Author Archives: sdggames

Roman Catacombs now available!

We have just released our fourth card game, Roman Catacombs, a flip & write game that aims to teach the books of the Bible.  In the game, you are the librarian for a small church meeting in the catacombs outside of Rome. You have been tasked with building a representative collection of manuscripts of the various books of the Bible. Unfortunately, you have limited storage space. Therefore, your goal is to complete a library of three books from each of seven categories. You need to keep the books in the canon order and you can’t move a book once you’ve placed it.

You can order the game now from The Game Crafter.

Prophets & Kings now available!

Prophets & Kings is now available for purchase at The Game Crafter!

Prophets & Kings is a set building card game based on the Old Testament Kings and Prophets.

Players earn points by building sets of cards that match a Biblical prophet with the kings who reigned during the years of his prophesying, or a Biblical king with the prophets that prophesied during their reign. The more cards in the set, the more points the player earns.

Scores are calculated at the end of the game, with the player with the most points being the winner.

You can learn more about the game here.


We have just released our first mobile/computer game, WordWords

WordWords was inspired by Wordle, and like other Wordle-inspired games, it involves trying to guess 5-letter words. Each WordWords puzzle is associated with a specific book of the Bible and the word you are searching for appears in that book.

To be beginner-friendly, and to help all of us learn more of the words in the Bible, a list of all of the 5-letter words in that book is provided, so WordWords is also a bit of a search game, looking for words that match a pattern. A few other improvements have been introduced to make WordWords an inviting game for those that love the Bible.

Come check it out! (Be patient, it can take a few seconds to load a new game.)

Journeys of Jesus: Going to Jerusalem

I’ve been silent the past few weeks, in part because I’ve been wrestling with what comes next.

In my last post, I had quoted from Luke 9:51: “It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem.” And so, obviously, the rest of my posts will be on that final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where Jesus would lay down His life for His people.

But what route did He take? How did He get there?

The four gospel accounts tell of that journey in different ways, emphasizing different aspects of His ministry along the way. These chapters are rich in teaching, as Christ’s ministry reaches its greatest impact. In this series of articles, I am focused on the geographic travels of our Savior, but that is NOT the focus of these chapters in the gospels. Please take the time as we travel through these passages to read the actual scriptures and learn more about our Lord and His love for His people.

With that said, let’s examine the route to Jerusalem as described by each of the four gospel authors:

Matthew and Mark

These two gospels record almost the exact same route:

  •  To Judea beyond the Jordan (Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1)
  • To Jericho (Matthew 20:29, Mark 10:46)
  • To Bethphage and Bethany (Matthew 21:1, Mark 11:1)
  • To Jerusalem (Matthew 21:10, Mark 11:11)
  • To Bethany (Matthew 21:17, Mark 11:11)
  • To Jerusalem (Matthew 21:18, Mark 11:15)
  • To the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3)
  • To Bethany (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:3)
  • To “the city” (Matthew 26:18, Mark 14:16)
  • To the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26)
  • Back to Jerusalem (Mark 14:53)


Luke’s account is very similar to Matthew and Mark, but with a few minor differences:

  • Through Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11)
  • To Jericho (Luke 18:35)
  • To Bethphage and Bethany (Luke 19:29)
  • To “the city” (Luke 19:41)
  • To the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39)
  • Back to Jerusalem (Luke 22:54)


John’s emphasis is very different than the other three:

  • To “beyond the Jordan into the place where John was baptizing at first” (Bethany Beyond the Jordan) (John 10:40)
  • To Bethany (John 11:17)
  • To Ephraim (John 11:54)
  • To Bethany (John 12:1)
  • To Jerusalem (John 12:12)

Combined View

My best effort to synchronize these together leads me to this chronology of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem:

  • Through Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11)
  • To Bethany Beyond Jordan (Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1, John 10:40)
  • To Bethany (John 11:17)
  • To Jericho (Matthew 20:29, Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35)
  • To Ephraim (John 11:54)
  • To Bethphage and Bethany (Matthew 21:1, Mark 11:1, Luke 19:29, John 12:1)
  • To Jerusalem (Matthew 21:10, Mark 11:11, Luke 19:41, John 12:12)
  • To Bethany (Matthew 21:17, Mark 11:11)
  • To Jerusalem (Matthew 21:18, Mark 11:15)
  • To the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3)
  • To Bethany (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:3)
  • To Jerusalem (Matthew 26:18, Mark 14:16)
  • To the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26, Luke 22:39)
  • Back to Jerusalem (Mark 14:53, Luke 22:54)

I will use this chronology in the coming weeks.

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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.


Journeys of Jesus: The Mount of Transfiguration to Capernaum

Last week we reflected on the glory of Christ in His transfiguration. This week Jesus begins His final journey to Jerusalem in earnest.

As they were coming down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no one what things they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this saying to themselves, questioning what the “rising from the dead” meant. … 14 Coming to the disciples, he saw a great multitude around them, and scribes questioning them. (Mark 9:9,10,14)

As I mentioned last week, we don’t know on which mountain the transfiguration took place. It might have been Mount Tabor. It might have been Mount Hermon. Whatever, the case, when Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain, a crowd had gathered. The disciples He had left at the foot of the mountain had been unable to heal a possessed son. It was another opportunity for Jesus to heal, to teach, and to preach the Kingdom (Mark 9:17-29). 

Even in the midst of the clamoring crowd, Jesus is focused on fulfilling His destiny. “For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, ‘The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again.'” (Mark 9:31)

The gospels then tell us that Jesus and His disciples passed through Galilee and came to Capernaum (Matthew 17:24, Mark 9:33).

Around this time, Luke 9:51 tells us “It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem”.

So, now, the journey will begin in earnest.

But before we go there, let us consider the attitudes we see in these passages.

Jesus clearly knows what He faces in Jerusalem. He has repeatedly told His disciples what will happen. Although fully God, He is also fully man. As we will see in Gethsemane, it is with great dread and understanding of His human suffering that Christ sets his face resolutely towards the cross. As Christians, we seek to be more and more like Christ. Are you so dedicated, willing to sacrifice everything, to be obedient to God’s will and to bring salvation to those you love?

Most of us tend, instead, to be more like Jesus’ disciples. We are told that on the way “An argument arose among them about which of them was the greatest. “ (Luke 9:46) In our sinful natures, we are tempted to focus more on our own good and our own glory than on God’s will and His glory.

Let us be like the father of the possessed son. We have faith, but we know that it is weak.

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out with tears, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:23-24)

Let us look to Christ not only to meet our earthly needs, but much more to strengthen our faith and to meet our eternal spiritual needs!

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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

Journeys of Jesus: Caesarea Philippi to the Mount of Transfiguration

In our last post, Jesus took a decided turn in His ministry. 

From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. (Matthew 16:21)

But before beginning that final long journey to His destiny, He had one more thing to show them. To prepare them for His suffering to come, and their own suffering to follow, He fully revealed His glory to them.

After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves. (Matthew 17:1)

Scripture doesn’t tell us of which mountain this passage speaks. Historically, many have believed that it was Mount Tabor. 

Mount Tabor is about 6 miles east of Nazareth, but a full two day walk from Caesarea Philippi. Mount Tabor is only about 1400 feet high, but there are no other tall hills or mountains nearby, so it is visible from all around.

Mount Tabor is best known in Biblical history as the place where Deborah and Barak gathered the armies of Israel to face the Canaanite army under Sisera. From its heights, they witnessed God’s mighty victory (Judges 4-5).

I think a more logical choice, and one favored by many recent Biblical scholars, is that the transfiguration took place on Mount Hermon. This mountain towers above Caesarea Philippi and, at 9200 feet, is the tallest point in Israel. You can see snow on its peaks most of the year. 

Psalm 133 makes an interesting analogy:

See how good and how pleasant it is
    for brothers to live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    that ran down on the beard,
    even Aaron’s beard,
    that came down on the edge of his robes,
like the dew of Hermon,
    that comes down on the hills of Zion;
    for there Yahweh gives the blessing,
    even life forever more. (Psalm 133)

As I mentioned last week, Hermon is the source of the Jordan River. The dew of Hermon feeds this river of life on its long journey from the highest point in Israel to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. And Jesus would now begin His long journey from this height of glory to His great humiliation and death for our sake.

But before we go there, let’s focus our eyes for a moment on Christ’s glory! Like His disciples, let us be encouraged by the truth of who He is.

He was changed before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light. Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with him.

Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, let’s make three tents here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Behold, a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid. Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.” Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus alone.

(Matthew 17:2-8)

In scripture, the Law and the Prophets continuously speak of the Messiah to come, and here we have Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, acknowledging Jesus as that Messiah. As if that weren’t enough, God the Father confirms His pleasure in Jesus His Son.

Listen to Him!

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

Journeys of Jesus: Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi

For about the past month, we have been following Jesus as He has journeyed through primarily gentile lands including the regions of Syria and Decapolis. We continue that trend today, but we are approaching a critical turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus continued His Galilean ministry, teaching, preaching the Kingdom, and performing miracles especially in the towns we have already visited around the Sea of Galilee. In Mark 8:22-25, we see Him back in Bethsaida, healing a blind man. And then, He and His disciples turn north.

Jesus went out, with his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  (Mark 8:27a)

Caesarea Philippi was in the Tetrarchy of Philip. Philip was one of the sons of Herod the Great. Herod had made a great temple here (some say the temple was to Caesar and some say to the Greek god Pan). Philip made the city his capital and renamed it Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor. The longer name (Caesarea Philippi) distinguishes this Caesarea from the one on the Mediterranean coast (Caesarea Maritima).

Previously, the town was called Panias (after Pan), and today it is known by the Arabic variant Banias. The town was built on the bank of a six-mile stream coming from a cave at the foot of Mount Herman that is one of the four sources of the Jordan River.

Caesarea Philippi was 30 miles, or about a 10 hour walk north of Bethsaida, so Jesus and His disciples had plenty of time to discuss important theological topics.

Above, I only gave you half of a verse from Mark’s gospel. The second half is the beginning of one of those topics.

On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” 28 They told him, “John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27b-28)

What came next is the most important question any of us can answer.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

What is your answer to that question? Who is Jesus? Was he a great teacher? A moral leader? A prophet? A myth?

Peter got the answer right. 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the promised Savior of the world. Do you believe that? Have you put your faith in Him and His finished work on the cross?

This great confession of Peter’s was just the beginning of his journey of faith. 

Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus began His final journey towards His destiny in Jerusalem.

In Mark we are told:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

And in Matthew:

From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. (Matthew 16:21)

His disciples didn’t want to accept this. The gospels tell us that Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him saying that these things must never happen. Jesus, who had just praised Peter’s faith, now cursed his resistance to God’s plan. Not much later, Peter would even deny Jesus three times. And yet, Jesus restored Peter, and the disciple’s understanding grew.

Much later, Peter wrote:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear,  (1 Peter 3:15)

Do you have an answer? Are you ready?

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

Journeys of Jesus: Capernaum to Gadara

We have been looking at Jesus’ ministry in and around the Sea of Galilee. His home base has been Capernaum. In the next couple of weeks, Jesus will take a dramatic turn towards Jerusalem, but before we get there, I want to go back to a journey that I should’ve covered earlier, from early in his Galilean ministry.

The journey we are looking at today is recorded in Matthew 8:23-28, Mark 4:35-5:2, and Luke 8:22-27.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the multitude, they took him with them, even as he was, in the boat. Other small boats were also with him. 37 A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. 38 He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?”

39 He awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

41 They were greatly afraid, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

5 They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.

(Mark 4:35 – 5:1)

I’d like to focus on two geographical features in this story.

The obvious one is the destination. Matthew records it as the country of the Gergesenes, and Mark and Luke call it the country of the Gadarenes. There is some conjecture about the source of the name Gergesenes. I think the most likely is that Gergesa was a town near the Sea of Galilee in the general vicinity of Gadara. We have previously mentioned Gadara as one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis.

Gadara was about 6 miles from the Sea of Galilee. Given the story reported in the gospels, it is unlikely that Jesus actually visited that city, but where He and His disciples landed would’ve been considered within the region of Gadara. As with the rest of the Decapolis, this was largely a Gentile area, as evidenced by the herd of pigs being fed there (Mark 5:11,14). Jews would have nothing to do with these unclean animals (Leviticus 11:7).

This herd comes into play in the miraculous exorcism shown here (Luke 8:33). Afterwards, the man Jesus had rescued from the demons wanted to go with Him, but Jesus sent him to share the good news of the gospel with his own people:

“Return to your house, and declare what great things God has done for you.” He went his way, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:39)

The second geographical feature worth examining is the Sea of Galilee itself. On this journey, we see a storm suddenly arising on the lake, which is a demonstration of the unique characteristics of this body of water.

The Sea of Galilee is really a medium sized lake. It is thirteen miles long (north to south) and seven miles wide at it’s broadest (east to  west). To give you a sense of context, that’s about the same size as Clear Lake in California, Table Rock Lake on the Missouri-Arkansas border, or Cayuga Lake in New York.

The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills. It is fed by the Jordan River flowing in from the north. The Jordan continues south of this lake, continuing down to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lake at the lowest elevation in the world, and the Sea of Galilee is the second lowest at about 700 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is a salt water body, but the Sea of Galilee is fresh water – the lowest freshwater lake on earth. At its deepest, it is about 140 feet deep.

The hills surrounding the lake make it susceptible to rapid weather changes, with violent storms surprising sailors as we see in this passage.

Christ mercifully calms the meterological storm on the lake, but by doing so, he raises storm clouds in the minds and hearts of his disciples. Have you come face to face with this One who is sovereign even over the wind and sea? Do you know Him? 

Put your faith in Him and do not fear the storms of this life.

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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.

Journeys of Jesus: Decapolis to Magdala

The last couple of posts have followed Jesus as He has ministered in Gentile territories, first in the region of Tyre and Sidon, and then in the region of the Decapolis. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew both record these journeys, but they handle what comes next in ways that are subtly different, so that the next journey is not exactly clear.

In Matthew’s account, the Gentiles saw Jesus’ miracles and “glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31) and then the writer immediately flows into the miraculous feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-38). If this occurred in Decapolis, these almost definitely would be mostly Gentiles.

In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7 ends with the miracles referenced in Matthew 15:31 (Mark 7:37) and chapter 8 begins with “In those days” (Mark 8:1), implying that the feeding of the 4,000 that follows is not immediate, but generally during the times of His ministry around the Sea of Galilee. The location is much less clear. 

In either case, this was an amazing miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ divinity and sovereignty over creation. Immediately following this miracle, Jesus and His disciples sailed across the lake to Magdala (Matthew 15:39) or the region of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10). Dalmanutha is an otherwise unknown place. One archeologist has claimed to have found it, very near Magdala.

(Note that, in the map above from the game Journeys with Jesus, as I’ve previously mentioned, I placed Gennesaret on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, when in fact it was located between Magdala and Capernaum. I did this, in part, to avoid crowding it in, while maintaining the close proximity of all these towns to each other and keeping them all located on the shore of the lake. We don’t know where in Decapolis the events of Matthew 15 and Mark 7 took place, but it’s logical they would be somewhere along the coast between Bethsaida and Gadara, so the white path shown connecting Gennesaret and Magdala may actually be very close to the route of the journey from Decapolis to Magdala.)

While the location of Dalmanutha is a mystery, Magdala is fairly easy to find. Today it is called Migdal. But we probably are more familiar with the name because many scholars believe that the name Mary Magdalene means Mary from Magdala.

This Mary was one of several women who travelled with Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) and served Jesus and His apostles from their own resources. Jesus had exorcised seven demons from her. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25), His burial (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47), and was the first to see our risen Savior (Mark 16:9, Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:8-10, John 20:1-18).

As significant as Mary Magdalene is in scripture, we know little of her hometown.

(The following paragraphs include affiliate links to Amazon. If you choose to buy using these links, my company will receive a very small commission from Amazon.)

To give you a sense for my process for learning about these places, I often start with Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible by Stephen Miller.  I like this book because it is easy to use, with many people and places listed alphabetically. I usually like to verify the information here from other sources, but it’s a good starting point. There are two paragraphs in this book about Magdala, with the only “new” information being the unsurprising fact that it was a fishing village.

I often next turn to Understanding the Land of the Bible by O. Palmer Robertson.  This book is almost the opposite of Miller’s book, with long narratives giving a sense of the flow of geography and land and less details about specific places. I really like how it puts everything in a context that makes sense. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of Magdala in this book.

Third, I turn to a very old copy of The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands, which I bought at a library sale and this edition has a 1967 copyright. This one falls roughly between the two I’ve already mentioned. It is organized by region and has longer descriptions of the regions and their history, but also has entries for specific places in those regions. It has good indexes, including a Scripture Index. It often strikes me as being written from a skeptical perspective, giving more credence to secular perspectives than what we know from scripture, so again, I verify what I read there as much as I can.  This book does have a one paragraph section on Magdala, telling me that it was 2 miles north of Tiberias, was known to the Greeks as Tarichea, and was at the junction of the lake road from Tiberias and a road coming down from the western hills.

Next I turn to The Holman Bible Atlas. This book is mostly organized by biblical chronology, starting with the Old Testament and then covering the New Testament. Places that show up at different points in the Bible will show up in multiple places in this book, so it can take a little more work to pull together the information on any given place. The index lists Magdala on 4 different pages. Here we learn that the Greek name for Magdala suggests a place where fish were salted and so it was the center of the salted-fish industry for this area around the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, I turn to the ESV Bible Atlas. The first two thirds of this big book are organized like Holman, chronologically, but the last third is why I love this one – big beautiful detailed maps and a very helpful map index (with latitude and longitude coordinates). There’s one reference in the text to Magdala, but it doesn’t give me any new information.

Of course, the most important reference is the Bible itself. The search function at Bible Gateway helps me find all references to any place in dozens of different translations of the Old and New Testament.  It appears that Magdala is only mentioned once, in Matthew 15:39 (which we’ve already seen).

Let me know if you have other favorite references or ideas that might be helpful.

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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.

Journeys of Jesus: Tyre and Sidon to Decapolis

In our last post, Jesus visited the Gentile (and wicked) region of Tyre of Sidon in the Roman province of Syria as reported in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. The account of his visit is brief and it appears that He and His disciples almost immediately returned to the area around the Sea of Galilee.

Again he departed from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and came to the sea of Galilee, through the middle of the region of Decapolis. (Mark 7:31)

Specifically, Jesus was in the region known as the Decapolis. Decapolis literally means ten cities. Each of the cities in the Decapolis were Hellenized (Greek) city-states under the authority of Rome, but with a fair amount of autonomy.

There is some debate as to the specific cities and about the level of coordination between the cities. In 77 AD, Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, listed ten cities of the Decapolis:

  • Gerasa
  • Dium
  • Scythopolis (Beit She’an)
  • Hippos
  • Gadara
  • Pella
  • Philadelphia
  • Canatha
  • Raphana
  • Damascus

The only one of these cities west of the Jordan is Scythopolis. Most of the rest are east of the river and south of the Sea of Galilee in what today is Jordan.

Philadelphia had previously been called Rabbath Ammon, the capital of Israel’s bitter enemies the Ammonites (e.g. 2 Samuel 11:1). Uriah the Hittite was killed at the gates of the citadel of this city to fulfill David’s murderous orders (2 Samuel 11:18-21). Today, this city is Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Damascus is the capital of modern day Syria and is known as the oldest capital in the world. Damascus is about 35 miles north-east of Caesarea Philippi.

To get a sense for how far this collection of 10 cities stretched, look at the map above. Damascus is about 25 miles east of the top-most red dot on the map. Philadelphia/Amman is about twice as far south of the Sea of Galilee as Pella.

In the verse above we read that Jesus came “through the middle of the region of Decapolis” “to the sea of Galilee”, so he must’ve stayed in Gentile territory, passing to the north and east of the Sea of Galilee.

The rest of Mark 7 describes what Jesus did in this region:

They brought to him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. They begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside from the multitude, privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was released, and he spoke clearly. 36 He commanded them that they should tell no one, but the more he commanded them, so much the more widely they proclaimed it. 37 They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes even the deaf hear, and the mute speak!” (Mark 7:32-37)

Although He continued to focus His ministry on His fellow Jewish countrymen (some of whom recognized Him as Messiah [Isaiah 35:5-6]), the good news was proclaimed widely, setting the stage for the Gospel’s and the church’s future spread to Gentile believers. Praise God!

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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.

Journeys of Jesus: Gennesaret to Tyre and Sidon

Last time, we left Jesus in Gennesaret as reported in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. In both accounts, the following chapter begins with encounters between Jesus, Pharisees, the people, and His disciples.

The text doesn’t tell us where these exchanges took place. Logically, these things probably happened in Capernaum, although we aren’t told. The next geographic information we are given is a bit of a surprise:

Jesus went out from there and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. (Matthew 15:21, cf Mark 7:24)

Gennesaret was a rather obscure place. Tyre and Sidon were not. Each are mentioned about 50 times in the Old and New Testaments. Both were in the region of Syria. (Specifically, they are located in what today is the modern nation of Lebanon.) This is the only time recorded in the Gospels when Jesus’ ministry took him beyond the borders of Israel, into a distinctly Gentile territory.

It is worth spending a few minutes looking at this region. The region of Syria is along the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean, just north of Israel. You may recall stories from David and Solomon’s reigns that at least hinted at the seagoing strength of Tyre, and the abundance of cedar wood from the nearby forests of Lebanon.

Tyre reached its peak of power during the period of Phoenician independence (1200-800 BC) which included David and Solomon’s time. But you’ll also recognize the names of other major people groups that dwelt in Syria over the centuries: including the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites.

In fact, just like Israel, Syria is on the natural route connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia. All of the major ancient empires swept through this region: Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Chaldea, Persia, Greece, and Rome. And many of these confrontations are reported for us in the Old Testament.

So, the region of Tyre and Sidon was militarily and politically strategic, and at times it was a great power, but it was not good. In 1 Kings 11:1 we read that Solomon took a Sidonian wife, and a few verses later we read:

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. (1 Kings 11:5)

So Solomon’s wife from Sidon likely played a key role in Solomon’s backsliding.

It is also worth noting that in 1 Kings 16 we read of King Ahab: 

As if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. 32 He raised up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. 33 Ahab made the Asherah; and Ahab did more yet to provoke Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 16:31-33)

And so, I find it surprising that Jesus would pick this place to visit in the middle of his active years of ministry. We aren’t told why Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon and we only read of one encounter that Jesus had there. 

A woman described as “a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race” (in other words a Greek speaking Gentile from Syria/Phoenicia). She asks Jesus to heal her daughter, but his response indicates that His blessings are only for the Jews. Her wise, humble, and faithful response earns His respect.

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you even as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. (Matthew 15:28)

I myself am a Gentile by birth. I thank God that He has given us this picture of Jesus’ mercy on a Gentile with faith. Even more, I am eternally grateful for God’s mercy to me in His gift of faith that I may be grafted in to His kingdom!

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Journeys of Jesus: Bethsaida to Gennesaret

In our last post, Jesus and His disciples had travelled to Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today, they travel across the lake to Gennesaret.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. … 34 When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 When the people of that place recognized him, they sent into all that surrounding region and brought to him all who were sick; 36 and they begged him that they might just touch the fringe of his garment. As many as touched it were made whole. (Matthew 14:22,34-36)

We don’t know much about Gennesaret. It is only mentioned three times in the Bible – here in Matthew 14, in the parallel passage in Mark 6, and Luke 5 where the Sea of Galilee is referenced as the lake of Gennesaret.

According to Wikipedia, it was originally named Kinneret, but was Grecized to Gennesaret. The place name refers both to a small village, but also to a fertile plain along the west coast of the lake. As indicated in Luke 5, the Sea of Galilee was sometimes called the Lake of Gennesaret. It was also sometimes called the Lake of Galilee, the Sea of Gennesaret, the Sea or Lake of Kinneret (or Kinnereth) and the Sea or Lake of Tiberias. (More about this lake in a future post.)

Although we don’t know much about the place, archeologists are pretty sure of its location – on the northwestern shore of the lake – between Capernaum and Magdala. In the Journeys with Jesus game, I have placed Gennesaret on the south east coast of the Sea of Galilee. I did this in large part because the northwest corner of the lake was becoming very crowded on the gameboard. Since the gospels only reference traveling to and from Gennesaret by boat, making this town be on the Sea of Galilee and reachable by boat seemed a fair representation.

Jesus’ ministry in Gennesaret doesn’t stand out from much of his Galilean ministry. With just a touch He heals the sick.

But in the passage quoted above, I left out a big chunk, and this is what you probably remember best about Jesus’ journey to Gennesaret:

After he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray. When evening had come, he was there alone. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, distressed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. 25 In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It’s a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Cheer up! It is I!  Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waters.”

29 He said, “Come!”

Peter stepped down from the boat and walked on the waters to come to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got up into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Those who were in the boat came and worshiped him, saying, “You are truly the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:23-33)

On our journeys, may we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, trusting Him to save us, and knowing that he is truly the Son of God!

If you haven’t yet heeded Jesus’ command to come to Him, may you do it now, fully trusting that with Him nothing is impossible. No matter how far you have fallen, He can save you!

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Journeys of Jesus: Capernaum to Bethsaida

We have been looking at Jesus’ Galilean ministry, based out of Capernaum and today we visit the nearby town of Bethsaida.

The apostles, when they had returned, told him what things they had done. He took them and withdrew apart to a desert region of a city called Bethsaida. (Luke 9:10)

Americans who only speak English may not have an appreciation for place names. So many of our town and city names are borrowed from the places where the settlers originated (e.g. Plymouth, New Hampshire), or were named to show loyalty to European monarchs (e.g. Jamestown, Carolina). Some places retain names from the original inhabitants of the land (e.g. Manhattan, Kansas). But some were descriptively named in the language of the European explorers and settlers (e.g. Los Angeles, Vermont). 

Similarly, when we look at names in the Bible, they often were named very logically in the language of the time. Bethsaida is Greek for House or Place of the Fisherman. Jesus’ disciples Simon Peter, Andrew, and Philip were all fishermen from Bethsaida (John 1:44).

Josephus described Bethsaida as being on the Sea of Galilee, but there is great debate over specifically where the town actually was located.  That’s not unusual for places that existed thousands of years ago. What we do know is that it was on or near the northern shore of the lake, and it was fairly close to Capernaum. 

Although it doesn’t mention Bethsaida as the destination, Mark 6 seems to be a parallel passage to Luke 9.

Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. 33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. (Mark 6:30-33)

So, it appears that Bethsaida could be easily reached either by boat or by foot. We may not know exactly where this fishing village is, but we do know that Jesus performed a great miracle in its deserted region. In both Mark 6 and Luke 9, when the multitudes arrive, Jesus teaches them all day, and at the end of the day He miraculously feeds 5,000 men with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17).

May we be eager to follow Jesus wherever He leads, not because we seek bread for our bellies, but rather that which springs up into everlasting life.

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Journeys of Jesus: Capernaum to Nain

In our last post, Jesus came to Capernaum and made it the base for his ministry throughout Galilee and beyond. Today we look at one of the trips he made from Capernaum.

Soon afterwards, he went to a city called Nain. Many of his disciples, along with a great multitude, went with him. (Luke 7:11)

Nain was not a significant city. It is not mentioned anywhere else in either the Old or New Testament nor in any other known writings of the period. It still exists as a small Arab village called Nein.

It was like many towns and villages throughout Galilee. And yet, Jesus chose to visit and while there, he performed an amazing miracle (Luke 7:12-15). The town was on the very southern edge of Galilee and we are told that news of the miracle was heard “in the whole of Judea, and in all the surrounding region” (Luke 7:17). 

How could something done in a small village have such a big impact? The short answer, of course, is that God accomplishes all of His holy will. But specifically, Jesus came to Nain with perfect timing, and the village was perfectly located for this miracle to be reported far and wide.

I would imagine that Nain was normally a quiet city with the relatively few citizens going about their own affairs, but on the day that Jesus chose to visit, there was a major public event happening that had the attention of the whole community. The text tells us that “many people of the city” had gathered to grieve with a widowed mother in her immeasurable sorrow. Although we aren’t told, it would not be surprising if others from nearby towns were also there. All of these witnesses were able to join in her immeasurable joy when Jesus raised the woman’s only son from the dead.

Undoubtedly this would have a big impact on this small city. But because Nain was particularly situated, the impact spread far beyond its borders.

Nain is at the foot of the Hill of Moreh, on the northern edge of the Valley of Jezreel. This valley is also called the Valley of Megido, the Plain of Jezreel, and the Valley and Plain of Esdraelon (the Greek rendering of Jezreel).

The name Jezreel may sound familiar. The town of Jezreel was not far from Nain and was where evil King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel had his royal palace. Naboth had his vineyard there. Jehu carried out the Lord’s vengeance on Ahab’s family in Jezreel, killing Ahab’s son Jehoram, who had succeeded him to the throne, Ahab’s wicked wife Jezebel, and Ahab’s grandson Ahaziah, the king of Judah (and more) (2 Kings 9-10).

Because of Ahab and Jezebel, it’s natural that we have a negative view of Jezreel, but the name means “God sows”, and the valley of that name was broad and fertile. It stretched from Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River.

Because the valley cut through the highlands, it was an easy west-east path across the land. It became a route for invaders and the scene of important battles in Israel’s history. 

In Judges 6 we read that the Midianites and Amalekites would wait for the Israelites to raise their crops, then they would invade and take it all as spoil (Judges 6:3-5), but God raised up Gideon who miraculously delivered Israel from these invaders (Judges 6:33-34; 7:12, 22).

Later, King Saul set his armies at Jezreel, while the Philistine armies marched through the valley from the west to meet them (1 Samuel 29:1). Saul’s army retreated to Mount Gilboa where they were defeated and Saul and his sons were killed (1 Samuel 31:1).

And other battles were fought here, both victories and defeats for God’s chosen people. Symbolically, the book of Revelation even refers to Megiddo (Revelation 16:16) in describing God’s great final victory. 

But perhaps more relevant to the spread of the news of Jesus’ miracle was that, the Via Maris, passed through this valley, very near to Nain. Travelers stopping in and near Nain would’ve heard of God “visiting His people” in this place and would spread the news to all the surrounding region.

Perhaps you feel like you are in an insignificant place and time. Don’t be fooled. God can use you to accomplish His good and holy will. Spread His good news to all around you!

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.  Note that, for gameplay purposes, in the game, there’s not a direct connection between Magdala and Nain, although in reality, the Great Trunk Road would be along that path.

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Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Capernaum

As I’ve said before, it is difficult, if not impossible, to perfectly determine the chronology of events reported in the four different gospel accounts. The beginning of Jesus’ life is easy, and the end of His life is easy, but in between it gets a lot more complicated.

For the past several posts, we have focused on the events reported early in the Gospel of John. Last week those reports took us from Judea, through Samaria, and back into Galilee, the region where Jesus had been raised. This week I’m going to shift my focus over to the synoptic gospels which all focus heavily on Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee.

I think the second half of Matthew 4 does a good job of setting the stage for this phase of Jesus’ ministry:

Now when Jesus heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
16 the people who sat in darkness saw a great light;
to those who sat in the region and shadow of death,
to them light has dawned.”

17 From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

18 Walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.”

20 They immediately left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them. 22 They immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 The report about him went out into all Syria. They brought to him all who were sick, afflicted with various diseases and torments, possessed with demons, epileptics, and paralytics; and he healed them. 25 Great multitudes from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.

(Matthew 4:12-25)

We see here four important movements:

  1. Jesus returned to Galilee (presumable to His hometown of Nazareth).
  2. He moved from Nazareth to Capernaum.
  3. He called disciples to follow Him, specifically Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
  4. He went about Galilee, preaching the Gospel, and news of it spread throughout Syria and to Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and “beyond the Jordan”.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the return to Galilee. We’ve talked before about Nazareth and Galilee. Nazareth was a fairly insignificant village in the hills of Galilee. God chose it as a safe place for Jesus to grow, become strong in the spirit, be filled with wisdom, and to experience the grace of God (Luke 2:40).

But for the public phase of His ministry, Jesus fulfilled Biblical prophecy (Matthew 4:13-14) by moving to a city that was much better positioned for the light to dawn (Matthew 4:16) upon not only Jesus’ Jewish brothers, but the Gentile world as well (Matthew 4:15). We have talked before about the significance of Capernaum’s location both on the Sea of Galilee and on the Via Maris highway. And so now, Jesus has come to this place, perfectly positioned in time and space, for the gospel to go forth to the known world.

But Jesus not only wants to leave the good news as words to be written down by eyewitnesses, He is also going to establish His church. And so He begins to call the first leaders of that church to their new ministry. In this passage (and in the parallel passage in Mark 1:16-20) Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him. But wait, didn’t we already read about Andrew and Peter and others following Jesus back when Jesus was where John the Baptist was baptizing (John 1:40-42)? It would appear that they had returned to their work as fishermen, but now Jesus went looking for them and called them to leave that work and to begin building His church (becoming fishers for men).

And Jesus began to preach: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” From His base in Capernaum, He went all over Galilee teaching, preaching, and healing. And the word spread. The news spread north to Syria. It spread south to Judea. It spread west of Capernaum to all of Galilee. And it spread to the southeast to Decapolis and the region beyond the Jordan. And people came and followed Him.

Have you heard the news? The Kingdom of Heaven has come! Repent and believe and follow Jesus!

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Journeys of Jesus: Sychar to Cana

In my last post, Jesus and His disciples started in Judea and headed towards Galilee, but they had to pass through Samaria. There Jesus encountered a woman at Jacob’s well, near Sychar. He called her to Himself and spent two days there leading a great revival. 

After the two days he went out from there and went into Galilee.  … Jesus came therefore again to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water into wine. (John 4:43,46a)

This is Jesus’ second visit to Cana. We have already looked at this village, but we haven’t looked very closely at Galilee as a whole. The bulk of Jesus’ ministry, as reported in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), is spent in this region, so today I want to focus on what we know about this part of Israel.

It has always been curious to me that Judea is a prominent area for the Jews, Samaria is not, but then Galilee is again. What is the story here?

In his excellent book, Understanding the Land of the Bible, O. Palmer Robertson describes Galilee almost poetically:

Slopes descending from the mountains of Samaria connect Galilee with the rest of Palestine. Intermittent passes open this northern territory to the flat coastal plains along the Mediterranean that lead to Egypt and the rest of North Africa. Prominent among these passes was the one guarded by the fortress city of Megiddo, always ready to stand against advancing armies. … A second prominent feature of Galilee’s terrain are the broad plains running west to east on a slight diagonal from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Broken here and there with mountains, such as Gilboa where Saul fell and Tabor where Deborah assembled her troops, these broad expanses known as Jezreel (or Esdraelon) provided fertile soil for crops to grow and ample space for chariots to maneuver. … Across these plains marched the Assyrian armies of Sennacharib and the Babylonian troops of Nebuchadnezzar. The Medo-Persian, the Greek, the Roman, and the Crusader armies each in their turn trudged over this same soil. … But more significant than all these goings and comings of rising and falling nations was the strategic role of this same Galilee of the Gentiles in the spread of the Gospel of God to all the nations of the world. … Jesus opened his public ministry by deliberately situating himself at Capernaum so he could reach out to touch all nations with his Gospel. At this locale he could preach to all the peoples of the world — not simply the Jews — about the worldwide “kingdom of heaven” that was near (Matt 4:17).

Robertson hints at some of the key history of this region, but let’s dive a little deeper. 

The area known as Galilee largely aligns with the tribal allotments for Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. After the conquest, Judges 1 describes the success of each of the tribes in driving out the original gentile inhabitants. The description starts well with Judea in the south, but as it moves north it gets worse. First, we encounter pockets where the Israelites fail and the gentiles continue to live among them (e.g. Judges 1:21), but by the time we get to Asher (Judges 1:32) and Naphtali (Judges 1:33), the script is flipped and the Israelites live among the gentiles.

King Solomon also gave 20 cities to Hiram, the gentile king of Tyre (1 Kings 9:11), although Hiram wasn’t impressed. He called the cities Cabul, or good-for-nothing (1 Kings 9:13).

And thus, from the very beginning, Galilee was “of the gentiles”, as Isaiah described it (Isaiah 9:1, quoted in Matthew 4:15).

But, as Robertson noted, perhaps most significantly, the history of Galilee was shaped by the fact that it was the northern frontier of the promised land. The entry point for all of the invading armies. They were the first conquered and the first carried away captive (2 Kings 15:29). There is no record of these northern tribes ever returning to the land.

As we read last week, a remnant was left in Samaria who intermarried with imported gentiles and intermixed religions, but Galilee was left barren and eventually resettled by various gentile peoples who gradually moved in.

It appears that Jews didn’t return to Galilee until the time of the Hasmonean dynasty, which gained independence when the Seleucid Empire collapsed around 100 BC. The Hasmoneans expanded north out of Judea into Samaria and Galilee. They settled many new cities in the conquered territory, bringing in Jews from the south and perhaps converting many of the gentiles to the Jewish faith. For example, Joseph’s family was clearly from Judea, and Mary at least had cousins in Judea.

And so, by the providence of God, in the fullness of time, God prepared the way for Jesus to preach throughout Galilee of the gentiles, and for the gospel to spread from there to the nations.

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Journeys of Jesus: Judean Countryside to Sychar

In this week’s post, Jesus spends time in Samaria. If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the woman at the well, then you have undoubtedly heard about the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. But I think it’s worth taking a broad look at this region.

But first, let’s start with John’s account of Jesus’ visit:

Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself didn’t baptize, but his disciples), he left Judea and departed into Galilee. He needed to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being tired from his journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. (John 4:1-8)

Let’s start with geography. The region of Samaria was between Judea in the South and Galilee in the North.  The region largely aligns with the tribal allotments of Ephraim and the half of Manasseh that was west of the Jordan, (the two half tribes of Joseph).

The Jewish historian Josephus describes Samaria this way:

Now as to the country of Samaria, it lies between Judea and Galilee; it begins at a village that is in the great plain called Ginea, and ends at the Acrabbene toparchy, and is entirely of the same nature with Judea; for both countries are made up of hills and valleys, and are moist enough for agriculture, and are very fruitful. They have abundance of trees, and are full of autumnal fruit, both that which grows wild, and that which is the effect of cultivation. They are not naturally watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture from rain-water, of which they have no want; and for those rivers which they have, all their waters are exceeding sweet: by reason also of the excellent grass they have, their cattle yield more milk than do those in other places; and, what is the greatest sign of excellency and of abundance, they each of them are very full of people. 

When traveling between Judea and Galilee, most Jews would take one of two routes. Many would take the road along and to the east of the Jordan River in order to avoid Samaria, but the faster route often was along the Patriarch’s Way straight through the heart of Samaria. The Via Maris is a third route, largely along the Mediterranean coast, but this did not pass near Jerusalem, so for most travelers, this would be the longest route. It appears that Jesus often took the Patriarch’s Way, as He did on this journey, and that brought Him and His disciples to Jacob’s Well near the town of Sychar, which brings us to the history of Samaria.

In Genesis 12, we read: Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go into the land of Canaan. They entered into the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time, Canaanites were in the land. (Genesis 12:5-6)

So, when Abram first entered the Promised Land, he came to a place called Shechem.  Shechem is very close to the location of the town Sychar in Jesus’ day. God spoke to Abram and made Him a promise: “I will give this land to your offspring.”  In response, Abram built his first altar to God in the land here (Genesis 12:7).

Later, Jacob came to Shechem when he returned to the Promised Land with his wives and his children (Genesis 33:18).  At some point, he must’ve dug the well referenced in John 4. Joseph also passed through Shechem on his fateful journey that ended with him as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 37:13). Centuries later, Joseph’s bones were buried in Shechem (Joshua 24:32). So, this area was prominent in the lives of the Patriarchs.

Shechem was in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.  Through Moses, God commanded that, when Israel entered the promised land, that half the tribes should stand on one mountain to pronounce the blessings of the law and half on the other to pronounce the curses (Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:11-15). And that they did (Joshua 8:33). Joshua set Shechem apart as one of the cities of refuge (Joshua 20:7). At the end of his life, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem (Joshua 24:1) where he gave his great “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” speech (Joshua 24:15) and in response the people made a covenant with Joshua to serve God (Joshua 24:25). 

Much later, after Kings David and Solomon died, Solomon’s son Rehoboam came to Shechem to be made king of Israel (1 Kings 12:1), but there he was confronted by Jeroboam. Rehoboam chose bad counsel, responded poorly, and as a result, 10 of the 12 tribes were torn from his hand, as God had promised (1 Kings 11:31,35) — the kingdom was split in two. The southern kingdom, ruled by David’s descendants was known as Judah and the northern kingdom, ruled by a long line of ungodly kings, starting with Jeroboam, was known as Israel or Ephraim. The first capital of this northern kingdom was Shechem (1 Kings 12:25), but later it moved to a new city called Samaria (1 Kings 16:24,29). From that point on, Shechem became unimportant. In time the name Samaria at times was used to describe the northern kingdom.

Jeroboam feared that the people would return to Rehoboam when they went to Jerusalem to worship God, so he set up false gods for worship, one in Bethel (a little south of Shechem) and one in the far north in Dan  (1 Kings 12:28-29). He chose his own priests and his own worship rituals, not as God had revealed through Moses. This began the false worship that the woman at the well identified as separating the Samaritans from the Jews. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20)

In time, God brought judgment on the northern kingdom. Most of the people were carried away by the Assyrians, but some were left. They also brought in people from the other nations they had captured (2 Kings 17:24). The people intermarried and they mixed the worship of God with worship of the false gods of these other nations (2 Kings 17:41). 

Later, God also punished the unfaithfulness of the southern kingdom and the Jews of Judah were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. But later after Persia conquered Babylon, Cyrus sent Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-3).  The Samaritans tried to join with them (Ezra 4:1-2), but the Jewish leaders would not allow them to pollute the pure worship of God, and so the Samaritans did all they could to stop the restoration of the pure worship of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 4:4-5).

It is this enmity that caused the woman at the well to be astonished that Jesus would speak with her (John 4:9). 

But Jesus quickly focused the discussion on what really matters — not the physical state of things, but rather the spiritual.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” … Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:10,13-14)

The woman saw her sin, knew her need for a Savior, believed in Christ, and told her neighbors. Jesus led a great revival in that place.

From that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman, who testified, “He told me everything that I did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42)

The apostle Paul would later explain how, in Christ, the walls of this world that formerly separated us have been demolished when we trust in Christ and are reconciled by Him.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Hallelujah! Praise God!

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus

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. 

4+ Hours Left in Journeys with Jesus Crowdsale

There are less than 5 hours left in the crowdsale for Journeys with Jesus. We have reached the second tier of discounts, and with just 7 more sales we will reach the third tier – 10% off list price.

In a crowdsale, everyone who buys during the sale, whether the first or the last one in gets the discount calculated based on the number of orders. So, if you’ve already placed your order – let your friends know they still have a little time to get in on the deal. If you haven’t yet ordered, don’t miss your chance to save!

Thanks for everyone’s support and encouragement!

Here’s the link to the crowdsale:

SDG Games’ Distribution Strategy

About a month ago, I wrote about the Revenue Model for SDG Games. At that time, we identified that there were two models that were most attractive, one that we would pursue near-term (Markup) and one that we would like to pursue longer-term (Licensing). As we get closer to building out the full operating model for the business, I think it’s important that we dive another level deeper into the Markup model.

Like many others, the nature of the board game industry has been radically transformed over the past 20 years. 

People have been playing board games since well before the time of Christ. An early form of backgammon was popular across the Roman Empire. The game of Go was invented in China around 400 BC and a form of the game Snakes and Ladders was invented in India around 200 BC. Versions of games similar to Chess are found in Scandinavia, India, and Persia around 500–600 AD. Naturally, prior to the industrial revolution, all of these games were handmade, one by one.¹

The industrial revolution, especially advances in paper making and the printing of products, created the board game industry. As work and home life became distinct, the market for leisure activities, including gaming, also grew. In the early 1800s, most boardgames focused on teaching Christian principles and morals, with best-sellers including The Mansion of Happiness and The Checkerboard Game of Life². By the end of the century, the focus of many games had shifted to materialism and accumulating wealth. 

Throughout the modern history of the board game industry, small innovators have created games that captured the world’s attention. Examples include Milton Bradley (The Game of Life) in the mid-1800s, McLoughlin Brothers (District Messenger Boy) in the late-1800s, Parker Brothers (Monopoly, Risk) in the early 1900s, and Selchow and Righter (Scrabble) in the mid 1900s. However, in the 1980s, Hasbro began consolidating the board game industry, buying all the companies previously listed in this paragraph. Hasbro now has an estimated 80% share of the board game market³.

During that same period, the retail industry radically changed, with the growth of big box retailers including Toys-R-Us and WalMart driving many small, independent toy and game stores out of business. Independent game publishers have had a much harder time competing with Hasbro for limited shelf space in the games sections of the big box retailers, tightening Hasbro’s lock on the industry, and making it harder for gamers and their families to discover new titles.

The Internet has started to change that, impacting discovery, manufacturing, and marketing. The BoardGameGeek website was launched in 2000 and today includes a database of over 120,000 board games and a marketplace for gamers to buy and sell board games. The Internet also made it much easier for game developers to find and connect with low cost manufacturers around the world (most notably in China). The Internet also connected creators to on-demand production capabilities including high quality printers and 3D printing. The Kickstarter website and business was launched in 2009 as a platform to help creators find backers for their creative projects. 

The end result is that today most new games take one of three paths to market:

Licensing: A game designer can license their game to an established game publisher which has existing manufacturing and distribution capabilities. For example, some retailers will only consider new games from publishers with whom they already have a relationship.

Self-Publishing/Crowdfunding: A game designer can decide to try to go it on their own. They can run a Kickstarter campaign to get enough pre-orders to fund an initial manufacturing run, find a Chinese manufacturer to produce the game at low cost, ship and warehouse the produced games, and convince distributors and retailers to carry the game.

Self-Publishing/Print-On-Demand: A game designer can take a lower risk path to going it alone by using a Print-On-Demand service like The Game Crafter (TGC). TGC provides a storefront through which customers can buy your game. No inventory is maintained. When an order is received, it goes into the production queue. It get’s printed, packed, and shipped directly from TGC to the customer.

Of these three approaches, the Crowdfunding path requires the most work and involves the most risk, but results in the highest profits for each game sold. However, you need to make sure you sell enough to cover the cost of all the games you manufacture.

Licensing requires the least work, but you lose all control over your game. You don’t know how it will be marketed (or even if it will be). One game publisher shared that they typically pay 7–10% royalties on Gross Sales Revenue (the amount they are paid by a distributor, which is often 40% of the retail price). If your game is marketing by a major publisher, it likely will have much higher total unit sales than if you go it alone.

The Print-On-Demand (POD) approach requires some up-front work to create the attractive digital files uploaded to the printer, and some level of self-marketing, but very little work managing the manufacturing, sales, and distribution. However, this approach likely results in the lowest sales volumes and lowest profits. The cost of manufacturing with POD is probably 4–5x that of having the game manufactured in China. That means that the cost of production makes distribution through traditional brick-and-mortar and online retail channels economically unviable.

The SDG Games Distribution Strategy

Given that SDG is a one-person organization across consulting/coaching and game design, for now the Crowdfunding approach is not realistic. That greatly simplifies our distribution strategy. 

Optimally, one of our games will be attractive to a publisher. For that to be true, we likely will have to be successful in our initial independent marketing efforts. For now, we will focus on the POD model using The Game Crafter. We will market via social media, our website, and our e-mail newsletter. We will sell through The Game Crafter store, and sales will be fulfilled by The Game Crafter.

If/when we have enough success through POD with any of our games to prove market demand, we can begin approaching existing publishers about licensing. If we are successful licensing one or more games, then the publisher will take full responsibility for all aspects of game production and distribution.

Most startups will need a much more sophisticated distribution strategy, dealing with acquisition marketing, retention marketing, distribution, sales, and customer support. Let me know if I can be of any assistance in helping you develop your distribution strategy!


¹The information on the ancient history of board games largely comes from “The Complete History of Board Games” by Byron at Geek Gear Galore

²Some of the information on games in the industrial revolution comes from “Board Game History: The Birth of the Modern Board Game” by Shannon Appelcline at Mechanics and Meeples

³Some of the information on industry consolidation comes from “Hasbro: The Creature that Ate the (Gaming) World” by Shannon Appelcline at Mechanics and Meeples

Journeys of Jesus: Jerusalem to the Judean Countryside

For the past several posts, we’ve been following Jesus’ journeys through John’s gospel account.

The synoptic gospels all report on Jesus’ baptism and His temptation in the wilderness and then Matthew and Mark transition to the next phase by telling us that, after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee and began His ministry there. (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14).

Today, the account in John continues and makes the point that the baptizer hadn’t yet been arrested, so these journeys are in the time period between the temptation and Christ’s Galilean ministry reported in the other gospels.

After these things, Jesus came with his disciples into the land of Judea. He stayed there with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing in Enon near Salim, because there was much water there. They came, and were baptized; 24 for John was not yet thrown into prison. (John 3:22-24)

This is another case where God has chosen not to reveal to us exactly where Jesus went in Judea to perform these baptisms.

He does tell us where John was baptizing at the same time (Enon near Salim). Archeologists and scholars haven’t definitively identified these places, but even if they did, the text does not indicate whether Jesus was baptizing near John or not, only that John’s disciples had heard that Jesus was baptizing and that it was “hurting business” – that people were going to Jesus to be baptized instead of John.

All that we know is that Jesus had left Jerusalem and gone with His disciples somewhere in Judea and that, from there they would later head north towards Galilee and pass near Sychar. When I put together the map for the Journeys with Jesus game, I picked a spot and called it “Countryside” to represent an endpoint for this journey, but I made clear in the game rules that we don’t really know where it is.

What we do know from this passage is much more important than any geographic location. John the Baptist responds to his disciples’ concerns with a powerful testimony of Christ:

John answered, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What he has seen and heard, of that he testifies; and no one receives his witness. 33 He who has received his witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for God gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36 One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won’t see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:27-36)

Do you believe in the Son? If so, you have eternal life! That is what we really need to know.

NOTE:  Journeys with Jesus is now on sale at

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus

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. 

Journeys of Jesus: Capernaum to Jerusalem

In my last post we looked quite a bit at Capernaum and its significance in the Gospels. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Capernaum was the center of Jesus’ ministry, with Matthew even referring to the place as Jesus’ “own city.”

Today, we are continuing on with the story from the gospel of John, and John doesn’t give nearly as much attention to Capernaum. For John, it seems that Jerusalem was always the focus.

12 After this, he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they stayed there a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (John 2:12-13)

In the synoptic gospels, there’s no mention of Jesus visiting Jerusalem during His ministry until the very end, but John has Jesus going there several times, and especially for festival times: Passover (John 2:13-23; 11:55), the Festival of Booths (John 7:2, 10), the Festival of Dedication (John 10:22), and an unnamed festival (John 5:1-3).

John seems focused on Jerusalem as the center of Jewish worship, and I think that’s somewhat reflected in John 2:13 when he says that “Jesus went up to Jerusalem”. Whenever I’m giving directions, I use the terms “up” and “down” to refer to the compass points on a map – up means going north, down means going south. But, that “north is up” orientation really only dates to European map making starting around the 16th century.  The Jews often spoke of going “up” to Jerusalem, even when heading south (as in this case). 

Jerusalem was literally the city on a hill. From whichever direction you approach the city, you will climb an ascent as you approach the city. This sense of physically and spiritually going up to Jerusalem to worship is perhaps best reflected in the Songs of Ascent in the Psalms (120-134). Pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem would sing these psalms as they climbed towards the city where God had chosen to make His earthly abode (Ps 132:13). 

Out of the depths I have cried to you, Yahweh.
Lord, hear my voice.
    Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my petitions.
If you, Yah, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    therefore you are feared.
I wait for Yahweh.
    My soul waits.
    I hope in his word.
My soul longs for the Lord more than watchmen long for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
Israel, hope in Yahweh,
    for there is loving kindness with Yahweh.
    Abundant redemption is with him.
He will redeem Israel from all their sins.
(Psalm 130)

When John spoke with the woman at the well, their discussion quickly turned to the topic of worship.

The woman rightly observed: Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20)

Jesus responded: Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. 22 You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

In John’s gospel, Jesus went to Jerusalem several times to worship God, but when His work on the cross was finished, Jerusalem was no longer mentioned.

Let us too worship God in spirit and in truth, crying to Him for forgiveness, setting our hope on His loving kindness and the redemption we can find in Christ.

NOTE:  Journeys with Jesus is now on sale at

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus

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’ Competitors

How can Journeys with Jesus stand apart in buyers’ consideration?

Evaluating the competitive environment for your startup will depend very much on the nature of the industry and the product. In general, you want to understand who your competitors are, how you are differentiated from them, and how those differences will translate into buyers’ decisions. 

Depending on the buyer and the situation, your product won’t always be the best choice. You want to understand what it is that makes your product the best choice for some people some of the time (and potential investors want to understand how many people that is and how often).

For most of the startups I’ve worked with, customers make a preemptive decision. Their choice of one product means that they are very unlikely to buy a competing product anytime soon. Sometimes that is because the purchase price is high and the product is expected to last for many years. In other cases, the initial monetary price is low (often with ongoing revenues), but the switching costs are high, and so they expect to make the decision and stick with it for as long as possible.

Board games are different. Customers are making a long term decision — they want to buy a game that they will enjoy playing for years — but the purchase price is relatively low and choosing one game doesn’t preclude them from purchasing a competing game in the relatively near future (sometimes even at the same time). However, the purchase price is high enough, that customers will be quite selective about the games they purchase, and, as with any product category, different buyers will be attracted to different games in specific situations.

The other thing that makes the tabletop games market different from most competitive markets is how many different choices consumers have. Board Game Geek lists over 120,000 games in their database. Not all of those games are currently in print, but even out of print games can be found in resale markets.

Source: Some rights reserved

So, while some startups may only have a few primary competitors to consider, at SDG Games we literally have thousands. To be meaningful, we need to narrow down that competitive set to those most likely to also be in the consideration set of those thinking about buying our games (and especially our first game, Journeys with Jesus).

Game buyers are likely to consider at least four factors when looking for a new board game:

  • Theme: What is the story surrounding the game?
  • Gameplay: What are the mechanics involved in the game?
  • Time and Complexity: How long does it take to learn and play the game?
  • Number of Players and Engagement: How many players can play at once and what is the nature of the interplay between players?

Game buyers are looking for a game with a theme they like, that will fit well with the group (family, friends, party, etc.) they hope to enjoy it with, and that will be fun for everyone involved.

Given that our target market is Christian homeschooling families, SDG Games’ real competitors are games with a theme that would appeal to Christian families and is preferably educational, that has gameplay and complexity that would be easy to learn by children and adults, that can be played in the time spent on a school subject (or less), that has friendly interplay between players, and that can be played by a family-sized group.

Even by limiting the consideration set in that way, there still are many games that fit the criteria. To get a sense for the competitive distinctives of Journeys with Jesus, we will evaluate it relative to two highly rated games on the market as representatives for the full competitive set.

The first game is the top rated “Christian-Themed” board game at Board Game Geek: Settlers of Canaan. Like many Christian-themed games, this game is an almost direct reworking of a popular secular game: Settlers of Catan. Some such reworkings are almost indistinguishable from the original — just with some Christian content or imagery. Some reworkings fall far short of the original. From the reviews I’ve read, it appears that Settlers of Canaan lives up to the quality of the original.

The second game is the very popular Ticket to Ride, which shares much with our game. The gameplay is similar and both games help players learn geography.

One of my favorite tools for competitive analysis is the Strategy Canvas introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in Blue Ocean Strategy¹.

This tool compares the relative performance of each competitor against the same evaluation criteria the potential buyer is likely considering in making their decision. For our homeschooling mom buyer, we will use five criteria:

  1. Theme: High (good) is a theme that directly supports the family’s Christian educational goals. Low (bad) would be a theme that is inconsistent with Christian values or teaches things inconsistent with the Bible. For this evaluation, I’ve used a three point scale: Biblical theme (high), Not Biblical (medium), Anti-Biblical (low).
  2. Complexity: High (bad) is a game that has lots of rules and is hard for kids to learn. Low (good) is a game that is straight-forward and easy to learn. For this evaluation, I’ve used the “Weight” score from Board Game Geek for the two comparison games. For Journeys with Jesus, I used the “Weight” score for 10 Days in Africa which seems to have a similar level of complexity.
  3. Conflict: High (bad) is a game that relies heavily on inter-player rivalry and likely leads to a “cut throat” style of play. Low (good) is a game where players actively love and support each other (e.g. in a cooperative game). For this evaluation, I’ve applied a rivalry score in the range of 1–5 based on my own understanding of each game.
  4. Game Length: High (bad) is a game that takes a long time to play. Low (good) is a game that can be played quickly and replayed again if time allows. For this evaluation I used the maximum game length listed by each game publisher.
  5. Cost: High (bad) is an expensive game. Low (good) is an affordable game. For Journeys with Jesus, I used the list price. For Ticket to Ride, I used the price from WalMart. For Settlers of Canaan (which is out of print), I used the average price from eBay.

Using those criteria results in the Strategy Canvas shown below:

Key takeaways:

  • There’s not tremendous difference between the three games.
  • Journeys with Jesus scores best or tied for best on all criteria except cost ($45.99 vs. $43.75 and $39.99).
  • Our game especially stands apart on the level of complexity and the amount of conflict.
  • For future games, there’s likely an opportunity to further differentiate on cost (if we could get prices below $35), game length (45 minutes or less would be better), and level of conflict (a cooperative game could be very interesting).

Hopefully this gives you a sense for how to perform competitive analysis. Let me know if I can help you with analyzing your competitive market.


¹Kim, W. Chan., and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Boston, Massachuetts: Harvard Bus Review Press, 2016.

The Journeys with Jesus Crowdsale Has Begun!

Our first game, Journeys with Jesus, is now available and on sale through a crowdsale.

In a crowdsale, the more people who buy the game, the lower price everyone pays. The price you’ll see when you place your order is the MOST you’ll play for the game. As more people place their orders, the price will come down for everyone, including those who have already placed their order. Your credit card won’t be charged until the end of the sale (May 5) so that you get charged the lowest price that was achieved.

Everyone’s games will be made and shipped after the sale is completed. You’ll probably get yours sometime around the end of May or beginning of June.

The starting price is discounted $3 (7%). If 20 people buy the game, they will all save 10%. If 100 people buy the game, everyone saves 25%.

Remember to tell everyone you know who might enjoy Journeys with Jesus about the game and the sale so that we can get the best discount for everyone!

Place your order here!

Journeys of Jesus: Cana to Capernaum

In my last post, Jesus traveled from the River Jordan to Cana where He, His mother, and His disciples went to a wedding, and Jesus performed His first miracle. Staying in the gospel of John, we aren’t told much about His next journey:

After this, he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:12)

Cana and Capernaum are both in Galilee, so the journey was not extraordinary – about 20 miles. Probably a full day’s journey, but nothing like going to Judea.

On this trip, they only stayed a few days, but before long Capernaum would become the main base for Jesus’ ministry, so it’s worth taking a closer look at this fishing village.

Capernaum is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The location of Capernaum is significant for two main reasons. First, it gave Jesus easy access to all of the villages around this large lake. Second, Capernaum is on the Via Maris (or the Way of the Sea), the main highway connecting Africa to Asia and Europe (and thus connecting the Gentile world).

In fact, Matthew emphasizes that Jesus’ move to Capernaum specifically fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that “the way of the sea” would play an important role in the spread of the gospel:

And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(Matthew 4:13-17)

In Matthew 9:1, Capernaum is referenced as Jesus’ “own city”, but in Matthew 11, he curses the place:

“You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades.  For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

Jesus would perform many miracles in Capernaum (e.g. Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 8:14-15; Matthew 8:16-17; Mark 2:1-12), and many of Jesus’ disciples were from Capernaum. John, James, Peter, and Andrew were all fishermen in Capernaum (Matthew 4:18-22), while Matthew was a tax collector at a tax booth in Capernaum (probably along the Via Maris) (Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27) .

So, it sounds like Capernaum was a very significant city in the region. It was strategically located, but there was a more important city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Moving down the western side of the lake you would come first to Magdala and then to Tiberias. Both were Roman cities. Tiberias specifically had been built by Herod Antipas in A.D 18 or 19 and made the capital of Galilee. According to The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands, Jews considered Tiberias to be an unclean city, so it was purely populated by Gentiles. Tiberias is only mentioned in passing in the New Testament.

But what is great in the world’s eyes is often not what God will use greatly in bringing about His will.

Capernaum will feature prominently in many of the journeys we will discuss in future posts, but at this point in His ministry, Jesus spends only a few days in the village. 

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the current prototype gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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’ Product Plan

As we continue moving through the strategic startup journey for SDG Games, we have come to the point where we really need to formally define our initial product and to set a draft product strategy and roadmap. I will deal with these topics as three separate elements: initial product definition, product strategy, and product roadmap.

Initial Product Definition

The first product to be released by SDG Games is Journeys with Jesus, a route-building board game. As with most board games (and other consumer products), the product is fairly well self-encapsulated. Customer interaction is minimal and add-on services are difficult to envision or deliver. 

That being said, one somewhat unique aspect of the product definition is the development of additional external content. The game involves completing 23 journeys taken by Jesus in the gospel accounts. We have already begun writing blog posts describing those journeys as an additional way for players to engage with the game and to further learn about the geography of the Bible. We anticipate potentially publishing these articles in book form as a supplementary product once they are complete.

Dennis Furia, a corporate brand strategist turned game designer, has recently introduced the Board Game Equity Pyramid as a tool for game designers to define the essence of their game, both to ensure they hit the target during development and to effectively communicate the value of the product in marketing efforts. 

In many ways, the tool is similar to the Messaging Pyramid and Purpose Pyramid I use in my strategy work. I like Dennis’ linkage of Simon Sinek’s “golden circle” (why-how-what) to the three levels of the pyramid. That is consistent with how I use the Messaging and Purpose Pyramids and will help me in describing those tools to clients in the future. However, the Equity Pyramid doesn’t follow the same structure (e.g. 1 purpose — 3 pillars — 9 plans) as the tools I use. Instead, Dennis breaks the second layer into two parts: Theme and Gameplay and then the third level provides greater detail on these two key elements. I think this works well for board games.

So, here’s the Board Game Equity Pyramid for Journeys with Jesus (using Dennis’ template):

Product Strategy

Up to now, our entire focus has been on Journeys with Jesus. Now it’s time to think beyond this initial product and consider what comes next — when, why, and how. Before we can begin planning a product roadmap, we need to define a strategy that will help make product and timing decisions easier. Here is the Product Strategy for SDG Games:

Note that this cascades off of the SDG Games business strategy. The middle pillar of that strategy was “develop family games that honor God.” The three plans under that pillar in the business strategy (be creative, encourage fruit of the Spirit, reflect Biblical morality) hint at the pillars in this product strategy, but the pillars of our product strategy need to be more directive and expansive.

The first pillar (fun, diverse, and affordable) captures the requirements for building a successful game business. People won’t play (or buy) games that aren’t fun. Given our target market, we know that not everyone in this market will like the same kinds of games, so diversity will be key. We also know that, especially in the Christian homeschool market, budgets are limited, so we need to focus on affordability. 

The second pillar (encouraging the fruit of the Spirit) is an essential element of developing games that will honor God. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the Spirit”. He lists examples of the kinds of immoral behavior that are the works of the flesh and then he lists nine attributes that are the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While competitive games naturally involve some level of rivalry, we need to avoid the kinds of “cut throat” game play that are in conflict with love, joy and peace and instead seek game play that rewards patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It likely will be one of our greatest challenges to develop games that engage players’ competitive spirit and yet reward love and kindness.

Finally, teaching scriptural truths is a key to our purpose of developing games that honor God, especially for our target market of Christian families seeking to teach their kids Biblical truths. Scripture needs to be a core element of every game we develop, we would like to cover the whole Bible over time, and we need to find ways to integrate scripture that are engaging to players of all ages.

I believe that if we are successful with these three pillars, we should have the best opportunity to accomplish the purpose of our product strategy.

Product Roadmap

With that strategy in mind, we can start to lay out a hypothetical timeline of game releases. We will need to test and refine this roadmap over time, but this establishes an initial baseline roadmap.

In the book Product Roadmaps Relaunched¹, C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, and Michael Connors identify 5 primary components of a product roadmap:

  • Product Vision: The benefit from the product when fully realized.
  • Business Objectives: What goals will the product accomplish.
  • Timeframes: Broad ranges to explain prioritization and to manage expectations.
  • Themes: What needs to be true for the product to realize its vision and obtain the business objectives.
  • Disclaimer: Clarifies that everything in the roadmap is subject to change.

Product roadmaps can take many forms to fit the culture, style, and needs of the organization, as long as they present the key elements required for an effective product strategy.

Here is the current product roadmap for SDG Games:

As with any startup, I expect much will change as we move forward, but this gives us a sense of what to work on, when, and with what goals in mind.


¹Lombardo, C. Todd, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, and Michael Connors,. Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction while Embracing Uncertainty. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2018.

Journeys with Jesus Crowdsale!

Journeys with Jesus is now in the Game Crafter store. But if you can wait a little longer to buy your copy, you can save some money. Starting Wednesday April 21 and running for 2 weeks, we are holding a Crowdsale!

What is a Crowdsale you ask?

A Crowdsale is a better version of crowdfunding (you know, like on Kickstarter).

During a Crowdsale, the more people that buy, the lower the price that everyone pays.

If only one person buys during the Crowdsale (I’ll be really sad), that one person still gets a 7% discount off the normal price of the game.

If 20 people buy a copy of the game, then all 20 get a 10% discount.

If 70 people buy, then everyone gets a 20% discount.

If 100 people buy, everyone gets a 25% discount.

And, if 1000 or more people buy the game, then everyone will get a 29% discount off the normal list price.

The only downside of a Crowdsale is that none of the games will ship until after the sale is over, but even that is much faster than your typical Kickstarter campaign.

You can check out the sale page where you can also sign up to get a message reminding you to come back when the sale starts. And since everyone saves the more people who participate, make sure to share this link with all your friends, family, church family, homeschool coop members, etc.

I hope you enjoy the game!

Journeys of Jesus: Bethany Beyond the Jordan to Cana

The gospel of John often provides details that we don’t find in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). What Jesus did and where He went after being tempted in the Wilderness is a good example of that.

All three of the synoptic gospels say that, immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1) and then, after His temptation, they say “Now when Jesus heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee.” (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:14).

In contrast, John doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but instead tells about Jesus attracting disciples where John had been baptizing (Bethany beyond the Jordan). Andrew (John 1:40), Simon Peter (John 1:41-42), Philip (John 1:43), and Nethanel (John 1:49) all started following Jesus at this time.

Chapter 2 of John’s gospel begins with Jesus and His disciples traveling to Cana for a wedding. This journey would be about 80 miles, which would take about 27 hours to walk.

The third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the wedding.” (John 2:1-2)

It’s not clear whether these things happened before or after Jesus’ temptation. My guess is that they happened after, but it doesn’t really matter. Jesus began His ministry, began attracting followers, and went to Cana.

We don’t know much about Cana. It apparently was near Nazareth and there are different theories as to where exactly it was. It likely wasn’t a major town and yet it plays a relatively significant role in the Gospels. 

This is the first recording of a public miracle performed by Jesus. He turned water into wine at the wedding.

“This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)

Jesus returned to this area not long after and performed a second miracle.

“Jesus came therefore again to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water into wine. There was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  …  Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way. Your son lives.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. … This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee.” (John 4:46,50,54)

A third interesting link between the gospel story and Cana is that Jesus’ disciple Nathanael was from Cana (John 21:2). This is the same Nathanael who was critical of Nazareth, a town so close to Cana. 

“Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'” (John 1:46)

So, perhaps there was some regional rivalry between Cana and Nazareth. Suffice it to say that even those in Cana would agree that Jesus (the definition of good) coming out of Nazareth was a good thing!

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the current prototype gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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. 

How Big is the SDG Games Market?

In an earlier article, I explored the target market for SDG Games, and in the process I came up with a rough market sizing. That was important to make sure that I was identifying an initial market that was big enough to matter, but specific enough to ensure that we could focus on real specific needs of real people. Today, I want to start building the market sizing for potential investors. Investors care about the initial market, but they also want to understand “how big is big” — what could happen if the product and company really take off.

A common way that startups explain market sizing to potential investors is by talking about it at three levels:

  • Total Addressable Market (TAM): The total market for your type of product.
  • Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM): The portion of the TAM that your business can realistically serve. This might be constrained for example by geography or specialization.
  • Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM): The portion of the SAM that you might actually be able to obtain. This is a reasonable revenue goal for your business given your capabilities, other competitors, and the needs of the market.

When talking about exciting new opportunities, many of us like to grab hold of big market numbers mentioned by market research firms. Often these numbers come from research reports that the firms are hoping to sell for thousands of dollars. Each company has its own methodology for sizing the market and may even have its own definition for the market. Without buying the report, you probably can’t know whether the market they are describing is the one that you’re going after.

Even so, the most common market sizing mistake that entrepreneurs make is to say something like “the mobile app market is $200B and rapidly growing; if we just got 1% of that, we could grow our startup to a multi-billion dollar business”. A statement like that will likely ruin your chances to raise money from any experienced investor. It shows a lack of understanding of the complex mobile app market and a lack of appreciation for the detailed challenges involved in building a multi-billion dollar business.

In my opinion, the best approach is to build the market sizing bottom-up. For TAM and SAM, how many potential buyers are there and how much are they likely to pay? Multiply those two numbers together and you have the market size. For the SOM — what steps are you going to take to reach the addressable market? Given that plan and competitive realities, what share of the SAM could you reasonable achieve?

So, how does that apply to SDG Games?

Even though I don’t see value in using top-down market numbers from research firms in planning and fund raising, I still like to seek them out as a sanity check. If our bottoms-up numbers are bigger than the market sizing from industry experts, then we know that something is wrong with how we are thinking about the market.

A quick Google search uncovers four very different market forecasts:

  • Grand View Research estimates that the global playing card and board game market will reach $22B by 2025.
  • Arizton estimates that the global board game market will reach $30B by 2026.
  • Statista estimates that the global board game market will reach $10B in 2021.
  • Pipecandy estimates that the global board game market was $13B in 2019, with $4.4B of that in North America (primarily the U.S.).

This tells me that if any of our estimates exceed $10B for 2021 (the most conservative estimate), we should challenge our own calculations. 

Pipecandy’s North American estimate can also give us a sense for spending per household. If the U.S. market is $3B, and (according to Statista) there were 83M families in the U.S., then each family spent, on average $36 on board games (some spent more and some less).

Since SDG Games’ mission is “to help Christian families connect more deeply with the Word through entertaining games”, then we will define the Total Addressable Market as the spending on board games by Christian families in the U.S. Specifically, we will limit the TAM to be households with children in the home. We previously calculated this to be 16 million households. At an average annual spend on board games of $36, this would size the TAM at $576M.

We also previously narrowed our target market to be Christian families who use games in their homeschooling (playschooling). We estimated this to be around 85,000 families. However, from our research, we also identified that these families spend much more on games than the typical family. (We estimated 12 game purchases per year at an average price of $35.) That gives us a SAM of $36M.

If we aggressively pursue this market, we will carefully select marketing and sales channels to reach the Christian homeschool market. This likely would include homeschool conventions, homeschool websites and magazines, and homeschool bloggers. Playschooling families will likely spend most of their gaming budget on titles better aligned with core school subjects (math, language arts, history, other social sciences). Given these distribution and competitive challenges, we’d be doing really well to sell one game a year to 10,000 families. That would set our Serviceable Obtainable Market at $350,000.

Therefore, the market size for SDG Games can be represented by this simple diagram:

This market sizing information will help us to plan appropriately. We shouldn’t burden the business with more expenses than that market opportunity can support. It also gives us a sense for how much funding we could raise and the types of potential investors. We will speak more to that in coming articles.

Journeys of Jesus: Bethany Beyond the Jordan to the Wilderness

In scripture, God often reveals to us specific places where historical events took place. I’ve set out to write these articles so that I can learn more about these places and specifically the geography that plays a role in the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.

At times, however, it pleases God to not reveal to us the specific places. Today, I’m writing about one of those times.

The three synoptic gospels all tell us that, immediately following His baptism, Christ was tempted in the wilderness.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1, also see Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:1-2)

The term “the wilderness” is not at all specific. In Israel, there are several areas that are called the wilderness. The area closest to Bethany Beyond the Jordan is the Judean Wilderness, but we don’t know if this is where Jesus was led and was tempted by the devil.

The Judean wilderness or desert lies between the hills of Judea and the Dead Sea. As clouds carrying moisture from the Mediterranean travel from west to east across the country, the high peaks seemingly scrape the water out of the clouds as rain that falls on the western slopes. East of the highlands, the land is very dry. While western Jerusalem gets about 2 feet of rain a year, the Judean wilderness averages around 4 inches of rain a year.

This land is also marked by deep ravines and rugged landscape. This is a harsh environment that has been largely uninhabited for most of history. David fled from King Saul to this area (1 Samuel 23:14; 24:1; 25:4; 26:3).

And yet, it can also be a place of beauty. In the springtime, when the normally dry wadis fill with rain, the desert bursts into life.

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
    The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. (Isaiah 35:1)

But just as quickly, the dry wind blows, the grass withers and the flower fades.

The voice of one saying, “Cry!”
    One said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is like grass,
    and all its glory is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers,
    the flower fades,
    because Yahweh’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are like grass.
The grass withers,
    the flower fades;
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)

It was to this desolate place that Jesus was driven to withstand the temptations of Satan. When we find ourselves in a dry and desolate place in our lives, let us remember and draw near to Him!

For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. 16 Let’s therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace for help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

The photo at the top of this post is titled Wilderness of Judea from Neby Mousa [i.e., Nebi Musa], close contours of hills and is from the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress

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’ Revenue Model

One of the most common questions asked of a startup is “what is your business model?” In most cases, I think what people really want to know is, what is your revenue model — how do you make money?

A common definition of a business model is “how a business creates value for its customers and captures value from its customers.” It is helpful to break this definition into its two parts. A company’s operating model describes how a business creates value for its customers. The company’s revenue model describes how the company captures value from its customers. The value proposition is what links the two together, so another way to think about the business model is “how a business delivers its value proposition (operating model) and gets paid for that value (revenue model).” Today, we are focused on SDG Games’ revenue model. In a future article we will look at the company’s operating model.

A company’s revenue model can be represented by a simple diagram showing the most significant decisions involved in capturing the created value:

In the center of this diagram are the three key elements of the revenue model:

  • How will you acquire new customers?
  • What customer transactions will create value for the company and in what form will that value be realized?
  • How will you retain customers and gain ongoing or future revenue from them?

There are many different forms of revenue models that different companies have successfully implemented in different industries and markets. It is a fun and interesting exercise to think about how some of these models might work for SDG Games:

  • Markup: This is the traditional model for tabletop games. The customer pays to purchase the game at a price above the fully loaded cost to make and distribute it.
  • Advertising: Theoretically, we could give games away (or price them at less than cost) and instead make money by selling advertising. This would involve creating an additional value proposition for advertisers.
  • Loss Leader Product: We could sell games at an unprofitable price with the expectation that we would sell other products (e.g. books) to game buyers and the profit from those sales would more than make up for the loss on the games.
  • Rental: We could rent games to families at a fraction of the normal purchase price with the expectation that we could rent each copy of the game enough times to make it a profitable business.
  • Subscription: Families could subscribe to SDG Games and would receive games and extensions as they became available.
  • Licensing: We could license our game designs to a game publisher who would then manufacture and sell the games to their customers.

Evaluating these different options involves deeply understanding what would be required for success in each model and what is true about SDG Games’ capabilities, resources, and our guiding principles. It also requires developing a perspective on the potential financial rewards from each model and our confidence in achieving those results. That is a lengthy process, but let me jump to the conclusion of the process with the summary page from a Strategy Sieve for these options:

Strategy Sieve to Evaluate Possible Revenue Models for SDG Games (bigger scores are better)

The top two options are for SDG Games to be a game publisher, manufacturing games and selling them to Christian families for a price with a markup above cost, and for SDG Games to license games to a game publisher who would then make and sell them to Christian families. 

These two revenue models are represented below:

Markup Revenue Model for SDG Games
Licensing Revenue Model for SDG Games

The Strategy Sieve not only helps us identify the best option, but also helps us see the strengths and where we might face challenges for each approach. 

The Markup revenue model is attractive because we have control over the entire process. We will make decisions about how the product is made, marketed, and delivered to customers, so we have the highest possible confidence that all will be done in a way that loves our neighbors and honors God. However, we don’t really (yet) have the resources and capabilities to make and market games. We don’t have relationships with manufacturers or retailers.

The Licensing model is attractive because existing game publishers have proven that they can succeed at making and marketing games. They have the relationships that we lack. But we have to trust that they will do all in a manner that doesn’t violate our principles.

Honestly, although Markup (barely) outscored Licensing, my comfort level is much higher with partnering with an established publisher rather than trying to do it all ourselves. However, I think we will need to pursue the Markup model first to prove that there is market interest in our games before any publisher will consider licensing them.

Thankfully, there are some resources available to help us overcome some of our resource and capabilities challenges, but we’ll talk about that when we get to the article on the operating model. For now, we will move forward with the near-term Markup model while maintaining the future option of switching to the Licensing model.

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.


Journeys of Jesus: Jerusalem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ third journey — from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Before we move on from Jerusalem, I want to stop and take a good look at this city.

Jerusalem is mentioned by name 766 times in the World English Bible, with the first occurrence of the name being in Joshua 10 when Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem forms an alliance with four other kings and they attack Gibeon in retaliation for the Gibeonites making peace with Israel. In one of the most amazing displays of God fighting for His people, the battle went long and didn’t end well for Adoni-Zedek and his allies.

But, many scholars believe that Joshua 10 is not the first mention of this great city. They believe that Jerusalem is the same city as Salem and we encounter a theologically important King of Salem in Genesis 14.

Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him, and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth. 20 Blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave him a tenth of all. Genesis 14:18-20

And so, even from Abraham’s day, Salem was a spiritual center in the land. But many centuries would pass before Jerusalem would again become spiritually prominent for Abraham’s descendants.

In Joshua 10 we read that Adoni-Zedek and his army were defeated by Israel’s army, but in Joshua 15 we hear that Jerusalem, on the border between Judah’s and Benjamin’s territory, was not completely conquered.

As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah couldn’t drive them out; but the Jebusites live with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. Joshua 15:63

After Joshua’s death, Judah and Benjamin again fought against the Jebusites in Jerusalem with limited success. (Judges 1:8,21)

So, why was Jerusalem so hard to conquer?

In short, it held a very defensible position.

The city was built on two ridges. The western ridge is what is now called Mount Zion. The eastern ridge is the southern spur of Mount Moriah. The Jebusites had built their fortress on the very southern tip of this ridge. The Tyropoeon Valley separated the two ridges, but more importantly, the Kidron Valley separates Mount Moriah from the Mount of Olives, and the Hinnom Valley runs to the south of both ridges and west of  Mount Zion.

From “The Holy Land in Geography and in History. [With maps and plans.]” (1899) (Public Domain)

These deep valleys create steep slopes up to the ridges, providing natural defenses. Mount Zion is significantly broader and higher than the eastern ridge, but lacked a good water source, so the Jebusite fortress was built on the eastern ridge on top of the Gihon spring.

This spring played a key role in the next major chapter of Jerusalem’s history.

In 1867, explorer Charles Warren discovered a shaft that connected the city to the spring down below. The residents could lower buckets by rope down this shaft and draw water into the city. A popular theory has been that when David sought to capture Jerusalem, Joab led the attack by climbing up this shaft (2 Samuel 5:7-8).

Israel’s first king, Saul, was a Benjamite and he made Gibeah his capital. Gibeah was 3 miles north of Jerusalem. After the death of Saul, David was first chosen as king of Judah and made his capital Hebron, 19 miles south of Jerusalem. After the death of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth, the remaining tribes came to David in Hebron and made him king over all of Israel.

After conquering the city, David strategically made Jerusalem, on the border of Judah and Benjamin, his new capital. He expanded the city and strengthened it’s fortifications. Jerusalem has continued as an important political center for Israel to this day.

However, perhaps more significantly, David and his son Solomon also made Jerusalem the spiritual center of the country.

During the exodus from Egypt, God had directed Moses to create the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat where God would meet with Moses. He also directed Moses in creating a tabernacle (tent) to house the ark. God also established through Moses the ceremonial system through which the Israelites would worship God. The alter at the tabernacle was the center of that worship. The tabernacle and everything associated with it could be easily packed up and moved as Israel continued its journey to the promised land.

Even after arriving in the land, the tabernacle continued to be the spiritual center of the Jews. At first, it was in the Israelite camp at Gilgal, but then moved to Shiloh in Ephraim (about 30 miles north of Jerusalem). Saul moved the tabernacle first to Nob and then to Gibeon, 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 1:3). 

The ark of the covenant, however, was no longer with the tent of meeting. In Eli and Samuel’s day, the Israelites had foolishly taken the ark into battle against the Philistines, who captured the ark and carried it away. God brought judgment on the Philistines, who sent it back to Israel. It stayed for 20 years at Kirjath-jearim before David had it moved, first to Perez Uzzah and then finally, into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:15,17).

David wanted to build a house for the Lord in Jerusalem, a permanent temple to replace the tabernacle, but God would not allow it since David was a man of war. He told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. In his life, David gathered the materials, and God, in His providence, made clear the place for the temple.

God allowed Satan to tempt David to take a prideful census of the people, leading to God sending a pestilence on the land. As the destroying angel was about to strike Jerusalem, God commanded David to build an altar to the Lord at the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, where the angel of the Lord stood with his sword drawn. 

So David gave to Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. 26 David built an altar to Yahweh there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on Yahweh; and he answered him from the sky by fire on the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then Yahweh commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 1 Chronicles 21:25-27

Then David said, “This is the house of Yahweh God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” 1 Chronicles 22:1

It must be noted that this was not the first time that a sacrifice had been offered in this place. We must again go back to Abraham’s day. 

He [God] said, “Now take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” Genesis 22:2

So Abraham took Isaac and they went and Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, but God stayed his hand.

12 He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place “Yahweh Will Provide”. As it is said to this day, “On Yahweh’s mountain, it will be provided.” Genesis 22:12-15

And if we fast forward in time from Abraham to David and all the way to Jesus, we will see again on this same mountain another sacrifice, this time of God’s Son, His only Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Getting back to Solomon’s time, David’s son did build the temple on Mount Moriah.

Then Solomon began to build Yahweh’s house at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where Yahweh appeared to David his father, which he prepared in the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 2 Chronicles 3:1 (see also 2 Chronicles 5:2,4-5,7)

Solomon’s temple became the center of worship for all of Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel’s kings and people sinned and turned away from God and His wrath burned against them. After nearly 400 years, He sent Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon, who conquered Judah, burned Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

By God’s grace, Persia conquered Babylon and Cyrus the Great allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. Seventy years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple, these returnees rebuilt the temple. Four hundred years later, under Roman rule, just before the time of Christ, King Herod the Great greatly expanded and renovated the temple.

This is the Jerusalem and temple that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus visited weeks after His birth.

The map above is from the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game board showing the location of 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.

Journeys of Jesus: Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ second journey — from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then His glorious birth.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5

Today we will look at his first journey outside the womb.

You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and no sin is in him. 1 John 3:5

1 John 3:5 describes what some theologians call Jesus’ passive obedience and His active obedience. His passive obedience was His willing suffering and death on behalf of His people “to take away our sins.” His active obedience was his perfect keeping throughout His whole life of the law that He was born under so that “no sin is in him.”

Although it’s hard to think of acts done by His earthly parents when he was a helpless babe as Christ’s “active” obedience, by the grace of God, Joseph and Mary did complete the steps required by the Jewish law for Jewish babies, and thus Jesus began His life in perfect obedience to the law.

Leviticus 12
Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her monthly period she shall be unclean. In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall continue in the blood of purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her period; and she shall continue in the blood of purification sixty-six days.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the Tent of Meeting, a year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove, for a sin offering. He shall offer it before Yahweh, and make atonement for her; then she shall be cleansed from the fountain of her blood.

“‘This is the law for her who bears, whether a male or a female. If she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons: the one for a burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.’”

This is the Jewish law concerning the birth of a child. And Joseph and Mary obeyed it with the birth of Jesus.

When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21

We are not told otherwise, so presumably, this circumcision happened in Bethlehem. And then, after 33 days, they traveled to Jerusalem. In the days of King Solomon the Tent of Meeting had been replaced with a permanent Temple in that city. 

When the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),24 and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24

Bethlehem was not far from Jerusalem, just 8 km or 5 miles (less than a 2 hour walk according to Google Maps). Although the elevation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem are similar, they would’ve passed through a couple of dips, with the final climb into the royal city being fairly steep.

From Google Maps

When they arrived, they were greeted by two very interesting characters with prophetic messages that would especially stick with young Mary.

Luke 2:25-35
Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 He came in the Spirit into the temple. When the parents brought in the child, Jesus, that they might do concerning him according to the custom of the law, 28 then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 “Now you are releasing your servant, Master,
    according to your word, in peace;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared before the face of all peoples;
32 a light for revelation to the nations,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 Joseph and his [Jesus’] mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, 34 and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. 35 Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:36-38
There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshiping with fastings and petitions night and day. 38 Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem.

There is much we could unpack from these messages, but I leave that to more capable men. Suffice it to say that these two rejoiced at seeing their savior and redeemer. May we rejoice as well!

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.

The SDG Games Customer Profile

One of the most important early decisions that a startup can make is who they are setting out to serve. A startup generally is built upon a key hypothesis that someone needs something (and that the solution the startup has in mind will meet that need). Clearly identifying that “someone” sets the stage for testing that hypothesis and (if the hypothesis is right) eventually being very focused in marketing to the right audience.

In the last article on SDG Games, we identified the problem that the business was setting out to solve as: “When most Christians read the Bible, they don’t know much about the geography being discussed, and so they lose valuable context in the stories that God has provided ‘for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16).”

So, as we set out to identify the target market for SDG Games, we can start with a fairly broad definition of “Bible-reading Christians.” Even if we narrow that down slightly to those in the United States, we are still dealing with a very broad market. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study about 71% of Americans identify as Christian, and 45% of those read their bible at least once a week, so the Bible-reading Christian market would be nearly a third of the U.S. population.

In one sense, that’s good. That means that there is a very large potential market for SDG Games. But in another sense, that’s not good. There’s no way we can develop a deep understanding of the needs of a market this broad and diverse. As a startup, we need to focus on meeting the specific needs of a specific group of potential customers. If we can delight them, they can become advocates and evangelists for the broader market.

Given the nature of the first game that we are developing, we think it will appeal best to families playing games. So, the first step in segmenting the market would be to focus on those Christians who regularly read the Bible and who are parents. According to the Pew report, 30% of adult Christians are parents, and a slightly higher percent of parents regularly read scripture daily than non-parents, so a conservative estimate is that Bible-reading Christian parents make up an estimated 9% of the adult population — or about 22 million people. According to Pew, 58% of Christian adults are married (52%) or living together (6%), so doing simple math, 22 million parents translates to about 16 million households. That’s still a pretty big and diverse population!

Going one step deeper, since a key focus for SDG Games is that our games be educational, perhaps our initial target market should be Christian Homeschooling Families. There’s an estimated 4.0–5.0 million homeschooled children in the United States. Based on household size data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I estimate that there are an average of 2.27 homeschooled children per homeschooling family, so that means there are around 2 million homeschooling families in the U.S. These families homeschool for a variety of reasons and there’s is significant demographic diversity, but homeschooling has been particularly popular among conservative Christian families. I would guess 10% — 50% of all homeschooling families are Christian, so somewhere in the range of 200,000 to 1 million households. That’s a big enough market to go after, but a focused enough market to deeply understand and target.

Identifying the target market (Christian homeschooling families) is good, but to deeply understand the needs of this market, we need to take our thinking down to the level of the individual decision maker and how she will value what we have to offer. Marketers often use the concept of a persona to achieve this. They give the persona a personal name, describe her occupation, her family status, her demographics, and then a variety of factors on what, where, and how she buys the things she buys.

So here’s a hypothetical persona for our target customer:

Photo by Generated Photos

Name: Kelly Jo
Age: 35
Occupation: Homeschooling Mom/Homemaker
Family: Married with 2 Kids: Zach age 12 and Erin age 9
Websites/Magazines: Facebook,, The Old Schoolhouse
Where Shop: Amazon,,

As part of deeply understanding this hypothetical customer, we need to create a profile of how products like ours might fit into her life and work. The approach that I like to use is borrowed from Value Proposition Design, a book by Alex Osterwalder and his team at Strategyzer. It can best be understood as asking Kelly Jo three questions and imagining her answers: What jobs are you trying to do? What do you hope to gain by doing those jobs? What are the obstacles, risks, and bad outcomes that make it painful to accomplish those jobs and achieve those gains?

I imagine Kelly Jo describing her jobs as teaching her kids the content and skills they need to be successful in life, raising her kids in the faith, keeping the house running smoothly, and enjoying life together.

In the near term, the gains she hopes to get out of these jobs include the satisfaction of seeing her kids learn and mature (and learning alongside them), the joy of seeing them come to faith in Christ, and having fun doing it all. In the longer term, she has hopeful expectation of seeing her kids be successful in their families, careers, and faithful walk with Christ.

However, the pains encountered along the way include the challenges in integrating those activities and goals (e.g. teaching important content/skills without compromising Biblical truth, keeping on academic schedule in a way that is enjoyable for all, getting everything done in the home and classroom). Sometimes Christian-specific resources fall short on the quality or fun aspects. Sometimes academic resources contradict Biblical teaching. It’s hard to make school fun. And the laundry and dishes sometimes pile up while we complete a big school project.

We can’t hope to introduce products that will deliver all those gains or eliminate all those pains, but understanding them all helps us as we develop our games to keep Kelly Jo’s overall needs in perspective.

Based on those hypotheses, we can represent all of this with a customer profile:

Of course, all of these are hypotheses which will be tested. More about that in my next article in this series.

Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Bethlehem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ first journey — from Nazareth to Judah — when his mother visited her relative Elizabeth while Jesus was still in the womb.

After three months (Luke 1:56), Mary (and Jesus) returned to Nazareth.

Now in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant. (Luke 2:1-5)

Jesus’ second journey, still in Mary’s womb, was from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As with last week’s journey, this was a relatively long one. Nazareth is in the north, in Galilee, and Bethlehem is in the south, in Judaea. According to Google Maps, the distance is about 160 km (or almost 100 miles) and would take 33 hours on foot on today’s modern paths and roads.

It is also a hilly journey. Nazareth is located in a range at 1145 feet above sea level. Bethlehem, like Jerusalem, is in the hill country of Judea with an elevation of 2556 feet. In between the two, the travelers would have come down into the valleys and crossed the Plain of Esdraelon (or Valley of Jezreel) before crossing the highlands of Samaria, and then ascending again into the hill country of Judah. For example, they likely passed near modern Mizra (elevation 341 feet) in the Plain of Esdraelon just 5 miles south of Nazareth, and near modern Nablus (elevation 1768 feet) in the Samaritan highlands. (So 1145 ft -> 341 ft -> 1768 ft -> 2556 ft.)

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come out to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings out are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

Last week we learned that Nazareth was small and obscure in Jesus’ day. Bethlehem, even though small, had appeared several times in the Old Testament from the earliest days of the patriarchs.

In Genesis (35:19 and 48:7) we read that Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died giving birth to their youngest son, Benjamin, on the way to Bethlehem.

Much of the beautiful book of Ruth is also set in and around Bethlehem.

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22)

But, it was Ruth and Boaz’s great-grandson who truly made Bethlehem famous.

Yahweh said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided a king for myself among his sons.” (1 Samuel 16:1)

David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, was a humble shepherd tending the sheep in the fields around Bethlehem when he was called home and anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel.

Mary’s Joseph was descended from this David and so it was that, in response to Caesar Augustus’ decree, Joseph brought his young family to Bethlehem and it is here that Jesus was born.

That glorious event was announced to shepherds watching their flocks in the nearby fields, similar to how David had once spent his nights.

There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8-14)

When we read the Bible, there are many things we don’t know or understand. Sometimes it’s because God just hasn’t given us all the details in His Word (for example, from last week’s story, the name of Elizabeth’s town). Other things we probably misunderstand because the way people lived in Israel over 2000 years ago was very different from how we live today.

For example, we are told: She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

When we read this, it is hard for us not to imagine something like a modern hotel and something like a modern barn or stable. But that is not likely what Joseph and Mary encountered in Bethlehem.

The earliest historical description of a specific birthplace is from Origin in 248 AD who describes a cave in Bethlehem with a manger that is pointed out to visitors as where Christ was born. The Church of the Nativity is built above such a cave.

But perhaps a more compelling picture is painted by Kenneth E. Bailey, a New Testament scholar who spent 40 years living and teaching in the Middle East. In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, he explains “In the Middle East, historical memories are long… In such a world a man like Joseph could have appeared in Bethlehem and told people, ‘I am Joseph, son of Heli, son of Mattat, the son of Levi’ and most homes in town would be open to him. … Being of [David’s] famous family, Joseph would have been welcome anywhere in town… Simple rural communities the world over always assist one of their own women in childbirth regardless of the circumstances. … Surely the community would have sensed its responsibility to help Joseph find adequate shelter for Mary and provide the care she needed….”

And so he calls into question our traditional understanding of the “inn” and the “manger” (or “feeding trough”).  He explains “simple village homes in Palestine often had but two rooms. One was exclusively for guests. That room could be attached to the end of the house or be a ‘prophet’s chamber’ on the roof, as in the story of Elijah. The main room was a ‘family room’ where the entire family cooked, ate, slept and lived. The end of the room next to the door was either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. Each night into that designated area, the family cow, donkey and a few sheep would be driven. … Such simple homes can be traced from the time of David up to the middle of the twentieth century.”

“If Joseph and Mary were taken into a private home and at birth Jesus was placed in a manger in that home, how is the word inn in Luke 2:7 to be understood? … the Greek word does not refer to ‘a room in an inn’ but rather to ‘space’ … The Greek word in Luke 2:7… is katalyma. This is not the ordinary word for a commercial inn. … Literally, a katalyma is simply ‘a place to stay’ and can refer to many types of shelters. The three that are options for this story are inn, house, and guest room. Indeed, Luke used this key term on one other occasion in his Gospel….” 

He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him into the house which he enters.  Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’  He will show you a large, furnished upper room. Make preparations there.” (Luke 22:10-12)

So, we have Jesus completing his second journey, from his family’s home in Nazareth to a lowly and common space (whatever form it took) where He made His visible entry into this world.

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

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.

The SDG Games Startup Strategy Strawman

What are the hypotheses that have started this strategic journey?

Modern startups recognize that the path from initial concept to successful launch is not a straight line. In fact, it involves almost literally going in circles.

In 2008 Eric Ries wrote a blog post titled “The lean startup” which reflected changes that he’d been observing in the entrepreneurial environment. The name stuck and a few years later he expanded it into the best selling book The Lean Startup.

For each of my first few startups we followed the old model. My co-founders and I had a great idea. We spent a few months researching and writing a business plan. We pulled together the resources to make it real. Built everything and launched. 

That business plan was full of “truth” statements that started with phrases like “we will…”, “customers will…”, and “the market will…”. We really believed all those statements! In reality, once we launched we found out that customers didn’t…, the market wouldn’t…, and we couldn’t actually do all those things. Sometimes it all worked out okay as we figured it out as we went. But statistically, 9 out of every 10 new businesses failed to survive that startup phase.

The new model described by Ries focused on high tech startups that could leverage new technologies and new development approaches to try a radically different model. Instead of spending months developing a lengthy document full of statements claiming to be true, startups could recognize that what they had was a collection of hypotheses that needed to be tested. Technology made it (relatively) easy to rapidly and inexpensively test those hypotheses to find out whether or not they actually were true.

The lean startup methodology replaces the lengthy business plan phase with a period of rapid iteration and learning. For any given hypothesis, the team builds a test, runs an experiment, evaluates the results, modifies the hypothesis, and then repeats the whole process over again until they know what is true. This is called the “build-measure-learn” loop. 

Startups are still wrong (at least) 9 times out of 10, but those mistakes are made in rapid inexpensive experiments that don’t kill the company, but rather lead to the most successful launch possible (or sometimes abandoning a bad idea before much money and time is lost).

While this lean startup methodology is best understood in terms of product development, I believe that it also applies to strategy.

When I work with startups, I encourage them, very early in their life, to develop what I call the Startup Strategy Strawman

In business, a strawman proposal is a simple concept provided as a starting point for debate with the hope and expectation that team members will quickly “poke holes” in it, pointing out its weaknesses and identifying ways to make it stronger. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Defense originated the term and had a series of names to reflect the strengthening of the work — from strawman to woodenman to tinman and eventually to stoneman.

So, the Startup Strategy Strawman is a starting point for the business strategy. It captures the key initial hypotheses behind the startup concept, with the expectation and hope that flaws will be found and the overall strategy significantly strengthened before actual business launch.

A Startup Strategy Strawman should at the very least contain three hypotheses:

  • Problem: What problem are you trying to solve? Who has this problem?
  • Solution: How are you going to solve this problem?
  • Cash Flow: Ultimately, how will this solution be funded? For a business, this is usually reflected in the revenue model. For a non-profit, it may be a broader funding strategy.

So, for this SDG Games startup business idea, what is the Startup Strategy Strawman?

  • Problem: When most Christians read the Bible, they don’t know much about the geography being discussed, and so they lose important context in the stories that God has provided “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Solution: Develop games that Christians of all ages will enjoy playing that will engrain in their minds an understanding of Biblical geography so that they will naturally envision the places and journeys involved as they read God’s Word.
  • Cash Flow: We will sell these games for a profit to Christian families.

In the spirit of lean startup and strawman proposals, please let me know your reaction to these hypotheses. Feel free to drop me a note at to “poke holes” in this concept. 

In coming articles, we will test and refine these hypotheses.


Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Judah

I started down the SDG Games path because I didn’t know as much about Biblical geography as I wanted. My goal wasn’t to become an expert in the topic, I just wanted to understand the context of the Biblical stories as I read God’s Word.

However, as I’ve started developing the first game, Journeys with Jesus, I’m learning things that many would never encounter, so I want to share with you some of the more interesting and helpful facts.

So today I’m starting a new series of articles about things I’ve learned along the way, and I thought a good way to do so would be to focus on the journeys I’m including in the game Journeys with Jesus. Let’s start at the very beginning…

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and shall name him ‘Jesus.’  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”  (Luke 1:30-33)

Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and in a wondrous miracle, Mary became the mother of Jesus.

Nazareth is in Galilee, which is in the north of Israel. In Jesus’ day it was a small village, probably with fewer than 500 people. It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament or in non-Biblical writings prior to the time of Christ.

Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)

Interestingly, in modern times, Nazareth is a much more prominent city with a population of nearly 80,000. Today it is most notable for two identities. As the boyhood home of Jesus, it is a center for Christian pilgrims and tourists. It is also the political center for Arabs in Israel. According to Wikipedia, the population of Nazareth today is 69% Muslim and 31% Christian.

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

Jesus’ first journey is described later in Luke 1 when Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb, visits her relative Elizabeth. We don’t know exactly where Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias lived, it is only referenced as “a city of Judah”.

Judah was in the south of Israel. By the time of Jesus, the area previously called Judah was now usually called Judea (sometimes spelled Judaea). In fact, I think this passage is the only place in the New Testament (other than direct quotes from and references to the Old Testament scriptures) that the name Judah is used for this area. Towards the end of Luke 1, when Elizabeth gives birth to John, the area where they live is referred to as Judea.

Fear came on all who lived around them, and all these sayings were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judea. (Luke 1:65)

Judea appears to be the Greek adaptation of the name Judah. When Joshua led the conquest of the promised land and the allotment of the land to the different tribes of Israel, the tribe of Judah received a large portion in the very southernmost part of the land.

Later, after King Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided, the northern portion was called Israel or Ephraim and the southern was called Judah, but also included parts of what had been Benjamin’s, Dan’s, and Simeon’s allotments. From that point on, the definition of the territory called Judah and then Judea became a political definition rather than a tribal one and the border would move around a bit over the years, decades, and centuries.

Earlier in Luke 1, Zacharias had been serving in the temple in Jerusalem, so it’s possible that he and Elizabeth lived near Jerusalem. 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.

Because I don’t know where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived, I don’t include this first journey in the game, although there is a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, which reflects the annual trips that Jesus’ family would take to Jerusalem.

His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

The image above is from the current prototype of the game board showing the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem in Judaea.

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 Origin Story

My family really enjoys playing games. Game night is a fun tradition that we all look forward to. We have our favorite games we play all the time, which are a mix of board games, card games, dice games, and tile games.

We also have been blessed to be able to travel, so some of our favorite games are those that involve world geography. One of the Ten Days games is always in our current “favorite games” stack. I especially appreciate how Ten Days in Africa has given me a good sense of where countries are in Africa. 

Before we got this game, I could tell you where South Africa was, generally where Egypt was, and maybe a few other countries where I had personal connections with people over the years (e.g. Malawi), but most of the continent was a mystery to me. Now, I have a much better sense for where many African countries are. If you asked me to point out Ivory Coast (or any of a couple dozen countries or so) on a map, I may not put my finger precisely on the right latitude and longitude, but I think, by the grace of God, I’d be pretty close.

Of course, we also enjoy the Ticket to Ride games, although they can take awhile to set up and play, so we don’t play them every time we sit down to the game table. It’s especially fun to play a game where we “travel” to places we have been or with which we have some other personal connection.

So, it was in the course of playing these games that I started to get the idea for a game (or games) that would help give me a sense for Biblical geography. 

When I read the Bible, I come across names of places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth. Capernaum, Cana, Gadara. I read stories of Jesus or Abraham or Paul traveling from place to place, and I have very little sense for what those journeys might be like. Is Bethlehem near Jerusalem? (It is — about 8 km or 5 miles.) What about Nazareth, is that near Bethlehem? (Relatively speaking, it is not — about 155 km or 100 miles.)

How would I design a game that would be fun to play, that would teach me about the geography of the places I read about in the Bible, and that would be faithful to God’s Word?

Thus began the concept that is becoming SDG Games (the business) and Journeys with Jesus (the first product of that business). 

If this concept interests you, you can sign-up at the SDG Games website to receive updates as the concept develops and, Lord willing, eventually becomes a game that you can buy and enjoy.

This is the first article in a series on the Startup Strategic Journey of SDG Games.