Sunday, November 30, 2008

From a small seed ...

Hello friends!

Words will fail me as I try to describe the celebration that took place today - the celebration of 20 years of God's goodness and faithfulness to the Agua Viva family in south Mexico. We have been so blessed to be invited to share in this significant anniversary. I don't have time to write everything but I do want to hit some highlights. You might also be interested in some pictures from the day. I've uploaded 31 pics to my Flickr account, which you can view at:

Or better yet, here's a slideshow that hopefully will work for you:

First view of Agua Viva's new facilitiesPastor Jose didn't want us to see the building until today because they had several things planned as surprises. But when we finally got to see it, we were blown away! It is beautiful! Agua Viva has purchased almost 5 acres and has a plan for using every bit of it! The building had about 700 seats in it and they also had an overflow tent with another 700-800 seats with four giant video screens - and it filled up too! (Agua Viva has started three other churches in the surrounding areas since we returned to the US. There were people from all three of the daughter churches.)

Children from Agua Viva singing about a clean heartThe 3+ hour service was very moving - exciting, tearful, every emotion you can imagine. They started with some powerful praise and worship music, with a couple of dozen young ladies in matching outfits worshiping with tambourines while several others waved worship flags. Then the children from the main Agua Viva church put on a play about how to get a dirty heart clean. It ended with them singing a wonderful worship song to the Lord.

After that something wonderful happened. I've shared that our first Bible study began in the apartment of Fernando and Josefina Arteaga, then we started Sunday services in our living room and finally we rented a small building around the corner from where we lived. The Arteagas had moved from Coatza some time back but Josefina and her daughter Tanya and her family were able to come to the service today. Jose brought her up to honor her for their willingness to share their home - and to enjoy the fruit of their gift 20 years ago.

After that they showed a beautiful slide-show of the history of Agua Viva, starting with the Arteaga's apartment and moving all the way through the various rented buildings and theaters to the final location. What a celebration!

Joel and I being interviewed about the early days of Agua VivaThe worship leader invited Joel and me to the platform to share about the beginnings of Agua Viva. He did a brief interview and then asked us to go back to the beginning and share how the worship was when we first started. Back then I played the keyboard and Joel used another keyboard to play the drums - it was rudimentary but it worked, doing the best we could with what we had. Joel and I played one of the early songs and then I shared a song I had written based on Psalm 139:23-24 (Examíname O Dios/Search me O God).

After this the three daughter churches of Agua Viva in the surrounding area presented special programs - mainly skits by their youth. Christian Mariachi!!!They were incredibly inventive, creative and dramatic. Pastor Jose then called each of the pastors up to honor them for their years of service, presenting them with certificates of recognition. Then the biggie! No true Mexican party would be complete without the most Mexican music of all - MARIACHI! Jose had brought in a Christian Mariachi band, complete with trumpets, violin and the big bass! The crowd went wild!!! And so did we! It was a perfect ending for a perfect celebration - but it wasn't the end. Not just yet.

First Jose presented a "Parade of Culture" - women dressed in many of the typical outfits of the region, representing the many different cultures being reached by Agua Viva. Angel, Joel, Nathan and Lori being honored with crystal plaques commemorating their role as founders of Agua VivaThen they brought Joel and Angel, Lori and me up to the platform. There they presented us with crystal plaques to commemorate our role as founders of Agua Viva. It wasn't until I saw this picture taken by one of our group that I realized they had put a picture of us up on the giant screen behind us that had been taken 20 years ago. It was a very emotional moment. Jose asked us if we wanted to share anything, but by this point we didn''t trust ourselves to share without breaking down. I would love to have shared verses like "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain..." (John 15:16) or "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4). But those words probably wouldn't have been understood over the emotion of just being in this place at this time.

The service ended with a bang - the original group of worshipers came back up and led us in a celebratory song that ended with a huge balloon drop with lots of confetti - a true celebration! And then lunch! They had prepared food for 1500 people, believe it or not, and we enjoyed it tremendously. The day ended with lots of hugs and pictures and memories being shared back and forth. We had to be peeled away. But here are a couple more pictures I just have to share:

DSC02092[Photo at left] (L-R) Nathan, Lori, Joel, Angel, Nelly & Jose in front of Agua Viva near a cart representing the humble beginnings. On it was a sack of grain with some stalks of wheat sticking out - each head with many kernels of wheat that came from just one grain.

DSC02095[Photo at right] Here's a picture of of the sack of grain. Truly God can cause great harvest from a simple seed.

DSC02096[Photo at left] Note that the heads of wheat have many grains - but each stalk comes from just one grain. In the same way, Agua Viva has grown from a simple planting of the Lord to a flowering plant that has produced MUCH fruit for the kingdom of God over the last 20 years. And we are very honored to have been a part of the beginning of what God did in this region. It wasn't anything special about it. It was all God's doing. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

DSC01917I want to close with this photo. These little sacks of seed were given out as a momento of the 20th anniversary event on November 30, 2008. The rough translation is: "Agua Viva - A storehouse from where the seed will be scattered, where we can't store it any longer - it will die and will bear fruit." It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 12:24: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

There has been some dying over the last 20 years - dying to self, leadership changes, dying to dreams, etc. But truly the Lord has allowed much fruit to grow from a small seed planted in fertile gound by obedient servants. Paul described the process this way: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." (1 Cor 3:6) Joel and I planted, others, including Jose, have watered, but truly God is the one who has given the growth. And to Him goes ALL the glory.

I don't have any secrets to church growth or how to do this "church thing". All we knew to do was listen for the voice of God and do what He told us to do at that time. Looking back there are lots of things I would have done differently, knowing what I know now. But maybe that's why the Lord didn't have us do it with what we know now. We might have been tempted to take some of the glory to ourselves. But as it is, we know it was all HIM! So He gets ALL the glory. And we are blessed to have been used by Him. And we pray to continue being useful to Him. Which is one of the reasons I often sign off by saying ...

I love serving Jesus with you!

P.S. Joel, I really love serving Jesus with you!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Safe in Mexico!

Hello everyone!

I hope you're having a great weekend! I just wanted to send out a quick blog to let you know we safely arrived in Mexico! But it was a little eventful getting here - especially the drive from Pineville to Houston. Hopefully the guys in the audience with get this and have a little compassion on me!

We left with a good cushion of time, which worked out to be necessary. We had about 3/4 tank of gas when we left. (Can you see where this is going?) I knew we would need gas either getting close to Houston or as soon as we got back before our return trip. But being a guy, I didn't want to buy gas until I absolutely needed. Why fill a tank that's still 1/4 full? (You can really see where this is going, right?!) I chose to press on until the "Buy Gas Dummy" light came on.

It didn't come on. Nope.

Just as we're taking the Beltway 8 exit off of 59 in Houston, the car sputtered and quit, coasting up one of the larger strings of spaghetti in this particular spaghetti bowl. As the lane narrowed our vehicle coasted to a stop a few thousand feet in the air. OK, it wasn't that high, but it felt like it! Cars whizzed by us a 60+ MPH as I brought our car to a stop hugging the right concrete wall, wondering how on earth am I going to get us out of this mess.

"The light never came on!" - That was all I could say to an incredulous wife and daughter who, to their credit, were extremely patient and understanding. We pulled out the insurance card to see if we had emergency roadside service on this particular vehicle. Whew! That was a relief! And then a call to 911.

Try explaining to a 911 operator that you ran out of gas ... and that you're stranded a mile high on the southbound 59 ramp getting onto Beltway 8 West. It takes awhile. She tried to keep the amusement out of her voice, once she realized we were ok. I asked her to send a wrecker or traveler's assistance vehicle or something. She said she would but didn't know how long it would take.

We sat and prayed and I asked the Lord to help us get the car out of this dangerous spot. I considered pushing it but we were still a couple hundred feet from the crown of the ramp - I didn't relish trying to push the car uphill as NASCAR drivers in training whizzed by. So I prayed. And I would turn the key off and on several times, hoping the gas pump would send just a bit of gas each time to prime the line.

It worked!!! The car started and we were able to get a couple hundred feet before it died again, but this time we were over the crown and going downhill! I figured if the wrecker made it to the ramp and didn't see us, he would keep coming and find us eventually. We coasted to a stop in a safer place, just past the next onramp.

I saw a Texaco about 3/4 mile back down the ramp and I told Lori I would walk back to buy some gas. She said, "What do I do if the wrecker shows up?" I told her to tell him to wait for me! But I didn't want to sit there for an hour or two and him not show up. We were less than 2 miles from the airport, according to my GPS. So I had to do something.

I started the trek to the gas station. Jog, walk, jog, walk, jog some more until that car passes so they won't see me stop jogging, walk a little more ... and eventually I made it. Sweaty and out of breath I walk in - "do you have any gas cans for sale?" "No, sorry. I sold the last one," he replied. I began looking for options. I asked if I bought a gallon of windshield cleaner would he let me pour it out and put gas in it. Sure.

I took the gallon of blue fluid out and was about to pour it, but first asked a fellow if he wanted any. I explained the situation and we poured a little into his car. I filled it with gas, paid the attendant and the guy was still outside. I asked if he was going my way would he mind giving me a ride - no problem! So I hopped in and he and his wife drove the 15 miles back - ok, 3/4 mile, it had just seemed that long! He was kind enough to wait with his flashers on while I poured the gas in. His wife even gave me a sales brochure to use as a funnel.

PRAISE THE LORD the car started right up! I frantically waved my thanks to the angelic stranger and his wife and we took the next exit to the airport! We arrived with time to spare, met up with Joel, Angel, Hannah and Bekah Dyke and two more from their church who are traveling down (Jason and Austin). We all enjoyed a laugh together, now that the story was over. (Another story for Joel to tell on me!)

There is a moral to the story - don't keep pushing the limits because one day the light might not come on. That's what Samson learned when he arose from Delilah's lap that fateful day, thinking he would shake himself like all the other times, but he didn't know the Lord had left him. The light didn't come on and he had pushed the limit one time too many. That's a pretty good lesson. So from now on I'm buying gas whenever the needle hits 3/4 tank. Just kidding! But I won't be counting on the light!

This has been much longer than I thought. (Sort of like my recent sermons and video presentation! :) ) Let me recap the rest of the evening. We had a very uneventful flight down to Villahermosa with lots of great visiting. One of Jason's bags didn't make it so we made arrangements for it to be brought to Coatza whenever it got here. Jose and Nelly were at the airport to receive us along with two other brothers from the congregation, in three vehicles. We loaded up and took off on the 2-hour drive to Coatza, getting in around 11:00. We stopped for a wonderful supper and then got to the hotel around 1:00AM.

I tried to get online last night to post this but my computer wouldn't connect so I sent a brief email to some family/friends from the hotel's computer and crashed. We're up and about, getting ready for a wonderful day of visiting. We'll get to drive around to see some of the sights, where we lived, some of the buildings Agua Viva used to be in, etc. I'm already amazed at how much Coatza has changed. But I'll save that for the next post. Thanks for reading this far!!! And thank you for your prayers for us on the trip.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Back to Mexico!

Hello everyone!

It's been about three weeks since my last update - I'm sorry! I said I would do better but it's been hectic! However, I did want to do just a QUICK update about our upcoming mission trip to Mexico!

Lori and I, along with our daughter Joy, will be headed to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We will be joining Joel and Angel Dyke, and their daughters for the 20 year celebration of the founding of the Agua Viva church in Coatza!

Nathan & Lori Martin, Joel & Angel Dyke
On August 8, 1988 (8/8/88) the Dykes and the Martins moved from Matías Romero, Oaxaca, where we had been working with various indigenous tribes, establishing churches and training leaders. We moved to Coatza to begin a new type of work, one in which we would not use "religious" terminology - we were being very intentional about trying to establish a fellowship of believers whose sole purpose was to know and follow the teachings of the historical Jesus.

God granted us much success! We were only there a few weeks when we started our first Bible study, then Sunday morning meetings in our living room. In October we rented a building to begin having services in - we held our Grand Opening services with just a handful but soon the 75-seat building was at capacity. We rented the house next door for children's services to free up more room for adults.

Soon we had to rent another building, which would seat a couple of hundred. Over time Agua Viva rented another, larger facility and then bought their own property and began having services in a theater. Lori and I had returned by this time but we were blessed to get to visit them from time to time. Joel visited more frequently and kept me in the loop on the progress.

Now they have purchased several acres outside of town and have built a large building that will seat several hundred - and they don't owe anything on it! In addition, they have started 3 other urban churches in nearby cities and continue to provide oversight to the rural churches that we began in Oaxaca.

It's a great honor to be invited to join Joel and Angel for the 20 year anniversary of the founding of Agua Viva Coatza. We fly from Houston on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Here is our schedule:
  • Saturday - Meetings with leaders
  • Sunday - All day celebration in Coatza
  • Monday - Travel to Zacatal for celebration with the rural churches of Oaxaca
  • Tuesday - Minister at Agua Viva Acayucan
  • Wednesday - Minister at La Casa del Alfarero, Agua Dulce
  • Thursday - Minsiter at Agua Viva, Las Choapas
  • Friday - Return to the States
We definitely covet your prayers. While this is a tremendous honor to be a part of this and to see the remaining fruit of our ministry, it will also be somewhat grueling with a good bit of travel. I'll do my best to update you on our activities through this blog as I have access to the Internet.

BTW, if you're interested, below is the presentation I made at Christian Challenge this past Sunday, sharing some pictures of our time in Mexico, to help everyone understand what our life was like when we were missionaries:

Please keep us in your prayers. I look forward to updating you!


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Barack Obama is My President

Hello friends,

Like many of you I stayed up to watch the election returns. And it appears that in the future no one is going to want my support since NO ONE I supported ended up winning!

I'm sitting here listening to President-elect Barack Obama give his victory speech, having listened to John McCain give a gracious concession speech. My cousin who lives in DC just texted me that the people are taking to the streets to celebrate. I'm also receiving text messages of concern from people who fear this selection, not because of Obama's race but because of the platform of the Democratic party.

I must admit to mixed emotions. On the one hand, Obama has a tremendous ability to inspire. He is a very charismatic figure and a captivating speaker. I have been inspired by some of the things he has said. And I'm grateful that a whole new generation was motivated enough get involved in a process they usually feel doesn't have a place for them. I think it speaks well for our country to that we did not make a choice based solely on the color of his skin. That encourages me.

I remain seriously concerned about the planks in the Democratic Party platform that oppose the values and morals of a world-view that is based in Biblical teachings. Will life be cherished? Will the sanctity of marriage be upheld? Will secular humanism be the promoted religion of our land? These are questions and concerns that only time will reveal the answer.

So, I do have mixed emotions. I want to join the crowd saying with confidence, "Yes we can." I want someone to speak up for the down-trodden, the oppressed, the poor and hopeless. And at the same time I worry about the values that will now be promoted by the new powers that be. Values that are 180 degrees opposite from the values I have tried to teach my children and exemplify to those the Lord has trusted to my care as a pastor.

But when it's all said and done, we didn't select Barack Obama for our President, the Lord did. Romans 13 begins this way:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)

So Barack Obama is my president, put in that office, not by voters, but by God Himself! And I must follow the biblical command to pray for him and for all who are in authority:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

I urge everyone who reads this to join with me in praying for President-Elect Barack Obama and all those who were elected today, whether you supported them or not. And remember, God is in control. He made this choice. He has a plan that He is working after the counsel of His own will. And He is GOOD. I can trust Him that He has a plan and a place for me in it. I can trust Him as I pray for the ones He selected to be our leaders. My confidence is that my life is in His hands. So I can go to sleep tonight and sleep well, not worried or bothered, but assured that God is in control.

So I pray for my president, Barack Obama. He has a huge job on his hands. He will need all the help he can get. Will you join with me in praying for him?


Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Recommendations

Hello friends,

Well, once again I've slipped into the bad habit of not posting on a regular basis. For that, I apologize. Nevertheless, I'm back and hopefully this post will at least spark some thinking, if not dialogue!

I've been asked by several friends and family members for my recommendations during this year's election cycle. I have become increasingly reluctant to offer my recommendations because each person's vote is sacred and something they should exercise with the utmost of care. However, I also recognize that my interest in politics causes me to take more of an interest and perhaps be somewhat more informed on some issues. I definitely don't claim to be an expert, but with the greatest of humility I offer my recommendations on some of the upcoming choices you'll face in the voting booth tomorrow.

Before I do so, let me recommend that you go to the following website - - select your parish and voting precinct, and you will be presented with a sample ballot that you will vote on when you go vote. If you don't know your precinct number, there is a link to another site that will tell you your voting precinct after you input your address - - that's a helpful tool. OK, without further ado, here goes:

President: John McCain/Sarah Palin
While Barack Obama is an attractive candidate in many respects, his positions on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and other moral issues, such as same-sex marriage, are simply incompatible with my core, basic beliefs.

U.S. Senator: John Kennedy
For the same reasons as above. Mary Landrieu has been an effective Senator. But her opposition to my core beliefs keep me from supporting her.

Judge, Court of Appeal: Triston Knoll
I supported Loren Lampert in the primary because I know him to be a man of integrity and values. I don't personally know either of the other two candidates, but people I respect who do strongly support Knoll. From what I've read of their backgrounds, I believe he is the better choice.

District Judge: Rocky Willson
Again I find myself in the position of having voted for another candidate in the primary, Greg Beard. I have met both of the remaining candidates in the runoff and they are both fine people. However, I have more personal experience with Rocky and know him to be genuine. His experience in many areas of the law will serve us all well.

And now for the seven constitutional amendments. Let me preface my recommendations by commenting that our constitution is the most amended of all the states. We seem to have to keep "fixing" it. We are continually providing additional amendments to protect things from political shenanigans, which is less than laudable. However, my complaining about it won't change anything, so here go my recommendations, with a brief explanation:

Amendment No. 1 - FOR
Establishes term limits for members of certain state boards and commissions. The fresh intake of ideas is often healthy. The downside is that term-limited boards often become "staff driven" because it always takes awhile for new members to "learn the ropes." However, I feel fresh ideas are always needed, so I support this amendment.

Amendment No. 2 - FOR
Requires two additional days of notice (7 instead of 5) before calling a special legislative session. In addition this actually defines the word "day" for those legislators who aren't sure what the word means. We shouldn't need this amendment - but there are LOTS of laws we shouldn't need, so maybe this one will help.

Amendment No. 3 - AGAINST
Allow a temporary successor to be appointed for legislators called to active military duty. This only affects one current legislator - not sure why we need to amend our constitution for one person. This also raises the question of accountability - basically a person not elected would be making laws, but would not be held accountable during reelection. Bad idea, in my opinion.

Amendment No. 4 - FOR
Redistributes state severance tax revenue, giving more to the parishes. I'm all for more local control of spending. Too often "unfunded mandates" get sent down where the local governments have to enforce laws, but aren't given the resources to do so. This would put a few more resources in the hands of the local governments, which hopefully will know better how to use them than someone sitting in an office in Baton Rouge.

Amendment No. 5 - FOR
Allow the transfer of the special property tax assessment level for homeowners over 65 if their property is expropriated. Senior citizens have the option of "freezing" their property tax assessments because of their typically fixed incomes. If the government expropriates their property for public use and they have to move, this would allow them to keep their frozen tax assessment on their new dwelling. Sounds fair enough.

Amendment No. 6 - AGAINST
Changes the requirements for public bodies to re-sell expropriated property. We have a big problem with abandoned properties ending up with tax liens on them higher than the value of the property. This allows a local government to sieze "blighted" properties that are a threat to public health and safety and place them back into use by selling it through a public bid process. This is especially helpful for communities devestated by hurricanes and many of the properties have simply been abandoned. However, this also diminishes the rights of property owners and could be abused. Even though I am a city councilman and understand the need of municipalities to have a way to put adjudicated properties back into use, I recommend voting against this amendment simply on the basis of protecting the rights of property owners.

Amendment No. 7 - FOR
Authorize certain post-retirement benefit funds to be invested in stocks. This is a pretty technical amendment because it deals mainly with accounting standards and their impact on pension funds. The new accounting standards (known as GASB-45) create enormous burdens on governments to comply without claiming huge unfunded liabilities on their balance sheets. This amendment would allow the creation of trusts that can grow at a fast pace on the stock market, to keep up with the pension funds obligations. Otherwise many local governments may choose to discontinue benefits altogether rather than violate obscure accounting standards. It's more complicated than that, but since most IRAs, 401ks, etc are vested in the stock market, this would make public pensions more competitive and would comply with the law.

If you're interested in a more in-depth explanation of each of the amendments, check out the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana's online guide at: - it's very comprehensive and presents the information in a non-partisan way.

I hope this information is helpful. I'm certainly not the expert on any of this. I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions. We can even disagree agreeably! Just don't forget to excersize your sacred right (and duty) to vote! Too many have shed blood to give us this right and too many other countries envy us this right for us to take it for granted. See you on the other side!