By / Jul 15

My wife and I became friends with Matt and Carey Murphy in 2010 when we joined the small group that Matt taught at our church in Louisville, Ky.

On paper, Matt and I have very little in common. Where I would be considered bookish and without any actual practical skills the world would find useful, Matt is the type of guy we all know and want to be—the guy who can accomplish anything with his hands. A former toughman fighter who is now in his mid 40s, he could still take down just about anyone. A devoted deacon and churchman, he’s a broad-shouldered Kentuckian with the rough-and-tumble accent that gets stuff done and has no time for entitlement or laziness.

Professionally, he’s a technology teacher at a nearby middle school. And though he’s a roughneck, Matt is also one of the most tender-hearted servants I’ve ever known. He’s the first to the rescue. When your power is out, “Murphy” (as I call him), is there with a generator. When an Iraqi refugee and his family were granted asylum in the United States a few years ago, Matt befriended this Muslim family to the point of helping remodel their house and helping them assimilate to American culture. They also attend church at the invitation of Matt.

Similar to Matt, Carey is a middle school teacher for kids with disabilities. They work at the same school together. With short-cropped hair and a funny candor, Carey is a nurturer who loves life. She’s the woman all young moms need in their lives; the woman who will help a young mom in distress at the restaurant table—the one who our daughter threw up on enough times that the drycleaner thought she must belong to Carey.

I’ve never seen a couple so devoted to one another’s routines, whether together or apart. Their lives are synchronized. Fitness addicts, you can often find Matt and Carey doing cross-fit in their driveway on summer mornings. Perhaps their most devoted routine, though, is having coffee, together. Coffee is a sacred commodity in the Murphy household. Whether at home, on the road or at their summer destination by the beach, coffee is a fixture of the Murphy identity (Matt would haul massive amounts of coffee to church every Sunday so that his class didn’t lack for good coffee). It isn’t uncommon for Matt and Carey to escape away at a moment’s notice for a quick trip to Panera or Starbucks just to sit and have coffee together.

A marriage to learn from

My wife and I became fast friends with the Murphys. Without there being any formal arrangement between the four of us, they became mentors to us. At the time, my wife and I had only been married a little over three years, and Matt and Carey clearly exhibited the type of marriage we know we wanted for ourselves. They weren’t theological superstars. But they are disciples.

They came to know Christ in their late teens. Matt never went to seminary. He’s not an avid reader (he’d rather listen to podcasts). Carey doesn’t attempt to be the Beth Moore of her church. Until Matt stepped down from teaching his Sunday School class in early 2016, she was there at his side every Sunday helping support him. They are faithful people devoted to their local church. That may sound simple and unnoteworthy, but in an age where upward mobility easily separates people from life in a local church, or where “weekending” takes on its own verb form with countless trips and other so-called “priorities,” or where the convenience of moving to a church offers you something that “better fits your taste,” the Murphys are an example of stability, devotion and faithfulness to their local church.

They became (and still are) some of our best friends. While we lived in Louisville, we were inseparable. Church events. Men’s events. Women’s events. Dinners. Swapping stories. If it were 5:30 on a Saturday night and my wife and I didn’t have any plans, we’d call the Murphys to see if they’d want to come over for brownies and coffee, and just talk. The organic relationship that developed between the four of us is something that, to this day, is inexplicable.

Matt would also help me with various projects around my house. That meant, typically, I would get out of Matt’s way and let him demonstrate how useless I was. He was the first person I ever went to a gun range with.

Matt and Carey are like family to my wife and I. When I took a job in Washington, D.C., the first call I made was to Matt, because it was the hardest. On the phone, I tearfully told him that we would be moving. The standard encourager that he is, Matt had nothing but words of celebration for me. I still remember the moment I told him goodbye. I knew it wouldn’t be our last and that our friendship would continue with many miles between us, but departing his house that day, I was gripped by memorable sadness.

A lasting legacy

The Murphys both grew up in homes where their parents had divorced. Matt grew up in a household without much money. Carey grew up “with just enough,” as she recounts it, meaning that she had the bare essentials—thanks to family members—but not much else beside that. Both testify to the role that extended family had to play in order to make sure that they had their basic needs met growing up.

When Matt has talked about his past, he talked about how all the people around him, in order for him to him succeed, had to “fill in the gaps.” I’ve always been struck by that phrase, because it so viscerally captures what is at the heart of so many of America’s structural challenges. When marriages break downs, there are relational gaps that can easily become financial and material gaps. Matt lived this reality.

Because Matt and Carey aren’t immune to the challenges that follow from family breakdown, they have determined not to allow their two daughters to experience an adolescence like the one they both had, marked by family instability, indifference toward church, poverty and sexual brokenness.

So, Matt talks a lot about passing on a “legacy” to his children. He’s not trying to store up riches for his daughters. Something bigger is at stake than just financial inheritance. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard him say, with his Kentucky accent, “Listen, all this life is about is passing on a gospel legacy to your children and your children’s children.” That’s the measure of success they want to live up to. They hope their children have boring testimonies and are spared a adolescence of rebellion.

I’ve never seen someone who has this idea as seared into this brain as Matt does. Matt and Carey parent with an eye toward the future and an intentionality in the type of life they’re patterning for their daughters. In routine conversations that happen as opportunities arise, they are being taught what biblical manhood and womanhood look like and what to look for in an eventual spouse. Matt’s hope is that his daughters won’t have to guessingly find a boyfriend that their father will like. His desire is that a lifetime of teaching his daughters about what to expect in a man will naturally lead them to a man that resembles the quality of their father.

If you get to know Matt and Carey, any depth to the conversation will soon make you realize that teaching their daughters about marriage and life is an active, rather than passive, act. Because marriage and family health, like discipleship, is intentional. Good marriages and devoted followers of Christ don’t happen on autopilot. In fact, a square note card is taped to the mirror in their bathroom to remind them of their calling as parents. It states, “My goal is to raise competent, godly, intelligent, well-educated women, and then marry them to men who are up to the task.”

The Murphys have themselves become a picture of what marriage and flourishing look like. Having married while Carey was still in college, Matt worked a number of jobs before landing a machinist job that he thought he’d work at the rest of his life. Eventually, he was let go, and they found themselves with very limited resources. Through resourcefulness and hard work, Carey graduated and became a teacher. Matt, slowly but gradually, worked his way through college to become a teacher as well.

But throughout their entire early marriage, they always relied on one another. They knew that their marriage was about building a future. Today, Matt and Carey are the picture of stability. And their children are reaping the results of a marriage well lived. Their children have never known poverty and likely never will. They are raising their children in the spirit of hard work, integrity, responsibility and deep connection to the local church.

A vow kept

Their marriage is also joyfully absorbing what could bring other marriages to the brink of collapse: suffering.

In late 2013, Cary began experiencing some health issues. Something wasn’t right. In February 2014, her health problems resulted in a diagnosis of Amyloidosis. Like cancer, Amyloidosis is a genetic disease that attacks the body’s blood and organs. Like cancer, as well, it can lead to death. And like cancer, it is treated with chemotherapy, which Carey underwent from April through August 2014. She experienced all the horrors associated with chemotherapy as it ravaged her small frame with illness, exhaustion and unspeakable nausea. If that wasn’t enough, Carey lost all of her hair and was bedridden, looking emaciated.

Matt recalls, in tears, the conversation that he and Carey had to have with their pre-teen daughters when it was uncertain whether their mom would live. Carey told Matt that if she didn’t survive, he should marry again. These are not conversations that couples anticipate having on their wedding days. But they are the conversations that found Matt and Carey.

Through Facebook updates, they would update their friends on the current challenges, needs and prayer requests. Their suffering, and the joy they refused to abandon, became a gripping saga of marriage’s “in sickness and in health” and confidence in God’s sovereignty.

But all through their trials, all through their tears and pain, all through the unchosen monotony of waiting rooms and the baited anticipation of whatever test results were next, Matt and Carey radiated an infectious, contagious joy. I recall talking with Matt on the phone during this time a lot. I remember reading in tears about their struggles. Though there was uncertainty about their future, there was never indignation toward their God. Only joy.

And they battled on.

Matt told me the verse they’ve gained strength from is James 1:2-3: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” It’s a verse they would come to rely on time after time.

After chemotherapy came a stem-cell transplant that required Carey to be in a Louisville hospital for 30 days in October 2014. Doctors literally reset her immune system, requiring her to be quarantined for fear of catching germs that her decrepit body couldn’t ward off. The anguish at which Matt and Carey retell and relive that experience need not be retold here.

Today, on kidney dialysis every other day, Carey has her Amyloidosis under control. But her kidneys still function at an extremely low level, which suggested that at some point, Carey would need a kidney transplant.

Beloved by friends, the announcement in 2016 that Carey would finally be eligible for a kidney transplant resulted in scores of friends volunteering to get tested to see if they could be a match for Carey. My wife went through the screening process, as well, only to be told about midway through her evaluation that a donor had been found.

And who was the donor? In what seems like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, the ideal donor found for Carey was none other than her husband, Matt. They had been told by their doctors that the chances of a spouse being a match was statistically rare. Very rare, in fact.

True to nature, Matt is enthusiastic at the prospect of being his wife’s kidney donor. I like to joke with him that if we were given the opportunity, he’d find a knife from his workshop and do the procedure himself if it meant Carey getting better sooner.

So next Tuesday, Matt and Carey will enter separate operating rooms, but the whole experience will somehow unite them. It isn’t every day that a husband gets to literally bleed for his wife, let alone offer a vital organ.

There’s a weeks-long recovery ahead. And the kidney transplant may not resolve all future problems, depending on whether the amyloid, like cancer, decides to wreak havoc yet again. But whether Carey’s future is one of recovery or, God forbid, the amyloid returns, they’ll rest peacefully knowing that something deeper and more secure than their own marriage vows holds them together. For they are sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord.

A story of Christ’s power

So many things can be learned from the Murphy’s story. Good parenting. An intact marriage—something America needs more examples of every day. An example of an American success story, they overcame what could have been a cycle of poverty. But their “success” can’t be measured monetarily; nor can the strength of their love be measured by romanticism.

While important, to leave the story of their marriage in economic or sentimental terms would only cheapen the depth of what lies at the heart of their marriage. At the center of their marriage stands Jesus Christ and their unwavering devotion to him. The world would be better off if more marriages in this world looked like Matt and Carey’s. But they would tell you that the world would be better off if the world looked more like Jesus Christ than just mimicking their marriage.

What’s the central theme of this story? Whether it’s devotion to their marriage, their devotion to raising godly children, the desire to break a cycle of poverty, passing on a legacy to their children, the trials brought on by suffering or the unknown future, the central theme is that Christ has brought all this to bear. And in him, they rejoice. Jesus changes hearts. He changes people. Transformation is possible.

Matt and Carey aren’t perfect. They are sinners like anyone of us. But their marriage captures what happens when hearts are redeemed and made new in Christ. Marriages prosper. Children are cared for. Children are given a model for what adulthood and future marriage ought to look like. They see sacrifice tangibly displayed.

I pray that Matt and Carey’s transplant story restores Carey to better health. I pray they have decades more together as a married couple. I pray that they deepen their love for one another as they deepen their love of Jesus Christ. And I pray they get many more years of coffee, together.

By / Aug 21

In one of his famous dialogues with the Pharisees Jesus skillfully appealed to creation norms to trump the part of the Mosaic Code that permitted men to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons.

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. . . . Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:4-6, 8-9)

Here Jesus intertwined the teachings of Genesis 1 and 2 to tie marriage indelibly to the ordering of human beings as male and female, an ordering that was itself indelibly tied to God's purposes for sexuality and procreation. By linking the sexual relationship between male and female introduced in Genesis 1 to the one flesh union introduced in Genesis 2, Jesus pronounced judgment on all legal engineering that would reduce marriage to something else (in the case of Matthew 19, an opportunity for men to treat women like slaves).

It was a powerful argument and one that played no small part in elevating natural law as a fundamental concept in Christian ethics. Calvin used the “hardness of heart” argument to explain numerous parts of the Mosaic Law that he found lacking. The ultimate standard for Christians, he pointed out, is the natural moral law that stems from creation, not the various stipulations of the Torah.

Others have appealed to creation norms to critique slavery, various forms of oppression, sexual immorality and environmental degradation.

Can we appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage?

And yet here is the rub. Christians have also appealed to nature as justification for racial segregation. Others have used it to defend social patriarchy. Now some are beginning to appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage.

The question is, how do we determine the moral meaning of creation? How do we determine the content of natural law?

Surely we can rule out a few forms of argument.

1. We should not be gathering ethical norms from the ways in which animals interact. It makes little moral sense to say, “if chimpanzees do it, why can't we?” There are fundamental differences between humans made in the image of God and animals.

2. We should not be slavishly imitating the ways of life of the first human beings. It makes little sense to argue that if Adam and Eve walked everywhere they went, so should we. We can accept the accomplishments of culture and technology.

3. We do not have precisely the same obligations that were given to the first human beings in Genesis 1-2. For example, Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day and declared it to be holy. Deuteronomy 5 presents this as the basis for the sabbath law that was so central to the covenant with Israel. But Paul declares that Christians are no longer bound by a sabbath day (Colossians 2), and even most Christians who believe in a new covenant sabbath emphasize that it no longer falls, as it did at creation, on the seventh day of the week.

4. This last point is very important. Christ has fulfilled the purposes of creation, and it is in him that we now seek our own participation in that fulfillment. Christian ethics does not look backward — as if the goal were to try to get back to creation — but forward, toward the fulfillment of creation in Christ.

Is the natural law relevant?

But does that mean that creation, or the natural law, is no longer relevant?

Jesus' teaching regarding the nature of marriage, like Paul's various appeals to creation, remind us that the order of creation remains, even though it must now be interpreted in light of the work of Christ. So the task at hand, when wrestling with matters like human dignity as grounded in the image of God, the call to be fruitful and multiply, the call to work, the command to exercise dominion, the institution of marriage, and the meaning of gender, is to determine how we fulfill the purposes of creation in light of what Christ has done and is doing.

Yet this can be tricky. For, how do we tell the difference between the sort of fulfillment that entails the transcendence of a certain dimension of the creation order (i.e., the sabbath day) even as it continues to be fulfilled in more meaningful ways (i.e., resting in Christ, worshiping God, etc.), and claims about fulfillment that amount rather to a contradiction or nullification of the creation order?

These latter claims can take various forms, but they invariably embrace dimensions of the fall into sin and integrate those dimensions into a new, corrupted understanding of creation. Is this not what we see in forms of patriarchy that exploit women, defenses of social systems that idolize racial segregation, and visions of cultural progress that run roughshod over the environment?

Christians wrestling with whether or not God is calling us to affirm homosexual relationships within the church need to work through these basic questions.

Does it transcend or distort the created purpose?

It is one thing to say that the work of Christ points us to the fulfillment and transcendence of marriage, procreation, and gender, a logic that leads to a new appreciation for the significance of celibacy within the Christian tradition (1 Corinthians 7). After all, Jesus himself said that in the kingdom there will be no marriage (Luke 20). Those who choose to be celibate therefore anticipate the fulfillment of creation's own purposes. Those who devote themselves to bonds of love that transcend sexuality anticipate the future communion of all in God.

It is another thing entirely to say, as some are saying, that we may therefore do with marriage, sexuality, and gender whatever we desire. To engage in sexual intercourse without a willingness to accept the children God may provide (if our birth control fails, for instance) is to turn a basic purpose of sexuality on its head. Do we not do the same when we seek sexual gratification through practices fundamentally different from what sex actually is and was intended to accomplish according to the design of creation? This is not transcendence or anticipation of future fulfillment, but distortion of created purpose. It does not direct people to the renewal of creation in the coming kingdom of God. It drives them back to the hopelessness of corrupted and fallen creation.

It is true that in Christ there is no male or female, just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free (Galatians 3). But this points us to the transcendence of sexuality in the communion of Christ, not to its distortion. Because we still live in that time between the two ages, inhabiting the tension between the already and the not-yet, we can anticipate that communion only by forming bonds of love while abstaining from sexual activity or by entering marriages oriented toward the purposes of the created order that nevertheless reflect the love between Christ and his church.

By / Apr 17

When I got married, I had a new experience of association which I had never had as a single person. My husband and I were together for three and a half years before we got married, and yet, in all of that time, people rarely expected him to be with me everywhere I went. But once we were married, if I came to any social gathering alone, people started asking “Where is your husband?” or “Where is your other half?”

Thinking about this closeness of association makes me smile. I have the utmost respect for my husband, and to be seen as “belonging together” to this extent is one of the biggest compliments someone can give me. But I find the “other half” language is both unintuitive and rife with bad implications. It gives the impression that, since getting married, I shrunk into half a person and forgot the other half at home.

Is the “soulmates” concept inherently Christian?

The “other half” language is routed in a particular concept of “soulmates” which is really quite antithetical to a Christian anthropology. Plato articulates (but does not affirm) this notion in his Symposium, in the speech of Aristophanes. Aristophanes posits that human beings were originally created as powerful (and perhaps somewhat humorous) orbs. Because these human beings were so powerful, they could rival the gods and ascend Mount Olympus. Thus, Zeus decided to cut them each in two lest they become a threat. According to Aristophanes’ account, eros is the soul’s search for its other half in order to be complete again. Should one find this soul mate, they would have a love which once again could rival the gods of Olympus.

As Christians, we are Trinitarian, that is, we believe in a God who is one in essence and three in persons. The unity of God’s essence is not a composite one, and we, as human beings, are created in his image. Also, we were created as male and female, not as splintered orbs. The union of husband and wife is no more a union of halves than the Trinity is a union of thirds.

A union with distinction

We Christians believe the union of husband and wife is akin to the union of Christ and his Church—and this doctrine of union with distinction is rather unique. We do not believe with the Mormon Church in the doctrine of Exaltation, that human beings are not united to God but instead become our own Gods alongside him. On the contrary, we believe that union with God is real. We do not believe with Sufi mystics that union with God is being consumed or obliterated by divine fire. When Christ united humanity with divinity in his person, he did so without absorbing his humanity into his divinity. We become one with God and yet we remain ourselves.

We worship Emanuel and truly believe it possible for God to be “with us.” This means that Jesus is the Church’s bridegroom, not the Church’s “other half.” The union is real, but it does not obliterate the distinctness or wholeness of the unified persons.

Getting practical about the “other half”

On a practical level, this notion of marital halfsies combined with a little dash of predestination invites single people to think that the search for a mate is a search for one person in all of the world that God has created with the simple purpose of making them happy. Likewise, it invites married people to question their spouse’s soulmate-hood as soon as the undulation of connection and disconnection in marriage sets in.

That is why I reject the language of “other half.” On the other hand, I would be happy to oblige if anyone would like to inquire about my “sweet companion,” my “favorite person in all the world” or my “other whole.”

By / Mar 31

Dan Darling sits down with Matt Chandler to discuss the biggest difference between the marriages between lost couples and redeemed Christians.

Chandler is the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He is also the president of the Acts 29 Network.

Twitter: @mattchandler74