Galen Ray Courtney was an intelligent man, full of ingenuity and genius. He held a patent for an original design while employed at AT&T; he worked on top-secret projects for them and for the U.S Government. He gathered intelligence for the United States Air Force in Berlin just before the Cold War. He held a masters degree in electrical engineering. Yet none of that meant anything to him.
Daddy’s goals, his affections, his hope—everything he said and did—stood solidly and solitarily on the salvation that was purchased for his soul at Calvary “where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.”
He associated with the humble—those who found beauty in an “emblem of suffering and shame,” a Roman instrument of torture: a cruel cross. Despite his many achievements, Daddy’s only boast was in what Jesus did for him that blessed day when the Prince of Peace allowed Himself to be mocked, slapped, spit upon, whipped, and nailed to a tree so that mankind’s debt to God would once and for all be paid-in-full.
Daddy didn’t show much emotion. He was a typical engineer: introverted, shy, quiet and unassuming. But when he did speak, he bragged on Jesus. He set aside his pride, his opinions, his agendas and spoke gratefully of the mercy and grace he found “on a hill far away” where an old rugged cross held a “wondrous attraction” for him.
I’m sure by now you recognize the lyrics of the classic church hymn I’ve been quoting. You see, I sat down to write you an Easter story, put on my headphones to listen to an instrumental collection of the old hymns to ‘get me in the mood’ to write, and the first one that played was The Old Rugged Cross. Needless to say, my face was wet with tears before it ended. In my mind’s eye I saw my Daddy clinging by faith to that old cross, decade after decade of his 77 years on earth, always identifying with its shame and pain and hope.
Daddy knew that the cross was his badge of hope—the hope of glory—and he wore that badge with pride, not because of what he did to earn it, but for what his Savior did to give it to him. Daddy believed that all the happiness and honor he could ever hope to gain would come to him only through faith in the fact that the Son of God was raised from the dead on that beautiful Easter morning so long ago.
If you’ve been following my column this year, you know that Daddy is now in heaven with his precious Savior. He left us on January 12, 2011. Before that day, death had not been so real to me. Yes, I’ve been to funerals, I’ve mourned with friends who have lost loved ones and I pray daily for victims of violence and disaster all over this aching planet, but when I saw my Daddy’s body in a box; when I saw the lid close and watched that box be lowered into the cold ground in front of a marble marker with his name on it, I better understood why that hideous event at Golgotha earned the name “Good” Friday.
In my headphones, I hear the last refrain of this age-old hymn and my father’s badge of hope becomes clear: “Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, Where His glory forever I’ll share.
Hallelujah! My Daddy is not in a box in the New Hampshire soil next to a stone bearing his name—he is in the presence of the King of kings, the Lord of lords worshiping the Lamb who was slain—Who was and is and is to come!
What then can I say of the life I have yet to live on this earth?
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.