TONY ELDER: Don't fall short of being in God's end zone

"So close! So close!" That was the anguished cry of many of us in this area last weekend as one of our college football teams fell just short of achieving a significant victory.

As many of you know, the offense was driving down the field in the closing minute of the game, getting to within a few yards of the end zone, only to see the final seconds on the clock tick away before they could make one more attempt to score.

They were so close to scoring a touchdown, so close to winning the game, so close to becoming SEC champions, and so close to the opportunity to play for the national title.

The word I keep hearing various people use to describe that loss is heartbreaking. It would have been a disappointing loss no matter how it had occurred. But to have gotten so near the goal only to miss out by a few yards or a few seconds makes it that much more of a bitter pill for the team's fans to have to swallow.

However, there are other situations in which it's even more heartbreaking to be so close yet fall short of the mark. One of the most devastating is when someone is hearing Jesus' invitation to receive eternal life and follow Him, but fails to reach out and accept His offer of grace.

The Lord is near, convicting of sin, affirming His love, and revealing the truth about the way to salvation. But instead of taking that step of faith, the person stops short and turns away, maybe due to certain unfounded fears or an unwillingness to give up something he knows is incompatible with a relationship with Jesus.

One time Jesus told a man, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). What great news for someone to hear -- that he's so close to that all-important goal line.

We're not told what happened to this person afterwards. Hopefully he was willing to keep going in that direction and became a follower of Christ. But what if he didn't? How sad to have been so close, yet not make it into the end zone of God's kingdom.

The Bible also tells us about another young man who seemed to be close to putting his faith in Christ. He came to Jesus asking about inheriting eternal life. He seemed to be a moral person who was trying to live a good life.

The account says Jesus loved this man and told him that he just lacked one thing. He needed to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Christ. We're told that the man sorrowfully walked away because he was unwilling to part with his many possessions (Mark 10:17-22).

How sad! He just lacked one thing -- just one yard to go to score a touchdown -- but he stopped short.

One of the saddest songs you'll find in a hymnal is the old invitational song entitled "Almost Persuaded." Part of it reads: "Almost persuaded now to believe; almost persuaded Christ to receive... almost cannot avail; almost is but to fail! Sad, sad, that bitter wail -- almost, but lost."

Let's be faithful to pray for those who "are not far from the kingdom of God."

And if anyone reading this is hearing God's call yourself but trying to ignore it or put it off to some more convenient day, don't risk running out of time or falling short. It would be tragic to be one of those who was so close but didn't make it.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by e-mail at RevTElder@aol.com.