When I was young, our family hosted French exchange students for one month each summer. The last exchange student that stayed with us, Natalie, returned the following summer for a second time and although it was only two visits, she felt like family. We have kept in contact with her over time. That was 27 years ago and this week we had the opportunity to host her entire family for a few days. She asked if we could do some of the things we did with her all those years ago so that her husband and children could experience what she did as an 18 year old. We visited Washington, D.C. and the Inner Harbor and some local places she remembers. One of our day trips landed us in Lancaster. Amish country! It is such an intriguing way to live, interesting not just to foreigners but to Americans as well.
While on the tour of an Amish home, the guide also explains the Amish traditions and religion. My 9 year old son was with us and had some major questions! First, “are these people Christian?” and second, “why all the rules?” On our way home we had some long discussions about the things we had learned. His questions are hard to answer even as an adult Christian. Of course, none of us can judge a man’s heart, only the Lord can do that. The Amish religion does believe in the Lord and that Jesus died on the cross for the salvation of men but our discussion went more to the things they do rather than the things they believe. Much of the Amish tradition is about rule following. Similar to the Pharisees (which we’ve been talking a lot about at home as well) the Amish take the commandments the Lord has given and gone even deeper tacking on a different or more expanded meaning or rule. Many of their rules are tied to being separate from the outside world. They don’t have electricity because it would tie them to the outside world. They don’t hang pictures or decorate their homes and would never have their picture taken showing their face believing it would be a graven image.
But Jesus said, “Hear and understand. It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth: this defiles a person.”
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Our long ride home gave us an opportunity to talk about the why the Lord gave us the 10 commandments and how we are to live by them. We thought about how the “rules” were designed to keep us safe and help us to love God and love others. At the root of the commandments is simply that, love God and love others. If we are doing that in everything, we are living for the Lord. There are some great lessons to be learned from the Amish, though. We need to guard and protect what does come in so that it does not take root in our heart. We must renew our minds and hearts daily with the truth and remember that our hope is in our faith in the Lord not the rule following that can so easily trip us up. May we not be like the Pharisees who were like white washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of sinful heats but may be guard and protect our hearts and minds from outside influences whenever we can.