The year is 2008. Melissa and I are in Fontainebleau, Louisiana at the Abita Brewery after a tour. Fontainebleau, which the locals pronounce “Fountain Blue,” sits just north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain. We’ve been traveling around the country for months at this point.

You see, we had done something really inadvisable. We had decided to take Jesus at his word. When Jesus said, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” and stuff like that, we thought we should give that a try.

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We sold everything we owned. I quit my job as a web editor at the NBC station and Melissa resigned from her job as the general manager of the coffee shop inside OSU Hospital. We pulled out of town, and our camper van broke down two weeks in, so all of our possessions that remained were packed into our Chevy Cavalier.

We had vague, mostly unrealized ideas about doing ministry on the road, and we just went wherever. We slept in the car in Walmart parking lots or camped at cheap state campgrounds. We stayed with friends and family when it worked, and at one point, we rented a bedroom in a house in Seattle for a month. We traveled thousands of miles and saw most of the country.

So, back to the brewery. As we sit there in Fontainebleau talking to this engaged couple from Tulane University, the guy says, “I wish I could do that.”

Throughout our lives, we’ve always heard people say that. I wish I could do that.

Melissa and I have done a lot of romantic things in almost twenty years of marriage. We have a big family with six kids. We’ve started successful businesses, owned a restaurant, written books, traveled, had a little homestead farm, rehabbed houses, lived in dangerous neighborhoods where almost no one else looked like us, and founded successful community groups. We’ve also had our share of what the world would call “failure,” too.

And time and time again, people say, “I wish I could do that.”

Can I tell you a secret? We’re not that special.

And there are no actual qualifications for being crazy.

To the guy at the brewery in Louisiana, there’s literally nothing stopping him. It doesn’t cost any money to quit your job and move into your car (actually you save a lot!). You don’t have to get a special license or take a test. Literally the only thing standing between him and doing what we did was deciding to do it.

Maybe it’s courage. Maybe it’s stupidity. Maybe those are sometimes the same thing.

For most people, they don’t do the things the world calls crazy because they have a really good reason.

We decline the life God is calling us into because we have a big but…

But what about my career?

But what about the money?

But what about my parents?

But what if I fail?

So let’s talk about your but. Let’s ask God what he thinks about your but.

The thing about buts is that everybody has one.

As I began to pray about this topic this week, I was asking God what the Bible says about it. I woke up one morning reciting James 4:17. I wasn’t sure it applied, and I always want to be careful about cherry-picking a verse out of context to support a conclusion I’ve already reached.

So I spent some time with it. As I pondered this verse, it occurred to me that James 4:17 is one of the most outrageous, scandalous verses in the New Testament. It seems like a really pleasant idea at first, but theologically, it’s huge.

It goes like this: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Think about that. If we ask any Sunday school kid what sin is, they’ll say something like, “sin is the bad things we do.” As adults, we keep that definition and add a second one that’s something like, “sin is also the inherited condition of separation from God.”

In either case, the implication is that sin relates to something bad that has happened. When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more” to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11, we understand He’s saying, “Try not to do any more bad things.” Right?

But James raises the bar. There is no more neutral ground where you’re neither bad (sin) nor good. Simply not doing bad stuff isn’t good enough for James.

According to James, if anyone knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it’s sin.

Other translations interpret the right thing to do (ESV) as the good they ought to do (NIV), knoweth to do good (KJV), or knows what is right to do (AMPC).

I think this is a verse we can take at a face value. It’s a complete idea. It rises above any kind of cultural context. But let’s look at the literary context—as in, what’s the bigger idea with the words before and after this that James is talking about?

One of the things I love about James is that he’s a very good writer. He’s very practical and very well organized, but also very creative. He thinks of great metaphors and analogies, and even includes hypothetical dialogue. His ideas tend to segue (transition) naturally from one to the next.

Verse 17, which we’ve been discussing, comes at the end of a passage about making plans for the future—with some emphasis on business plans.

It segues into a passage rebuking the rich for accumulating wealth and the way they’re using it.

Plans for the future and money. Talk about a couple of big buts.

Maybe James 4:17 isn’t just about our incidental behavior in whatever circumstance, but maybe it also applies to how we pursue the call of God in our lives.

Jesus encountered some people with big buts too. The Gospels include a few accounts of people who wanted to follow Jesus but had a really important reason they couldn’t do it, to which Jesus replied things like, “Let the dead bury their own dead” and “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Yikes, but that’s really what he said.

As recorded in Luke 14, Jesus also addressed this problem with a parable about a great feast. Everything was ready, so the master of the feast sent invitations out to his friends and said “Come now,” but people replied things like, “I just bought a field and I have to go check it out,” “I just bought some oxen, so I gotta deal with that,” and “I just got married, so I’m busy. It’s not a good time.”

Do you know what the master of the feast then does? He finds different people. In the parable, he gets the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. He gets the people who don’t have anything to be attached to, and those are the ones who get to have all the fun.

So I have two questions for you. 1) What is God calling you to do? What’s the good you know you ought to do? 2) What’s your big but?

I see two kinds of buts. Some buts are a false, worldly reality, and we have to choose to live in God’s reality instead. Other buts are real, but they are all solvable with Jesus.

The easy buts just need to be put in their rightful place.

The buts like, “But what will my friends think?” “But what will my family say?” “But what if it doesn’t work?” Those kind of buts, those intangible things, we simply have to muster the courage to decide that’s not what or who I’m living for. I choose not to care.

There are a lot of buts that aren’t real, they’re just constructs of our culture. “But what about health insurance?” “But what about college?” “But what about retirement?” “But what if it’s not safe?”

Well, then I guess the worst case scenario is that you die and go to heaven.

Do you believe God will take care of you? Do you believe Jesus when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and all these other things will be added to you”? (Matthew 6:33) Well, do you believe Him?

This is dangerous advice. I wouldn’t give it if I hadn’t lived my life by it for almost 20 years (or at least tried my best).

Other buts are more concrete. We can’t ignore reality. The question is whether we’re willing to do hard and uncommon things to solve them. They might be a real barrier for us today, but we simply have to commit ourselves to working through it. If God is calling you to something, every but is solvable, if we’re willing to pay the price.

The fact that all of your barriers won’t miraculously disappear does not mean God has not called you. But I believe He will meet you in the work of it, and that might even be the most important part of the whole adventure.

“But I don’t have enough money” or “But I’m in debt.” Increase your income, reduce your expenses. Yes you can. But… Yes you can.

“But I don’t know how” or “But I’m not qualified.” Will you take drastic measures to get around people who know more than you and submit yourself to learning from them, even if it just means listening in while you sweep the floor?

It probably won’t be easy. But you can do it.

So what’s that thing that tugs at your heart? The thing you try and try to put away, but it just keeps coming back? What is the right thing you know you ought to do?

And why can’t you do it? What are your big buts?

I want you to journal about your buts. Make a list of all of the buts standing between you and that thing God is calling you to do. Next to each one, make a note of whether this is a but you just need to decide you don’t care about, that you’re going to choose today to seek His Kingdom and His Righteousness above all else, or is this a real barrier that you need to resolve to overcome, no matter the cost?

I’m not promising it will be easy. I’m going to be honest, this advice leads you to a really hard life. But also a really fulfilling one (and that’s a better but).

We had such an amazing experience traveling around the country and we learned so much about God in that time. We saw Him show up in so many amazing ways. But let me tell you, it’s really hard to live in your car. Your body gets used to it after a while, but sleeping in the seat of your car in a Walmart parking lot and camping all the time is rough.

Living without debt so that you don’t have a but to get in the way is its own kind of hard. It pays off big time after about a decade, but that first decade when everybody else is getting mortgages for nice houses while you’re rehabbing a home you paid cash for in the hood…that’s hard. But man I have some stories… and I had freedom… and God showed up and taught me so much… and it definitely paid off in the long run.

But it was hard.

But life is best lived in the hard.

I wouldn’t trade my life for forty years of comfort and safety in corporate America for all the money in the world.

Life is best lived when we lay it all down to do the right thing God is calling us to, even if we miss in our imperfect understanding.

This is dangerous advice. I always tell my apprentices, “Only take advice from people who have achieved something you want to achieve.” The same is true for this. If you want to live a life of adventure with God, this is really good advice.

If you want easy, stable, safe… it’s terrible advice and I’m not a very good influence.

Is God calling you to more? (If not, I’d love to hear a Biblical argument for why not.)

Your adventure will look different than mine. I highly doubt God is calling you to copy me. But He is calling… always.

What are you going to do about it?


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