross and rose again. I pray my faith and the understanding of the grace that’s been given to me would compel me to live a life filled with good works. Please give me the strength to live a life of obedience while loving and serving others. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Alabama is preparing to take on Clemson in another National Championship game, but the story stealing the headlines involves Lane Kiffin. Having done a great job as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, he is moving on to become the head coach of Florida Atlantic. 

When a college football coach gets another job while his current team is still playing in the postseason (especially when it’s at Alabama and they’re competing for a championship), the situation becomes tricky.

It’s hard for the players to lose Kiffin at this point, since they have counted on him all season long, so the last few weeks he has tried to balance both jobs. He’s been trying to put together his new staff and team while preparing his Alabama offense for the Playoff.

In a wild turn of events, Kiffin and Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, decided to part ways this week – just days before the Championshipnext Monday. There are plenty of theories as to what went into this difficult decision, but from my perspective your offensive coordinator should be 100% committed and focused, instead of worrying about another team.

Total commitment from everyone involved is necessary to win at the highest level. A coach can’t serve two different teams and have his efforts split.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to an ever greater commitment. Each day we choose to live life God’s way or our own way – we can’t do both well. If we’re holding back from being totally focused on Jesus, then we aren’t living the abundant life that’s found in Him.

If we’re still worried about hanging onto our old ways of doing things, then our lives are split and we can’t embrace all that God has for us in our new life with Him.

Just like a coach can’t serve two teams, we can’t serve two masters. If we really want to serve God above all else, then our focus on love for money or power or prestige or attention or addictions must be surrendered.

The Bible says in Matthew 6:24 (ESV), “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

As we begin 2017, who do we want to serve? Do we love God more than anything else? What are we truly devoted to? Let’s be encouraged not to hold back and divide our affections. Instead, let’s give our whole heart and efforts to the Lord. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess that I can spend too much time thinking about and pursuing other things like money, power, and prestige. I pray that my full focus would be on Jesus and serving Him alone. Please give me the strength to be devoted to You and Your plan above all else. Thank you for the abundant life that’s found in Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

Steve Smith, Sr. is one of my favorite athletes of all time. Although it was sad to see him play his final game on Sunday, he’s had an incredible 16-year career with the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens.

With many great catches and a passion for the game, his playing style has been thrilling to watch over the years. As a Panther’s fan, his most memorable play was the touchdown he caught to win a double overtime playoff game against the St. Louis Rams on their way to the 2003 Super Bowl.

Having a big personality, Smith made plenty of mistakes throughout his career, but after 16 seasons, he’s earned tremendous respect from fans, players, and coaches.

The media will most likely welcome him as a member sometime soon, but they, too, admire him. Tad Haislop from The Sporting Newsdescribed Smith this way: “The truth is Smith’s greatness is based on whatever “it” is. The trash talk; the celebrations; the tenacity — Smith, at 5-9, 185 pounds, arguably is the most intimidating player in NFL history, pound-for-pound.”

I think the perfect word Haislop used is the word “tenacity.” The dictionary definition is “the quality or fact of being very determined; determination or the quality or fact of continuing to exist; persistence.”

Smith’s journey is impressive. Drafted in the 3rd round, he was a small punt returner as a rookie, and now has the potential of being a Hall of Fame wide receiver.

During his time with the Panthers, he experienced 1-15 and 2-14 seasons and played with quarterbacks, Chris Weinke, Jimmy Clausen, David Carr, and Jake Delhomme. Smith also overcame injuries during his career, including a broken leg and arm, and a torn achilles tendon.

Despite some poor quarterback play and devastating injuries, Smith kept showing up season after season. I would argue that for many years he was very underrated and NFL fans outside of the Carolinas didn’t realize just how good he truly was. However, playing with Baltimore for the last few seasons, he’s finally been recognized for being a top wide receiver.

As we think about the tenacity of Steve Smith, I hope we are encouraged to be tenacious in our own lives – combining both passion and persistence. We might find ourselves in situations with a “bad quarterback” or “injuries” or other limitations, but we can remain determined to keep going.

When it comes to our faith journey and following Jesus, there are going to be times when it seems too hard and we want to give up. Maybe we get tired of doing the right thing…or we want to be blessed in certain ways, but it’s not happening…or we’re not getting the credit we think we deserve.

During these times, we must rely on God’s faithfulness and power to help us continue being tenacious about serving Him. The Bible says 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 begin 2017, let’s be challenged to live life with tenacity and to obey God with passion and persistence. Let’s trust Him and not give up. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would continue to be tenacious about following Jesus and not give up when things get tough. I pray for strength to persevere, and not get tired of doing good. I thank you for all of Your blessings and thank you in advance for the ones to come. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

I watch a lot of football each week, and have great respect for how tough playing at the highest level must be. However, I’m always still amazed when an NFL player drops a wide open pass – especially when it goes right through his hands.

If you think of your favorite team, I’m sure either a wide receiver, running back, or tight end has dropped a crucial pass this year. There have also probably been a few drops that have cost your team a chance at the win.

 So why do players drop passes? Aren’t they taught to watch the ball all the way into their hands? Don’t they realize they can’t score the touchdown unless they complete the catch and keep their eye on the ball? 

Ultimately, it comes down to a lack of focus. They might shift their attention to the end zone, or worry too much about the defense, or start thinking about their own glory before even making the catch. 

Even the best wide receivers get distracted at times and must remind themselves of the simple saying, “Keep your eyes on the ball.”

When it comes to our own lives, we can also get distracted and lose focus on what’s most important. When we shift our attention away from Jesus by dwelling on the wrong things, or worrying too much, or thinking about our own glory, we can start dropping the ball too. 

I think the Christmas season is like a wide open catch. You’d assume that thinking about Jesus would be easy (since the holiday is rooted in Him), but for some reason we allow distractions to shift our focus on everything else going on.

I love Christmas movies…songs…eggnog…cookies…traditions…and gifts, but unfortunately I can very easily put all of my attention on those things and forget to ponder the truth and power behind Jesus coming to earth.

A player can enjoy everything that comes after securing the catch, but first he must keep a strong focus on the ball. Likewise, all the Christmas activities are more fruitful and worthwhile when we first keep the proper focus on Jesus. This truth isn’t just for Christmas, but for our entire journey in this world.

Hebrews 12:2 in the Amplified Bible translation explains how we go through life with endurance and persistence by “…[looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].”

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope we are all challenged to keep our focus on the One who came to us, so that we may have salvation…true life…joy…and hope. I’m Bryce Johnson and you canunpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you so much for sending your Son to earth to redeem me and give me eternal life. I admit to daily getting caught up in the wrong things (especially this time of year), but I pray You would give me the strength to fix my eyes on Jesus. I desire to stay focused on Him, while enjoying this wonderful Christmas season. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

A disappointing and head-scratching story has been developing this week involving former Wake Forest player, coach, and radio analyst, Tommy Elrod. 

The school confirmed that he “provided or attempted to provide” opponents with game-preparation information since 2014. Despite being an analyst and a graduate of Wake Forest, he was sharing confidential game-plan details with other teams.

What a crazy story! I’m sure they will discover many more details and motives surrounding this controversy, but the news has got to be frustrating for Wake Forest fans.

The teams involved would obviously have an advantage during their preparation. By removing some of the uncertainty, they’d have more confidence to execute their own game plan.

I’m totally against everything that took place with Tommy Elrod, but it opens my eyes to a deeper parallel in our own lives. I believe God is all-knowing and is in control. He designed us and created the world, so He has all of the answers.

Truth is found in Him and many parts of His game plan have been revealed to us through the Bible. He has shown us how to live in this world and has given us a glimpse of what’s to come in eternity.

Although we have opponents, we’ve been given ways to battle the enemy and difficult situations that arise. We can enter the daily fight, fully equipped and prepared because of God’s power in us and His Word available to us.

He has shared with us what we should expect from the opponents. We can embrace this life on earth with confidence because of the clarity that is found in the Bible, and the ongoing understanding God gives to us when we seek Him.

We are told in Joshua 1:8 (ESV), “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

A football team prepares their game plan based on the information they have available, and Tommy Elrod made that a little bit easier for some of their opponents. 

Thankfully, as we live this life as followers of Jesus, we’ve been given more than enough clarity and wisdom through God’s Word to prepare well…and have a game plan that leads to a successful life with Him. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that you’ve provided us the Bible, and that truth is found in Jesus. I pray I would take full advantage of the clarity and wisdom found in your Word, so that I can successfully do Your will. Please continue to show me the way I should go. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.  

Jim Harbaugh is a really great coach who has had success on the pro and college level. He had a strong run with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, and has done a tremendous job with Michigan so far.

Many other teams would love for him to be their coach, so that’s why the rumors are already swirling about the possibility of him coaching the Los Angeles Rams after Jeff Fisher’s firing earlier this week.

Despite the speculation, it seems unlikely for anyone to pry him away from his alma mater, and his current players feel that way too. Following the discussion Harbaugh had with his Michigan team about the Rams’ rumors, senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow shared this:

“He said, ‘Look guys, short, sweet, to the point, I’m not leaving, don’t worry about it’. These are lies made up by our enemies.’ It got the team riled up. We don’t want any enemies infiltrating our fortress.”

I want to believe this is true, and I hope Harbaugh sticks around for awhile at Michigan. The college coaching world is crazy, as well as in pro sports, so it’s hard to know who to trust and what rumors are legitimate. However, I think the line that was used, “These are lies made up by our enemies,” is a powerful one.

I’m sure the team got fired up when they heard Harbaugh’s response to the rumors, and I’m convinced that it is a line we need to remind ourselves in our own lives. We are in a battle every day between truth and lies, and we must choose what to believe.

As followers of Jesus, the truth is in us and in God’s Word, but unfortunately we have to continue fighting against the lies that are coming at us in all directions. We must remember the truth that God loves us, He’s forgiven us, He’s our protector and provider. He’s all powerful and He’s the creator, but also cares about us individually.

When we begin to doubt these truths and believe that we are still condemned or worthless or not good enough, we must remember that “these are lies made up by our enemies.” God cares about us…He is working in us and through us… and “we don’t want any enemies infiltrating our fortress.”

By soaking in God’s Word and listening to His voice, we are better equipped to recognize we have a real enemy. The Bible talks about satan in John 8:44 (NLT): …He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Thankfully Psalm 145:18 (ESV) assures us, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.”

1 John 5:20 (ESV) reminds us, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Today, I hope that we get “riled up” by choosing truth over lies. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know that I can’t battle my enemies alone and need Your strength. Please help me to remember the truth of Your Word, and continue to seek an even deeper understanding of who You are. I pray I would believe truth, instead of buying the lies. Thank you for the way You love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Displaying Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012, and was a top draft pick for the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, he has struggled with multiple off-the-field issues which has resulted in being home without an NFL job.

Manziel violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy and has grabbed many headlines for his misadventures away from the game. It’s safe to say that most people have written him off or given up on him.

But I was thrilled to hear Oakland Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr, say he’s not one of those people. The two quarterbacks were both drafted in 2014, and yet their careers have taken different paths. Even though Carr is having an MVP-caliber season with a season record of 10-3, he said he would absolutely love the chance to help Manziel.

During a recent interview with Peter King, Carr said: “You know, I spent a lot of time around him. He’s such a good dude. I obviously wish him the best, you know…I hope that…hopefully one day he’ll reach out. [I’d] be able to talk to him and be a friend to him.”

These words obviously encouraged Manziel, as he reached out with a comment on Twitter saying, “I’ll gladly take you up on that offer.”

As we witness this friendship in the making, I think we can be challenged to do the same thing in our own lives. There are people we know or used to know from our past that need us…and more importantly, need the love and grace of Jesus.

If we can think more about “being a friend” to those people instead of condemning, judging, criticizing, or giving up on them, God can do incredible work through our efforts.

Friendship is key when it comes to having a voice in someone’s life. They need to know our help is coming from a place of compassion and kindness.

As followers of Jesus, let’s be aware of these opportunities and put ourselves in a position for someone to “take us up on the offer.” As we pursue these kinds of friendships, let’s approach them with Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV) in mind:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

As we’re filled with compassion, humility, and love because of what Jesus has done in our own lives, let’s be inspired to be available and open to helping others through genuine friendship. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

Displaying

I join many other Fantasy Football managers this morning who are experiencing great disappointment and frustration because of our team’s poor performance yesterday during the first round of the Fantasy Football playoffs.

I’m sure it sounds pathetic to be filled with regret, and have second-guessing thoughts swirling around in your head because of Fantasy Football, but I’m just being honest with you.

I had a strong team this year, and felt good about the possibilities of making a run during the playoffs. A few weeks ago, I actually pulled off two different trades that were supposed to help me have an even better team. Yesterday, as I finalized my lineup before the games began, I was excited about the players I had chosen to represent my team.

However, now that Sunday’s games have finished, I’m kicking myself because I chose the wrong players and feel like I made terrible decisions. I’m asking myself, why did I draft Dez Bryant in the first round? Why did I trade away T.Y. Hilton? Why didn’t I start the Dolphins defense as they played in the rain? I’m consumed with thoughts that make me feel like I really blew it as a Fantasy manager.

If you don’t play Fantasy Football, you probably think I’m crazy (which I am), but either way I’m sure you can relate to these feelings when it comes to real life. I’m sure there have been plenty of mornings where you’ve woken up with strong regret and second-guessing thoughts on your mind.

I believe these feelings can be beneficial when they lead to a deep desire to change and we are willing to learn from our mistakes – not remain focused on our regrets. We can find comfort in God’s grace by falling to our knees and shifting our attention to the cross of Christ. When we rest in His love, grace, and mercy, we can move forward in repentance…adjusting our decision-making in the future.

We will continue to make some poor decisions in life, but as we desire to avoid feelings of regret because of our choices, we can cling to the truth found in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

Fantasy Football is unpredictable, frustrating, exhilarating, and impossible to truly figure out. Real life can feel that way at times too. But when we genuinely trust in the Lord and seek His will, we know His path leads to life, truth, joy, and peace. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your willingness to lead me and show me the right path to take. Thank you for Your grace when I do make a wrong choice. I pray that I wouldn’t remain in regret, but instead repent and depend on You. I pray I would make wise choices as I trust You with all of my heart, and truly seek Your will in all I do. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’m convinced that many of us sports fans would love the opportunity to be an NFL player – especially one who is a top 3 draft pick, 9 time Pro Bowler, and making over $80 million. 

But, how would you like to play for one of the worst franchises in sports and experience only one winning season during a 10-year career? Do you think you’d still want to keep playing? Better yet…would you be able to be on the field for every single snap?

Although incredibly difficult, Cleveland Browns’ offensive tackle, Joe Thomas, has accomplished the feat of playing in 9,684 straight snaps while dealing with six head coaches and blocking for 18 starting quarterbacks.

ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill recently wrote a fascinating feature on this likely Hall of Famer who is currently enduring a 0-12 season. Thomas plays a not so glamorous position for a struggling franchise, and yet he’s one of the best at what he does and continually shows up game after game.

Thomas’ football experience could be called sports torture, but even so, he hasn’t left for another franchise and has shown how to suffer well for the sake of his loyalty to Cleveland and his teammates.

When NFL players get into the league, they probably don’t think about the suffering involved. Most likely they never consider how playing every snap for a struggling franchise might even be worthwhile.

Likewise, as followers of Jesus, I don’t think many of us embrace the idea of suffering and may even have the false expectation that everything should be easy and carefree. We certainly shouldn’t have to experience loss after loss, should we?

The truth is, however, that even Jesus suffered while He was on earth. If we want to be like Him, we will also experience suffering before we get to Heaven. God uses the difficulties for His purposes while making our faith stronger. None of us want to lose season after season, or deal with the same struggles over and over again, but God uses it all for His glory and our ultimate good.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NLT) that he asked God three different times to take away the thorn in his flesh, which was being used to keep him humble, but each time God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

Paul went on to say, “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 consider our struggles and weaknesses, let’s remember that God’s grace is all we need. Let’s boldly ask Him to strengthen us, so that we can suffer well for His sake. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that my life would be filled with obedience to do Your will, even if that involves suffering. I pray I would understand that when I’m weak, it’s an opportunity for You to reveal Your power. I pray You would shine through my weaknesses. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

As we get down to the final few weeks of the NFL regular season, we begin to get an idea of which teams will make the playoffs. The discussion then becomes which teams are true Super Bowl “contenders,” and which ones are only “pretenders.” 

Most people say the Patriots, Seahawks, and Cowboys are contenders, but there are questions raised about teams like the Raiders, Lions, and Falcons. Analysts wonder if Detroit is for real and are curious about how great the Raiders truly are.

Throughout the season we believe in teams that go on a winning streak, but when injuries happen or surprising losses takes place, we begin to doubt their legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender. After some adversity, we question that the team is real and maybe not as good as we once thought.

When it comes to our faith, how often do we question if God’s real or not? Do we question His goodness when adversity strikes? Do we start to wonder about His legitimacy when we don’t feel His presence? Do we second guess His greatness when He’s not doing what we think He should be doing according to our own understanding?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve had moments of doubt and weakness in our faith. I believe during those times we must focus on all of the ways He’s revealed His power and love throughout our lives.

We must remember who we used to be before we knew Him, and reflect on all of the transformation that has taken place in our lives. The doubts will quickly vanish when we recollect all of the situations He’s come through for us and shown us how real and faithful He truly is.

The Bible tells us that sometimes all it takes to eliminate the doubt is to look around us. Romans 1:20 (NLT) says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

God has made Himself evident, but sometimes we need a reminder when life gets tough. When we struggle in our awareness of His presence, let’s rely on Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV): “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”

Today, let’s be encouraged that God is real, legitimately loving, all-powerful, great, and faithful. Let’s keep seeking Him with all of our heart. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit that sometimes I allow doubt or questions to fill my mind about You. I pray that in those moments I would seek You and remember who You are and what You’ve done. I know You’re real and good and faithful, so forgive me for the times I forget that. Thank you for Your grace and Your love. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Displaying The College Football Playoff has been set, and Penn State has been left out – despite having a great case for being included. Although Penn State won the Big 10 championship and beat Ohio State during the season, the Buckeyes have been chosen to represent their conference instead.

The fact that Penn State is even in the conversation as one of the best teams in the country is unbelievable, considering what the school has experienced in the years since the Joe Paterno/Sandusky scandal.

I give their head coach, James Franklin, a lot of credit for turning the program around after facing major penalties and harsh criticism for the horrific acts that took place. As a football team, they’ve been able to move past the negative history that’s been attached to them, and focus on the players and coaches they have now.

The Penn State football program has new life, and as outsiders looking in, we need to start viewing them for who they are today instead of who they used to be. We need to stop associating the current players and coaches with the terrible actions that took place during the previous regime.

A shift in mentality can also help us beyond sports. Instead of looking through a lens that links others to their past transgressions, we should make a conscious effort to let go of their mistakes and not let it get in the way of having a relationship with who they are trying to become.

Thankfully when we become followers of Jesus, we become a new person and are no longer who we used to be. Through God’s grace we not only move on from our former lives, but can have an understanding of others being transformed by the power of Jesus, as well.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 (NLT), “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.

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Today, let’s drop the labels and attachments we place on ourselves and others based on the past. Instead, let’s embrace the newness of life that comes through Jesus. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful for the new life You’ve given me because of Jesus. Help me to accept my new identity and move forward as a new creation. I pray I would also show others grace and not focus on their past. I pray this in Jesus name Amen.

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday with the headline, “For the Redskins, Another December of Desperation.” In this article, Dan Steinberg captured the team’s current situation following the loss to the Cardinals. 

Washington is now 6-5-1 and fighting hard to make the playoffs in a competitive division, with the Cowboys and Giants ahead of them in the NFC East.

Steinberg wrote, “It has now been 20 years since the Redskins were better than 7-5 at this point in the season. Each time they’ve made the playoffs since then, it required late-season feats of strength, and weekly tightrope walks.”

If the Redskins would have pulled out the victory over Arizona on Sunday, they would be sitting in a much more manageable position to make the playoffs. Instead, they now face desperation again.

Many of us can most likely relate to how the Redskins feel right now, as we face a “December of Desperation” in our own lives. My guess is we are dealing with something much more serious than trying to make the playoffs – either struggling with general hopelessness or overcoming illness or battling a financial crisis. We might be desperate to find a job or get married or have a child.

Like the Redskins, maybe we’ve experienced the same situation in the past and must consider how we handled it the last time, so that we can trust God even more this go-around. When we remember God’s faithfulness during our last season of desperation, we can hold onto the hope He’ll come through again.

Psalm 50:14-15 (NLT) give us assurance with these words: “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory.”

In moments of desperation and trouble, we can cry out to God and totally depend on Him. Let’s remember He is there to rescue us, strengthen us, and meet us where we are. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that You would reveal Yourself to me as I face desperation. Help me to remain thankful and to call on You when I’m in trouble. I trust You will give me strength as I rely on You to carry me through. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Carolina Panthers were embarrassed on national TV last night with a 40-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. As a fan of the team, it was brutal to see. Displaying

Their season keeps getting worse, but I can’t believe one of the main discussions today includes the word “outfit.” Last year’s MVP, Cam Newton, didn’t start the game because he violated a team rule by not wearing a tie.

Everyone watching was totally thrown off when Newton was standing on the sidelines while his backup, Derek Anderson, threw an interception on the first play.

The whole situation is pretty bizarre, and the debate will continue as to whether or not Newton should have been punished for not wearing the appropriate “outfit,” and if Rivera should be criticized for the rule to begin with.

Either way, as silly as the whole situation sounds, I appreciate a coach disciplining his players when he needs to. Newton was actually very respectful during his postgame press conference and made the comment, “Coach has rules in place and we have to abide by them.”

Nobody likes to be disciplined, and in the moment it may seem unnecessary or even too painful. But when we look a little deeper, and from God’s perspective, there is great value when discipline comes from a place of love.

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:5-7 (NLT), “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as His children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.

‘As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?'”

Verse 10 continues with, “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

Cam Newton, Ron Rivera, and Panthers fans didn’t like the way the game started or ended last night, but I’m counting on growth taking place because of the discipline that was implemented.

In our own lives, I hope we realize that God has “rules” in place for our own good and His discipline comes from a place of profound love. (And we can be thankful He doesn’t ask us to wear a tie!)

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I pray that I would have a better perspective on discipline. I want to understand the loving hand You have on my life, and the importance You place on helping me grow in holiness. I pray I wouldn’t resist discipline, but continue to have the desire to seek You and obey Your ways. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

It’s been another NFL season centered on conversations about bad calls made by refs. Every game seems to include a controversial decision that raises questions concerning a particular play. This ongoing issue with refs has led to a push to make their jobs full-time.  

NFL executive, Troy Vincent, told The Associated Press he expects the league to hire as many as 17-full-time officials for the start of next season. This is a dramatic change, as the officiating crews are currently only part-time with other jobs outside of the NFL.

I really do believe this will be a game-changer and I’m rooting for it to happen. Consistency and effectiveness would be great benefits for the NFL and its fans. Instead of splitting their time and efforts between jobs, officials would finally have a singular focus. They would go from being Sunday refs to everyday refs who devote time to improving their craft.

As we consider our own lives, would we say we are following Jesus full-time or part-time? Do we just show up for church on Sundays to focus on our faith, but then shift our attention to everything else in life on Monday morning? How much more impact would we have if we were a full-time follower? How much growth and improvement would we experience if we took our faith seriously beyond Sunday mornings?

The truth is, God’s love for us is immeasurable and He wants us to experience the joy and peace found in Him each day. He is worthy of serving and worshiping full-time!

The Bible tells us 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.”

As the NFL realizes part-time effort from their refs isn’t the best option, let’s commit to full-time devotion and obedience to Jesus. Today, let’s present our bodies as a living sacrifice. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I desire to follow Jesus full-time and not settle for being distracted by everything the world is throwing at me. I pray my focus wouldn’t shift away from You when Monday comes, but instead be wholly committed to Your will each day. I need your strength. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

We are witnessing incredible individual performances by Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook right now. He’s on an NBA historic pace with averages of 31.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game.

Recording a “triple-double” in one game is rare enough, but averaging one for a full season is legendary. With only Oscar Robertson doing it 55 years ago, and Magic Johnson coming close 35 years ago, NBA fans are keeping a close eye on Westbrook’s exceptional performances.

Although difficult for Westbrook to continue putting up these monster numbers, last night he grabbed his fourth straight triple-double – his ninth this season. As fans, we are all looking forward to seeing if he can keep this impressive feat going.

Part of the reason Westbrook is playing with such passion (and maybe even with anger), is due to the fact that his former teammate, Kevin Durant, left for the Warriors. Westbrook now has to do even more on the court if the Thunder is going to pull off a successful season. Night after night he carries the responsibility to contribute in points, rebounds, and assists.

I’m a big fan of players being able to record triple-doubles and establishing themselves as a “do- it-all” type of player. Obviously, the greater amount a player can contribute, the more valuable he becomes. However, I believe this “do-it-all” mentality away from the court can have negative implications.

I must admit that I’m guilty of trying to do as much as I can in multiple areas of my life. I don’t want to miss out on opportunities or let people down, so I try to fit it all in.

The Christmas season is especially challenging for most of us, as we try to put as many activities on our calendars as possible. We end up saying yes to more things than we should because we want to have a “do-it-all” mindset.

I think the only way to combat this mentality and avoid the many pitfalls of the “do everything” lifestyle is to evaluate our hearts and keep our eyes on Jesus. We must ask ourselves why we feel that we should do so much – especially in view of what’s been done for us on the cross.

What are we trying to prove or earn? Why don’t we slow down and find rest in Jesus? Why do we think that all of our busyness and activities will fill a void only He can fill?

Our own efforts, accomplishments, and futile attempts to prove our worthiness to God will always fall short. In Philippians 3:8 (NLT), Paul realizes that his great resume actually means nothing:

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ…”

We can continue to chase “everything” and try to “do-it-all,” or we can pursue what actually lasts and truly matters. Today, let’s ask ourselves what we’re really trying to gain. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

 PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit I try to do-it-all at the expense of truly enjoying You and finding rest in Christ. Please help me to realize I don’t need to prove anything by my exhaustive efforts, but instead rely on what’s been done for me on the cross. Help me to slow down, not do everything, and cherish life with Christ. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Buffalo Bills have had a roller coaster season. They started the year with two losses, then won four straight, went on to lose three in a row, and have now won their last two games. Despite sitting ninth in the AFC standings, and having a record of 6-5, their playoff hopes are still alive.  

With a small chance to still sneak in, having a very confident and optimistic coach like Rex Ryan is a big plus. After their win on Sunday against the Jaguars, he said:

“One thing about us, we’re going to compete all the way. I mean all the way until they say we can’t play anymore, we’re going to keep competing and keep grinding and that’s what we’ll do. Whether we’re comfortable or not, this is the situation we’re in. We’re going to be fighting all the way, though.”

I respect that mentality and appreciate the hope he’s hanging onto as they pursue that playoff berth. Having hope allows a team to continue to fight, persevere, and see the potential opportunities in front of them, instead of giving up because it appears unlikely. It’s difficult for a team with no hope to show up and keep competing and grinding.

Hope is valuable in sports, but it’s also something extremely worthwhile for all of us to have in our own lives. Looking positively toward the future, while viewing possibilities and opportunities with confident anticipation, is what keeps us fighting and persevering.

Our ultimate hope is rooted in Jesus, and we know our future is secure because of Him and the eternal life He’s given us. We can also know that in Him, all things are possible because of His power and goodness.

As bleak as life gets, we can trust that our struggles are temporary in light of eternity, and that God will sustain us through it all. We have the hope that He’s using our circumstances to grow us and change us and can redeem any situation.

Fortunately, the Bible is filled with promises of hope. Romans 15:13 (NLT) says, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If Christ is in us, we can abound in hope no matter what we face today and will face in the future. Today, let’s cling to Romans 12:12 (ESV) – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for providing me hope for today and for eternity. I’m grateful that You love me and are with me through difficult times. Help me to have hope that those circumstances are temporary and even valuable in the bigger picture. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I don’t think there is another area of life where age is talked about as much as in sports. With an emphasis on the age of a certain player or coach, the analysis is usually based around that. Also, NFL teams have a hard time determining whether they’d rather have an older or younger quarterback because a case can be made for both.

Dak Prescott is 23 years old and leading the Cowboys to the best record in the NFL, while Tom Brady is 39 and still dominating as the Patriots’ QB. Meanwhile, 25-year-old Derek Carr continues leading the Raiders to impressive wins (and should make the playoffs), and the ‘ole reliable Drew Brees just threw four touchdowns on Sunday at the age of 37.

The point is, we talk a lot about age because we’re amazed when a player has success at an age we don’t “expect” them to. We always seem surprised when a player performs well before or after their “prime” years. The reality is, players can have a huge impact on their team regardless of age.

I believe we also emphasize age in our own lives, and even allow the number to define us or hold us back. We convince ourselves that we are too old to pursue a dream or too young to have a key leadership role. We think we’re too old to keep playing sports or too young to settle down and get serious about having a family. We let cultural norms dictate when we should or should not do certain things.

As followers of Jesus, however, we must realize that we’re never too young or too old to be used by God to impact His Kingdom. In the Bible, Noah, Abraham, and Moses were “senior citizens” when God used them for greatness…while David, Mary, and, of course Jesus, were in their youth when they did amazing things for His purposes.

It’s important for each of us to obediently seek the Lord as He calls us to do His work – never letting age deter us from the important role we play. Placing value on both the young and old is wonderfully illustrated in the following two verses:

1 Timothy 4:12 (NLT): “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

Job 12:12 (NLT):Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.”

There are advantages to every stage of life. If we are willing, God uses us for His purposes in each of them. Instead of listening to others when they place age limits on us, let’s embrace what God is clearly leading us to do. After all, we serve an ageless and powerful God! I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I admit to sometimes allowing my age to limit what I pursue or what I believe I’m capable of doing. I pray that I would follow Your lead and not let fear get in the way of what You’re calling me to do. I pray I wouldn’t get caught up in my age, but recognize You use both old and young, while being more concerned about our faith and obedience. Thank you for using me for Your purposes. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Saturday’s rivalry game between Ohio State and Michigan lived up to the hype by going into double-overtime, and OSU dramatically winning 30-27. It was an epic finish with Curtis Samuel running the ball into the end zone on first down, following the controversial 4th down play.

Michigan had a 3-point lead and needed the stop on 4th down, but OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett ran for the first down to set up the winning play. However, there is still debate as to whether or not Barrett actually crossed the first down marker or if Michigan stopped him before he reached it.

Depending on what team you root for, the play could have been called either way and will undoubtedly go down in history.

My takeaway from this legendary game is how true the sayings “It’s a game of inches” and “Every inch counts” really are. Incredibly, it took four quarters and two overtimes for Ohio State to make the crucial play on 4th down…by mere inches.

As I think about inches separating the winner and loser on Saturday, I consider how 18 inches is the distance between our brain and heart. If we rely solely on our knowledge of God to remain in our mind and stop short of our heart, we miss out on the transforming power of Jesus.

When we try to figure out God with only our minds, disbelief can lead to a closed heart. Or we may believe in God with our minds and have knowledge of the Bible, but still don’t truly surrender our hearts by receiving Jesus into our lives. Sadly, either way can prevent us from eternity with God…by just 18 inches.

God wants our hearts and minds to be in sync and fully devoted to Him. It’s not just knowing about Him with head knowledge, but giving our hearts to Him as our Lord and Savior.

Romans 1:20-22 (NLT) says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.”

Today, let’s make sure our minds (or a few inches) aren’t preventing us from a transformed and committed heart that is filled with worship and thanksgiving. Let’s hold onto the hope found in Romans 10:9 (NLT):

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

 I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m thankful for salvation through Jesus. I pray that I will fully understand the importance of my heart being surrendered to You. Help me not to get caught up in knowledge alone, but to have a heart that is open and committed to You. I pray my heart would be filled with worship and thanksgiving, as my heart rejoices for the salvation You’ve given me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

I’m guessing by now that you’ve seen the video of Fox’s audio technician, Bernie, getting crushed by the Minnesota Vikings as they rushed out of their tunnel on Sunday. This crazy scene could have turned out much worse, but thankfully Bernie is okay.

If he hadn’t gotten in the way and been forced to the ground, many of us would never have heard of Bernie or taken notice of the role he plays for the NFL.

But with Thanksgiving in mind, I’m grateful for guys like Bernie who enable me to turn on games each week and hear the sounds from the crowd, the sidelines, and the big hits. His hard work allows me to enjoy the full scope of a football game.

Unfortunately, his job on football Sundays is a thankless one just like it is for so many others. We rarely consider the number of people who are involved in pulling off a game, both on TV and at the stadium.

From pulling cords to handing out hot dogs to sweeping the aisles to designing the video graphics, there are many people who go unnoticed and are unappreciated, but their contributions each play a part in the overall experience.

As I consider all of the little things that make sports and life great, and the number of people behind the scenes who truly make a difference in both, I realize we should be living each day with a spirit of thanksgiving.

If we’re honest with ourselves, however, we probably don’t think much about it. We are more likely to be ungrateful and entitled, with minimal awareness of how the little things and the efforts of those out of the spotlight make our lives better.

So today, let’s be challenged to consider every blessing as we celebrate Thanksgiving with our family and friends. Can we choose to be appreciative of everything…instead of believing we deserve everything?

I’m thankful for my wife, my family, my house, and most importantly my salvation because of Jesus. As I write this devotional, I also desire to be appreciative for things like being able to tilt my blinds just enough to get the right amount of sunlight – instead of taking such a luxury for granted.

As we head into a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, let’s be inspired to memorize Ephesians 5:20 (NLT): “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God is the source of life and every blessing comes from Him – the ones we notice and the ones we don’t. As we open our eyes and hearts to be more aware of the little things that make life so wonderful, let’s give thanks to God for everything. I’m Bryce Johnson and you can unpack that!

 PRAYER: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times I take little things and certain people for granted. Help me to be alert to how blessed I truly am. I’m deeply grateful to know Jesus, and to have the ability to experience so many good gifts each day. Please give me a thankful heart and opened eyes. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.