Joe Shipman

Joe Shipman

I Cried Out To God

My name is Joe Shipman. I own Luminous Productions a multimedia design and photography business. I grew up in Gladewater, Texas, and I attended Worldwide Church of God. Some of you may be familiar with the church. As part of our church, we were committed to keeping the Sabbath, not working on Friday night sundown until Saturday sundown and to observing a number of holy days and dietary laws. We were known by some as a cult, following what some defined as Armstrongism. Perhaps the thing that made me stand out the most growing up was all the things we didn’t do. We didn’t observe Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Valentine's Day. We couldn’t play Friday night or Saturday sports or be in the marching band once the sun set for Sabbath. I was one of the oddballs that had to leave during school programs and parties that had something to do with any holiday other than Thanksgiving. I often lied and said, “ I was allergic to pork to avoid explaining.” I was bothered by Christians claiming to know God. They didn’t keep the Sabbath, they didn’t observed the “real” holy days, and they focused so much on Jesus the son of God.

I did have zeal for God. As a student, I talked to God continuously throughout the day. He was intricately interwoven into my life, partly because I felt set aside, chosen and partly because it just seemed natural given my upbringing. I read my Bible frequently and went to church consistently. I continuously asked God to reveal himself to me. I wanted God to help me know Him better, but I did not understand God’s grace. I quite often felt like a failure, knowing that I would lie here and there, cheat at school for better grades, and make poor choices that I would excuse away. I clung to the hope that perhaps I had tipped the scales of judgement in my favor.

At 15, I went to a camp in Minnesota, where I had a near death drowning experience. I had chosen to swim across a lake by myself. Exhausted, I completed the swim but could not swim back. Trying to return to camp, I attempted to hike through a marsh, and I ended up tangled in lily pads, gasping for air with no energy left. I cried out to God, pleading for my life. My ground was sinking. I attempted to leap to another patch of ground but the marshy ground did not afford me a good jump. Again, I was tangled in lily pads fighting to get above water. I prayed in despair. I was surely going to die and no one knew where I was. Immediately, a voice cried out to me, “Joe, what are you trying to kill over there?” A canoe with campers saw the splashing and thought there was wildlife in the marsh. This event stuck with me for years. When, I returned to Texas, I found my life sinking further. Our church had come to the conclusion that we were doctrinally wrong. We were clinging to works, but we could only be saved through God’s grace. This turned everything upside down and many families were split including my own. I was lost and confused. I felt the balance in my favor had been removed, and I didn’t know what to believe. Was all that work and sacrifice for nothing?

I left for college, but my college of choice, closed after 1 year. About eighty of us transferred to Texas A&M University-Commerce, the only school I had visited and had said, “I would never attend.” I was out of my comfort zone, but thankful that friends had transferred with me. I was still trying to figure out things. In my junior year, I attended a Youth With a Mission event with my roommate with the same background as mine. He had recently committed his life to Christ. I felt like this was strange and emotional. While at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) event, I was so blown away by the missionary’s testimonies. They loved the poor and impoverished so much that they gave up everything to serve and share Jesus. I finally saw how works were the natural response to receiving God’s grace. I was always trying to go backwards. I was drawn to this Jesus that they loved so much. I felt I knew God the Father but had somehow missed Jesus. I realized I had been spiritually swimming hard but I did not have the strength or ability to complete the journey. God rescued me on that day, and I surrendered to Christ as Lord and Savior.

I knew God was calling me to serve, and I assumed it would look like the missionaries that I met at YWAM. I picked up information from the booths and told my Mom I was probably going to go to the mission field after college. Soon after, I was given a dream. The previous summer, I spent working in Cincinnati doing computer programming. In the dream, I was walking past neighbors who were crying out for help, but I was headed to someone further down the road and couldn’t stop. I could see the face of every person as I walked by, but I kept telling them, I was going much further down the road to help someone else. I woke up confused as it was so vivid and made no sense. Following this dream, At fifteen, I attended a church plant at school where the leader of the camp in Minnesota was teaching. He spoke about the state of the children in our church. Much like us, they were lost and confused. They needed Jesus, and our leader wanted every activity and every moment of the camp to be centered around finding Jesus and making Him known. Many of these children had families that were torn apart because of the church division and doctrine changes. He asked for us to prayerfully consider applying to work at the camp. I knew at that moment what my dream meant, but I didn’t think I was ready to be a counselor. I thought I would just be part of the camp. God took me out of my comfort zone. God lead the camp leaders to place me as a counselor with little or no experience. I was stretched and unworthy to lead these young men. Some of them were nearly as old as I was. Through God’s grace, He opened my heart and many of the hearts of others that year. The Holy Spirit did great and mighty things to numerous campers, staff members and myself. As a counselor for the next few years, I was radically transformed by God’s grace. I witnessed hundreds coming to Christ. It was there that I was baptized. It was also there that I met a friend who would later become my beautiful wife. We have been serving together in ministry ever since. The weight of working to earn God’s grace has been replaced by the only one who completes the work. My Sabbath rest now is in Him who completed the work.

For those that don’t know Christ, or perhaps, know God but have always tried to earn His favor, tirelessly working but knowing you have come up short. For the wages of sin are death, and it is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have salvation. If this is you, if you know your life is in need of a Savior, please pray with me. “God, I know that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I cannot escape without Your Son. Jesus, today I want you to come into my life to reign as my Lord and Savior. Thank You for dying for my sins, may You wash me clean through the blood of Jesus. Holy Spirit, come into my life to guide me. Jesus help me to love as You love and forgive as You forgive. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.” 

Joe Shipman Hearing His Voice Testimony