I have had the immense blessing of being surrounded by numerous people, men and women, who have brought their gifts to bear in my life in ways that have transformed me for the better. George Scipione (Skip) was one of them. In some ways, he has been one of the most significant gifts the Lord ever blessed me with.
In 1985, at a time when I was struggling in my marriage and my faith, my pastor, Doug Balcombe, recommended that I take training in biblical counseling rather than going to college to get a degree in psychology, as I was considering. Although I was resistant to that idea, I decided to go ahead. And so I met Skip. At that point he was training people for CCEF and Westminster Seminary at the Reformed Presbyterian Church on College Avenue in San Diego. His offices there weren’t sumptuous at all. But Skip was never very much of a lavish sort of person. In fact, he used to wear this green sweat suit to the office every day. We started calling it his “frog suit”. I hope Eileen burned it. Skip wasn’t flashy. But he was remarkable, nevertheless.
In my first classes, I was joined by 5 or 6 other students. Most of them were seminary students. I remember going to visit a friend during one of our lunch breaks and saying to her, “These guys have answers for questions I’ve never even thought of.” Though at that point I had been a Christian for about 15 years, I had never heard anything like what he was teaching. It was amazing. As I sat through these classes on Monday mornings, and then all evening as I observed Skip counseling, I was learning that the Bible really did have answers—not just to theological questions I had never framed—but also to the difficulties that I was facing in my own faith. I saw how the Bible really was relevant to me, in my messiness, and was also sufficient and powerful enough to transform my own life.
Not only did I learn the principles and practices of biblical counseling, I also learned the Reformed faith. I had always known that salvation was through grace alone by faith alone, but I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it … nor did I understand the ramifications of what a Reformed soteriology and the sovereignty of God meant. Skip patiently corrected me and opened my eyes to the truth of Scripture in ways that were novel and life-changing. I remember a conversation I had in those first few years with David Powlison, describing the transformation I was undergoing. I told him it was like being born again, again.
Then, within a few years I finished up my certification—I was actually the first person to do that with Skip—and began to work for him as his office manager/administrator. I had the opportunity to watch his life for years. I saw how he lived. I knew how he struggled physically with his asthma. And yet, day after day, he would pour his life out for people who needed help. He was the real deal.
It was because of his vision that I pursued further training in biblical counseling. It was because of his sacrifice that I began a writing career: because he continually encouraged me to pursue opportunities to get the word out about the sufficiency of God’s Word.
And finally, it was because of Skip, that my son, Joel, met his dear wife, Ruth, Skip’s daughter.
Humanly speaking, I have a beautiful, faithful, godly daughter-in-law, and two wonderful grandchildren, Eowyn and Colin, because Skip chose to serve God in San Diego. This was a difficult posting for him. But still he labored on. Humanly speaking, I have a speaking and writing career because Skip took time to care for my soul, to correct me, to push me to learn and to write. Skip introduced me to people, including Jay Adams, who could open the door for me to get into publishers, and he brought me into the circle of biblical counselors, who have changed my life for the good and given me a platform even to this day.
I know that in some ways Skip’s ministry here in San Diego was a disappointment to him. I know that he wanted to train loads of men for the ministry and when the relationship with the seminary fell apart, I know that was a very hard pill to swallow. He really felt called to train men up to do pastoral ministry and the Lord gave him me. Well. God sits in his heaven and laughs.
So, here I am again, saying thank you to the Lord, for George and Eileen, and their faithfulness. He certainly has received the crown of glory and to our way of thinking, way too early. And yet, I wouldn’t take that away from him, even if I could. He’s finally resting now, safe in the arms of his Savior in paradise. He’s rested from his labors and he’s been welcomed as a faithful son. How great is that? And the Lord is showing him all the ways that he may have thought were insignificant that he was a chosen vessel for his purposes. And I’m grateful.