February 15, 2010
I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4
Contrary to popular opinion, says the National Park Service, the Revolutionary war encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania was not the epitome of suffering and misery it’s usually made out to be. Instead, it’s a testament to American perseverance.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: in 1777, Sir William Howe, the British commander in chief, landed nearly 17,000 men at the head of Chesapeake Bay, intent on capturing Philadelphia. General George Washington marched his 12,000-man army in from New Jersey to oppose them. The American soldiers were up against British professionals, and lost two key battles, but still felt confident they could defeat them in the future.
As winter set in, both armies often withdrew to fixed campsites, with Washington’s going to Valley Forge, twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, close enough to keep pressure on the British yet far enough away to thwart a surprise attack. Although they were not well supplied, his troops were reportedly in good spirits. Disease, not cold or starvation, was what decimated them: influenza, typhus, typhoid and dysentery took two-thirds of the nearly 2,000 men who died there.
The arrival of former Prussian army officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben and implementation of his rigorous training program, along with the French troops who joined the American cause, proved to be the turning points in the standoff. The British evacuated Philadelphia in June, stopping one of their major offensives, and the Continental Army was able to regroup to fight to eventual victory.
Today, there’s another battle brewing at Valley Forge. This one concerns not the British, but white-tailed deer. Nearly 1,300 of them have taken up residence at the national historic park, posing a problem for the environment, vehicular traffic and surrounding suburban gardens. The park’s plan is to cull the herd by 80% with non-lethal and lethal methods, which include the use of silencer-equipped sharpshooters. Park officials say their mission is to preserve the historic and natural resources, restore the ecological balance (birds, butterflies and other wildlife have disappeared due to the deer overrun) and stem the spread of animal-borne diseases (you can read more about the park’s position here).
As you might imagine, this pits the park against animal-rights activists, who filed suit to try to block the kill. They doubt the plan is safe, given the homes, hotels and malls that surround the 3,500-acre space. They advocate deer contraception and fencing to protect vegetation instead.
But the park has prevailed. It expects to finish the hunt in March.
I mention this controversy not to make a statement about who’s right or wrong about the deer culling operation, but to focus on the concept of restoration. Both sides recognize the need to do something to bring back the park’s natural equilibrium of plants and wildlife. What they disagree on is how to achieve that goal.
Restoration—reestablishing our connection with God after we’ve gone our own way—is the entire thrust of Scripture, and Jesus neatly summarizes a common obstacle to this reconciliation in his letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4. More than thirty years before, the Ephesian church had been commended for its love (Ephesians 1:15-16). But now, even though the church is known for its deeds, perseverance, endurance, and intolerance for evil and false teaching, the original spark had gone, rendering all that zeal meaningless.
His solution was equally succinct: “Remember from where you have fallen, and repent” (2:5). No equivocation, no debate—there’s one way and one way only for believers to be restored to a right relationship with the One who knows all the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (1 Chronicles 28:9), and that is to have a change of mind, to do an about face from heading in the wrong direction to going the right way.
Real restoration of earthly relationships and environments may be next to impossible to achieve or sustain, but coming back to God is as swift and sure as a simple prayer. If you’ve left your first love—or are not even sure you had it to begin with—don’t let another moment go by before you’ve taken that recuperative step.
Turn around, the Savior pleads. I’m right here, waiting.