For all of the talk about money, Dave Ramsey's "Smart Money" tours are much more than that.

In addition to the expected money matters, such as budgeting, Roth individual retirement accounts, emergency funds, college accounts, life insurance and wills, the speakers at the "Smart Money" event on Sept. 7 at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge touched on faith matters, including prayer, serving, tithing and giving generously to "bless others." About 1,700 people registered for the event.

"I don't love money, but I do want a lot of it," said Anthony O'Neal, a former youth pastor. "When I have a lot of money, I could help you. When I have a lot of it, I can help people in the kingdom. Yet, it is the love of money that is evil, but money is not evil. It's actually a blessing."

O'Neal was joined at the event by Chris Hogan, an expert on retirement and leadership. Both men are part of a team from Dave Ramsey Solutions, a financial counseling company founded by Ramsey in 1992 in Nashville, Tennessee, that "provides biblically based, common-sense education and empowerment that give hope to everyone in every walk of life."

Ramsey is best-known for his popular nationally syndicated radio talk show "Financial Peace University" and the "Seven Baby Steps" plan for getting out of debt.

"When you get yourself into a position, Baton Rouge, where you get yourself out of debt and you stay committed to the plan, you can start to do incredible things for people you've never dreamed of," said Hogan, author of the best-selling book "Retired Inspired: It's Not an Age; It's a Finanical Number."

The first of the Baby Steps is putting away $1,000 in an emergency fund. But O'Neal said he starts before that.

"Prayer really works. Before I even do anything, I pray about it, because I believe if I pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on me, that's faith and work working hand in hand," said O'Neal, author of "The Graduate Survival Guide: Five Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make in College."

Then O'Neal gives to God what belongs to him by paying tithes.

"I set aside my 10 percent to the Lord," O'Neal said. "After I pay my 10 percent, I give myself money."

The rest of the Baby Steps involve paying off all debts; saving two to six months of expenses in savings; investing 15 percent of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement; funding college for children; paying off your mortgage early; and lastly, building wealth and giving.

Hogan and O'Neal were entertaining with many great personal stories and lots of laughs that kept most of the audience's attention throughout the three-hour event. But both men drew a serious tone when it comes to the effects of debt and its stranglehold on families for generations.

O'Neal referenced Proverbs 22:7: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

"I don't know about y'all, but I'm not trying to be a slave to nobody," O'Neal said. "I want to be free. I want to have freedom. I want my kids to have freedom. I want my family to be free, and debt binds them."

"I want more for my boys than want I had," Hogan said. "As a father, I want to be a blessing to my kids and not a burden. But what I found out is, if people aren't prepared, if they don't get ready and start to put themselves on the right track, it falls unto family and friends in order to take care of them."

O'Neal, who isn't married and doesn't have children, said he found out as a young college student the stranglehold of debt. By 19, he had $25,000 in credit and furniture debt and $20,000 in student loan debt. Regrettable participation in a hazing incident led to his dismissal from school and his school-related job. He also lost his apartment and became homeless.

At 33, the energetic O'Neal said he's debt-free and living the life God has planned for him.

"He's a great God. ... God can move some things around for you," O'Neal said. "Don't allow debt to have you move slow to your dreams. Don't allow your debt to prevent you from experiencing all God wants you to experience. I'm telling you, it's not worth it."

The Baby Steps are designed to help people not only get out of debt and build wealth but to put themselves in a position to help others. Hogan and O'Neal shared touching stories of how their financial steps have afforded them the opportunities to serve and give.

A husband and father of three boys, Hogan told of visiting a Waffle House around Christmas with his sons. They were waited on by a pregnant young woman.

"You know if someone is five or six months pregnant and still working on their feet, they have to work; they don't have a lot of options," Hogan said. "As I'm talking with her, I found out her fiancé had left her when he found out she was pregnant. She was really trying to work hard. She didn't want to have to move back with her parents."

Hogan said the young woman seemed sincere.

"I made a decision right then and there to leave a good tip," he said.

For the $14 bill, Hogan pulled out a $20 tip and then an extra $50 underneath that.

The family stood outside to see the woman's reaction.

She was pleased with the $20, Hogan said.

"When she saw the $50 bill, I'll never forget, she picked it up and put it close to her heart," Hogan said. "I'll never forget standing there, the power of that moment that I could tell my son time after time it's good to give and it's good to be kind. ... (The middle son) got in the car and he said, "Daddy, did you see her face?"

Hogan said his family has long been involved in visiting retirement homes. He said people think they have to save a lot for retirement and go to exotic places to serve, but that's not the case.

"You can do mission work without ever leaving your city," he said. "You can go by a hospital, read some books to children who are in the hospital beds, go visit the elderly or the sick and infirm. There's some good things you can do if you have the right heart and the right kind of time."

O'Neal's touching story of generosity also came around at a recent Christmas.

Instead of exchanging gifts, O'Neal said his family decided to book a quality hotel for a week for a homeless family. His mother and sisters provided cooked food and his brother provided toys and other gifts for kids.

O'Neal paid a visit to a homeless area where he spotted a couple sleeping in their car on Christmas Eve. It took some convincing, but the husband eventually followed O'Neal to the hotel.

"He gets out of the car, then my whole life shifted," O'Neal said. "His wife gets out of the car. When his wife gets out of the car, she opens up the back door — and I think she's going to get her suitcase — and she pulls out this 1-year-old baby."

As they entered the hotel, O'Neal said the manager, impressed by the O'Neal family's generosity, upgraded the room from a king bedroom to a suite and added an extra free week.

The homeless couple was overwhelmed.

"We walked into that room, and they started crying," O'Neal said. "The little man was jumping on the bed. That was the best Christmas I've ever had in my life, because I was able to give someone a place to lay their heads on Christmas Day."

Recently, O'Neal said he didn't hesitate when asked to help with the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Houston. He responded by donating an average month of his salary.

"I couldn't be a blessing to God's people if I didn't set aside a saving," he said. "What they needed, I gave them double."

To start the Baby Steps to financial freedom and get on the path to helping others requires us to get out of our comfort zone, O'Neal said. 

"When you get out of debt, when you jump outside of your comfort zone, that's when things really happen. Nothing extraordinary happens within your comfort zone," he said. "I'm not trying to be ordinary. I'm not trying to be just simple. I want to rock this world. I want to bless as many people as I can. The more I'm being a blessing, the more God will bless me. So that's why I stay out of my comfort zone."

'A Question of Faith'

Where are the tissues?

That was the first question from the audience after last week's Baton Rouge screening of the faith-based movie "A Question of Faith."

The film is a well-done tear-jerker. About 150 religious and community leaders attended the free screening Sept. 14 at the AMC Mall of Louisiana theater. "A Question of Faith" is due in theaters on Sept. 28.

The film stars veteran actress Kim Fields ("Facts of Life," "Living Single") and Richard T. Jones, best known for his role in the TV series "Judging Amy" and Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married." Both lead actors are superb in their roles as a married couple. The film is about three families from different cultures who live in the same community and are brought together through tragedy and faith.

The film by Pure Flix Entertainment and Silver Living Entertainment touches on a variety of issues, such as questioning God, forgiveness, mercy and racial reconciliation. It also deals with organ donation and the subject of texting and driving.

"This is a national movie that can save lives physically and also spiritually," said Hilton Glass, the movie's project coordinator for the region.

Also in the movie are C. Thomas Howell (“The Amazing Spiderman,” “E.T.”), Greg Alan Williams (“Greenleaf"), T.C. Stallings (“War Room,” “Courageous”) and Christian recording artist Jaci Velasquez.

After the movie, Glass and executive producer Cameron Lewis addressed the invited guests. 

Glass stressed the importance of promoting "A Question of Faith" and letting Hollywood know that God-honoring movies are wanted. He said the distributors' gauge for a movie's success is based primarily on ticket sales and presales during its opening weekend.


Faith Matters run every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.