Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Good Friday Time

 

Ben White on Unsplash


Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor . . . Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

. . . At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” . . . Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”  -Mark 15:1-2, 24-25, 33-34, 37-39

The clock marks the hours of the day Jesus died.  It begins “very early in the morning,”  So much happens in those first three hours, and by nine o’clock they are already crucifying Jesus.  At noon, when the sun would be at its brightest and the shadows at their shortest, darkness falls over the land, like the ominous darkness from thick clouds as a thunderstorm turns day into night.  Then, at three o’clock, Jesus cries out and breathes his last.

On Good Friday, I like to mark the hours. In my mind I hear the deep toll of a bell announcing these times to the world.

“Bong, bong . . .it’s starting.” 

“Bong, bong . . .it’s happening.”

“Bong, bong, bong . . . it is finished.”

On Good Friday, these tolling bells resonate with my emotions. I am sad, but it’s more than that.  Maybe it’s the hard reality of death, made more vivid by the tolling of the hours. Or the deeply uncomfortable truth that humanity can do such horrible things to one another. Whatever the cause, it has become my custom to spend time sitting with my sadness on Good Friday. And as I do, I also hear God’s words from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Does Good Friday stir up feelings for you?  Be still and let God hold whatever troubles you, and consider the timelessness of the lake. There are no clocks here.  Sometimes there is complete silence and stillness.

When Jesus died it was as if time stopped and all creation held its breath and waited, mourned, despaired.

But time didn't stop. Death was not the end. Easter morning will come.

So for now, breathe and give thanks to God for life and breath and time and Jesus.



Monday, February 22, 2021

Ordained Praise

 


You have taught children and infants

    to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

    and all who oppose you. -Psalm 8:2

As I was reading Psalm 8 today, this verse stuck out to me.  It seems out of place in this psalm of praise to God for creating the earth and the heavens and giving humans responsibility for caring for God's creation.  Notice that it is not God who silences the enemies and opposition, but God's children telling of God's strength.  

When Jesus quotes this verse to the Jewish leaders who want Jesus to silence the children in the temple shouting, "Praise to the Son of David!" he says, “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” (Matthew 21:16) That seems to have silenced the Jewish leaders for the moment, but they are not silenced for long.

Instead of "strength," some translations say "praise."  Using strenth to silence God's enemies sounds violent and ungodly.  Using praise to silence them sounds much more like Jesus.

Ellicot's Commentary says, "This expresses, doubtless, part of the thought of the poet, that in a child’s simple and innocent wonder lies the truest worship; that God accomplishes the greatest things and reveals His glory by means of the weakest instruments—a thought which was seized upon by our Lord to condemn the want of spirituality in the scribes and Pharisees."

I'm seeing my starword for this year, "tenderness," in Ellicot's words. I noted in my last blog that "The dictionary defines 'tenderness' as . . . deep affection." Tenderness, then, helps us to express our worship of God in the way Psalm 8 describes, like a child's "simple and innocent wonder" at the majesty of the heavens, the beauty of the earth, and God's care for all creatures.

Psalm 8 begins and ends with a statement of praise: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  The Westminster Confession tells us that our chief purpose in life is to praise and enjoy God forever.  It's our job to make sure we address anything that gets in the way of praising God, which would mean addressing our sins and doubts and concerns with God, and with godly friends.

We tend to think of praise as music.  The ERV translates verse 2 that way: "From the mouths of children and babies come songs of praise to you. They sing of your power to silence your enemies who were seeking revenge."

I wonder if we don't think too narrowly about singing God's praise, though.  Parker Palmer says to "let your life speak," and Casting Crowns sing, "Let my lifesong sing to you."  Every moment of every day we can "sing" God's praise in how we live out Jesus' command to love God, love your neighbor, and repeatedly to "love one another."  Connecting this back to Psalm 8:2 which says that praise silences God's enemies, maybe we are to kill them with kindness?  Surely not killing.  Or maybe so?

"The phrase or expression probably originated from the English proverb The ape kills her young with kindness which was popular during the mid-1500s. This meant that the ape presumptively kills its young by crushing it hard while giving it a hug." --Penlighten.com

A very strong hug could literally kill, I suppose, though I'm sure that I am not that strong.  But we are in the middle of a pandemic, and if a hug results in spreading the virus, then it could kill.  

I'm pretty sure literally killing people is not what's intented by "silencing" God's enemies.  Proverbs 25:21-22 says: 

 If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.

    If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.

 You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,

    and the Lord will reward you.

Giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty sounds like a good plan to me.  But also reminds me that we need to be tenderhearted about this too.  Deeply compassionate. 1 Corinthians 13 says:

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Jesus says to love one another four times in his last teaching to the disciples (John 13-15) and the writers of the epistles repeat this commandment multiple times (as detailed here).

So, to sum things up, praise God, do it throughout each day by loving one another, even and maybe especially those who seem like enemies.  After all, only God knows who is for us and who is against us.

Keep on keeping on.

 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Star Word 2021 - Tenderness

Photo by Vincent Chin on Unsplash

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my 2021 star word is ironic.  That was also true with my very first star word (read more about that). The reason "tenderness" is ironic is that I have been dealing with severe back pain since New Year's Eve, pain so bad that it has at times had me in tears.  The year has begun with literal tenderness.  Maybe one of my challenges with this word is to stay tender about the pain and not get grumpy.  I'm sure I'll have some grumpy moments, but I don't want to let them become the norm for me.

My first "aha" moment with this word came from reading James 5:11 in the NLT: 

"We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy."

I had not realized that tenderness is a trait of God.  "The Lord is full of tenderness and mercy."  Several other Bible translations use the word "compassion" instead.  The King James uses the word as an adjective to describe "mercy."

4184 polýsplagxnos (from 4183 /polýs, "many" and 4698 /splágxnon, "a bowel") – properly, "many-boweled," referring to full affection (intense, visceral feeling), used only in Js 5:11. (From Bible Hub)

This is a word that by definition connects with us physically.  ("Many boweled" and "intense, visceral feeling") Maybe getting "tenderness" as my star word isn't so ironic after all.  This is not just compassionate, but extremely compassionate, so much so that there is a physical response, along with the emotional one.

Years ago I took pride in being tough, in being the only one who didn't cry at emotional movies.  Over time I came to realize that the toughness was the result of a giant wall I had built around myself emotionally, and put all the things that hurt behind that wall.  But in the process I had also walled out God.  When the wrecking ball came through the wall and I let God in, I cried all those pent up tears.  I cried easily for months because I had years of tears to cry out.  Maybe this star word is reminding me not to build another wall, or to break down whatever wall I might have already started.

The dictionary defines "tenderness" as gentleness and kindness, deep affection, and sensitivity to pain.  I think all of those are qualities of God, though I wonder at the sensitivity to pain.  Does God feel physically?  Does God cry when we cry?  Psalm 34:18 says "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted."  We know that Jesus wept (John 11:35, Luke 19:41), so in a sense, God cries.

Tears alone are an insufficient measure of tenderness, I suppose, but they were for awhile my measure of a lack of spirituality in worship. When the Spirit moves, we often have tears, sometimes of pain but also of joy. I was used to churches having kleenex in the pews because there was a frequent need for it.  I was surprised to find that there was no kleenex in some sanctuaries, and I saw that as a need for change, and a need for spirituality to increase.  I don't know whether that was valid or not.  

So far at my current church, the need for kleenex has not grown, as far as I can tell, and I haven't paid as much attention to that.  I do pray for our joy to increase.  Maybe our tenderness needs to increase as well.  Or maybe it's just me.  For now, I'll keep on inquiring of God and trust that God will lead the way.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Praying for the Future


The sermon below was written on Friday Nov. 6, 2020 in preparation for preaching on Sunday Nov. 8, 2020.  I didn't know as I was writing that the cough I was ignoring would lead to getting tested for COVID-19 and being advised to isolate until we know the results.  I also didn't know as I was writing that Biden and Harris would be declared the projected winners of the presidential election the next morning.

This was written to end short so that Christian Dashiell could talk more about praying for our children, and specifically for foster and adoptive families, as Nov. 8, 2020 is Stand Sunday.  When our committee originally was planning for this day, Christian had offered to preach and give me a vacation week.  I said no because I wanted to be involved in this special day.  God had other ideas and needed to have Christian in the pulpit on this day. I only regret that I didn't decide that sooner so that Christian could have more time to prepare.  

All of which reminds me that God is working even when I'm clueless, and that we should always be praying and hoping, for the future is in God's hands.

----

Praying for the Future – Matthew 25:1-13 (The Parable of the Bridesmaids)

Theologian Walter Wink said:

“History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being. . .”[1]

An intercessor is someone who prays for other people.  History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being...people who pray for the future.

Our gospel reading today is about the future.  It’s part of a whole set of teaching about the future that we find in Matthew 24 & 25 in which Jesus was teaching his disciples as they sat on the Mount of Olives not long before he was arrested and crucified.

We are used to hearing parables in Matthew that start like this one.  The kingdom of heaven is like…  But this one doesn’t say “is,” it says “will be.”  In the future.

It will be like a group of bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom.  Half of them brought enough oil to last through the unexpectedly long time of waiting.  The other half didn’t bring enough oil and had to go to the store at the last minute and buy some more.  By the time they got back, it was too late and the door to the wedding was closed and locked.  And the bridegroom wouldn’t open the door.  He says, “I didn’t know you.”  So be ready, because we don’t know the day or the hour.

In this story, Jesus is the bridegroom.[2]  Jesus got started on this teaching about the future because he’d told them that someday the temple would be destroyed. The disciples asked him when this would happen and would this be the end of time.  In typical Jesus style, he doesn’t tell them when, he says in v13 that we won’t know the day or the hour. Earlier, in Matthew 24:36, Jesus says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

By the time Matthew is writing this gospel, the temple has already been destroyed, as Jesus predicted, but unlike they thought, this didn’t bring about the end of time or the second coming of Jesus. So they were still left wondering about the future.  How much longer, Lord?

Maybe you’ve been wondering the same thing.  How much longer, Lord?

Again the answer is that we don’t know, but Jesus says at the end of today’s reading that we need to be ready.  So how do we do that?

Make good use of our time.  Psalm 31:15 says that our times are in God’s hands.  We don’t know how long, so we need to make the best use of our time while we’re waiting. 

How do we do that?  By doing the good works that God has called us to do. (Eph. 2:10).  In the rest of this chapter Jesus tells parables that talk about using our resources wisely, investing for the future, and we’ll talk more about that next week, and then the end of the chapter is taking care of people.  That’ll be our focus in two weeks.

Doing good works and staying ready to keep doing those good works.  How do we continue to have the power to do that?

In the story, being ready is having oil for our lamps.  In modern terms, this might be having enough electricity.  But this is a parable, so the oil or electricity is symbolic. What do you think the oil represents?   . . . The Holy Spirit.[3]

Proverbs 13:9 The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked goes out. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)  To be the light to the world, we need the power of the Holy Spirit.  We need to use the power of prayer. 

There was a little town that had two churches and one distillery.  They were often at odds with each other.  The two churches decided to hold a prayer meeting to ask God to intervene and settle the matter once and for all, and so they all gathered together one night for prayer.  All through the prayer meeting a terrible storm raged.  During the storm, lightning hit the distillery, and it caught fire and burned to the ground.  The next Sunday both pastors preached about the power of prayer.

Insurance adjusters told the distillery owner that they couldn’t pay his damage claims because his insurance policy didn’t cover “acts of God.”  The distillery owner was furious and sued both churches saying that they had conspired with God to destroy his business.  The churches denied that they had anything to do with the cause of the fire.

When they came to court, the judge said that he found the case most perplexing.  The plaintiff, the bar owner, is professing his belief in the power of prayer, and the defendants, all faithful church members, are denying that very same power![4]

Did prayer cause lightning to strike that factory?  There’s no way to know for sure, one way or the other, but this raises an interesting question:  How much do we really trust in the power of prayer?  I think most of us do, or at least we want to.  Jesus definitely did.  He prayed all the time.  And he told us to do the same.

As we pray for people, we need to keep on praying – We never know how long it will take. There was an older widow that lived next door to a family with a boy who would come do chores for her.  As part of his pay, she would always have him sit down in the kitchen to eat a piece of apple pie, usually freshly baked.  He would eat it as quickly as he could so he could get out to go play with his friends, but then she would bring him another piece of pie, and he would have to listen to her endless talking as he ate it.  Ten years later, he gave his life to Jesus at a college event.  He didn’t know who to tell, and then it occurred to him to go tell the widow.   He found her in her back yard enjoying the beautiful spring day.  He asked her if she knew Jesus, and she said she did.  So he said, “Well, the other night, I committed my life to Jesus.”  She looked up and said firmly, “You stay right here.”  She hobbled up to her back door and up the steps, and came back ten minutes later with a huge piece of chocolate cake.  As he ate it, she was smiling broadly but silently, and finally after a while, she said, “For the last fifteen years, since you moved in next door, I have prayed every day for you.  I prayed every day that you would come to know Jesus.[5]

I consider it a bonus whenever we get to see the results of our prayer like that widow did.  I think more often than not we don’t get to know the outcome when we’re praying for someone.  In the book of James it says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and produces results (5:16).  Sometimes that may seem like a pipe dream and we may wonder if our prayers really are helping.  The Bible says they are.  We just have to keep praying and trust that God will bless our faithfulness to his call to us to pray for one another.

Richard Foster said, “If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this will lead us to prayer. Intercession is a way of loving others.”[6]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “Christ stands between us and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him.”[7]  I think this is true.  There’s a connection we make with people as we pray for them that’s different than if we don’t.  Our connection in Christ transcends the bonds of time and space.

Praying for children is praying for the future, for they will live beyond our lifetimes.

Here are some ways to pray for families who are fostering and adopting children.



[1] Greig, Pete. How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People (p. 93). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

[2] “The idea of Jesus being the bridegroom of the parable is easily established, since already in Matthew 9: 15 Jesus himself alludes to it.” –Sammy G. Alfaro in Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship. Ed. Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby, Carolyn J. Sharp. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition (Kindle Locations 14818-14819).

[4] Bob Russell, When God Answers Prayer (Howard Publishing, 2003), 43-44.

[5] Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does it make any difference? (Zondervan, 2006), 303. Adapted.

[6] Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008), 204. As quoted in Greig, Pete. How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People (p. 93). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

[7] Cost of Discipleship, 305.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Prayer for Today


Listen here

----------

Hey, God. 

Thanks for this day. 

Thanks for this breath.

Thanks for this beautiful world you made and thanks for your goodness that you put in each one of us. 

Loving God, you are merciful and gracious. Forgive us.

We have been more concerned about our comfort than about being just. 

We have been more concerned about our own situations than about being merciful. 

We have been self-righteous about our faith instead of humbly walking with you. 

We have taken for granted that your goodness will prevail and forgotten that we are to participate in making it happen.  Help us to be a help to those around us. 

God, you say that if we will turn to you and humble ourselves, you’ll heal our land.  We are turning to you.  So much healing is needed.  Heal our land and heal our hearts.

God, we want to pray for your will to be done, but what if your will isn’t what we want?  Only you know how this election is going.  We think we know.  We think we know what’s best. Protect us from our own foolishness, God.  Guide our hearts and thoughts and words and actions so that your goodness truly shines through us.

God, we struggle to know who is telling the truth and who is not, but you know.  Your word tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light and we are too easily deceived.  Help us, God.  Help us to hear your voice, and see your light.  Help us to turn away from temptation. Deliver us from evil. 

God, yours is the power and yours is the glory forever. Help us to keep trusting you and in your Son Jesus, in whose name we pray. 

Thanks, God.

Monday, August 24, 2020

God is Good

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.  And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other. 

–1 Kings 12:28-30 NIV

Yesterday I preached about Jesus and the disciples having a conversation while they were in Caesarea Philippi about who Jesus is (Matthew 16:13-20).  I noted that it was a significant place because of its distance from the temple in Jerusalem, and because of its temples to the Greek god Pan and to Caesar Augustus.  But I forgot about the Old Testament context of that place. Caesarea Philippi is also 5.5 km/3.4 miles from the city of Dan, notable for being the location of one of the golden calves that King Jeroboam made to keep the people of the newly split off northern kingdom from going to Jerusalem.  This historic event set the tone for the northern kingdom as being theologically distant from God. 

The northern kingdom’s pattern of apostasy eventually led to their downfall.  They were conquered by the Assyrians and many were carried away as prisoners.  But their captivity did not last forever.  God eventually gathered the remnant of Israel back to Israel and forgave their sins.  God continued to call them God’s people.  God’s goodness remained.

So when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” it’s not just the current situation in view, there is also the historic situation.  When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” he’s saying, whether he knows it or not, that even here, even now, God is still good.  Even in spite of all that has happened throughout history, and all that is happening in this oppressive time, God’s goodness remains.  God’s mercy goes on forever.

When we read the Bible, when we gather for worship, when we pray and sing, it is crucial that we press in until we reach the point at which we are reminded deep in the core of our being that God is good and God’s mercy goes on forever.  No matter what we have done or how far we’ve strayed.  No matter how messed up live is at the moment or how far beyond repair it seems.  Nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17, Jeremiah 32:27, Luke 18:27). And as Jesus and the disciples turn south toward Jerusalem, they’re heading toward the moment when God will prove it once again, and this time in the most spectacular way ever, by conquering death as Jesus is resurrected.

So let’s sing about the greatness of the Father.

Let’s sing about the glory of His Son.

And the Holy Spirit dwelling among us.

Let’s sing about the wonders of God.

Oh, let’s sing about the wonders of God.[1]

 



[1][1] Rick Muchow, “Wonders of God” CCLI Song # 1136790 © 1992 Rick Muchow (Encouraging Music) (Admin. by Encouraging Music)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Thoughts About Writing From the Early Days

 

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

From a paper written while I was a student in English 312 at Clemson University with Prof. Hilligoss.

October 30, 2007

How you know your writing is good

I must admit that I am never sure that any of it is good.  I can usually write well enough to get good grades, but in the broader scheme of things, I’m not sure that this qualifies as good, just good enough.

Sometimes it feels different when I write.  Things click and I don’t have to think too much about how or what I’m writing.  The words flow easily and it’s almost like someone else is writing.  Writing that feels this way usually requires little editing and gets the most compliments…but not always.

Sometimes I manage to pull off something funny, and then there is the edification of the reader’s or listener’s laughter.  I don’t usually set out to be funny, but when I find myself on a lighter track, I can continue in that direction pretty well, so I do.

I have come to rely on a succinct ending as a way to feel good about what I have written.  If  I can tie a piece all together with a final punch, that feels better to me and I am more likely to want to show people the pieces that end this way,  maybe because they feel more finished to me.

I don’t suppose any of this is useful, because I can’t articulate specifically how to tell whether writing is good.  Maybe that is the difficulty with any subjective area.  I think I do pretty well at making good construction, but that doesn’t necessarily create something people will want to read, just something that is easier to read than a poorly constructed piece.  I think I can actually articulate this better using music.   There are some people who have the ability to make music that is mechanically perfect.  All the notes are in the right places at exactly the right pitches, in the precisely correct time, in exactly the correct combination.  And yet in spite of this there is something missing.  There is no passion, no depth.  This music can be good, but is not quite great because music does not have to be perfect to be great.  Music can touch the soul, but a passionate performance will do this much more effectively than a mechanically perfect one.  I think about writing in the same way and I get hung up in trying to make it perfect, but what I really want is for it to have meaning.

Once, for a reason that now entirely escapes me, I described in an email the sunset I was enjoying as I looked out my office window.  In a business setting, communicating with a business associate, I felt compelled to share the few moments of beauty with which my day was graced.  The reply that came back said, “That was beautiful.”  But what exactly made it beautiful is a matter of some speculation.  Was it that I had effectively conveyed something that touched the reader?  I hope so.  I guess for me that’s the bottom line, souls connecting on some level beyond the normal surface level at which we spend far too much of our lives.

What you’re afraid of when you show people your writing

I am afraid of lots of things, but primarily that they will think what I have written is stupid, as in “that’s nice, but who cares?”  I think I always hope someone will read one of my pieces and say, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read,” or, “That changed my life,” or something equally dramatic.  Nobody ever has, except that once (the email mentioned above), and I’m sure that’s asking too much of myself and them.  This actually kept me from writing for many years.  I wanted to write but didn’t know what to write about because I didn’t think I had anything to say that really mattered.   For many years I would only turn to writing when nothing else served to organize random thoughts—when prayer was only leading me down wild roads without answers, or when the pressures of the day wouldn’t be set aside to allow me to focus and I needed to store those concerns on paper for later.  Like so much of my life, writing could not be something I did just because I enjoyed it; it had to be purpose-driven.  Somehow I had developed a value system for my actions that went something like this:  listening to other people make music—acceptable, making it myself—waste of time; reading things other people had written—acceptable, writing things myself—waste of time.  And the ensuing bottom line to all of this became: helping someone else—acceptable, helping myself—waste of time.  It has been incredibly freeing to be allowed to write whatever comes into my head for this class without concern about whether the topic is significant or weighty enough. 


Comments you hate to see on your papers

What I really hate is a paper that comes back with no comments.  These are usually marked with that nice big “A” at the top, and I know I should just be happy with that and move on, but I know I’m not perfect and I think there’s always something that could be said.  If there’s nothing to comment on negatively, than I hope to have some idea what it was that was good.  A lack of comment leaves me wondering if the teacher actually read it or just checked for errors. 

I do hate when the comments are grammar corrections, but only because I’m kicking myself for having missed them in my proofreading.  I appreciate the opportunity to learn from them, though.  Last semester I got a mild reprimand on a paper for using a comma splice.  Prior to this I had never even heard of a comma splice.  I knew that the construction was wrong, but I had always fixed it before by rewriting the sentence to avoid the situation altogether.  I was uncomfortable with the proper use of a semicolon, so I stuck with construction that was safer.  Upon reading this comment, I went immediately to my grammar book and read everything in it that was even remotely related to “comma splice.”  I can now use semicolons with more confidence, although I seldom do because the habit of avoiding them is already well-seated.