by Erin Bunting
My son Sam sells tickets for his middle school’s basketball games. He isn’t into sports, but he is into money. He enjoys handling it and making transactions. At one of this season’s basketball games, a student tried buying a ticket with a counterfeit $5 bill. Sam knew the money was fake and immediately turned it over to the vice principal, who called the girl’s parents and the police. When I asked Sam how he knew the money wasn’t real, merely a homemade color copy, he shrugged and said, “I just held it up to the light.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the agency that prints paper U.S. currency, Sam used the best method to detect a counterfeit. When an authentic bill is held up to the light, invisible images embedded into the paper show through. If those images don’t show up, it’s a fake.
The numerous, ingenious and elaborate security features of the latest U.S. currency are fascinating. For instance, hold a new $5 bill up to the light and a shadowy image – a chunky 5, appears on the far right. To the left of Lincoln’s ear is a vertical column of three smaller 5s. These “watermarks” are created by miniscule differences in the paper’s thickness. A dashed black line bearing tiny “5”s and “USAs” runs vertically to the right of Lincoln’s shoulder. This feature, called a security “thread,” is actually embedded into the paper. Both watermarks and threads are virtually impossible to counterfeit. They are also only visible when held up to the light. Several other security features are only visible under an ultraviolet lamp.
The Bible abounds with warnings about religious counterfeiters -- false prophets and teachers who pass off deceptive beliefs as legitimate spiritual currency. God warned Jeremiah about them, saying, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them.” (Jeremiah 14:14) Peter said, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) Both God and Peter were saying that authentic prophecy and teaching come down only from God, filtered through the Holy Spirit. Teaching that originates anywhere else is counterfeit. Likewise, authentic paper U.S. currency is only printed in two locations: the BEP’s Washington, D.C. facility and its satellite plant in Ft. Worth, Texas. A bill printed anyplace else is a fake.
But fakes can look deceptively real. Like counterfeit money, the currency of some false prophets and teachers seems authentic and good, but is in reality valueless. The false prophets Jeremiah encountered sounded religious and said what people wanted to hear. Their promises appeared legitimate and seemed sincere, but were misleading and false. How did Jeremiah know? He brought their counterfeit words to God. Like my son did with the phony $5 bill, Jeremiah held the promises of the false prophets up to the holy light of God’s truth, and God revealed clearly that “The prophets are but wind, and the Word is not in them.” (Jeremiah 5:13)
Today our world still teems with seemingly legitimate and sincere spirituality which is dangerously misleading and false. Before you pass along or accept as truth any questionable spiritual teaching, be vigilant to first check it against Scriptural truth and consider its origin. The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105) God gave us His light to test our own words and actions, as well as those of others, before carelessly introducing counterfeit spirituality into circulation. If you need extra guidance, talk to a pastor or teacher who can help you discern what’s true (think of them as your ultraviolet lamp).
If you receive counterfeit money, the BEP says to do exactly what Sam did, “Safeguard the bill and release it only to the proper authorities.” That is, take it out of circulation. We can minimize the spread of false spiritual teaching the same way. We are called to “Live as children of light … and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8, 10-11) And if God’s light exposes something false to you or even within you, release it to the proper authority and take it out of circulation by confessing it to God and exchanging it for His truth.
A statement on the BEP’s website says, “Confidence. Trust. Value. That’s what the American dollar stands for around the world. This faith in the United States currency is made possible through continuous improvements in currency design and aggressive law enforcement that protect the integrity of U.S. currency by guarding it against counterfeiting.” What if we Christians, who bear the responsibility of sharing the gospel and who believe along with the Psalmist that “All [God’s] words are true,” (Psalm 119:160) proclaim something similar? How about: “Confidence. Trust. Value. That’s what the Word of God stands for around the world. This faith in Scriptural truth is made possible through vigilant reliance on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and aggressive efforts to protect the integrity of His Word by guarding it against counterfeiting.”
Sam recognized a counterfeit bill because he’s had lots of contact with authentic currency. Likewise, frequent personal contact with God’s Word equips us to identify what’s false around us, and in ourselves. You can’t identify a fake unless you are familiar with the real thing. “If you hold to my teaching,” Jesus said, “then you will know the truth.” (John 8:31-32) Get to know the truth. Spend time in God’s Word. Live and learn by His light. Then, and only then, pass it on.
Information about currency security features was found at www.moneyfactory.gov.
Erin Bunting is a writer, actor, artist and photographer in Huron, Ohio where she lives with her husband, Darrin, and their sons Sam (13) and Leo (10). Erin’s passion is finding the “meaning in the mundane,” and helping audiences and readers experience and see Christ in everyday circumstances.