Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Bethany Beyond Jordan

In our last article, we completed the journeys from Jesus’ childhood described in Matthew and Luke. We have looked at the journeys he took as a pre-born infant, those he took as an infant and young child, and a journey he took as a twelve-year-old boy.

With this article, we jump forward 18 years to the beginning of his ministry. All four gospels begin this phase of Jesus’ life by describing his baptism by John at the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:28-29).

From Mark’s account, we see that Jesus came from Nazareth: In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

And from John’s account we see that He came to John at Bethany beyond the Jordan: These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:28)

As with most Gospel accounts, we don’t know what route Jesus took. He may have taken the Patriarch’s Way, which was one of the main routes between North and South. We discussed this route when we looked at the journeys between Jerusalem and Nazareth.  However, it’s also possible he took a road closely paralleling the Jordan River.

The Jordan River plays a major role in Biblical history. Lot chose to settle in the Plain of the Jordan near the Dead Sea (Genesis 13:11). In the exodus, Moses and the Israelites circled around until they were on the east side of the Jordan, across from Jericho (Numbers 22:1) and Joshua miraculously led the nation across the Jordan on dry ground (Joshua 3:17). The river also played a key role in many battles (e.g. Judges 3:28, 8:4; 2 Samuel 10:17). Elijah and Elisha also crossed the Jordan on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8, 14). Naaman’s leprosy was healed by the waters of the Jordan (2 Kings 5:14). 

From these stories, we might get a sense that the Jordan is a mighty raging river. It is not. The portion of the Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea averages 100 feet across and 7-8 feet deep. However, during certain times of the year, the river flooded (Joshua 3:15), overflowing its banks and became much wider and deeper.

Also, the river does drop significantly over the 65 miles from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (from 680 feet below sea level to 1300 feet below sea level, the lowest point on earth). Especially at the very southern end, the river rushes into the Dead Sea.

In fact, one of the main features of the Jordan is that it is in a very deep gorge. You literally go down to the Jordan. Remember Jerusalem, just 20 miles from the northern end of the Dead Sea, is at an elevation of about 2500 feet above sea level, so the drop in elevation over those 20 miles is 3800 feet, or nearly three-quarters of a mile. 

In our very first article we told how Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb, visited her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah. I didn’t mention it at the time, but Elizabeth was also miraculously pregnant. Her husband Zecharias had been visited by an angel who had given him the good news:

But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, because your request has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17)

And now, 30 years later, God called John to his ministry, leading him to the Jordan river:

In those days, John the Baptizer came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    make the way of the Lord ready!
    Make his paths straight!”

Now John himself wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:1-6)

Bethany beyond the Jordan was about 25 miles from Jerusalem and, according to Google Maps, it would take about 8 1/2 hours to walk there. This was no minor trek and yet people in great numbers (“all Judea”) were being drawn to hear the preaching, to confess their sins, repent, and be baptized.

But one came from well beyond Judea who had no sins to confess.  According to Google Maps, walking from Nazareth to Bethany Beyond the Jordan is a 130 km (80 mi), 26 hour journey.

John made the way of the Lord ready, telling his audience:

“I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:11)

And when Jesus came, John didn’t feel worthy to baptize him.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”

15 But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. (Matthew 3:13-15)

This was a long journey, but an important one. 

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 1:9-11)

God anointed Jesus for the work ahead of Him. His ministry had begun.

The map at the top of this post shows part of the gameboard of the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain. 

SDG Games’ Minimal Viable Product

One of the key elements of the Lean Startup movement is quickly getting a “minimal viable product” (or MVP) into the hands of customers and learning whether or not your hypotheses about customers, problems, and your value proposition are correct. The MVP is really just the first in a number of iterations as you learn and adjust on the road to a successful market launch.

The most important hypotheses for a startup business are those dealing with the customer and the value proposition. Do you understand the customers and their needs, and does your product or service (and the way you are delivering it) meet those needs in a compelling way? While the customer discovery process can give you some level of confidence, you won’t really know until you put a product in the hands of a customer.

The minimal viable product is the fastest, cheapest form of your product that clearly communicates the core of your value proposition. This isn’t the product that you’ve dreamed of. It’s not beautiful. It doesn’t have all the features that you’ve imagined. In fact, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman famously said “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late.”

Read the full article linked here to learn more about MVPs, Validated Learning, and SDG Games’ MVP.

Journeys of Jesus: Egypt to Nazareth

With this week’s article, we finish looking at Jesus’ earliest days. Last week we looked at Matthew 2, the story of the wise men from the east, and specifically we looked at Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)

So, Joseph took his young family to Egypt. We don’t know what route they took, but I used the journey as an opportunity to talk about the route called “The Way to Shur”, about Abraham and Isaac’s journey from Mount Moriah to Beersheba, about Hagar fleeing Sarai towards Egypt, and about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness of Shur.

Today, the text takes us back to Israel, and specifically to Nazareth.

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.” 21 He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets that he will be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19-23)

It’s not clear from the text whether the young family returned to Bethlehem first, or whether they went straight to Nazareth.  I will assume the latter as an opportunity to talk about another of the major routes connecting Egypt and Israel (and really all of Asia and Europe).

The main highway from Egypt to the north and east is called by various names. Many scholars call it the Via Maris (or the way of the sea); many  scholars of Biblical history call it the Great Trunk Road; and the Bible references it as “the way of the land of the Philistines” (Exodus 13:17).

As you might’ve guessed, at least in part, it travels along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea on the western edge of Israel. As a major route, it was a well patrolled highway making it a relatively safe and easy way to reach especially the northern parts of Israel. However, its prominence also meant that, at times, key Biblical figures avoided using this highway to avoid being noticed. The highway also doesn’t get very close to the towns in the Judean hills, like Bethlehem and Jerusalem. But for someone wanting to go from Egypt to Nazareth, the Via Maris or Great Trunk Road would be a great choice.

Israel’s Mediterranean coast is unlike what I tend to think of when I think of other countries on this inland (its name literally means middle of the earth) sea. Unlike the major seagoing nations, Israel lacked a true natural deep water port. Here at the very eastern end of the Mediterranean, the seabed gently rises to the coastline. Sure, we read of Jonah putting to sea from Joppa in a relatively small ship (Jonah 1:3), but King Solomon had to do his major shipping out of the Gulf of Aqaba (2 Chronicles 8:17-18) rather than the Mediterranean.

Herod, however, sought to change that. He wanted a grand entrance to his kingdom, and so he built Caesarea Maritima, or simply Caesarea. Herod built many places that he named Caesarea to pay homage to his emperor, Caesar Augustus. Caesarea Maritima, about 35 miles north of Joppa, was a grand Roman city, but perhaps its greatest engineering feat was the creation of a man-made harbor. Stone blocks 50 x 18 x 10 foot were manually placed in the water to create an artificial breakwater.

As Bible readers, we perhaps know Caesarea best for the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius based in that city, who, at God’s command, sent to Joppa for Peter (Acts 10:1,5). But 30+ years prior to that glorious event of the gospel going to the gentiles, I imagine that Joseph would’ve approached this massive symbol of Herod’s power with trepidation.

At Caesarea, the Great Trunk Road bends inland, but still heading north, taking a route that would pass close by Nazareth.

If we read further into Acts, we encounter Caesarea again as Paul’s both prison and sanctuary (Acts 23:23-24) and the starting point for his journey to Rome. May we, like Paul, trust our sovereign God and be faithful to fearlessly carry Christ’s name to those who are perishing (Acts 9:15-16).

The map at the top of this post is sourced from Wikipedia. This is the attribution: Atefrat, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The map towards the bottom of this post shows part of the gameboard of the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain. 

SDG Games Business Strategy

For the past several weeks we’ve been walking down the startup strategy path for SDG Games, a new business concept that has grown out of my desire to learn more about Biblical geography. The initial business concept was captured in a startup strategy strawman. We identified and then further developed an initial target customer persona. We captured our value proposition and validated a level of problem-solution fit. Now, we are far enough into the journey to develop an initial hypothesis for a business strategy.

What is a business strategy? My favorite definition says that a strategy is a framework for making hard decisions easier. A business strategy is the top level strategy for a business. It guides all decisions in the business, including investments made in product development, marketing, sales/distribution, and operations. My favorite framework for capturing and communicating a strategy is the Purpose Pyramid.

At its simplest, the Purpose Pyramid documents a strategy at three levels:

  • What is the purpose of the strategy? For a business strategy, this is the purpose or mission of the company.
  • What three pillars support the purpose? What must be true for the business to be successful in its mission?
  • For each pillar, what plans are being pursued right now? What actions are being taken to establish or strengthen the pillars?

Additional elements can also be incorporated for a more complete picture:

  • What is the panorama within which the strategy is operating? What is the external and internal situation impacting the strategy?
  • What non-negotiable principles define how the strategy will be developed and implemented?

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the Purpose, Pillars, and Plans.

All aspects of the business strategy need to be faithful to what is true — what is true about the situation creating the opportunity; what is true about the market being served; and what is true about the passions and capabilities driving the creation of the business. SDG Games is a business driven by my Christian faith and focused on serving Christian families. That will be reflected below as we walk through developing the business strategy. When I develop strategies for business that aren’t as explicitly faith-driven, the passions, capabilities, market needs, and situational opportunities for those businesses similarly are reflected in their strategies.

The original purpose I drafted for SDG Games was “educational games for the glory of God.” That’s not a bad description of the business’ products and motivation, but it doesn’t really provide a compelling mission for the company, so I used the five-whys approach to dig deeper:

  1. Why do I want to develop educational games? To provide a fun way to help me and others learn things related to scripture.
  2. Why do I want myself and others to learn things related to scripture? So that we can better understand what scripture is telling us.
  3. Why do I want us to better understand what scripture is telling us? Because scripture is one of the main ways that God communicates with us.
  4. Why does God communicate with us? So that we can know Him, understand ourselves, and have a relationship with Him.
  5. How can we have a relationship with God? By being reconciled to God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Living Word.

That exercise helped me focus on what the most important outcome is of better understanding what we read in the Bible — to have a deeper and stronger relationship with Christ. That being said, the games SDG Games is developing are intended for use by Christian families, and those families may have kids who are not yet Christians. God may choose to use the ability of these kids to better understand what they are reading in the Bible to draw them into a saving relationship with Christ. 

The purpose statement should capture three important elements: what SDG Games sells (games) to whom (Christian families) and how that creates value for our customers (better connecting to God’s written word [the Bible] and the Living Word [Jesus Christ]).

SDG Games’ purpose is to help Christian families connect more deeply with the Word through entertaining games.

What needs to be true if SDG Games is going to accomplish this purpose? 

My test for whether or not we have the right pillars is two-fold. If we have the right pillars then:

  1. If we are successful in all three pillars we should expect to be successful in achieving our mission.
  2. If we fail in any of the three pillars we should expect to fail in achieving our mission.

SDG Games’ three pillars supporting its purpose are:

  • Develop educational content that honors God.
  • Develop family games that honor God.
  • Operate a business that honors God.

Obviously, there’s a common theme across all three pillars — that of honoring God. To keep this article (somewhat) brief, I’m not diving into the non-negotiable principles portion of the Purpose Pyramid, but for SDG Games these principles are honoring God and loving our neighbors. For this business, however, honoring God is more than just a principle that guides how the business operates, it is a definitional element of the content, game play, and business practices required to achieve our purpose.

Specifically, the content SDG Games produces must honor God by being faithful to scripture, humble, and pointing to Christ. Our games are focused on teaching Biblical truths, so as much as they can, they have scriptural content woven throughout. Additionally, I plan on creating supplemental materials, like study guides or books, that complement the games and can be much more direct in their presentation of Biblical truths. All of this content must accurately reflect scripture where scripture speaks. But where the Word is silent, we must deal with that silence with humility and not presume to have all the answers. And all of it should point to the hope we have in Christ. I believe this approach is the best way to honor God with our content.

Developing family games that honor God requires creativity, encouraging the fruit of the Spirit, and reflecting Biblical morality. While most of what we know about game design we’ve learned from playing other games, I believe that SDG Games should be more than just “the Christian version of X” (where X stands for a popular secular game). There’s clearly a place for that in the market, but I believe that for SDG Games to honor God, we need to more actively reflect God’s own creativity. And developing games that are fun for multiple ages to play, that teach important Biblical truths, that encourage the fruit of the Spirit, and that reflect Biblical morality will require tremendous creativity. 

One of the biggest challenges is developing games that have enough rivalry and competitiveness to engage players while still encouraging “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22–23). Finding that balance will be critical. Meanwhile, the Bible includes many examples of sinful behavior, but God doesn’t approve of or even tolerate sin and neither should our games. There will be times when our games or complementary content will accurately quote scripture that reports the sinful behaviors of men, but our gameplay can’t reward sinful behavior or present sin in a positive light.

Finally, operating a business that honors God involves integrity, quality, and healthy relationships. If we have great products but are dishonest and underhanded in our dealings with others, then we are likely to hurt people’s connection with the Word. On the flip-side, if we operate with strong integrity, but produce inferior products, then we won’t be serving our customers well. Colossians 3:23 tells us we are to do our work as to God, and we should be ashamed to present a poor quality product to the Lord. Finally, we need to be focused on cultivating healthy relationships with vendors, distributors, and customers. Of all the people we work with, I imagine some won’t be Christians, but hopefully it will be apparent that we are. God may choose to use our interactions with them as an important connection for them to His truth!

While our immediate plans involve developing, producing, releasing, and marketing specific game products to market, those tactical plans will be shaped by the strategic requirements outlined above and reflected in the purpose pyramid below:

Journeys of Jesus: Bethlehem to Egypt

As I mentioned in my last article, the gospels of Matthew and Luke tell of Christ’s birth and his earliest days. The last few weeks we’ve looked at the narrative from Luke, where a few weeks after his birth, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem and then on to Nazareth.

This week I want to look at the narrative from Matthew. Unlike Luke, Matthew doesn’t provide much detail around the birth of Christ. Chapter 1 is almost entirely set before the time of the nativity and chapter 2 is set after. Only the last half of the last verse in chapter 1 seems set at the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself; 25 and didn’t know her sexually until she had given birth to her firstborn son. He named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24,25)

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1,2)

We don’t really know when these wise men arrived in Jerusalem. All the scriptures tell us is that it was after Jesus was born.  (The ESV, NIV, and NASB all say “after Jesus was born” while some translations, including the WEB say more vaguely “when Jesus was born”.) Popular cultural references give the impression that this was very shortly after Christ’s birth, but the only real clue to timing is that it was within a couple of years. 

You’re probably familiar with the story. The wise men came to King Herod looking for the “King of the Jews”. Herod was not only the official Roman-appointed king of the Jews, but a very paranoid king at that. He tried to convince the wise men that he too wanted to worship this king, but God warned them to not cooperate. So instead, Herod ordered the murder of all the innocent babies that might fit the description of this young threat to his crown.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)

I know this is a long intro and we haven’t gotten to any geography yet, so I’ll cut to the chase. I believe that these events probably happened between one and two years after the birth of Christ. In the intervening months, Joseph and family had gone to Jerusalem, and then on to Nazareth, and it appears that they had, at some point, returned to Bethlehem where they were now staying in a house.

He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.” They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:8-11)

So now we can get on with the journey.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)

So, Joseph took his young family to Egypt.

There is a long history between Israel and Egypt. Egypt is in the northeast corner of Africa. Israel forms a land bridge connecting the continent of Africa (specifically Egypt) with the continents of Asia and Europe. At times, Egypt has been a major world power and Israel lay in direct path between the imperial forces of Egypt, and those of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. 

But even before those imperial battles, going all the way back to the patriarchs, Abram and Sarai went to Egypt to escape a famine (Genesis 12:10), Isaac was tempted similarly to flee famine into Egypt (Genesis 26:2), and of course Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 39:1). Eventually Joseph brought his father and his brothers and all their families to Egypt (Genesis 46:26).

Since this journey from Israel to Egypt appears so often in scripture, we can get the sense that it was a a simple jaunt, almost like crossing the street into the next neighborhood. That is not the case.

It’s interesting, if I ask Google Maps how to walk from Bethlehem to Port Said (the city in Egypt closest to Israel and probably not far from the land of Goshen), the route is 706 km (439 miles) and would take 143 hours to walk (2 weeks at 10 hours a day). Google also doesn’t recommend a very direct route:

Why this indirect route? The simplest answer is that this is difficult terrain. 

Bethlehem, high in the Judean hills, enjoys a Mediteranean climate, with relatively high rainfall. We don’t know exactly what route Joseph would’ve chosen from Bethlehem to Egypt, but one likely choice would be to continue along the ridge road to Hebron and then on to Beersheba.

Heading south and west towards Egypt, a traveler on this route would have first reached Hebron, where the cave of Machpelah serves as the tomb of Abraham (Genesis 25:9) and Sarah (Genesis 23:19), Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah (Genesis 49:29-31), and where David first ruled over Judah (2 Samuel 2:11). Continuing on, he would come down out of the hills into the Negev, a region that takes its name from the Hebrew word for dry.

Wikipedia describes the Negev this way: “The Negev is a rocky desert. It is a melange of brown, rocky, dusty mountains interrupted by wadis (dry riverbeds that bloom briefly after rain) and deep craters.” (Psalm 126:4)

Beersheba is the largest town in the Negev and Genesis tells us that this is where Abraham lived (Genesis 22:19). Abraham and Isaac likely took a route very similar to this after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah.

Continuing south from the Negev, the traveler will enter the desert of the Sinai peninsula.  The road known as The Way to Shur is where Hagar fled from the wrath of Sarai (Genesis 16:7) and one of the main routes across the desert. Shur is likely a reference to a wall erected by the Egyptians on their eastern border to keep out raiding desert tribes. 

This is a difficult route. In Exodus, after miraculously crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites spent three days in this wilderness without finding water (Exodus 15:22).

Finally, after making it across the desert, and crossing the Suez isthmus, the travelers would find themselves in the lush region of the Nile delta. The land of Goshen, where Joseph settled Jacob and his family was probably near this border.

And perhaps Jesus’ step-father Joseph also settled his family in this same region for a time.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain. 

SDG Games Value Proposition

Over the past few articles we have developed a better understanding of our target customer. While SDG Games products likely will appeal to a very broad audience of Christian families, we’ve decided to focus first on the busy homeschooling Christian mom who wants to integrate faith, learning, and fun for her family. In this article, we’re going to explore whether we have a value proposition that fits that mom’s desires.

The Lean Startup process identifies three critical “fits” that a successful startup moves through on its way to a sustainable business:

  • You achieve Problem-Solution Fit when you understand a specific problem that specific customers have and you have identified a specific viable solution to that problem.
  • You achieve Product-Market Fit when you have launched your solution as a product or service and the target market has validated that they value the product as demonstrated by significant traction (sales).
  • You achieve Business Model Fit when you have successfully created a scalable and profitable business to deliver the solution to the market.

One of the huge benefits of taking a Lean approach is that you don’t invest in the next level of fit until you’ve tested and proven that you’ve achieved the current fit. So, for example, you don’t invest in launching a product until you’ve validated that you have identified a viable solution to a real customer problem.

In Value Proposition Design¹, Alex Osterwalder and team defined a value proposition as “the benefits customers can expect from your products or services.” In that book, they shared the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) as a helpful tool in documenting a complete value proposition.

Or rather, a nearly complete value proposition. Their model captured the products and services offered and how the company delivers value in a way that helps create the gains and eliminate the pains that the target customer associates with the jobs they are trying to do. However, I think that the VPC is missing two critical components. The first is an easy to communicate statement of the value proposition and the second is an indication of the way that the company will always stand apart from competitors.

With those shortcomings in mind, I have developed the Customer Value Map (CVM):

Customer Value Map

The Customer Value Map starts with the Customer Profile we have been working with over the past few chapters, adds on the Products/Services, Value Creators, and Pain Killers (similar to the VPC), and also indicates the Market Discipline. The Market Discipline² indicates the foundational basis for competition by the company whether that be operational excellence, product leadership, or customer intimacy. Finally, the CVM summarizes the company’s value proposition in the form of a simple positioning statement.

Over the past few articles, we’ve developed the left half of the Customer Value Map. We first developed a draft Customer Profile, with our initial hypotheses for the customer persona, her jobs, her anticipated gains, and the pains that hinder the achievement of those gains. We then forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and engaged with real people to test and refine the hypotheses. In this customer discovery process, we more deeply understood the customer and developed empathy for the task before her.

Similarly, we can’t simply draw up the right half of the Customer Value Map on a whiteboard and declare that we’ve achieved Problem-Solution Fit. No, our initial draft will be a set of hypotheses that need to be tested. Once again we need to get out of the building and engage with customers.

I won’t belabor the process that we have followed for SDG Games. I think the extended descriptions I provided for developing the Customer Profile in previous articles give you a good sense for how to engage with customers and gain their insights. I will, however, reemphasize the importance of not mixing Customer Discovery with Value Proposition validation. Hearing from customers about their jobs, pains, and gains must not be tainted by introducing into the customers’ thoughts the unique capabilities you are developing. First you hear from them about their current situation. Later you can share your proposed solution and get their reaction.

For the SDG Games Value Proposition, I specifically used interviews/conversations, Facebook group questions and discussions, and sharing early product prototypes with Christian families to get their reactions and to validate the hypotheses.

Below is the Customer Value Map for SDG Games. The left half is the Customer Profile that we defined in our last article. The right half reflects our value proposition.

SDG Games Customer Value Map

Starting in the top right of the value proposition, ours is a Product Leadership business. We don’t expect to be the lowest cost provider of games to this market (that would be an Operational Excellence discipline), nor do we expect to custom produce games to meet the unique needs of each customer (that would be Customer Intimacy). Instead, we will continuously seek to innovate in bringing together the best game play and faithful scriptural content in new and fun ways.

Moving clockwise around the value proposition, our Products are the games themselves and published content (books) that provide additional learning material related to the games.

Moving into the Pain Killers section, at times, our potential customers struggle to find educational materials that are educational, faithful to Biblical truths, and fun and engaging. We believe that our games (and supporting books) will play at least a small part in meeting this need. The nature of homeschooling is very integrated and our target persona (the homeschooling mom) not only needs to educate her kids, but also keep the whole family happy. We believe that our games will be fun for the whole family, helping tie together family time with learning time in a fun way.

Finally, in the Value Creators section, while we can’t “save” the homeschooling mom’s kids, we can help those kids learn content that will help them better understand and appreciate what they read in God’s Word, while also helping them learn other basic skills (math, map reading, memorization). Even better, the kids (and parents) will have fun while learning.

The above Customer Value Map reflects the value proposition for the first game we hope to take to market (if all other steps are successful). In our discussions, some moms question whether the Biblical content we are teaching is as important as some other we could teach. Our first product also isn’t as affordable or quick to play as some moms desire given their budget and time constraints. Product-Solution Fit doesn’t require addressing all of the customers’ Pains and Gains, but we do hope to address these additional value elements in future games.

Going back to the definition of Product-Solution Fit, we have identified some of the challenges that homeschooling moms face (integrating faith/learning/fun, keeping the family happy even when busy educating the kids, etc.), and we believe that we have identified a way to help, at least to some small degree, with those challenges.

So with a level of Product-Solution Fit, we can now start to focus on what it will take to successfully launch a product to market.


¹Osterwalder, Alexander, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, and Alan Smith. Value Proposition Design. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014.

²Treacy, Michael, and Frederik D. Wiersema. The Discipline of Market Leaders. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub., 1995.

Journeys of Jesus: Jerusalem to Nazareth

Up to this point in following Jesus’ journeys, I’ve been able to take a chronological approach with pretty high confidence. We can be pretty sure of the order of events at the beginning and end of His life, but the way the different gospels order the telling of stories in the middle of his life, I can’t be confident of the specific order of the different journeys Jesus took between those first and last days.

This week and next week we will deal with two journeys that are both very early in Jesus’ life. It’s not clear from the gospel accounts which came first.

Both the gospel of Mark and the gospel of John start by describing the ministry of John the baptist and then Jesus’ baptism, marking the beginning of his ministry. Matthew and Luke both include the birth of Jesus and a few stories from His early life, so it’s from these two gospels that we have already seen Jesus’ earliest journeys.

In the last journey that we looked at, from Luke 2, Joseph and Mary took Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  Today, we’re going to continue in Luke 2.

When they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)

I believe that the next journey that Jesus took was from Jerusalem to Nazareth, still as a tiny baby. As I’ve said in previous posts, Jerusalem was in Judea in the south of Israel, while Nazareth was in Galilee in the north.

According to Google Maps, the distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is 149 km (93 miles) and today (with modern roads and walkways) it would take 31 hours to walk between the two cities. So this was not an inconsequential journey. And yet it was one that Jesus and His family would take many times (Luke 2:41).

In the game Journeys with Jesus, I have only included one journey card for any given city pair, so the one card with Jerusalem and Nazareth represents many actual journeys that Jesus took between these two towns. And similarly, I’ll use this one post to talk about all those journeys over the same geography.

Israel’s topography is rather unique. As you move from west to east, you start with the gentle coastal plains by the Mediterranean Sea. You then cross the rolling hills of the Shephalah, before reaching a range of mountains running north-south through the middle of the country. As clouds roll west to east, they run into these mountains and tend to drop all their rain on the west side of the range, leaving the eastern slopes dry as they drop down into the Jordan rift (which includes the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea).

Jerusalem is along that central mountain range and traveling north to Nazareth would largely be along that range along the “Patriarch’s Way”. Along the way, the travelers would’ve seen the mountains so important in Israel’s history, Mount Gerizim (Deuteronomy 11:29), Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:33), Mount Tabor (Judges 4:14), and when turning to the west for the final stretch to Nazareth, Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-21) in the distance. On these long journeys, these sights would be an encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people.

It was on one of these journeys from Nazareth to Jerusalem that we are told the only story of what Jesus was like as a boy.

When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast, 43 and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Joseph and his mother didn’t know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, and they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they didn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When they saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you.”

49 He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 They didn’t understand the saying which he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth. He was subject to them, and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2: 42-52)

May we be so blessed, to be increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. 

The map above is from the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game board showing the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

Customer Discovery for SDG Games

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you the Customer Profile I’d developed for the initial target customer persona for SDG Games. Kelly Jo is a (fictional) homeschooling mom with a couple of kids. I developed some hypotheses about the jobs, pains, and gains for this persona. How could I test these hypotheses?

Steve Blank says that the number one goal of customer discovery is “turning the founders’ initial hypotheses about their market and customers into facts.”¹ And the phrase he’s famous for saying in how to do customer discovery is “get out of the building.” Customer discovery is all about spending time with potential customers to deeply understand how they live and work so that your offers truly fit their needs.

For customer discovery to test my hypotheses for SDG Games, I pursued three approaches: an online survey, interviews, and participating in Facebook groups.

For decades, businesses have relied on customer surveys to learn about customer needs and preferences. Surveys can be effective at developing quantitative perspectives on specific clearly defined questions. For example: “36% of CTOs at medium sized enterprises prefer monthly contracts.” Surveys are much less effective for gaining qualitative perspectives, especially on emerging topics. To be effective, a survey also requires a large enough response to provide statistically meaningful results. The response to my survey was not broad enough to draw statistically meaningful results, however, one key takeaway from the results received was that there were additional “pains” that I had failed to reflect in my original hypotheses, specifically the challenge of internal family dynamics. For example, one respondent said “I have multiple children under the age of 5” and then explained how that made it hard to keep their attention for long.

Because of the shortcomings of customer surveys, especially for startups with innovative and unconventional concepts, the Lean startup community has tended to focus more on customer interviews. This is the approach that I most often recommend to startups. So as part of SDG Games’ customer discovery, I spoke with moms who are currently or have previously homeschooled. 

Before I explain what I learned, let me describe a customer discovery interview. These interviews are NOT about the product or concept. When you lead a customer discovery interview, very few statements should come out of your mouth, instead, you should almost exclusively ask questions. You are here to listen, not to be heard.

Here’s an example of how my side of an SDG Games customer discovery interview might go:

  • Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. This is all about learning from you, so we aren’t going to talk about my product at all. I’m certainly not trying to sell you anything. If you’re interested in hearing what we’re working on, if we have time, I can certainly give you a quick overview at the end, but let’s really focus on you and your needs totally independent of what I’m working on.
  • As a homeschooling mom, how would you describe your job? What is your job description?
  • Wow, that’s a lot. Which of those different functions is most important?
  • Which takes up most of your time?
  • That’s really interesting. When things are going really well in all those different aspects of your job, what does it look like? What are the near term benefits of what you’re doing?
  • And when you think longer term, what are the long term blessings of being a homeschooling mom?
  • Okay, but I’m guessing things don’t always go great. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing your job? What makes it hard?
  • Are there specific roadblocks that sometimes makes it feel like it’s impossible for you to be successful in all those things you described as your job?
  • Let’s talk about one of those. What have you tried to overcome the time management challenges?
  • Did that work? 
  • Were there aspects of that approach that you thought were really good? What aspects really didn’t work?
  • Are there approaches that you’ve thought about but haven’t tried?
  • Why didn’t you try it?
  • Thank you again for your time and your insights. This has been super helpful to me! Do you have any questions for me?

As you can guess, this doesn’t follow a fixed script, it flows with the conversation, and every conversation is different. At each step in the process, I might probe more to make sure I understand what they are saying, or I might follow a rabbit-trail that they introduce to see if it produces any really insightful perspectives. 

Through the customer interviews, I think my hypotheses on the jobs and gains were pretty much confirmed. On the pains, however, I realized that I had missed some that were at least as big as any I’d previously identified. Specifically, time and budget are big issues for most homeschooling moms. Teaching is a lot of work, as is managing a home. Unlike a job or even a traditional classroom, the teacher’s authority is balanced with motherly love, and the students have demands on Mrs. Teacher that go beyond anything a classroom teacher will typically need to address. 

Money is also a big deal in most homeschooling families. Parents need to bear the costs of curriculum, books, teaching tools, and materials usually without any kind of government or donor support. Additionally, most homeschooling families are single income households. That typically means that there’s not a lot of money left over for special “treats” like board games.

So, my two main takeaways from the survey and interviews are:

  • Do everything possible to reduce the game cost.
  • Make sure the game doesn’t take too long to play, or at least that there’s a “fast” option.

Surprising to me, the most valuable perspectives in customer discovery actually came from Facebook. There’s a very active Christian Homeschooling Families group on Facebook with over 45,000 members. Many in this community actively share their lives with each other, looking for input and help on things well beyond the classroom. “NHSR” (not homeschool related) is a very common tag in this group. That gave me a very good perspective into what is really shaping the jobs/gains/pains for these potential customers. 

As I’ve studied the discipline of customer discovery, I’ve often come across the concept of “going home” with customers or “a day in the life” of customers. This has always seemed like an optimal situation, but one that is very hard to pull off, and probably impossible to do at any scale. However, this Facebook group gave me an opportunity to glance into the lives of hundreds or thousands of active community participants.

One of my big takeaways from this exercise is that the Christian homeschooling families target market is not as homogenous as I’d represented in the customer profile. There are significant differences based on the ages of kids being homeschooled, the number of kids in the home, and the importance of integrating faith into the educational process. There are also different philosophical approaches to homeschooling with phrases like “unschooling” and “Charlotte Mason method” having specific implications for how families approach homeschooling. 

I also discovered a relatively new approach to homeschooling called “gameschooling”. There’s a very active “Gameschooling” group in Facebook with over 31,000 members. This isn’t specifically for Christian families and there’s clearly a mix of Christian and secular homeschoolers, but the “about” for the group starts with “We believe that homeschooling can be *almost* all fun and games!” which is very encouraging for SDG Games’ mission. 

Although it’s clear from this community that most of the families are using games as a relatively minor part of their overall education, these families are clearly much more likely to consider buying an educational game than the broader homeschooling population. From some specific posts and general comments in both Facebook groups, I would estimate that the typical Christian homeschooling family might buy one game a year, while the typical gameschooling family might buy one game each month.

From this observation, it seems like we should narrow our initial focus a bit further to Christian Gameschooling Families. In my previous article I identified the market of Christian Homeschooling Families at 200,000 to 1 million. Using the Facebook group size numbers (and an estimate that 20% of the members of the Gameschooling group are Christians), I would estimate there are approximately 30,000–150,000 Christian Gameschooling Families in the U.S., which is still a large enough market to initially target.

With all that in mind, above is an updated version of our Customer Profile.

My time on Facebook also was encouraging in terms of the direction of our first game. On January 2 of this year one member of the Christian Homeschooling Families group posted: “Looking for recommendations for family games (not electronic, but board games etc). My children are 11–16 all boys. Thank you!” Over the next few days, there were 313 follow-up comments from community members providing their recommendations. In all there were over 700 recommendations or affirmations of games by name, with the most recommended games being “Settlers of Catan” (62), “Ticket to Ride” (53), “Uno” (33), and “Monopoly” (29). Since our first game has aspects similar to the Ticket to Ride games, it seems to affirm that what we’re developing is likely well aligned with the homeschooling market.

Next we need to answer the critical question of whether or not we have a value proposition that can resonate with our initial target market. Stay tuned!


¹Blank, Steven Gary., and Bob Dorf. The Startup Owners Manual: The Step-by-step Guide for Building a Great Company. Pescadero, CA: K & S Ranch, 2012.