I feel compelled by God to give you my testimony this morning. I want you to know where I’m coming from. I feel very honored to speak to you. The scripture says, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Pet. 3:15 NLT)
I’ve been a part of this community even before my coming here, close to ten years ago. I believe I’m here because God wants me here. I believe he wants me to be an effectual encouragement, not only to the folks here in this auditorium, this morning, but to everyone that belongs to this family of people, including every member of the staff.
Some of you are aware that I had a part in the birthing of this complex of the Estates at Carpenters. I served as the Chairman of the Board for many years. My name is not on anything. My picture is not on the wall anywhere, and now I am no longer a part of the administration; however, I have been given the honor of being an honorary member of the Board, also, I have no financial investment here, except to be one of you residents who has paid to be here.
Today, I’m not commending myself in any way, because every ounce of credit belongs to God for anything good that has ever come out of my life. (I give myself credit for any mistakes!) Where we are sitting, today, is one of the greatest miracles I have witnessed in my life. God dropped the idea in my mind to build the Estates in the early 80’s at the very same time the big church which was next door, until last spring, was built. The idea came after I had watched the Walton’s Series on TV and I realized that that era is over, now that both husband and wife are working outside the home; and there is no way they can adequately be care-givers for their aging parents. I had no thoughts of ever moving in personally, because I thought Jesus was coming back before my retirement years!
(Actually, I believed this complex was built for people that had “missed the Rapture”!)
Now, I’m here with you. I’m just one of the many trans-denominational family members, made up of people with all segments of church backgrounds, because, from the beginning we wanted a “Christian atmosphere” to prevail at the Estates. Thank God, “miraculously”, that has happened.
From the beginning of my life, I’ve experienced one miracle after another. Signs and wonders, according to the Bible, are to be a part of every believer’s life. I am testifying to you today that my 86 years have been filled with “signs and wonders.” One of the greatest, is that I’m standing here before you with a decent set of lungs! I was born in the “dust bowl” in the middle of “tornado alley” in northwestern Oklahoma, in a town called Homestead with a population of 30 people, not counting the town cows who kept our ditches mowed beside the unpaved streets. No electricity in our home. Our water was supplied when it “very occasionally” rained on the top of our three-bedroom house, a house, that had ten occupants. Eight of us were children. (There were four of us children, until my aunt passed away, and her four children came to live with us when I was just a little boy, so my cousins were raised like they were my brothers and sisters.) We had a cistern under our house that caught the water off the roof. I still don’t understand why they called that water, “soft water”; the so-called “hard water” with which we utilized from our well under the little old wind-mill out back of the house to water our grass, our vegetable garden, my mother’s beautiful flowers and trees all over the place, and our one cow and the 50 chickens, out back, from the pump under the old wind-mill. Not only did I breathe into my lungs the dust from the horrible, unimaginable “dust-storms”, my home was filled with my dad’s and older brothers’ second-hand cigarette and pipe smoke during the formative years of my life; plus, my Dad had a wheat elevator he ran for the farmers. He never played with me, but I worked with him from the time I was a little boy, helping to shovel the wheat in the grain-bins and the box-cars, without a “dust-mask”. It’s super-natural that I’m breathing with my own heathy lungs while I’m speaking to you, today!
My heart began to reach out to God from the time I can remember as a little guy when I was four or five years of age. Because Oklahoma is so hot, 112 degrees during the heat of the day in the middle of the summer, on occasion, and without air-conditioning, we slept outside. We didn’t even have an “ice-box”; we had a “milk-trough”, filled with “hard water” from the wind-mill. I had my little pallet, where I slept for my first 18 years through the summer, from June until September, on the Bermuda grass in our yard, and I could see every star in the sky. With no street-lights to dim my view of the sky, I, as I saw the north star, the big dipper, the little dipper, and the milky way could easily picture a loving God behind all of that splendor above me. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Ps. 19:1)
At eight years of age another fantastic miracle took place. I was “born-again”. We attended a little Methodist Church of 50 or 60 members. That pastor gave the altar-call. I had never missed a service, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, from the time I was born. But that morning, he said we could know Jesus, “personally”. I went forward and knelt at that little prayer bench we called an altar. It changed everything in my life. I became a Christian. I knew exactly what I was doing. My mother, evidently, had picked up some Baptist teaching. She insisted that pastor take me out with several other people to a little muddy creek out west of our little town, and he put us “clear under”. It was like it was yesterday. I’ve forgotten an awful lot of things, the last few years, but I haven’t forgotten standing on that little muddy creek bank, waiting to be baptized; tears were flowing down my cheeks.
At twelve, I experienced an additional miracle. We had a young seminary student come to speak for us from the Methodist seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, Asbury College. He was a fire-ball. He told us one night that if we would come forward and kneel at that same little tear-stained bench, the same bench I had used to get saved in the first place, that God would “sanctify” us! What he said he meant was that God would help us, from that night on, to be able to control our temper, and that God would give us perfect love for “everyone”! I needed that, desperately, because, just a few days before, I had threatened “to kill” my older brother for something he did to me, just as soon as I was old enough! And…my folks, though they were considered good Methodists, had been members of the Klan. And I was brought up a racist! So I went forward. You can believe this or not. It’s a “sign & a wonder”. I’m telling you exactly what happened. From that time until this, I have not lost my temper, and I’ve never met a person of ANY color that I haven’t loved with the love of Jesus. I even like white folks! I even love and respect YOU sitting here, today!!!
At sixteen, sophomore in high-school, I went to a Methodist Youth Camp. One night I broke camp rules. After everybody had bedded down for the night, I slipped out of camp, at Turner Falls, Oklahoma. It was a beautiful scene. I climbed Vesper Hill where we had some of our services. Just me. I prayed to God for a “special” experience. I had listened, from eight to 16, with my parents, to the radio preachers, especially the Bible Baptists, who said we could KNOW we were saved. I was one of the six people in our little Methodist Church that “knew” we were saved. The rest “thought so, hoped so, believed, so, trusted so,” but didn’t “know for sure” they were saved. Most of the time, I had come to “know” I was saved, because I believed what those Baptist radio preachers said, but not 24/7. That night my prayer was, “God, I want to KNOW every single day of my life, that I’m saved. I’ve got to be absolutely sure, all the time! …Nothing happened. God was “silent”. I couldn’t get through. After about an hour and a half…flat on my face, flat on my back, looking up at the stars, kneeling on the hard rock surface on the brow of Vesper Hill, I stood up, and let God have it! (I don’t recommend anybody else try this. I know now that I was on “dangerous ground”.) “All right, God, I’m making this declaration to you, even if you never speak to me again, or ever again manifest Yourself to me, again, even if you send me to hell, I’m going to ‘worship you in hell’! And I mean it!!!”
You can believe this or not, but the silence on His part was broken, “O. K. Karl, you win!” I didn’t hear that audibly, but somehow, mercifully, He was waiting on me to make a fresh commitment to Him, as my Father in heaven! He wanted me to love and serve Him because I loved Him and not because I didn’t want to go to hell! It was miraculous! I felt God inside my belly again, like I had never experienced Him before! I walked back to camp that night, walking “ten feet tall”! When I went to sleep in my bunk, I, for just a few seconds, wondered if that same “feeling” would be there when I awakened in the morning. But I really and truly didn’t care! I had made my commitment, and I planned to keep it, no matter what happened the next day!
Praise God! The next morning I awoke to the birds singing, the electric shavers going, the light from the rising sun filling my room, and that same fantastic sensation in my “belly” was still there…and, there’s not been one day or night since, that I have not actually felt, strongly, the presence of God Almighty in my life! (There was only one time that I couldn’t feel God, when I experienced a “numbness” in my “middle” when I was delivering papers at 4:00 a.m. while working my way through college. Exasperated, I, walking, guided my bike over the broad ditch at the side of the highway, carefully crawled over a barbed wire fence and literally “tore up” that farmer’s pasture on the other side wrestling with God, but, Hallelujah! After that, whether it was 4:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the afternoon I felt God, strongly, in my inner being.) That miracle has lasted the rest of my life right up until now!
My call to the ministry at a Methodist Youth Rally for Full Time Service at 18 was a manifestation of the super-natural. I followed through by majoring in Radio Speech at a Christian University, a thousand miles away from home, thinking maybe God would have me build and run a Christian Radio Station. But in my senior year, when I was 22, I was sitting in a chapel with 3000 other students, and God spoke, audibly, to me. Softly, He said, “Karl, would you preach my Gospel?”
I answered back, quietly, “Lord, you know I would. I’ve just been waiting for your call!”
He whispered back, “I’m ‘calling’ you NOW!”
Immediately, I decided to go to seminary for the next three years to prepare myself to preach. It was in the same University where I had gone for the radio speech degree; it was founded by a Methodist evangelist, had a Christian & Missionary Alliance president, most of the students were Baptist, and I had a Bible Presbyterian for my main professor in the seminary. There were 120 denominations represented in the student body. Pentecostals were there, too; they simply weren’t allowed to pray in tongues on campus. And another miracle was happening. When I finished those seven years, some of the happiest, most fulfilling years of my life, I had no demerits, had a “B” average, and owed nobody anything as a debt for my schooling! (There were no government loans, no grants, no scholarships, I simply worked hard during my schooling days and helped in the harvest and plowing seasons during the summers in my rural community. My folks did the best they could, sending me $10. a month the first four years and $15 a month the last three years. I worked hard, but to God I give the glory! It was a miracle.
I married my wife, Joyce, after finishing school, and received another fantastic, supernatural visitation from God. After 10 years of seeking God for the mighty in-filling with the Holy Spirit, called, the “Baptism in the Spirit”, at 25, I received that super-natural happening. It was the difference inside of me like the difference between a 60 watt bulb and a 1000 watt bulb!
Let’s go back, quickly, to another miraculous answer to prayer when I was still a Methodist in my teens. My dad was on his death-bed, at 55 years old. He had varicose veins in his legs. He had to keep both legs bandaged with stretchy gauze bands. His legs swelled so large that my older sister, who was still at home with me, and I had to lift each leg into his bed each night so he could get his rest. He had to quit work at the elevator, and was on his death bed!
I read in the Bible about King Hezekiah who asked God for 15 years extra to live, so I, in earnest prayer, asked God to give my dad 15 more years on this earth! To my utter amazement, and the rest of the family, too, my dad began to get well, he went back to work at the elevator, and 3 days before he reached 70, he had a heart-attack and went home to be with the Lord; he worked right up within three days of his death. In addition, to enhance the miracle of answered prayer, during that 15 years, he was able to build another elevator on the same grounds. He went from a 20,000 bushel elevator to a 200,000 bushel house. It stands out there on the prairie, even today, as a monument skyscraper to the “signs and wonders” God we serve. A picture of the two elevators hangs on the wall of my small apartment, today.
Another fantastic miracle that took place during my teen-age years, was that I went through what Pentecostals and Charismatics call “deliverance”. Some people, just last week, celebrated Halloween. Before I hit my teen-age years my older brothers and sisters took me on Halloween to see “The Weir-wolf”. It was a horror movie in a little town about six miles from our home. It scared the “living day-lights” out of me. I was like a little shriveled-up ball on that theater seat. I began to have night-mares. Much of the time my dreams were of a little old “faceless” woman with a shawl over her head that freaked me out. (It scared the puddin’ out of me.) I would wake-up the whole house, all nine of them, with my screams in the middle of the night or early morning. My dad would take me around and show me that there wasn’t anybody under the table-cloth in the dining room, or take me outside and show me that no one was messing with the metal clothes-lines, or hanging from the top of the windmill!
In addition to the “Weir-wolf” picture show, I began to, without my parents knowledge, to slip down to the post-mistress’s house, a block away from where I lived, to a “table-raising” function which was, of course, into the occult, and that further aggravated my “fearful” condition.
Today, they call what I had “panic-attacks”. After I became a Pentecostal I learned that what I had let “slip in” from these experiences was a “spirit of fear”, in other words, like the demons that Jesus used to cast out of people in Bible days!
It came to a climax at 3 o’clock one morning. I had awakened the whole house again with one of my horrific night-mares. My dad had had enough! He took me into my room and pointed at the edge of the bed and said, “Son, kneel down!” I humbly knelt, and he prayed a simple prayer like any good Methodist would pray, “Lord, I’ve had enough of this! I’ve got to get up and work to feed this family in the morning, (He always was up at 5:00 a.m.) I’m asking you, in the name of Jesus, to take this fear out of my son’s life. I thank you for it. Amen!”
You don’t have to believe this if you don’t want to, but, from that night on, I never had even one night-mare. And, I know this is incredible to you, but “NO MORE FEAR”! From that day ‘til this, I’ve NEVER been afraid of ANYONE or ANYTHING. And this is the “icing on the cake”, I’ve dreamed beautiful dreams in technicolor ever since! It was one of the most unbelievable miracles of my life!
Time does not allow me to tell of the elderly woman, instantly healed of diabetes, of all things, in the early days of my ministry, up in Merom, Indiana, and, towards the end of my ministry, the young teen-aged girl with 36 warts all over her body whose father brought to me to be prayed for at the church that was next door. He brought her back the next night to confirm her healing. Every wart had disappeared! All credit goes to God for those two healings. Time fails to tell of other miraculous happenings in my personal life, like the healings that have taken place in my 11 grandchildren who all still live here in town, like Steele, who was healed of leukemia, Sterling who recently was healed of cancer, and of Kyle, whom you know as one of our dining room waiters, healed of Autism. God gets the glory!
But hear this! One of greatest miracles of all is that all four of my own children love the Lord, and are serving Him! (They all live close by in this area.) Every single one of my 11 grandchildren have “tender hearts” towards God, as well as my three great-grandchildren! Wow!
Let me inject a thought right here. One of important things that contributed an awful lot to the spiritual well-being of our children, was that we always had family worship with our kids. Every day, after supper, before they went out to play, we had a little scripture and prayed together. It took only about 10 or 15 minutes, but I believe it was valuable. Also, I challenged all four of our children to memorize the 150 verses of the Navigator’s System before they left home!
Another highly unusual happening during the ministry God gave me was the following miracle. My Baptist buddy at school, who worked with me at the radio station as the commercial manager at the University I told you about, stopped me in the studio one day and said, “Strader, if you’d start reading 15 chapters out of the Bible, every day, it’d change the look on your face. I accepted his challenge, and started reading 15 chapters out of the Bible, every day, and it actually did “that very thing”, it changed the look on my face, but also, God challenged me to start memorizing scripture. That was one of the most supernatural events that ever happened to me. From then until I moved in here at the Estates, God helped me to memorize 6 and one/half hours of the most important scriptures in the Bible which I have used throughout my preaching years. There were times when I preached whole sermons with nothing but scripture. There is no way I could have accomplished that feat, no way at all, without the supernatural, energizing, power of God. Ten years ago, when I moved in with you, as you might well imagine, my memory began to deteriorate, but, helping in a funeral service a couple of weeks ago, God helped me to go for about 10 minutes quoting, from memory, nothing but the Word of God. I’m so grateful to God for helping me do something so very unusual!
As I look back at 40 years of ministry in Lakeland alone, I can’t take credit for the growth. It was God. We had six services on Sunday, before we left our first church building to move across the street, on Main Street. We started out with 325 people for a Sunday morning. The building seated 750. God gave the growth. I can’t take the credit! I was so busy conducting street meetings at Munn Park in down-town Lakeland, holding prison services in Bartow, preaching in conventions and camp meetings all over the United States and Canada, building a radio station, housed in our church, that covered Sarasota, west side of Tampa, east-side of Orlando, and Zephyrhills, went on national television with several networks, (and we were on national television in Russia for three years), but that wasn’t where the growth of the local church was. God, it was God, that brought in the people, without anyone in particular going to them, home-less people that slept under the bridges here in town, “Jesus people” that camped out, outside of town in the woods. I remember them sitting on the floor in the altar area, denominational people from other churches in town, I didn’t personally, nor did members of the congregation, that I know of, invite them, God brought them in, many just to visit, occasionally, …and people of color! Miracle of miracles!!! We had the first “integrated” church in Lakeland, and we started right in the middle of the race-riots in town in the sixties. (I had to take my kids out of the public schools and place them in the Lakeland Christian School.) Never did I solicit those town’s people’s attendance, even on the radio, God drew them in like a magnet. (I just, simply, preached the Gospel.)
Let me quickly tell you another true story right here. Our family was in a boat accident on Lake Eloise. Joyce and I, on the 4th of July, took our two girls, Karla and Dawn, and went on an outing with a family of three with their new pleasure boat. A storm came up, overturned our boat, and dropped all of us, except our daughter Karla, and their little boy, Jeffy, (They were left under the up-turned boat standing on the canvas, the cover for the boat), into the lake. Across town, a Presbyterian, Charismatic intercessor, who had visited our church, was watching television with her husband. God spoke to her, she jumped up and went into her bedroom, and kneeling by her bedside, God showed her that our family was all shrouded in darkness and in trouble; she prayed earnestly for our safety!) Two Navy men were close to us with their families in their boats, rushed to our up-turned boat, rolled it over, right side up, dumping the two kids under the boat to safety and allowed them and all of us to be rescued from certain disaster!
Just a note of supernatural happenings during our ministry, God gave Joyce and me a special ministry to people of various denominations for 25 years, those of the Charismatic experience, all over the world, as far away as Singapore! (Today, 21% of all the major denominations, including the Roman Catholics, are Charismatic in faith and practice, just like those of us who are Pentecostal.) Miracle of Miracles!
We built an 1850 seat building across the street from the old building. We, for several years, had four and five services there, and then came 1985. We purchased 750 acres where we are now. There was nothing out here but a golf-course, the old Carpenter’s retirement center which had been closed for seven years, a couple of alligators, and a small trail-like road leading to Dade city! Practically every business and home you see in this area now, has happened since 1985. We sold off all but 125 acres, including the golf-course, so we could have the money to build, at that time, the largest church building in the country. It was God, a miracle-working God. I take credit for nothing as I look back! The ten-thousand seat auditorium, built next door to this complex, was filled over and over again by concerts conducted from people from all over the nation. There were 7000 people, when we moved out from Main Street, that called the church, that was next door to this place, their church home, from a town of, less than a 100,000 population. Of course, many heard our radio station and drove in from 30 to 50 miles away. It was an amazing, supernatural, visitation by the God of the Universe.
And then the divorce! My wife and I lived sixty beautiful years together. We’d never been through a divorce. We never thought about divorce, even once; (I thought about spanking her, a couple of times!) I had no clue what it was like to get a divorce; but God, (who had lost 1/3 of His congregation, made up of rebellious angels up in heaven, “before the foundation of the world”), knew what a divorce was like, so He let us go through our “insurrection” when we lost 1/3 of our congregation, back in ’89. (It was one of the largest church splits in North America!) It was a miraculous manifestation that we continued with the people that were left, another 17 years, until retirement. When we left we helped finance two new churches and enabled both my son, Stephen, who had been an associate for 30 years, and my son-in-law, Shane, who had been with me for 20 years, to start pastoring churches on their own. Instead of one big church, there are now 12 smaller churches in town, so the people were not lost! How good God is!
But you know what? One of the greatest miracles of my life was God helping me to FORGIVE everyone! I’m not kidding. God has helped me not feel any animosity at all, even though I believe, sincerely, that it was the “insurrection”, plus our “integrated congregation”, that contributed to my son, Dan, to end up in prison for the last twenty years. It was all connected together, with a real live “witch” right in the middle of the whole conflagration, which we didn’t find out about until 20 years after it all took place. (One of our radio station employees told about it in a book just recently published.)
Is it any wonder that I’m still alive? Is it any wonder that I believe God has been right in the middle of my life with signs and wonders?
There were many other supernatural events that included my serving on the Board at Oral Roberts University, leading the Idea Exchange which met, annually, in population centers all over the country, ministering to thousands of ministers and their wives, and now, I have a Web site, Karlstrader.com, that is heard and seen with a fresh devotional each week, all over the world. I had over 700 “hits” from Russia just a couple of months ago. I’m probably reaching more people now at 86 than at any time while I was younger. Is God special, or what?!
I know one thing. I love God. I love everybody. I know I had precious little to do with anything good that has happened in my adventurous life, and that God permitted every evil that has happened for my own good and even for your own good. And now here we are, this morning. I said there are twelve churches of people, in town, today, that were born out of our church building that has recently been torn down, and out of all these supernatural happenings, you and I are here in this room this morning in a place that is not only a place representing many denominations, as well as independents, and a place which, although it’s not perfect in every respect, is one of the best places like it in the whole area, and there’s a “sweet spirit” here that prevails in our every-day, family-like, life. Several years ago, after helping keep this place solvent in its earlier days, financially, the church that was next door gave the Estates its sovereignty, we asked Joe Perez and John Thompson who had worked with me so faithfully through the years, and were so loyal through “hell and high-water”, to manage this place with their newly formed company, and now it’s a non-profit entity owned by the residents who have bought in to this facility, including you that are here today. Are you aware that this place where we live is worth 50 million dollars on the market, today? Are you convinced that we serve a miracle-working, signs and wonders God?!
This has been my testimony of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of men, and especially in the lives of those who love Him with all their hearts. Since coming here to live, I’ve learned how NOT to come here to the Estates to wait ‘til I die, but, instead, I’ve learned to “die daily” to self, and trust in God for the future. Presently, I’m shooting to live until I’m 120 years old, unless Jesus comes sooner than that, plus, I am getting ready to “rule and reign” with Jesus in the next life, and I’m learning to esteem you more important than I am, so my appeal to you is “let me be a servant to you”. Stop me in the hall-way, come to me where you see me sitting at meal-time, and let me pray for you and with you. Let me give you words of encouragement. I have no particular desire to “preach” to you, or lecture you, but to help you with the load you’re carrying, and to bless each of you, regardless of where you are in your relationship with God. I love God, and I love you, dearly!
One last thing! Please pray for me. I have four “mountains” I’m attempting to “move” through prayer. My battle with diabetes, my hearing loss, my son to get out of prison, and five areas I am working on for improvement in my own relationship with God.
And please, if I ever offend you, or someone you know, by my actions, please correct me. I want and need your input in my life. (I’ve never been more serious!)
May God’s richest blessings be upon you all!