When I was growing up, there were lots of toy fads that sparked brightly for a while and gradually faded into obscurity. Who of my contemporaries can forget Cabbage Patch Kids or Pogs?
One of these was called a Pogo Ball. If you’re not familiar with this marvel of toy design, it was basically exactly what it sounded like. It was a rubber ball encompassed by a hard plastic disk. You would stand on the plastic disk with one foot on either side of the ball and bounce for as long as you could.
The pogo ball made for hours of fun because it was a toy that could never be mastered. You could improve and even become proficient, but no matter how good you got at bouncing on that ball you would eventually lose your balance and fall off the thing. Some of my friends were quite good. I never seemed to get above 7 or 8 bounces.
So why am I flashing back to my 80s childhood? Because when it comes to living in this world, being a Christian can feel exactly like bouncing on that pogo ball.
The Bible talks about “the world” in a couple of ways. There are warnings like this one that John gives us:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 1 John 2:15-16 (NLT)
You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that there are systems and ideas in this world that are not healthy. There are ideologies that lead to manipulation or destruction or pain. The path of Christ is antithetical to these ways, and those who follow him understand that we must speak against them, even go to war against such unhealthy philosophies.
But there is also a flip side. One of the most famous verses in the Bible puts it out there as plainly as possible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV, emphasis mine)
The heart of the Christian story is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And that story finds its moorings in the inescapable fact that God loves the world. The earth and its people are God’s creation. He loves and values each person. This is the very nature of who God is, and as God’s people we try to replicate that attitude to those around us.
So followers of Christ find themselves trying to find a constant balance between loving the world as God does and yet fighting the world and its unhealthy ideologies.
It’s a balancing act we can pull off for a while, but eventually we all fall off to one side or another. Because if we’re honest, we all lean toward one side or the other. We have our tendencies toward battle or toward tolerance.
I feel the tension every Sunday in classes and worship. I hear about it in my daily conversations with friends and coworkers. I see it on my Facebook timeline every day. This is the nature of our path and it has always been that way (the apostle John himself wrote both of those passages and must have known the struggle).
And until God reconciles all things, we will continue to walk in that tension.
I think the key is to realize that there will be a time when we will lose that balance. We can hop along on that pogo ball for a while, but eventually we will fall off. We will find ourselves either accepting things we shouldn’t or fighting against another person instead of loving them well.
It’s going to happen. It won’t always be pretty.
Because it’s a balance that can never be mastered. We can learn to bounce a little longer, to more fully handle that tension. But we will make mistakes. The key (as with most things in life) will be to get back up on that pogo ball and start bouncing again.
To continue to love every person we meet, to honor and respect them, and still be unafraid to contend for all that is good, true and right.
So today may you ride that pogo ball well. May you live in that tension until Jesus makes all things right. And may you hop back on the next time you fall off.