Biblical Studies

Camel Trip, Negev Desert- 2006

Quick Links

The Gospel Through the Biblical Lens

Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces


We have been fortunate to have one of the most renown experts on Biblical culture, history, and Rabbinical Literature, Dr Randall Smith, graduate of Hebrew University, as our guide, teacher, and friend since our first trip to Israel in 1997, when we took our three Miskito leaders, Truman Cunningham, Onofre Zamora, and Augusto Vicente, to Israel along with our Maui pastors Craig and Kathy Englert, on our first study tour in Israel. 

At that time, Randy was training all the Israeli Ministry of Tourism guides as well as leading Biblical study tours through his company Christian Travel Study Programs. We suddenly became aware that it was important to understand the Bible not only through our 20th/21st Century North American eyes, but also to see with through the eyes and experience of those walking through the desert with Moses, sitting beside the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, and listening in Corinth to a letter written to us by Paul. Culture, geography, politics, and history provide valuable context to understanding the message of the Bible. As Randy has often said to our study tour groups, "The Bible was not written to you, but for you."

Now it up to us to understand their thinking, their culture, their story and even their language so we don't get off the track of historical Biblical Christianity.

Onofre, Truman, Kathy, Craig and Randy in the Old City of Jerusalem, October 1997

Randy invited us to come to Jerusalem and work with him in 1999, and we spent the summer and part of the fall living in downtown Jerusalem working and travelling with Randy and his wife Dottie.

With Randy and Dottie and their kids and ours, 1999

We returned in 2000 with another study tour group during the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) where many Israelis were shot and killed at bus stops and bridges by P.L.O. gunmen. Tourism died, and we began helping Randy and Dottie purchase groceries and medicines for many Arab and Jewish families in Bethlehem, Bet Jala and Jerusalem. This relief project was done out of Randy's garage in Gilo and lasted until 2003.

The Bagby Family, Jerusalem, November 2000

That winter we spent much time with our friends Roy and Mary Kendall, who had started the Jerusalem School of Worship, with students from all corners of the world.

Mikaela, Lukas, Michael, Moselle, Laura, Roy, Mary, Marianne, and Arielle

 The following October 2001, Roy and Mary invited Michael and Laura to teach a class on Cross Cultural Ministry to the SOW.

Here are the Bagby's, Kendalls, and Smiths outside one of our favorite restaurants just a few feet away from our apartment on Rabbi Akiva street

Randy took us to Greece in October 2001, with a study group that included Jason Spence, Hal  Jones, and Craig Englert. We enjoyed breakfast from the top of our hotel in Athens.

Randy teaching at the Bema Seat in Ancient Corinth

in 2003 Randy came to Nicaragua and helped us with pastoral conferences on the Rio Coco. 


 Kandi, Mikaela, Craig, Arielle, Michael, Carlie & Lucas
Israel Study Tour Capernaum 2006


Dr Randy Smith & Michael, Sea of Galilee 2006

Michael sharing the Psalms of Ascent, Haas Promenade, Jerusalem 2006


Lukas & Mikaela Dedication Temple Steps Jerusalem 2006


Roy and Mary took us on a camel trip in the Negeve Desert in 2006 after our study tour. We returned the following year for another study tour.

Laura & Dottie Jaffa 2007

Michael & Randy Judean Desert 2007

Our bus driver n 2006 & 2007, whom I shared coffee with each morning and at some sites. He told me this day in a parking lot by a church in Jerusalem "Coffee is the friendship drink."  He was right! We had become friends!

After our study tour group left, we flew to Rome with Randy & Dottie. Randy was doing his preparations for his next study tour of the Roman Empire culture and its affect on the spread of Christianity.

Wine Bar Pompeii Italia


Randy & Dottie at the Doric Temple at Paestum Italia

Amalfi Coast with one of our favorite cars- the original Fiat 500

Randy took us on another study tour in 2008 to Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Here we are in Ephesus.

Laura with Nike (Victory) Ephesus 2007

On the Bosporus, Istanbul Turkiye 2008


At the Roman Forum 2008

Mars Hill Athens with Jason Spence, 2008

Rhodes 2008

We focused our years from 2008 thru 2018 opening three Rio Coco Cafes and working with students from the Great Commission Bible School, started by Randy in Sebring Florida in 2004.

In 2018 we returned to Israel with our family and friends. Since it had been a few years since we all were there, we took some comparison photos:

Sea of Galilee 2006 and 2018


1999 and 2018

We stopped at the Jordan river baptismal spot Yardinet, where we have a panel of Mark 1:9-11 in the Miskito language. This verse is in over 30 languages and is a project that our friend Tim King organized in 2006.

 That a small people group would be represented at a special place!


Tim and Martha King have been special friends since our first trip in 1997 when Tim provided us an apartment in Gilo for us and our Miskito delegation. Martha served with YWAM in Hawaii and both of these along with their daughter Anna have had an incredible ministry in Israel.

The Bagby and King Families at their home in Har Adar 2006

The same table at the King home in Har Adar 2018, with Anna's husband Yair.

At the old Jerusalem train station now restaurant mall with the expanded King Family- 2023

Randy took us on a study of the Seven Churches in Revelation in September 2021 with our friends Roy and Mary Kendall.

Here we all are at Pergamum

At the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, built in 579 by Justinian

Now that this former museum is a mosque with green carpet

Laodicea is an extensive site, between Hierapolis and Colossae.

At Sardis 2021 

Hierapolis with the healing warm pools

Roy and May at Ephesus

At the theater at Ephesus 2021

We went on a hot air balloon ride  at Hierapolis!

Our very skillful pilot- he landed our basket right on the trailer!

In 2023 we took more of our friends to Israel for another study tour. Here we are on the Temple Mount.

Here is the McDonalds close to our old apartment with Nutie, Tom and Lorena.

Sailing the Sea of Galilee with our Seek The Lamb co-workers on the Rio Coco - Tom & Nutie Keogh



Quick Links

The Gospel Through the Biblical Lens

Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces



 In these past decades since Laura and I became followers of Jesus, we have been fortunate to have very good teachers helping us understand the Word of God- the Bible. In it He tells us what He thinks about us, our lives, our future and how he desires a deeply personal relationship with each of us. The Bible shows us how women and men throughout history have interacted with Him, and gives us a guide to optimal living in this life, and what is to come in the next.

A great theme of the Bible is What Went Wrong, How God Fixed It, What's Coming Up Next, and What We Are to Do In The Meantime. This is often the focus of our studies, especially the 'What We Are To Do In The Meantime,' with an emphasis on cultivating the presence of God in our lives and experiencing the grace of God.

Some of those who have influenced our understanding of this most unique book in human history are Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Smith, Ralph Moore, Craig Englert, Jason Spence, Francis Schaeffer, Cal Chinen, Timothy Keller, J. Sidlow Baxter, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Kenneth Wuest, and Dr. Randall Smith, among others. Rarely do I have any original thoughts, but a conglomeration of the excellent teaching I have been privileged to receive.

We have been privileged to live among a Christian community in one of the most remote regions of Central America, the lower Coco River in Northeastern Nicaragua and Honduras. Christianity is relatively new there, being introduced by Moravian pastors in the 1920's. To experience church life through the lens of an indigenous culture has been a rich and broadening experience.

Michael w/ Truman and Daniel 1984 Kruta River Honduras

Laura interviewing students 1989  Srumlaya Honduras

Pastors Conference 2002 Sawa Nicaragua w/ Craig Englert

With Project Ezra Teachers in Sihran Rio Coco Nicaragua 2004


Dottie, Laura, Larissa, Aaron, Michael & Randy  Istanbul 2021


The Dear Sea Scrolls at Qumran

Benjamin Franklin once said that we should be a “Jack of all trades and a master of one.” Unfortunately that has often been misquoted to say “master of none”.

We all should be good at the business we are in, good at relating to others, good at managing our family and civic affairs, and good at creative expressions.  Yet behind all this is the discipline that we should master: Biblical Studies.  It is from an accurate understanding of the Bible and the principles therein that we achieve excellence at everything else that we do.  Knowing God’s Word is the prerequisite to all successful human endeavors.


Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces

A virtual study tour of many Biblical sites

Go to Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces Page

The writers of the Bible wrote to their current audience, who shared the same historical, cultural, geographical, and political knowledge base. We are reading an historical document written over 3500 to 2000 years ago in three foreign languages on three different continents. Sometimes our North American, European, Central & South American, and African cultural mindset misses elements of the story that can be very significant to our understanding of the meaning and application for our lives in the 21st  century.

This became very evident on our first trip to Israel in 1997, the day we met Dr Randall Smith, who was our teacher (and driver) for that first study tour. Randy took us to our first stop- a recently discovered Fifth Century church on the Bethlehem road. Randy was one of the archeologists involved in the dig, so he got us into the site long before it was open to the public. 

There he asked us this question: "What did Jesus' disciples think when they heard him say 'You are the salt of the earth?'

"How interesting!" I thought. I've never considered that aspect of Biblical exegesis. I always interpret the Bible through my 20th century North American eyes.

He looked at us four Americans and said "You have salt on your table and you use it to flavor your food. Maybe you think that Jesus is say to be the flavor element of your culture." We all nodded in agreement.

Turning to our Miskito Indian friends from the Coco River in Nicaragua, Randy said "Where you live you have no electricity and you use salt to preserve your fish and meat. So you probably think that Jesus is telling you to be the preservatives of your cultural values." The three nodded also in agreement.

Two cultures with two different understandings of what Jesus was telling his disciples.

Mikaela collecting salt at the Dead Sea 1999

Then Randy said "Let me tell you what salt means to Biblical people. Salt is something that you can dissolve into water and then evaporate, and it returns to the same crystalline structure. It doesn't change. You can try to burn it but it doesn't change. God made a 'salt covenant' with the Levites in Numbers 18, saying it is forever- it doesn't change. He told Moses to sprinkle salt on the offerings in Leviticus 2, because His relationship with His people doesn't change. Salt to the Biblical mind means friendship that doesn't change; loyalty, non-negotiable relationships. If I am talking to a Middle Easterner and wanted to let him know that we are friends, I could say 'There is salt between us.' Even today, in modern Bedouin weddings in the Negev, a piece of salt is placed between the hands of the bride and groom."

I have never considered the relationship aspect of the 'You are the salt of the earth" statement. now I understood that Jesus was telling His disciples (and me) that we are to be known as friendly people, loyal friends, who serve the people around us.

"You are the light of the world... Let your good deed shine before men so that they will see your Heavenly Father." 

 Salt & Light: Friendly followers of Jesus who are serving others through random acts of kindness. It seems like Jesus is saying that this is the very first step in our evangelistic efforts.

As I absorbed that, I wondered "What else have I missed by reading the Bible through my own cultural eyes.'

A few years later I notice a detail in a well known painting by Leonardo da Vinci- The Last Supper. Here Leonardo is depicting the moment when Jesus tells his friends that one of them is going to betray him. All the disciples are reacting, asking "Who?" Notice the man in blue, third on the left of Jesus, holding the money bag. It is Judas. 

Leonardo has included a very important detail: Judas has knocked over the salt dish with his right wrist, spilling the salt out on the table.

There is nor more salt between him and Jesus.

 Thus began a journey which I invite you all to join us through these episodes of our time spent on the Biblical sites in Israel, Greece and Turkey.

Part 1  A Visit to a Judean Vineyard

A walk through a traditional Judean vineyard helped me better understand Jesus' teaching in John 15:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser." John 15:1

 Read: A Visit to a Judean Vineyard


The Gospel Through The Biblical Lens

Photo: Laura in Corinth at the Temple of Apollo

How do we understand the message of the Bible?

Here is a three part series on things that help us place ourselves in the historical cultural setting to understand the Message of the Bible as the audience of the Bible understood it.


How We Cultivate Our World

How does God want to use us to impact our world?

Do we have to travel to a far off place to do missionary work?

No. It can all happen in the places that God has already placed you.

Read how God want to use you in the vocation that you find yourself.

 Read More

Download the PDF by clicking the link below:

 How We Cultivate Our Earth pdf


The Perfect Footwear

 On a family trip to Las Vegas for a wedding, Michael purchased a pair of Ariat boots, and discovered that these boots are the perfect footwear for his profession.


Keeping Your Cistern Clean


 On a trip to the Wilderness of Zinn, Michael revisited a local watering hole, and discovered some personal application.


A Cultural View of the Beatitudes

What was Jesus really saying when He said

“Blessed are the. . . “?

A look with Biblical cultural eyes provides us a more appropriate “listen” to these powerful words.” 

Instead of the 'high bar' that we often think God wants us to jump over, the Beatitudes describe a gradual process of transformation that many of us have experienced.

A solid source of the Greek language understanding is Dr Spiro Zodhiates, who provides us with this perspective of what Jesus may have really been saying. This may change the way you think about your relationship with our Lord.



 Why No Cheeseburgers at the Jerusalem McDonalds?

 Why are their no cheeseburgers on the main menu at the McDonalds in downtown Jerusalem? The answer may surprise you, and perhaps help us understand more about the Laws that were given through Moses to the Hebrew people.

Are these laws old and out of date, or are they life giving and very relevant to the 21st Century follower of Jesus?

 Read More Here


A Lifestyle of Making Disciples      

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.               Matt 28:18-20 NAS















 This is the passage of Scripture called "The Great Commission" where missionaries have traditionally gotten their “marching orders” to go to other countries and evangelize unreached people. I first heard this message at a concert on Maui by a famous Christian singer, who’s latest album was titled “Jesus Commands Us To Go!”.  I was so excited afterward that I told my cousin Kean that I was ready to go to any place and tell the people about Jesus. 

He looked at me, and with a smile asked me: How would you like to go to an island in the Pacific where less than five percent of the people attend church on Sunday?” 

I responded excitedly: “Let’s go!”. 

He calmly said: “You are standing on it!

Read More


The Bible: Could I Trust It?

Since Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1439, the most printed book in history has been the Bible, with 2.6 billion copies printed since that time. If you took all the copies and stacked them end to end, the stack would reach one third the distance to the Moon (I did the calculations myself!)


 Photo: A copy of the Gutenberg Press on display at

the Museum of the Bible Washington DC.       GMB 2019

The Bible declares itself to be “living” and “active”, as well as the standard for our morality.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                                                      Hebrews 4:12 NAS

Paul told his disciple Timothy that:

   All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.    2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible was written by more than 40 different authors, who came from all walks of life- kings, farmers, priests, shepherds, fishermen, a tax collector, a physician, a fig tree pincher, all apparently under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was written over a 1500 year period on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), and in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Amazingly, all the authors agree on the basic message.

 But could I trust it? All Scripture? Every word?

 That was the question that I had to decide. I guess it’s the question that we all have to address at some point in our lives. Did God speak to mankind through this book? Is there a Divine Authority to its contents? Does God lay out His opinions on how we are to live our lives here on Earth? Can we believe what the Bible says about the origin of life; how we humans think and feel; life after death; who God is, and the great love that God has for us all?

 Or is it just another book filled with men’s opinions, mythology, and another philosophy of life?

Read More


When Problems Arise, So Do We!

“Comfort” is a state of being that is naturally desired by all humans. We all strive to reach this state of “relief from pain or anxiety” and be “physically relaxed.” In a sense, the goal of all societies is to reach this state of comfort, or at least allow someone to be comfortable, often at the expense of many others.

When you are comfortable, you are content.  Contentment often is a state of being that keeps us where we are at.  When there are no problems, there is no reason to search for solutions. We naturally fall into a state of ‘couch-potatoing’ and ‘business as usual’. There is very little reason to do more than what is required. Comfortable & Content people are not the ones who change their worlds. They are often the spectators to those who are not content and not comfortable. This second group is those innovative, energetic, dynamic, and hardworking members of our society who actually accomplish great things in their lifetimes.  We call them ‘movers & shakers’.

 In the Kingdom of God, we are all called to be ‘world changers’.   

Us?     Change Our World?     Really?

Read more


In The Search Mode

Are You Wandering Around in the Jungle?

Are You Looking for the Right Path?

“If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   John 8:31-32

At some point in our lives,  we all come to a place where we begin to search for answers to some of the real issues of life.  Often, getting to this point is a laborious journey.

 We may travel

through fields of achievement,

across mountains of excitement,  along rivers of materialism,

through caverns of knowledge,

finally looking for the

oasis of spiritual fulfillment.

 One traveler on this journey is a dear friend from my days in the Navy named Dave.

I met Dave in 1976 at Whidbey Island Washington.  He flew in the EA-6B Prowler, the Navy’s electronic warfare jammer.  I flew the A-6 Intruder, the carrier based all weather attack jet. We journeyed together through our years of flying in the Navy.  In addition to flying, we spent many evenings eating cheeseburgers at Toby’s Tavern, rolling dice, playing pinball, throwing darts, and playing the Crown Avenue Frisbee Golf course.  Rarely did we discuss spiritual matters.  We were having too much fun!

Our paths separated in 1981 when I moved to Maui, where I began to experience the spiritual fulfillment of a true relationship with the Lord. After a few years, I went to Honduras on a two week trip to help Miskito Indian refugees from the war in Nicaragua.  That short trip has turned into a long term engagement– now over 14 years.

Dave continued on in the Navy,  finally retiring.  We re-established contact in 1995, when Dave sailed on a small sailboat from California to Florida via the Panama Canal.  After his journey of many months ended, we made contact through the internet.

What follows is a letter from Dave,

 and my response….


Read More


 The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as told by Matthew. Mark, Luke and John

The Mural of Jesus at the Chora Church Istanbul Turkiye

In preparation for the celebration of my favorite holiday, Easter, I spent some time today going through the four Gospel accounts of Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection. I have color coded the sources with Red for Matthew, Purple for Mark (which is really Peter's account as told later to Mark according the the Second Century Church fathers) and Blue for John.

For historians, these are eyewitness accounts which caused these witnesses to proclaim that they had seen and been with Jesus after his resurrection, even eating meals with him. Under penalty of death, they maintained their testimony. These two aspects of these account lend considerable credence to their historical accuracy.

As a Professor of Law at Harvard University, Simon Greenleaf, who wrote the textbook on evidence admissible in court used by all law schools in the 19th and 20th century said:

"There is more historical - legal evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus than any other event in history."

The Resurrection is the Hinge of Christianity.

If It happened, then all that Jesus claimed to be is true.

If not, it's just another pipe-dream philosophy of what human life could be.

Here is the combined history of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, beginning with John:

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The Real Christmas Story

Do you know the real Christmas story?

That’s not an absurd question in for this generation.

I suspect that many have a vague idea that this holiday is somehow connected to a fat white-bearded guy dressed in red and white, some reindeers (one with a red nose), a tall three-ball carrot-nosed top-hatted snowman, and a mother holding a baby with barn animals and shepherds standing around. Along with these characters, there is music to go along with the celebration: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”, “It’s Cold Outside”, “Jingle Bells”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” are just a few of the many songs that have no historical or scriptural basis.

In addition, we bring evergreen trees into our homes, attach wreathes of evergreen branches to our doors and mantles, drink eggnog, and make Christmas cookies in the shape of Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph. We purchase gifts for our family and friends, and wrap them up and place them under the tree. This gift giving in American culture is often the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration.

We Americans spend millions during the holiday season.

This is the Cultural Christmas celebration that occurs in America and other parts of the world.

 A more traditional celebration includes many aspects of the cultural celebration with the addition of a reading of the Biblical Christmas story that is recorded in Matthew and in Luke. This story begins in Nazareth, a small community in Galilee where most lived in cave homes on a steep hillside.

Photo: Modern Nazareth viewed from Mt Carmel.

Read On...