This is the first summer in 40-plus years that I am not leading teams and serving on the mission field. I have to be honest; it is hard to watch the reports coming in of what God is doing through our teams while sitting in a recliner.

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Flat Walker in Gambia

I have always been a participant and not a spectator. There is a huge difference from being in the midst of the battle, getting your hands dirty, confronting darkness and then seeing that darkness crumble away as the light of God shows up. If I have done it once, I have done it thousands of times, leading a person into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But this year, I am home, watching through the portal of the internet. I feel like a professional football player who has retired and is no longer in the game. The problem with people like us is that our hearts never come off the field.

The teams, knowing of my struggles, came up a way to take me along with them. Each team took a headshot of me and enlarged it to 8 ½ x11 inches. They cut around the silhouette and laminated it, creating the “Flat Walker” (a takeoff on the children’s “Flat Stanley” books).

Soon, I began to get pictures of “Flat Walker” in The Gambia, Panama, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. There were several pictures of Flat Walker on an airplane taking off to some part of the four corners of the world. I loved the one of Flat Walker playing with a group of children in a village.

Flat Walker had many surprises. Years ago, I met a young boy in Panama who was shy and backwards. He rarely engaged with the team and would keep to himself in a corner, strumming on his guitar. I began to pour into him and teach him about what God had for his life. This young boy grew into a godly and powerful man. He felt called to become a missionary to the country of Spain and minister among the university students there. As he was serving, he met and fell in love with a beautiful young lady. They got married and now have a young daughter.

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Flat Walker on the bus

One of the pictures the teams sent was of my friend Isaac Valdez, the shy kid from Panama now ministering in Spain. He ran into our team in Budapest, Hungary, and they took a picture of Isaac holding Flat Walker. What are the odds of a team of American students serving in Central Europe running into one of my students from Panama who now lives in Spain?

I have never felt so honored as when these students sent me their gestures of love from the four corners of the world. But the problem with Flat Walker? He is … flat. He looks good in the pictures, but he can’t make a difference in someone’s life. Flat Walker can’t lead someone to Jesus or pray for their needs. Flat Walker’s ears can’t listen to their sorrows. For ministry to take place, Flat Walker must come to life. A three-dimensional, living, breathing being, empowered by the living God? That Walker can make a difference wherever he goes.

I got to thinking, which most of you know is a dangerous thing. But I know a lot of people who have a “Flat Jesus.” He hangs on the wall as a pretty picture, on some type of jewelry or even as a tattoo on their bodies. They carry their Flat Jesus wherever they go. They display Him proudly as a religious symbol, but the problem with a Flat Jesus is He can’t help you. A Flat Jesus doesn’t have ears to hear your prayers; He doesn’t have arms to reach out to you; He doesn’t have a mouth to speak to you. Flat Jesus is … flat. What you need is not a religious symbol; what can help you is starting a relationship with a real, live, three-dimensional Jesus. This Jesus wants to invade your life and give you peace, joy and everlasting life.

Like the late-night commercials tell us, operators are standing by, and so is the real Jesus. The enemy wants to trick you into settling for cardboard. You will never hear a Flat Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Find the real Jesus, and a flat one will never satisfy you.