Give thanks to the Lord for He is so good!
It was December 1970, as I sat on the large boulder next to rushing waters at Forest Falls in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area in Southern California. Only days before, I had experienced salvation in Yeshua (Jesus). Now, as I pondered the implications of that salvation, I was in that "sacred place" to talk with God.
Let me backtrack. I grew up in the traditions of American Judaism. Those traditions taught me a lot about the religion of my ancestors and instilled pride in my heritage, but didn’t really provide an experience with the God of Israel. However, I wanted to know Him. Abraham, Moses, King David and Isaiah all had intimate interactions with God – so why not me?
When it came to religion, I had often heard, "It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are happy." C.S. Lewis observed that many people are much more comfortable with the idea of a God who, like a distant grandfather in heaven, smiles with a "senile benevolence."* It is probably true that most people prefer a religion where they can do what they want under the uncritical gaze of an [imaginary] deity who wishes that everyone could just have a good time, so long as they don’t hurt anyone else. While that was my culture, it wasn’t satisfactory.
I wanted something more from God. But in my world, religion was a personal matter. So, I had no idea where to begin if I was ever going to meet God or realize what He is really like. But in 1970, a Christian suggested that I could ask God directly to reveal Himself, and what life is all about. "Why should God do that for me" I asked. "He made a promise" she answered, "saying,
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened’" (Luke 11:9-10 NASB).
I didn’t know at the time that the person making that promise was actually Yeshua (Jesus) the Son of God. Jewish culture would have discounted those words had anyone told me that Jesus had spoken them. However, I thought these promises sounded like something that God might say, so I responded positively.
That same night, I went up to the nearby San Gorgonio Wilderness. By moonlight I hiked out to Forest Falls. Sitting on a rock next to the bubbling stream beneath, I asked the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make Himself known to me. After all, I was asking, seeking and knocking. But would He come through with an answer?
Put yourself in my place: I’m sitting there in the quiet of the forest next to a small waterfall. I hear the wind blowing through the pine trees. I listen intently for a prolonged period. Nothing but wind and water. Yet, after a while I conclude that God hears me and will answer my request on His own timetable. Somehow I "just know" that I can trust Him.
In the months that follow, God shows up in the "corners of my life." He gently reaches out like a soft forest breeze. The more real He appears to be, the more I see how broken and unholy I am. I start to understand why I’ve been separated from God.
As days go by, I learn how good and beautiful God is. I sense that He is faithful and kind by nature. My own nature by contrast is broken – I see that there is something wrong with me that I can’t fix. Finally, I am able to read the gospel and see that God provides an atoning sacrifice to pay for the offenses of my sin. He has paid for all my transgressions at the cross of Calvary. My guilt and shame melt away. His love breaks through to me like a shower – I experience blessing. It is on December 7 of 1970 that all of this comes together. I know that my life will never be the same and I actually fear the worst.
There is no way that my family is going to understand what I believe! My sister will surely think that I’ve psychologically "snapped!" My friends can’t help but reject me! Work colleagues, knowing that religious faith has never been part of my perspective will withdraw! And … in fact, all of that happens.
So once again, back in that mountain "holy place," by the waterfall, I pray. My heart is filled with lonely sorrow. Yet I trust the Lord. Once more I am asking, seeking and knocking. "Lord, God, just as You comforted Job in his personal loss, I am asking for family, friends and a future filled with purpose. I trust you. I know that You can replace all that I am losing for Your sake." During that moment in 1970 I am unable to imagine the goodness that the Lord will pour into my life in the years ahead of me. I move to Israel, where I grow in my faith.
In 1972 I returned to California to participate in the formation of Jews for Jesus, finding a life purpose in becoming the organization’s first field missionary in 1974. Ellen and I married in 1980. I could hardly contain the joy at finding a wife who was also a Jewish believer and who shared my passion for ministry. During the last three postings of our careers we were blessed with three children: our son born in Boston and two daughters subsequently born in San Francisco and Southern California, respectively. All three are thoughtful and attractive young people who God has used to grow me as a person and mold me as a minister.
Earlier this year, our eldest daughter was married in a picturesque vale up in the mountain community of Oak Glen – next to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area. So, while taking in the wonder of the moment on her wedding day, I find my heart overflowing with gratitude for the multitude of the Lord’s blessings in my life. Forty-four years ago I asked Him to fill my life with all that He wants for me and from me.
Even during the wedding ceremony I am marveling at His goodness – remembering my prayer of trust while sitting on a rock by Forest Falls in 1970. I ask the Lord for family, community and for a purpose-filled future. He answers with Ellen my wife, my closest friend in life, my teammate in ministry and parenthood. We are amply tested by life’s trials, all of which continually grow our faith in the Lord: deepening our confidence in His trustworthiness.
The day after our daughter’s wedding, I bring my family up to Forest Falls. I sit along side of the waterfall, thanking God for His many blessings. I murmur with the ancient Jewish poet, "Hodu l’Adonai ki tov – Give thanks to the Lord for He is good." His blessings are beyond imagining.
* Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain, 1940, HarperOne edition, San Francisco, 2001
You can read more of Tuvya’s life story and how he came to faith.
Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.