The man who was my Little League Baseball coach died on Monday. He was my first, last, and only baseball coach. I think I played around eight years for him. Since I am now almost 65 I would guess he had to be in his late 80s.

When I first started playing Little League Baseball my dad was still a weekend alcoholic and not really engaged with my brother and me. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he ever went to watch me play in one of the games. Mr. Nell was not a father figure to me, but he was a man who did a lot for me.

During my years of Little League Baseball we practiced on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and played our games on Saturday mornings. Mr. Nell picked me up at my house for every practice and game and dropped me off at home afterwards. After most games he took us out for ice cream.

His wife was also very involved and his son was on the team. But neither parent treated Timmy any different from the rest of us. Mr. Nell taught us how to catch, throw, hit, bunt, and run the bases; but he taught us much more. His attitude, style, outlook, and gentle discipline set the example for us. I don’t remember a time when he ever went over the top in dealing with any of us or in disputing an umpire’s call.

As much as he meant to me as a baseball coach, that was not the most important thing he did for me. Around the age of 10 one day he dropped me off at my house and said “We’ll see you in church on Sunday Bobby.” I replied, “Mr. Nell, I don’t go to church.” And my best friend chimed in, “Why don’t you come to my church?” My best friend’s church was close enough for me to walk on Sunday mornings.

I went to church the next Sunday morning and have been going ever since. My older brother started going with me and we both became Christians. My mom started going and eventually rededicated her life. And after a few years my dad began going and eventually became a Christian. After high school I went to Bible College and became a pastor. When I was ordained as a Christian minister the elder at my home church who said the prayer was my dad.

Several years later my home church invited me back to preach on Father’s Day. Somehow Mr. Nell found out about it and came that Sunday instead of going to his church. What a privilege it was for me that morning to affirm, honor, and thank both Mr. Nell and my own dad. I spoke by phone with Mrs. Nell Sunday evening from the hospital and she indicated that Sunday meant a great deal to him.

I haven’t seen Mr. Nell in many years but my emotions are stirred by that Sunday evening phone conversation and learning of his passing on Monday. I thank God for Mr. Nell and how God used him to make a huge difference in my life and family. And I hope and pray that God has used me and will use me to make a difference in the lives of others like me.

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In my daily devotional reading earlier this week something Eugene Peterson said really got my attention. Reflecting on those who are well known in our society he observed, “There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture.” Now that is not true of everyone, but it is for the most part. And not that as Christians we need heroes as such, but it is helpful to have some good examples and models. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Peterson when he notes, “We have celebrities but not saints.”

As I continued to mull over these thoughts and reflected on my life I realized I have had lots of good models and examples.  Going all the way back to my church of late childhood and youth I can recall many who displayed much to admire as well as imitate. And I did both. Then in college and graduate school I was greatly impacted by several I would characterize as real saints; teachers who not only taught well but also gave me much more.

The truth is in a real way I want to be someone others admire and imitate. But I want them to imitate and admire me because I am living for the Lord. I want to be an example and a model because they see me as a follower of Jesus who is growing and maturing. I want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Admittedly, too many times I am not the example I know I should be.  But I am making progress; and I hope you are as well.

Who is following you and whom are you following?

(Adapted from Chapter 12 “Preacher’s Pen Columns” of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. You can check it out on the ‘my book’ page or at

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