Explore God – Can You Know God Personally? by Rick Shurtz

Explore God was a citywide conversation in Austin.
No matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, Explore God is an experience that will help you on your journey  through life as you search for meaning.
On the final week, Rick Shurtz spoke on the topic: “Can We Know God Personally?”

We have things we have expected, hoped for, wished for in life. Some of those things happen. Others of them have not happened.

Our lives, they are what happens, as we have made either slightly different plans, or moderately different plans, or radically different plans. It’s just the way things work. We have good days. We have bad days. We have good years. We have bad years. The accumulation of these moments, days, months, and years, they become our lives…with and without our plans.

It’s a reality of life, but it also raises a question. If that’s a reality of life…if it’s a reality that life is what happens as we make other plans…what do I do with that?

  • How do I maintain my sanity?
  • How do I maintain optimism?
  • How do I protect against cynicism?
  • How do I know I’m TRULY living life?

We fully recognize that we get to ride this planet 1 time. There’s no second chance to go back and do it all over again. What can I do, and how can I live, so that no matter how things progress in life, I won’t land in a pile of disappointment and cynicism?

My life, just like your life, will be some sort of mixture of wins and losses. It’s a bit like baseball. Nobody bats 1.000. It just doesn’t happen. You bat .300 and you’re an MVP. I don’t know if you’re going to bat .200 or .800 in life, but I know it’s not going to be 1000. So what do we do with that?

When Late Night host Conan O’Brian lost his gig hosting the Tonight Show, after only doing so for 7 months, he signed off from the show in a rare moment of serious, straight talk. I won’t say Late Night TV is terribly profound, but this was a profound moment. He’d just been through the ringer with NBC, he was losing his lifelong dream of being the Tonight Show’s host, and he gets very pointed with viewers and says the following:

“All I ask is one thing, and I ask this particularly of young people who watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brian

Nobody gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. There’s a lot of truth in that, and a great deal of wisdom. But it also makes me nervous.

Conan O’Brien may not have fulfilled his Tonight Show dreams, but he’s still been extremely successful in his field of work. He’s been a late night host for years and will likely continue to do so for many years to come. There are thousands of comedians out there, just as talented, who have had the very same dream, but their disappointment was not going from NBC to TBS, as Conan has. They’ve never made it out of their local community.

Or maybe they had to give up their entertainment dream entirely.
Maybe they got sick.
Maybe life went sideways…they fell into an addiction…and completely lost their way.

For Conan, his life that has happened while making other plans was just a few channels over from his plan. For others of us, we can land in radically different places—sometimes due to circumstances outside of our control, other times due to our own doing—but either way, we’re not just a step or two away from our plans, we’re miles away.

What do we do with that?

There are 5 key passages to unlock what we’re going after.

1. The first two of the five passages have one word in common. They share the word…LIFE.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have LIFE, and have it to the full. John 10:10, NIV

A famous statement of Christ’s. There’s a thief, he says, that will rob us of LIFE, steal our life away from us. He himself is not that thief, he tells us. He tells us that he has come so that we might have LIFE, and that we would have it to the FULL.

Jesus wants you, and Jesus wants me to have and experience LIFE to the full. It’s as if he’s saying, “I don’t want you to miss out. I don’t want you to have a partial life. I don’t want you to have a mediocre life. I want you to have the fullest of lives possible. And that’s why I’ve come.”

There’s a critical follow-up question to this verse. I’d explain it like this:

I go to my kids and tell them: ‘Tonight I’m going to give you the absolute best meal you’ve ever experienced. It’s going to be the best dinner ever!!!’

Their eyes light up. They’re excited and expectant. ‘We’re getting ready to have the best meal we’ve ever experienced!’ they say.

When they think of the best meal they could ever experience, they don’t just have an empty plate in their mind waiting for me to fill it with whatever I want. They have a plate in their mind filled with pie and chocolate sauce and pizza, and more pie. They know what the best meal they could ever experience would be, and they are absolutely certain it doesn’t include a single, solitary green bean.

When I tell them they are going to have the best meal of their lives, though, my plate looks different. Maybe I mean the healthiest meal they’ve ever experienced. Maybe I’m going to cook them fish and sautéed vegetables, because I know that’s what would truly be the best meal they could ever experience.

So Jesus comes along and says, I’ve come that you might have LIFE and have it to the FULL, and this should excite us, but it should also make us ask a question: How exactly do you define life, Jesus? What do you mean by that?

My vision of a FULL life, I’m not so certain it’s the same vision you have for a FULL life. What is it? What do you have in mind?

2. Which takes us to our second anchor passage. I’ll give it to you in 2 parts. Jesus is praying to the Father and he says:

Now this is eternal LIFE…
John 17:3

Our word…LIFE. He’s getting ready to tell us what he means by the word LIFE. This is just a few pages over from His statement about giving us life to the full…same Jesus from the same book of the bible. Now he’s going to define LIFE.

“This is the kind of life you’d want to have for all eternity…” I’m terribly curious how he’s going to finish that statement. This is THE life… This is why I came.  I came that you might have life, and this is it… So, how’s he finish that?

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3


I have to wonder how many of us hear that and feel like we just got served a plate of green beans. I’ve come that you might have life and have it to the full… So our expectations soar. Our life is going to turn out exactly how we want it to turn out. Our dreams are going to be fulfilled. Our expectations are going to be met.

  • We’ll get the girl…
  • And we’ll get the job…
  • And we’ll get the platform…
  • We’ll get all the things we ever wanted, because Jesus has our back…

And then he defines what he means by the life that he’s going to bring us as that we know God and know him.

That’s fine…and that’s good…but is that IT? Is that really what is going to get me excited about living? I get to pray or something, but I wanted BIG things and EXCITING things. What about my plans? I have plans for my life. I have my dreams and desires. I want to know you’re going to give me THOSE things, Jesus.

Yes, I want to know God, too, I suppose, but what about all this other stuff. Is this truly the abundant life you came to bring…that we would know you. Is that it?

How can my purpose in life be to know God?

Let me explain from my perspective. The only way I can really catch a glimpse as to why God created us, which to me would help me understand the purpose of life, is when I parallel it to why I chose to have kids. When Deborah and I decided we wanted to have kids, we didn’t do so because we wanted to have help doing the dishes, mowing the yard, or plowing the back forty. None of that was on our minds. We decided we wanted to have kids, because we wanted to know them, to relate to them, to enjoy them. We wanted kids for the joy of having kids. And the joy of having kids is not just that we would birth them and watch them grow up from a distance. No, we wanted to be in relationship with them. We wanted to know them and be known by them, to enjoy them and be enjoyed by them. If THAT could happen, THAT would be LIFE. We’d like that.

When I think of why God might have decided to create and essentially birth humanity, I have to think there was something similar going on with him. Why would we exist? What might the purpose be? Hear again Christ’s prayer to the Father:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you…
John 17:3

When I think about the Alaska fishing trip my dad took me on when I was 14, yes I remember the 40 pound salmon that nearly pulled me over the side of the boat, but what I really remember, is I got to spend a week in Alaska with my dad.

When I think about being nine-years-old and walking home from school for lunch. Yes, I remember the book my Mom would read to me before I walked back to school, but what I really remember is time I had with my Mom.

When I think back on college, I don’t think much about the classes I took, despite the fact that I know they impacted my life. I do think a GREAT deal about my college friends. They were the best part of going to school. They were why I was glad to be there.

Do you see it?

When we’re told that TRUE living, the GOOD life, is when we know and relate to our creator, we’re not talking religious obligation. Religious obligation is actually DEATH to what we’re talking about. We’re talking about knowing and being known…enjoying and being enjoyed…loving and being loved.

God did not create us to do his dishes. He did not dream us up so we could wash his chariot. God envisioned us, I’m convinced, because he loved the idea of having a people with whom he related, people he enjoyed, and people who enjoyed him.

3. Which leads to my third passage, an ugly passage.

There’s an essential concept we must get, but to truly get it, we need to get an ugly concept first.

So I looked for what I hope will be an offensive passage, one you won’t like, because if this concept doesn’t initially trouble you, at least a little bit, then you probably aren’t yet getting the full weight of it.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:18-20

Some of us hear that, and we think, “I knew it…Rick’s up there talking about God creating us because he wants to love us and be in relationship with us…but what about that angry God…that wrathful God…that’s the God I’ve heard about.”

Others of us hear this passage, and we don’t just hear the wrath of God, but we hear that the wrath of God is directed toward wickedness…toward people who are truly evil. And part of us thinks that maybe there’s some justice in that. Hitler won’t get away with it. We’re okay with that.

Which would be fine if it weren’t for the context, because the context, just a few lines later tells us…

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1

In other words, this isn’t just about the Hitlers of history. We hear about this wrath of God, and then we hear that we, too, have done destructive things, and we can’t point fingers at others, because we’re also guilty.

Now it doesn’t matter if you are new to Scripture or you have been reading it for decades, there’s not a person among us who doesn’t wonder, at least a little and maybe a lot, if this concept is antiquated…if it’s of a different generation.

We live in a culture, a generation, that will readily admit our faults. We have no problem with THAT aspect of what’s being said.

Yes, we do things that hurt ourselves and others, despite our best intentions. We are imperfect people that make mistakes…sometimes even serious mistakes.

We are far from perfect people… BUT… We also live in a culture and a generation who rejects the idea that there might be some sort of judgment for this, and it’s for good reason we feel this way.

We rightfully loathe the idea of judging others. We have experienced the judgment of others, the feeling of others looking down on us, and we reject that entirely.

We are an accepting people not a judging people, and there’s a great deal of good in that.

So if God is a judging God, then we’re not sure we like that God. He’s doing the very thing we feel so strongly against. We’re against judgment. We embrace acceptance.

Let’s consider a scenario for a moment.
I like boats. I don’t own a boat, but let’s say you do. You own a boat. Let’s say, you’ve put a lot into this boat. Boats are expensive, and you’ve got a nice one. You hear I like boats, though, and you generously offer to let me use your boat. I take you up on the offer. I swing by your house, hook the boat up to the back of my super cool minivan, and off I go. When leaving, I ask you, when do you need it back? You say, “Anytime this evening will be fine. I’m taking it out tomorrow with a group of friends.” “Great, I say, I’ll have it back by 8:00.”

Eight o’clock comes.
No boat.
Nine o’clock comes.
No boat.
Midnight comes and goes.
No boat.
You’re worried. You call. No answer. And no boat.

The next day, you wake up to a message from me on your voicemail. I’m letting you know I decided to take your boat out for another day of boating. You’re confused. You told me about your need for the boat that day. You can’t catch me on the phone, though, despite your best efforts. You call your friends and have to cancel. You don’t have your boat. A second day comes and goes. Still no boat. Finally, the morning of the third day comes, you wake up, and your boat is in the drive way.

You walk up to it, and it’s a mess. It’s littered with empty bottles. The cover is not on it. Wet towels litter the counsel. You turn the ignition switch to light up the dashboard, and there’s no gas in the boat. It’s on empty, and there’s not a word from me. No apology and no thank you.

Time passes.
A week goes by.
Two weeks go by.
Finally, you get a call from me on a Thursday.
“I need your boat again,” I say. “I’ll be by at 7:00 to pick it up.” Not a request. I’m informing you.

Question for you: How do you respond?

It’s very simple. It doesn’t take much. You say, “No.” You may choose to say more than that, but you don’t need to explain yourself. There is no way I’m getting anywhere near that boat. “But why?” I ask.

Doing your best to not blow your stack, you explain how I took advantage of you, how I trashed the boat, how I ignored your request, how I was unappreciative, and how now I’m acting ENTITLED to the boat. I’m not even asking, I’m telling.

To which I respond: “Oh, you are so judgmental. How dare you judge my actions. Who are you to tell me how I should treat that boat.”

“That boat,” you say? “It’s not ‘that’ boat? It’s MY boat. I bought it. I own it. I generously shared it with you. And you now act entitled to it.”

Here’s a thought: This world…and everything in it… It’s God’s boat.

  • He dreamed it up.
  • He created it.
  • He brought it into existence, and he brought you, and he brought me into existence.
  • He owes us nothing.
  • He’s given us everything.
  • There is not a breath I take that didn’t somehow originate with him.

Yet, all-too-often, we act entitled to his boat, and act as if we can treat it how ever want. Who is God to tell me what I should do with my life in this world? “This world?” he rightfully asks.
“It’s not “this boat” or “this world,” it’s “my world,” God rightfully says. “I created it. I brought it into existence. I brought you into existence.”

4. We were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:3-5

We were deserving of wrath.

We’re not deserving of using the boat a second time or a third time or anytime, we’ve lost that. In our day, when we talk about eternal life, life after death, it’s common to ask, “How could a loving God not accept everyone? That’s unloving?”

That question is missing something. If we want little to do with God in this life, why should he expect that we want much to do with God in the next life. He’s simply giving us what we want.

“But I still want to use the boat.”
“I still want to live and experience and enjoy.”

So we want the boat, but we want NOTHING to do with the owner of the boat.

“Yes, God, if you are loving, you should accept me fully in the next life. You should let me drive THAT boat around too.”

To which God responds, “You ignored my wishes with the first boat, you wanted little to nothing to do with me, tell me again why I owe you another ride?”

But the verse doesn’t end with that.

We were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:3-5

But because of God’s great love for us…
God’s not interested in driving around in his boat alone.
He wants a people.
He wants you.
He wants me.

To one degree or another, we’ve acted entitled to what he’s given us, we’ve belittled his generosity to us, and we’ve damaged his boat, but he doesn’t want to just withhold the keys from us. He wants to give us mercy. He wants to give us another opportunity. So what does he do?

He made us alive with Christ.

If the boat represents LIFE, and what we deserve is to be kicked off the BOAT then God, through Christ, provides a way that justice can be served while grace is being given.

What’s justice? Being kicked off the boat.

What’s grace? Being allowed on the boat.

How is justice provided? One of two ways: Either we are truly kicked off the boat, or we let Christ be kicked off for us.

5. Christ died for our sins… 1 Corinthians 15:3

Or put another way: We deserved to be kicked off the boat, but Christ got kicked off for us.

One of two things happens: Either we take the justice, and get kicked off the boat. Or he takes the justice, and gets kicked off for us.

Does God judge? Only in the sense of administering true justice. Does God display love? Beyond what we can imagine by providing a way for us to stay on that boat, when we so very clearly do not deserve it.

How do I know I’m TRULY living life?

I mentioned that Alaska fishing trip I took with my dad when I was fourteen. What I didn’t mention is that we went to Alaska for a week. We had visions of catching fish daily…hauling them in…coming home with a load of them. What actually happened, though, is we were 1 week early. The salmon did not arrive until the very last day of our trip. We spent most of the week with our lines in the water catching not a single salmon, but am I grateful for that trip? Do I look back on it as a win? Would I trade that week and wish I’d stayed home? Not for anything.

Why? Because I got to be in Alaska, with my dad, for a week. It wasn’t about the fish. It was about the relationship.

If you want the good life.
If you want to be certain you get everything you could possibly get out of life.
Then don’t live for the fish you may or may not catch.
Live for the relationship that is available to you no matter if the salmon are there or not there.
No matter if you get the deal or don’t get the deal.
No matter if you get the job or don’t get the job.
No matter if family planning goes the way you want it to or doesn’t.
This is the eternal LIFE Jesus tells us, that they may know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The God of this universe is reaching out his hand and saying…
I want to do this life with you.
I want to do all eternity with you.
I don’t want to hold your offenses against you.
I have provided a way that you and I can relate deeply with each other.

God’s heart bursts for you, and I want you to hear that. Listen as I read this verse…

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Picture that…

What might God be saying to you?


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