In remembrance of Mark Olson, past President of SpringHill on what today, May 20, would have been his 54th birthday, below is one of his last published letters.
“Smiles are the outer representation of the long-term impact camping has on kids.”
I will never forget hearing the doctor tell me “this [disease] goes quickly. If you do not get treated soon, you could die within the next four months.” Over the next few weeks, while determining the best course of treatment and emotionally preparing for the road ahead, I also reflected upon how I have spent the time given to me. Inevitably, the question arises, “what of my life has eternal value?”
My initial response was to create two mental columns, one with the heading “eternal” and the other “temporal.” I then tried to distinguish those parts of my life that had eternal value and those which did not. This proved to be a difficult and basically unhelpful exercise.
Upon later reflection, I also found this approach contrary to what Scripture teaches. At the core, creating columns to dichotomize our existence is rooted in the type of thinking that John addresses in the first chapter of his first epistle. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.” (I John 1:1). John was addressing dualistic thinking in which people persisted in dividing the components of their lives into that which is spiritual and that which is not.
In our vernacular we use the term “spiritual” to refer to that which is most important. We often attach great eternal value to activities such as leading a bible study, preaching a message, working at a Christian organization for “God’s purposes,” etc.
From my present vantage point (that is, struggling with a life threatening disease), I have come to believe that the faithful execution of the most menial duties of life will, in the end, have the greatest eternal value. Washing dishes with my wife will have a value that extends into eternity. Going fishing with my sons while listening and chatting about the realities of being a first and fourth grader will have a value that extends into eternity. Going to my daughter’s dance recital has a value that extends into eternity. Going to breakfast with a group of guys on a regular basis, getting to know them while they learn to know me, has a value that will extend into eternity.
Eternal value can never be defined by simply listing those things that are perceived as spiritual and those that are not. The “Word of Life” was something handled, touched, and seen. So, that which has eternal value is anything that is done in a spirit of faithfulness and service to our God. We demonstrate our faithfulness, gratitude, and love to Him by being faithful, grateful, and loving to Him as a husband is to be toward his wife by following through in the seemingly mundane and “earthly” aspects of our life. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he so closely links love with obedience – “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)
It is within this context that I have come to believe that everything we do to bring glory to ourselves has temporary value. This brings us back to the very first commandment, “Do not worship any other gods beside me.” Anything we do with the purpose of bring glory to ourselves (whether it be a basketball game, a business deal, a makeover, or academic excellence) is simply a form of idolatry. Everything we do with the purpose of bringing glory to God is worship of the only true God. As a friend once told me, there is a god someplace in everyone’s life.
Furthermore, this journey has confirmed for me the value and the importance of camp experiences like SpringHill and InPursuit in the life of a child. At camp a child goes through the day with a counselor, a friend, a role model. This counselor is reminded constantly that they are here to serve and to be “Jesus” for a child who may never have the opportunity to see Him again. They go to the archery range, climb a tower, go to the craft shop, eat a meal, ride a zipline, canoe in the lake, have a campfire, go to ‘club,’ sleep in a teepee, while the counselor bears testimony to who Jesus is by serving and loving the child in the midst of daily activity.
Because of this relationship, the counselor has a “voice” in which they can share in word and action the “good news.” As a result, the child experiences the love of Jesus and may respond by placing their trust in Him to remove their sin so that they can know their Creator who loves them dearly. A life is changed for eternity.
It is because of this I have very few regrets. I would not have changed my involvement at SpringHill and InPursuit, which continues to be a very rewarding way to serve my Savior. When I walk away from this disease, though, I will aspire to do less of that which is seemingly spiritual, and do more of that which is seemingly temporal but in the end has great eternal value. I will spend more time fishing with my sons and friends, take the girls to the golf course, and listen more carefully to the person with whom I am sharing a conversation.
Also in honor of Mark we have a limited number of copies of Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust – A Ragamuffin’s Path to God (one of Mark’s favorite authors) I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to my blog while the supply lasts. If you’re already a subscriber and would also like a copy let me know and I’ll send you one as well.