Strength in Weakness: Florida Pastor’s Limitations Leveraged by Unlimited God
By Carl Stagner
Remarkable tenacity regardless of physical limitation reverberates from the testimony of the impact pastor of the Florida congregation of the Church of God simply known as ALTAR. After capturing the attention of the local news this summer, his inspirational story was aired on Fox 13 Tampa Bay. As the video segment communicated, Carlos Lara was born with no left arm and without a complete right hand. Not surprisingly, Carlos Lara has endured more than a few valleys over the course of his life; ultimately, however, the accomplished musician and anointed minister of the gospel has discovered that, with Jesus Christ, he can overcome the obstacles that stand in his way—and inspire others to do the same.
Carlos Lara is a Shriners Hospital kid. At the age of eleven, his mother brought him from their Guatemalan home to Tampa, Florida, for prosthetics. With his heart set on music ministry, the boy’s perseverance pushed him to trumpet proficiency at Oak Grove Church of God, now ALTAR. Carlos even learned how to play piano with his toes. But behind the external successes, Carlos had to figure out his place in the world and how to come to terms with his perceived weakness. That’s when the truth behind 2 Corinthians 12:8–10 shaped his outlook on life.
“We can serve God in a way that he can show his power through us,” Carlos explains. “I spent too much of my life asking God to remove my weakness. I wanted to feel and look like everybody else. When I realized I had an amazing opportunity to show God’s strength, I stopped praying for God to remove my weakness and, instead, to use it for his glory.”
Carlos remembers his first two years of high school being the hardest; it was in those two years that he wore a prosthetic arm in an attempt to blend in as much as possible.
“I did not accept who I was,” he recounts. “This led me to pushing people away and wanting to be left alone. I would go hide in the bathroom and, though it wasn’t the ideal place, I could feel the presence of God there. I would cry out to Jesus and tell him I didn’t understand what was happening or why I was like this. But, after my sophomore year, I decided to stop wearing that prosthetic arm. I found I could just be who I was. I could see myself as Christ saw me and I could also become more like Christ. I felt happy again.”
An opportunity presented itself in the form of a self-produced video that went viral. The video depicted Carlos demonstrating his talent on a drum set, clearly showing his ability in spite of his physical limitation. Instead of producing more videos like that and potentially garnering for himself a vast, international following, Carlos thereafter decided to showcase his weaknesses more than his victories. That way, an unlimited Lord could leverage Lara’s limitations for divine purposes.
Carlos Lara has not only witnessed personal transformation, but has also enjoyed a front-row seat to the incredible things God is doing at ALTAR. With Pastor Tato Caballero at the helm, the church has celebrated both spiritual and numerical growth. As an associate, Carlos has helped in a variety of capacities—from music to social media and beyond. He’s grateful for the Spirit’s work in their midst as services are intentionally saturated in Scripture and prayer. Like his own story of triumph and transformation, Carlos is thankful others are discovering how Jesus Christ is more than enough—no matter the limitation.
“It’s so easy to say God can do the impossible, but when it comes to the simple things like whether or not he can use me, we begin to doubt,” Carlos concludes. “But God really can do all things. Moses came up with excuses, but God’s strength was sufficient for his weakness. God is the one who created us, and sometimes he calls us to do what we can’t do so it’s his strength and not ours.”