September 2009 –
Have you ever cried a tear that you could not explain?
Have you ever met a stranger who already knew your name?
What if it’s Him?
What if it’s God speaking?
These are some of the lyrics off the title song of Ronnie Freeman’s second album, God Speaking. This young singer/songwriter/worship leader has a heart for Jesus and bringing people closer to Him.
Speaking of leading a worship set, Freeman said, “I have led worship long enough to know that I cannot define a worship experience by how expressive or non-expressive people are. We believe God has given [JH Ranch] a sense of liberty and freedom so kids are very expressive almost right from the start. Being expressive, jumping up and down, lifting your hands, shouting – those things are awesome and it is totally Biblical, but at the end of our time together if you’ve not truly surrendered your heart, which is all that the Father wants to begin with, then it would have been a waste of time singing songs.”
In an interview with AFA Journal, Ronnie Freeman’s heart for worship and his heart for Jesus came through every statement he made. He is serving as the summer worship leader at JH Ranch, a place focusing on parent/teen relationships. “I can’t say enough good about [the Ranch],” he said. “It’s difficult to even explain what kind of place this is until you’ve been here. But there is a reason why this is my ninth year to come back. We call it our summer home.”
Freeman is passionate about JH Ranch. Every day of the one-week or two-week camps, they have outdoor adventures. “During the week, before everyone goes to Shasta [a mountain close to the Ranch] or the coast, we take all of our guests, split them up into teams, and take them to this place called Shackelford Falls,” he said. “It’s this whole day of swimming in a snow melt river and this waterfall you can slide down and a high rock you can jump off. And so I usually accompany the staff for the sole purpose of just connecting with the guests and finding out who they are and what they’re about, and where they’re from and what they think about worship, what they think about God.”
When not at the California camp, he serves as part of a four member worship team. Freeman talked about his church, Bible Fellowship in Brentwood, Tennessee, with a deep conviction: “[My church] is like a divine hospital, where it is okay not to be okay. They are courageous to walk with people through addictions. We house an addiction ministry at our church during the week, classes where you can meet with people who have been through addictions or are going through addictions. It gives me hope for the church at large that we are becoming a body of believers that is willing to love its own. Jesus said the world is going to know you by the way you love one another.”
About his calling, Freeman said, “I’m a worship leader and songwriter and artist and all that. But I just want to be light to people, I want to give them hope, and I want to remind them that they’re as much in need of God as the man who doesn’t even know Him. We all need Him that much, every moment. I want to be a truth-teller and be transparent with people in whatever I’m doing, even with my children and my wife.”
Freeman’s transparency not only comes through his personal ministry, but also through his music.
Freeman has released two albums. The music reflects his desire to bring people back to a loving God whose arms are open for them. On his album God Speaking, there is one song in particular that is close to the singer’s heart. The song is called “The Other Side,” and it is “about the other side, whatever the other side is,” Freeman said. “For some people maybe it’s alcohol, maybe it’s sexual sin, maybe it’s fear. [The song’s about] getting to the other side of that to experience freedom.”
Freeman began singing at the age of seven in Montgomery, Alabama, with his mother. “For me, there’s a magic in the live connection,” he stated. “I think it comes from being vulnerable. In a strange kind of way I feel like I’m the guy in the audience. I don’t feel like the stage separates me from anyone else in the room. I think every artist hopes people will connect with their songs, and I do hope that. But even more than, that I want them to connect with my heart, personally.
Freeman has written and produced a new five-song album titled Alive. (E-mail AliveAlbum@gmail.com for order information.)
One song on the small album is a country song Freeman wrote. Another, “He is With You,” previously released by contemporary Christian artist Mandisa, will also be on it.
“I’ve been doing those two songs out live because I so believe He is with you, and I am thrilled to death that Mandisa cut it,” Freeman said.
He then went on to tell the story of how God opened the door for Alive: “Some wealthy man heard me and asked how much it would cost to record [these two songs]. I said, ‘I really don’t have any plans to record them but this is how much it would cost.’ So he sent me twice as much money, and I stretched it into five songs, and I’m just in love with this little five-song project.”
Freeman’s style is much like his personality. He’s free to be a little different than what others might expect, but still focused on Christ. He uses both contemporary and hymn music. But he makes every song his own. His style of leading worship appeals to all age groups. It is catchy to grab the attention of young listners, but smooth and melodic for those who love the old hymns.
The artist is so in love with Scripture that he can’t help it coming out in his music. He shared some of the Scriptures that have made an impact on his life.
“There are those Scriptures that make you say, ‘That is mine, God just gave me this one.’ Mine is Jeremiah 17:5-8.” He continued, “Being in Christian music, it is so easy to seek out the approval of men. It becomes a ball and chain. So I think it was maybe the summer of 2003 or 2004 [when] I got knocked down with a couple of comments that were said to me. I was headed out here to the ranch and the Lord said, ‘Ronnie, cursed is the man whose confidence is in man, in the flesh. Cursed! But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’ He might as well have tattooed that on my back; I’ve lived by it.”
Freeman had another Scripture to talk about as well: “It is where Jesus was led to the desert to be tempted. You know those times in your life where you feel like you are gaining some ground, and before you know it, you are back on your backside again? I think sometimes, in my magical thinking, that the enemy is going to leave me alone.
“I got to the end of [Luke 4:1-13] and it says that after Jesus overcame, Satan left Him until a more opportune time. The Lord said, ‘One of your adversary’s greatest strategies is to leave you alone for a little bit. When He leaves you alone, you let your guard down and you’re not as needy for Me.’ It is really the gift of pain that leads us to follow. Satan is going to hate me as much today, as much in 20 years, as much as he does in this moment.”
Freeman expressed that he has won some battles, but in his transparency he said, “You are talking to a man that is not very disciplined. If I don’t get up in the morning before everyone gets up, I will become like a runaway train and be sidetracked with the busyness of the day.
“Mine is the discipline of focused time in the morning with the Father. I got up kinda late the other day and my wife told me, ‘You know what? There is a noticeable difference when you are dealing with the kids when you didn’t spend time with the Father.’”
He went on to say, “For us it’s not a legalistic thing but there is something about that getting still. I was just reading in the book of Mark this morning where Jesus withdrew to a desolate place, like He did often. If the Savior of the world did it, what makes us think that we don’t have to, or we can get by without that?”
Through his words and through his music it is easy to see the love for Jesus and the passion for ministry inside Ronnie Freeman. His songs are for those who are hurting, those who are struggling, those who feel like they are so far from God they can never return. God shows His forgiveness and yearning for reconciliation with His children through the gifts of this child.
Whether he is leading a group of students in California or church worship in Tennessee, Freeman’s focus is on the Savior. He is not perfect, but he is transparent, real. In a world where many people try to follow the latest fad or be like the hottest celebrity of the week, it is refreshing to see someone who simply wants to be like Jesus.
JH Ranch began its ministry in 1980 when founded by Gene and Joy Johnston. The first leadership camp was named Second Wind and was for high school students. Its purpose was to help students develop a “practical understanding of life’s purpose, personal values and leadership skills.” According to its Web site (www.jhranch.com), the ranch now includes programs for junior high students called Challenge, and a more intense high school program called Trac II for those who have completed Second Wind. JH Ranch began a ministry for parents and their children in 1992. They have now expanded to include a husband and wife ministry and a premarital ministry called Cloud 9.