Monday, September 21, 2015

Matthew 5:27-32: What You've Heard About Lust

One of the things that I enjoy doing after cutting the grass is looking over the span of it all, and being satisfied with the work of my hand. There is something about the even cut that makes me feel like a master artist. But when viewing the grass from ground level you can't really see how beautiful it is, you can't see the detail, you can't see the lines in the grass. And for me the lines are the most important things.

So in order to see the lines, I go up to my bedroom, fling open the blinds, and gaze upon the Picasso of lawns in North America. By changing my vantage point, I was able to get a clearer picture of what I accomplished. This is a truism that touches many areas of life. Changing your vantage point often expands your perspective. In the sermon on the mount, when Jesus is comparing the Old righteousness and kingdom righteousness, he is inviting us to change our vantage point and see things from the perspective of the kingdom.

In the passage indicated above, he is inviting us to learn what it means to avoid adultery. But, as we should suspect by now, his invitation is going to involve much more than a mere prohibition, it will involve a change in our vantage point that will enable us to see human beings through a different light, and react to them from that enlightenment.

The way the Pharisees understood the 7th Commandment, Do not commit adultery, was the same way they understood the 6th, Do not murder. They studied the command and sought to live according to its negative implication. That is, they established rules that would keep them from sleeping with someone who is not their spouse.

In that way the Pharisees should be respected and even emulated. For when we live without those boundaries we may end up in a compromising situation, where do things that we ought not do. So let us applaud the Pharisees for taking that aspect of the command very seriously, and let us do the same. But our emulation must stop there. For while they upheld the letter of the law–they didn't commit adultery, since their hearts were full of lust, they found subtle ways to break the spirit of the law.

For example, they created a law that said women must walk behind men, and keep their head bowed down. That way they were out of a man’s vision, and he wouldn't be tempted. (An early version of blaming the victim, "if you weren't wearing that...") If they did happen to look upon a women and find her appealing, they had no problem imagining what it would be like to have sex with her. And if the appeal was strong enough, they would use divorce as a means to get rid of their current wife in order to marry the new object of their lustful hearts. And because they technically didn't break the commandment, they would consider themselves righteous.

But righteous they were not. Because true righteousness, as Jesus taught repetitively, comes from within. And the actions of the Pharisees betrayed the fact that what was within was lusting, lasciviousness, and a desire to commit adultery if the conditions were right, they were not righteous.

Jesus, on the other hand, comes to teach us how to have a kingdom heart. And a heart that is rooted in the kingdom is one that not only does not, but will not, look upon another person as an object that can be used to satisfy ones own desires. Because the kingdom hearted person sees the other as a being created in the image of God, and seeks to help them realize that reality. The kingdom hearted person sees through the vantage point of God. We are invited to become such a person.

So how then do we become people who have kingdom hearts? How do we become people that set aside fantasized desires and see others through the eyes of God?

Well, Jesus says, "If your right eye offends you, pluck it out... If your right hand offends you, cut it off... For it is better to enter into eternal life with one eye or one hand, than go to Gehenna with both."

Here is what I believe he is saying, "Remove the thing from your life that is causing you to see people as objects, or interact with them in a sinful fashion." See, in Jesus day, the right side was the dominant side, it was the side of honor. So when Jesus refers to the right hand, I believe he is talking about the dominant way of interacting with one another. When he is talking about the right eye, he is referring to the customary way of seeing another person. And as we have seen from the Pharisees, the standard way of seeing and interacting was a fallen way.

Therefore Jesus says, "Get rid of that way of seeing and interacting, and learn to see things through your left eye, and interact with your left hand." In other words, learn to see and interact with people through a not so common way. That is, through the way of the kingdom. When a person has a heart that is rooted and grounded in the kingdom heart of God, their entire view of the world will fundamentally change. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And what of divorce? This is an important subject in our day, and it is important to pay careful attention to what Jesus is saying here. Matthew 5:31-32: "It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

In a day when marriage is being defined, redefined, and argued over, what we see in the New Testament is an admonition to take it seriously. For marriage is the most precious gift. As such, it should not be entered into haphazardly, or exited without just cause. Marriage is supposed to be a divine union where a man and woman join together and express the beauty of the giver of marriage. As Hauerwas says, "[It] is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years." In that regard marriage is a journey of loving and learning to love. 

Sometimes that journey is interrupted due to a breach of that commitment to fidelity. That breach often ends in divorce, and divorce is the unfortunate result of the presence of sin and brokenness in this world. It tears apart that which was never meant to be rent asunder. And we should mourn whenever a marriage ends in this way.

However, there are occasions where the end of a marriage is a viable option, and sometimes even a good one. The occasion Jesus references most is that of fornication. It is permissible, he says, to end a marriage if there has been infidelity by one of the parties. Note: He doesn't say you must get a divorce, grace, healing, and forgiveness are still available, but he understands and permits the divorce if that is the choice. 

In another place (Matt. 19:8) he says that divorce was permitted by Moses because of the "hardness of human hearts." Another way of saying it is, "divorce was permitted by Moses because of human meanness and obstinacy." So he permitted divorce because human beings hearts often grow cold, and once the heart grows cold all manner of immoral and destructive treatment occurs, and to suggest that a man or woman must remain married is to misunderstand the heart of God.

So sometimes divorce does happen, and sometimes it should. But if it happens, the disciple of Jesus should maintain a kingdom heart. They should lay aside anger, contempt, cultivated lusting, lying, and unforgiveness. They need not embrace the ways of this world and hate their ex-spouse. That is not the heart of God either. 

It is also true that God is reconciliatory God. He renews and restores. So there is hope for those who have been divorced to find life in a new marriage, or to reconcile with their spouse if the occasion presents itself and it is appropriate.

Either way, the message we receive is this: In all that you do, do it with a kingdom heart. Learn to see all things from the vantage point of the kingdom, and respond accordingly.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Matthew 5:21-26: What You've Heard About Anger

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times..."

We hear this and tend to let it roll right past us. We are familiar with it. We think, "Jesus is simply reinterpreting the old law for his new hearers." Well, he is doing that, but he is also taking a bit of a shot. The people who "have heard that it was said," were obviously hearing it from somebody, because in those days not everyone had access to the law, like we have access to bibles, so they had teachers interpret it for them.

So when Jesus says, "you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder...'" The people likely would have remembered the law, but they also would've remembered the individuals who taught and interpreted the law to them. These individuals consisted of the scribes and Pharisees.

These teachers were keen on studying, teaching, and adhering to the law and the prophets, but in this passage Jesus indicates that they fundamentally misunderstood the message that the law was delivering.

I believe that they misunderstood the message, because they misunderstood the originator of the message. They heard, "You shall not murder," and they immediately sought to live according to the principal of that law. They made it their aim to avoid murdering by any means necessary. That is, they read the law, and understood it in it's physical sense, the same way we might understand a law that says, "do not exceed 65 mph."

The problem with this approach to the law is that the lawgiver is Spirit, and when he gives the law to us, it comes first to our spirit. Then from our spirit it emerges outward. But if we first understand it in a carnal fashion, our understanding of it will end at not killing people. And even though avoiding murder is a good thing, to hear that as the totality of God's law, is to overlook how the law applies to the spirit of a person, and thus misunderstand the big picture the law is painting.

So Jesus comes and reinterprets the law in order that they can understand the original intent of the law that was given. "You have heard that is was said... 'You shall not murder.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment. So Jesus equates anger with murder. "Same punishment," he says. How crazy is he? How can murder and anger receive the same punishment?

The answer to that question becomes clear when you see what it means to have an angry spirit. Jesus is not saying that anger, in and of itself, is bad. (Click here to read more from a previous post on anger.) He is saying that a spirit that has allowed the indwelling of anger, is murderous. For the spirit that has taken anger in as a welcomed guest, quickly becomes the type of spirit that wills the harm of others.

Think of the last time you allowed anger to remain. It began as something small and insignificant, maybe a spill on your clothing. Instead of "laying anger aside," as the apostle Paul says, you indulge it it. You allow it to taint the way you see everyone. Now the person who accidentally spilled something on you is a clumsy jerk, rather than a child of God who made a mistake. This is just a small way that anger indulged causes us to have a skewed view of reality. Think about what it does over a long period of time. Could it be that a spill on a shirt in the morning can lead to murder in the evening? Under the control of anger it is possible.

So it won't do to simply follow the advice of the Pharisee and avoid murdering people. For while you may avoid bringing about the death of someone's body, you might be walking around harming others, and your own soul, because you have let anger fester.

So Jesus advises his listeners on how to keep this command from the heart. He says, "when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister is angry with you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." And, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison."

Did you notice who the angry party was in his illustration? It’s not you, it’s the other person. So Jesus is saying, "Knowing how destructive anger is to the human spirit, I want you to become the type of person that regards your brother or sister so highly, that if you hear that they are angry with you, you will make it a top priority—even higher than your most sacred religious ritual— to seek them out and reconcile with them." 

In other words, Jesus is telling his listeners to begin viewing their brothers and sisters with the utmost regard, yearn to see them thriving in the kingdom of God, and do what you can to help them to that end.

By having such a view of our brothers and sisters, we will not only keep them from diving deeper into the cauldron of anger, but we will have a heart that is so full of love that there will be no place for anger in our  own lives.

This is how we keep the command to "Not murder" from our heart. It is not simply the avoidance of killing, but it is pursuit of love and reconciliation.

"You have heard that it was said... But I say unto you..."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Insane in the Airplane

As I write this I'm sitting in a plane at O'Hair, waiting to go back home. The flight is delayed because of bad weather in Cincinnati. 

When the pilot announced the reason for the delay people groaned loudly. Then the guy behind me said, "Someone (meaning God) hates me!" He then called his wife to complain some more. 

How insane are humans?! Should we instead risk it? Should someone (meaning God) disrupt the weather pattern so we can make it home on time? Doesn't it make more sense to be thankful that we have technology that lets us know when not to fly into a specific area? Doesn't that technology help raise the odds that we will get home?


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Matthew 4:23 - 5:12: Who Is Really Well Off?

Before diving into a study of the Sermon on the Mount (just the beatitudes, here), there are two things that must be settled in the mind of the person reading, if they plan on getting anything at all from it.

1. The author of the sermon was brilliant. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but you would be surprised. If a person approaches the sermon as if it is anything other than the work of a genius, they will eventually view it the same way we might view a picture a small child gives us. We will be thankful for it, but since we don't think it is the work of a master artist we will look quickly, hang it on the fridge to look at from time to time, and be on our way. But when we approach it as we would a Van Gogh, for instance, we might just let it come over us, as we ponder what each section means, and how it connects to the following section.

2. We must look at the sermon as one sermon. More specifically, we must view it as a sermon that expounds on Jesus' primary message, "The availability of the kingdom of the heavens." Many people look at it is a few disconnected wisdom sayings that were gathered together. If this is true then it would be impossible to obey, and even harder to understand. But if we view it as a whole sermon, we will do the hard work of seeing how each section connects and makes the whole, then we can obey it.

There are really 4 questions that every thoughtful person considers in their lifetime. In Matthew 4:12-22, Jesus gave an answer to the first question by shining a light on the darkness, and revealing that reality is God and his kingdom. He then began inviting everyone to repent, and enter in.

In this passage I believe he sets out to answer the 2nd question:
Who is well off?
The passage begins with Jesus teaching and healing a crowd full of various representatives of society. The poor are there with their sick loved ones, those possessed by demons are there, paralytics are there, and people from every strip of land in the region have gathered around Jesus to hear his message and be touched by him.

The people living in this day lived within a culture of honor and shame. That many of them were sick already put them in the shame category. If they were women–shame. Unclean–shame. Many of them just because of the condition of their everyday life would've fallen into a category of shamefulness. They would've been looked upon with pity or the kind of sympathy that says, "It sucks to be you."

These are the people who are surrounding Jesus as he begins to speak his, "Blessed are the ________ for _________, formula. This formula would not have been new to many of them. They may have read The Wisdom of Sirach which announced its own beatitudes (See image).

Sirach's beatitudes are not shocking. Indeed, they are unremarkable because they are assumed by the masses. Who wouldn't want to rejoice over their children, or speak to attentive listeners (I'm a preacher, I really want this one!). So maybe when Jesus opened his mouth to begin speaking they thought they were going to hear the same old news that never included them.

Imagine the shock that came over them when they heard him say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." These likely had never been called blessed, unless you include the times they were called a bless-ed nuisance. But now they are hearing a message that, if true, changes everything for them.

Jesus is not suggesting that they are blessed because they are in their condition, he is not telling them to all go and become poor in spirit, as many people teach. He is telling them that in their lowly condition they, too, can experience blessing, because they can enter the kingdom. And as they enter the kingdom they will encounter a divine reversal that fills their lives with blessing.

The poor in spirit: As Martyn Lloyd Jones says, "what our lord is concerned about here is the spirit; it is poverty of spirit. In other words, it is ultimately a man's attitude towards himself." A person who is poor in spirit is not a humble person necessarily. Humble people think of themselves little, people who are poor in spirit think little of themselves. The world has different names for them: Loser, Nobody, Zero, No-good. But in the kingdom of heaven they will find that their status has been reversed, because they are now in relation to the king of the kingdom. This makes them giant like.

The mourners: Think of a person who is stricken with grief. Perhaps a parent whose child has died, or a father whose income supports his family, and he hears the news that he just got laid off. No matter the reason, to mourn is not to be viewed as well off, it is to be in an unenviable condition. But as they enter the kingdom of heaven, they will find comfort that goes beyond measure.

The meek: In Aramaic (Jesus' language) the word was praus. It is not merely humble or gentle, but it describes a person who has no capacity to resist. Think of an individual that never asserts herself, therefore she never gets her way. Think of a kid being bullied, he wants to resist, but can never bring himself to do it. In the economy of this world such a person is to be pitied... In the kingdom, the whole earth is their domain, because the whole earth belongs to their father. "The Lord is their shepherd, they shall not want."

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are a nuisance: Consider the Prophets, John the Baptist, Martin Luther King Jr., the abolitionists, and do-gooders in general. Many of these may be celebrated now, but they where a nuisance to everyone in their day. This is the reason many were killed. Unfortunately their hunger and thirst goes unfulfilled in the kingdom of this world... but as they enter the kingdom of heaven, they find a bountiful quantity of the righteousness they were seeking.

The merciful: Not simply those who are nice, but those who are merciful to a fault. Like people who let you run up a tab knowing you will never have the capacity to repay it. They do so because they see the world from your perspective, and they pity you. The worldly wiseman will rightly call them fools. They will never get their due, and will always end up on the bottom. That is, until they enter the kingdom. Then they are recipients of mercy which supersedes any kind they ever handed out.

The pure in heart: People whose longing for purity is never fulfilled, both in outsiders and in themselves. Their longing for purity may even be a pain in themselves. See Psalm 24:3-4. Every time they white glove test their heart they find one more dot. In the eyes of this world they will never find what they are looking for. In the reality of the kingdom they will see God, and when they do they will finally lay their eyes on the holiness that they've been seeking–they will see God.

The peacemakers: Think of it in terms of Jesus' day. The peacemaker was one who likely tried to create peace between two forces that hated one another. Jews and Romans, or Jews and Samaritans, or any opposing groups. When you try to create peace between enemies, you likely become the enemy of the two enemies. The peacemaker is in an unenviable position. They are viewed as a sell out because they refuse to take sides. No matter though, in the kingdom of heaven they resemble the prince of peace.

The persecuted: These suffer physical or emotional attack because of their commitment to doing what is right. Think of a whistleblower (maybe called a snitch) who becomes persona non grata, because they reveal instead of conceal. Like those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the world sees them as a thorn in the side. The only justifiable response is to remove the thorn. While they may not be at home in the kingdom of this world, they will find a warm welcome in the kingdom of heaven, and will experience the blessing of God in this life.

By declaring the down people as up, Jesus effectively opens wide his kingdom to everyone who would enter therein. When the world frowns and pities someone because of their condition, Jesus says, "Blessed are you."

Who is supposedly blessed in this picture?
And in a world that relentlessly sends messages to us about who is well off and who isn't, the apprentices of Jesus must learn to join him in pronouncing beatitudes to those who seem un-blessable.

"So," as Dallas Willard says, "we must see from our heart that: Blessed are the physically repulsive, Blessed are those who smell bad, The twisted, misshapen, deformed, The too big, too little, too loud, The bald, the fat, and the old... the flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or at the wrong time. The overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The lonely, the incompetent, the stupid. The emotionally starved or emotionally dead... Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich. The David Berkowitzs (“ Son of Sam”), Jeffrey Dahmers, and Colonel Noriegas."

This is the gospel. This is the good news.

So, who is really well off?

Anyone who is living in the kingdom of God.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Matthew 4:12-22: The Best Opportunity Ever

I can vividly recall my first assignment in my Preparing to Preach course at United Theological Seminary. It was a course I was very much looking forward to, particularly because the professor was none other than the Rev. Dr. Richard Eslinger. The man is a master sermon crafter, and if I was going to learn, it was going to be from him.

The first assignment he gave us was to write a one page sermon on the theme, "The world is full of darkness, but Jesus is the light of the world." As a know-it-all, 27 year old seminarian, I thought that was a piece of cake. The night before the class I sat down and wrote down what I then thought was a magnum opus, I now know that it wasn't. It wasn't even close!

Dr. Eslinger read all of our papers with little to no comment, then when he was finished he stood before us and said, “I have two observations for you. First,” he said, “you’re understanding of the world’s darkness does not touch 90% of the congregations that you will serve.”

Then he said this, “if you do not understand how each and every person’s life is touched and affected by the darkness of this world, you will never help them see why they need the light of Christ.”

His observations have remained with me since that day, but they rushed forcibly into my mind this week as I heard Matthew say of Jesus, "the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned" (Matthew 4:16).

As I prepared to preach this passage I couldn't help but revisit the mistake I made in my preaching class. What I did then was locate the darkness in the deed. For example, the darkness was rape, war, terrorism, and other wicked things. To be sure, those things to represent the darkness, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE DARKNESS. Rather, those evil deeds are come because the people who do them dwell in darkness.

So the darkness is not the deed, the darkness is the idea from which the deed emerges. Think about it, What was it that initially plunged humanity into darkness? Was it not an idea believed?

“Did God really say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'? God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

See, when the idea is taken hold of, the action follows. This is the way people sit in darkness. They take hold of false ideas, and as they believe them, their actions begin to conform to that which is untrue. It is this world that Jesus enters and shines light on the erroneous idea systems that were, and are, governing reality.

So instead of a God who was believed to be judgmental, vindictive, distant, or impassible, Jesus reveals a God who is just, loving, merciful, and concerned. Instead of the idea of scarcity that caused people to pinch and hold fast to what they have while others suffered, Jesus reveals the idea of God supplying all that is needed, thus encouraging generosity. Instead of the idea that a persons worth is determined by what they have or do, Jesus reveals that all people are worthy in the eyes of God.

This is the reality he comes to reveal to everyone who will place their trust in him. That is what he means by, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." He is not asking people to feel a certain way, as repentance is often understood. He is asking them to change their mind about their thinking, and organize their lives to live into this newly revealed reality called the kingdom of heaven.

This is the opportunity each and every one of us has been given. It is the chance to learn from Jesus how to live our lives as God intended for us to live them. Or, as Dallas Willard says, "As Jesus’ disciple, I am his apprentice in kingdom living. I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of the Heavens as he would lead my life if he were I."

This is, quite frankly, the best opportunity that we will ever receive. Please do not miss out on it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Genesis 22:1-19: A Threat to the Promise

In Genesis 21 God gifts Sarah and Abraham with a son. He was a miracle child, the child they ceased to think they would have. He was the vessel through which they would realize God's promise to "make their descendants as numerous as the stars."

In Genesis 22 God asks Abraham to return Isaac to him. How is it that in the span of one chapter God entrusts Isaac to the care of Abraham and Sarah, and in the next he is not so sure?

I wonder, as we examine our own lives, whether or not we have gifts that we have received from God that soon became something that morphed into something of an idol. It is all to easy for us to lose sight of things, and escalate them to a level of importance that they were never intended to have. This is what I believe happened with Abraham.

I think that Abraham began by seeing him as God's gift. But maybe as the years passed he began seeing Isaac, no longer as a vessel through which God's promise would be fulfilled, but as the key to realizing God's promise. Maybe Abraham began to place his confidence in Isaac and not the God who delivered Isaac.

It happens with us all the time; does it not? For example, a person receives a job opportunity, and they receive it joyfully, as an opportunity from God. Soon thereafter the job has taken over their life. Rather than being an opportunity to serve with distinction they begin to view the success or failure of the job with their success or failure as a person. They have become enslaved by that which was meant to be a gift.

Examples of this sort abound, from parents who begin to allow the success or failure of their kids to define their existence, to the person who begins a journey towards health, but ends up enslaved to an unreachable body image, we show the tendency to let gifts become masters.

When this happens a loving God will step in and say, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.” In other words, God will ask that we relinquish control back to him, and be done with it.

It is necessary to give sacrificially to God those things which are beginning to take a stronghold in our lives, because if we do not the only end will be deeper enslavement. But when we sacrifice to God, when we bind Isaac and lay him on the wood as an offering, that is when we will discover a loving God prepared to give us back that which we sacrificed to him. But he won't return the sacrifice as a burden, he will return it as a gift once he knows we are ready to receive it.

My favorite illustration of this is found in Luke 18. It’s right after the story of the rich young ruler who went away sad because he refused to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. And as the man is walking away Peter says to Jesus, “Lord! We’ve left everything for you.” In other words, he is saying, “Jesus, we have sacrificed our family, we have sacrificed career endeavors, we have sacrificed relationships, we have sacrificed everything to be with you.”

And Jesus says, “Yes, and I assure you that everyone who has given up their home or spouse or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

The aim of God in sacrificial giving is not to impoverish his people, it is not to make them have nots, but it is to teach them how to have everything. To be specific, it is to teach them how to have everything through him. As the song says, All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?

Perhaps Abraham walked up the mountain that he began to trust in a way that he shouldn't have. But he walked down the mountain with a son he could love. He walked down with a gift from God. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Genesis 21:1-7 On Laughter

And the Lord said to Sarah, "... Oh yes, you did laugh" (Genesis 18:15).

When we think about life with God we typically don't think laughter. We think of words like surrender, sacrifice, worship, grace, etc... All these words are applicable, and suitably describe elements of the with-God life. But the way we talk about grace, about, surrender, about worship, etc, are too often dirge-like in their expression. 

The picture of the morose saint, holy but unhappy, dominates our thinking and seeps into our narratives of life with God. No wonder most Christian's talk of going to heaven when they die, while accepting mediocrity/hell on earth now. They have accepted laughter in the hereafter, if you will. 

The bible speaks of a different reality.  In the story of Abraham and Sarah we see laughter throughout the entire narrative. When God shares with Abraham and Sarah that she would have a child, they laugh (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). Sarah's laugh was respectable, it was "to herself." Abraham was different, he lacks couth and decorum, for he "falls on his face with laughter."

As one interacts with God they will learn God's plan for their life. They will learn that God's plans are wholly absurd, just plain ridiculous, and putting hearing it, they will laugh. 

The reason they/we laugh is because we are conditioned to deal with possibilities that lie within our realm of control. But whenever a proposal or a promise is made that seems impossible to us, our inclination is to laugh. We laugh, not of faith, but of incredulity. 

But God's faithfulness to his word is not dependent upon our approval. We need not think it possible for it to become so. Case in point, Sarah and Abraham, the ones who thought God's promise was ridiculous, soon had another reason to laugh. First they laughed at what God said, but now, as they cradle a newborn baby, they're laughing because of what God did. First it was incredulous laughter, but it became laughter that emerges from deep wells of joy.

In life with God there is laughter on both ends. The invitation we receive is to get in on the joke that God intends to make something out of our lives that is absurdly beautiful. Or, as the apostle Paul said,  "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Therefore, if you thought the promise from God was funny, just wait until you experience the reality.