Randall walked to the counter at his bank and handed the teller his deposit. She immediately began counting Randall's cash, quickly peeling the bills from the small stack and tallying as she changed denominations. Suddenly she halted. Holding a $20 bill between her two hands and eying it carefully, her face grew grim.

"Mr. Thomas," she told him, "I'm afraid this bill can't be counted toward your deposit -- it's counterfeit."

"What!" Randall started. "Are you sure? It looked just like the rest of them to me."

"Sir, I know it's hard to tell the difference, but trust me, we've gotten these before and I'm certain this is not legitimate money."

When he left the bank, Randall was still shaking his head in disbelief. Not only was he $20 poorer, he felt physically ill realizing how easily someone had managed to dupe him.

Why was it so easy for the teller to spot the phony when Randall saw no difference at all between the counterfeit bill and the real ones? The answer, of course, lies in experience. I don't recommend anyone trying it, but certainly it's possible to produce money that looks like the real thing. The problem lies in ever trying to negotiate it -- the federal government takes a dim view of passing funny money.

By now you're probably thinking: "Well, duh! I can't imagine anyone reading this who would ever want to do such an idiotic thing."

And may I say I completely concur. Yet I look all around me and see Christian men, women and families who, on a daily or at least regular basis, use counterfeit wealth to create and maintain their style of living.

When a person OWES rather than OWNS, the item for which he is indebted is not his own -- it belongs to whomever has loaned him the money. This means that, according to Proverbs 22:7, "... the borrower is servant to the lender." And unfortunately, we have become a nation of servants to lenders. Here are just a few eye-popping figures concerning indebtedness:

1) Almost half of U.S. families spend $1.22 for every $1 they earn.

2) According to the Federal Reserve, Americans are almost TWO TRILLION DOLLARS in debt, not counting mortgages. What this boils down to is a 41 percent increase in indebtedness in only five years' time.

3) Personal bankruptcies have doubled in the last 10 years.

4) Financial difficulty is now the No. 1 excuse given for divorce.

So where do these scary statistics leave us? Looking for answers, I hope, and knowing that there is but one place to begin any quest for truthful information: the Word of God.

In Romans 13:7-8, Paul wrote: "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue.... Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another...."

Jesus told a parable in Luke 16 about a rich man who went away and left a servant in charge of his property. When the man returned, he was displeased with the servant's poor management. Jesus concluded by saying, "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" (Luke 16:11).

In verse 12, the Lord left no doubt that He is the rich man, the owner, and that we, the servants, are merely given the opportunity to make use of our Master's resources: "And if you haven't been trustworthy in handling someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?"

While everyone may not recognize that particular parable, all of us have heard the next verse, Luke 16:13, many times: "No man can serve two masters...." Yes, most of us have to owe money at least for a reasonable house. But aside from job loss, illness or other catastrophic occurrences, there's really no excuse for being head over heels in debt for other things on a regular basis. If a person finds himself continually buying on credit, it's safe to say that "mammon" -- money and the material things it can buy -- has become that person's master.

How long has it been since you've consciously recognized and thanked the True Owner of all you claim to own? How long has it been since you've consciously considered the example you set before others? As a child of God, we are merely servants entrusted with our Master's belongings. Make it your goal to not only honor Him in every financial transaction, but to teach others to honor Him as well.

"In everything set them an example...." (Titus 2:7).


Judy Woodward Bates is a Christian speaker; author of "The Gospel Truth about
Money Management"; and creator of Bargainomics, a Bible-based time and money management philosophy. Check her speaking schedule and find more information on her website: www.bargainomics.com.

© 2004 Baptist Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.