Grace Notes By Nancy Kennedy

They’re called Crosses of Mercy, three tall crosses — two pale blue and one gold — planted across at least 29 states and Washington, D.C., plus Zambia and the Philippines.

Where I live in Florida, I’ve seen several sets of them and I’ve always wondered about them since they don’t seem to be connected to any one church. They’re usually out in the middle of nowhere, randomly planted on the highway.

A few months ago, a woman sent me a story her friend wrote for a local newspaper in Ohio many years ago about the origins of these crosses. I’ve since done some researching myself.

They were the brainchild of Bernard Coffindaffer, a man from the mountains of West Virginia who made a small fortune with a coal-washing business. He was also a Methodist minister and an evangelist.

In the early 1980s, Coffindaffer had two heart bypass surgeries, which did more than heal his heart disease. They also changed his spiritual outlook as well.

Shortly after his heart surgery, Coffindaffer had a vision from God in which the Lord told him, “You are not going to sit around anymore. You are going to march.”

To gather inspiration, he took a trip to the Holy Land — the place where Jesus was crucified between two thieves on Golgotha. When he returned, Coffindaffer decided to plant clusters of three crosses wherever he could, using his own money and doing as much of the work himself, with the help of his family and a small crew.

Mostly Coffindaffer planted the crosses in rural areas, chosen by divine inspiration, many in towns with biblical names.

Made from Douglas fir trees grown in California, the gold-painted center cross stands 22 feet tall, with the pale blue crosses a bit smaller. The land they’re on is donated private property.

Until his death in 1993, Coffindaffer personally consecrated each site. In his lifetime he planted 1,864 cross clusters and spent an estimated $3 million.

According to the 1986 Ohio newspaper story, Coffindaffer said, “These crosses are up for only one sole reason and that’s to remind people that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins, and that he is soon coming again.

“That’s what jars people, but that’s the truth,” he said. “When you say, ‘For our sins,’ half the people run. When you say, ‘He’s coming again,’ everybody runs. But maybe the crosses would make one person stop and think.”

Theologian Oswald Chambers once wrote, “All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ; all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.”

Whether we ignore it or not, the cross and Christ’s crucifixion remain an historical fact and the theological cornerstone of the Christian faith. Jesus didn’t come to earth to teach us how to be better people. He came to die for sinful humanity.

Coffindaffer spent his entire fortune and the remainder of his life spreading that very message. He said prior to his vision and decision to follow God’s leading he had “worked like a dog” building a bank account, working as many as 18 hours a day for 35 years.

For nine years until he died from a heart attack in 1993, he worked tirelessly trying to get rid of his money, investing it in planting crosses.

People must’ve thought he was crazy. But then, people thought Jesus was crazy, too, and people still think Christians are crazy religious nutcases.

The message of the cross has always sounded like nonsense to most people. It’s foolishness to some and downright offensive to others.

But for those of us who embrace it and who believe it is God’s only means of salvation and reconciliation, we know it’s the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, my paraphrase)

There’s an old-timey hymn that goes, “In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see. For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me.”

Thanks to a man in West Virginia who was crazy enough to heed God’s voice, there are 1,864 reminders around the world that the cross of Jesus still draws people and the blood of Christ still pardons sinners.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

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