Patient Waiting

In the constantly evolving science of a global pandemic, we have been through several iterations of do this/do thats. From ‘bleach your groceries‘ to ‘further science has determined that you may not need to bleach your groceries,’ we have followed the science with bated breath, waiting for the day when science will have the final word. Personally, I continue to pray fervently that 1. God removes this virus from the earth, and 2. We develop a vaccine. Yes, I know a vaccine may not completely solve this issue. See #1.

In the days of Jeremiah, the cream of the crop of Israel, including the king, the scientists and artists, had all been removed from Jerusalem and taken away to Babylon. Jeremiah received a prophecy from God that the people were to settle into this new normal and await God’s promised return to their land. But in the meantime, they were to plant crops and have babies. In other words, everyone needs to wait patiently for God.

Hananiah stood up in the temple and announced that the exiles and all the spoils of war were about to returned in full, and that victory and peace had been achieved. This was not the case. Jeremiah stood to speak the harsh truth of the matter.

Jeremiah 28 (Common English Bible)

Then the prophet Jeremiah responded to Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the Lord’s temple. The prophet Jeremiah said: “Indeed. May the Lord do just as you have said! May the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied and bring back from Babylon the equipment of the Lord’s temple and all the exiles to this place. 

However, listen closely to what I have to say to you and all the people: The prophets who came before you and me long ago prophesied war, disaster, and disease against many lands and great kingdoms. So the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as one who is actually sent by the Lord only when that prophet’s message is fulfilled.”

I wish that the news that we have conquered this virus and are now safe to return to normal operations was true. It is not. The numbers say otherwise. States that have seen a recent upswing in positive cases are now moving to mandatory face masks and enforced social distancing. Some have issued curfews. Some counties are levying fines for those who don’t comply.

Science now suggests that wearing masks will help us bring this thing to an end. The more compliance we see, the sooner the virus will be defeated. As we move forward, let us continue to pray for our county, state, and national leadership to make wise and informed decisions that will help us defeat this thing. The Hananiah’s among us are trying to claim victory. But Hananiah was wrong. In other words, we all need to wait patiently for God.

See #1.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait by Wende Pritchard


There are places in our world where owning a bible, going to church, or proclaiming your faith could result in imprisonment, beatings, or even death. It is hard for people living in free countries to fathom that there are countries where being a Christ-follower is dangerous. North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq rank among the top nations where practicing Christianity is punishable by death. It is estimated that one in eight Christians world-wide lives in a country where practicing their faith is outlawed. (You can read more about this here)

When free people read the following passage in Matthew 10, we think about the rejection and ridicule we might experience for sharing our faith. We don’t think about danger if we are privileged enough to live in a country where such activity is permissible.

But today, I challenge you to read it with the lens of the persecuted church in mind:

Matthew 10 (Common English Bible)

26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops.28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already.30 Even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid. The stark reality that some could could kill the body but have no power over the soul is shocking when set in the context of countries who literally are torturing and executing Christians for their faith. Yet Jesus boldly proclaims three times not to be afraid, because the Father knows your situation down to the very last hair on your head.

Friends, we must pray for the persecuted church.

32 “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Do you ever deny or downplay your faith? When you’re at a party or meeting someone for the first time, do you play it cool until you know if your faith will be accepted? Do you change the subject at family gatherings rather than suffer someone’s sarcasm?

Those of us who live in free nations must not hesitate to go and tell the good news of Christ. If ridicule is the worst weapon that might be formed against us, bring it on. We have brothers and sisters all over the world who can’t even possess a bible. Maybe we could open ours and do what it says on their behalf.

Free to Tell By Michelle Robertson


Have you ever had a time in your life when you really, really needed someone to just listen to you? As in REALLY listen, not just nod their head waiting for their turn to speak. Deep listening is an ability that some people never fully achieve in their lifetime. Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe you married someone like that.

The gift of having someone deep-listen to your heart is an amazing catharsis and a healing balm. Sometimes just being HEARD is therapy enough, even without the other person saying a single word. Your heart takes a deep cleansing breath with each word, and exhales frustration, sadness, angst, and heaviness with each syllable.

If you have someone who can listen to you like that, thank them for the blessing they give you.

If you can be someone who can listen to others like that, use your gift in God’s service. You are a blessing.

Psalm 68 (Common English Bible)

Lord, listen closely to me and answer me,
    because I am poor and in need.
Guard my life because I am faithful.
    Save your servant who trusts in you—you! My God!
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I cry out to you all day long.
Make your servant’s life happy again
    because, my Lord, I offer my life to you,
    because, my Lord, you are good and forgiving,
    full of faithful love for all those who cry out to you.

Nobody can listen to you the way that God can listen to you. God’s word assures us that when we cry out to him, he listens closely.

Listen closely to my prayer, Lord;
    pay close attention to the sound of my requests for mercy.
Whenever I am in trouble, I cry out to you,
    because you will answer me.

Are you in trouble? Cry out to your Heavenly Father. Nothing can compare to his works.

My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!
    There is nothing that can compare to your works!
All the nations that you’ve made will come
        and bow down before you, Lord;
    they will glorify your name,
10     because you are awesome
    and a wonder-worker.
        You are God. Just you.

God is a wonder-worker. God is YOUR wonder-worker. Need someone to listen? Just talk.

Lightening in the Cloud By Michelle Robertson

Dead to Me

Have you ever been so “over” something that you just wanted to yell, “This is dead to me!” A broken trust, the ninth consecutive day of rain, a cheating spouse, a relative showing up drunk and obnoxious once again, a contractor who ripped you off, waking up with yet another hangover…it is harsh but understandable to wish a situation or relationship to be “dead” to you when you no longer want to deal with it. Just. Go. Away.

Abuse, you are dead to me.

Alcohol and drugs, just go away.

Lying, cheating, soul-destroying behavior, you are dead to me.

Toxic relationship? Dead to me.

Rain, be GONE.

Scripture condones a “dead to me” response in a specific situation: when we declare sin to be dead to us.

Romans 6 (The Message)

1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

Sin! Just. Go. Away. I don’t live there anymore.

3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Baptism, forgiveness, and the new life promised from the cross guarantee that we have moved to a new land of grace. In that place, God comes alongside of us and offers his strength to resist temptation and sin, and helps us to not return to sin-country.

6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.

You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

Where in your life is God asking you to declare a certain sin dead-to-you? What behaviors and habits continue to drag you back into the miserable life that sin guarantees?

We aren’t called to a life where we get to keep sinning because we know God forgives. We are called to be included in Christ’s sin-conquering death so that we can be a part of his life-saving resurrection. So do better. Pack up that sin and leave it for good. God is speaking his language of redemption now…hang on his every word.

Just. Go. Away. By Teresa Holloway

Speaking Truth

Have you ever been in a situation where you suddenly had a deep conviction that you needed to stand up and say something? Have you ever experienced a time when the urge to speak out was so overwhelming that you couldn’t stop yourself? Maybe it happened in the middle of an argument, or at the discovery of an injustice or betrayal. Sometimes it happens in the least likely of places, like the ball field or the grocery story or a church administrative meeting.

Hopefully your word is received well after people have a minute to consider what you are saying. I once had an irresistible urge to interrupt a preacher in a church I was visiting. At the end of his sermon, he announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer that Thursday. As I heard the audible gasps around me, I felt compelled to step out into the aisle and call the congregation to lay hands on him and pray for him as he was about to give the benediction.

I knew that I had been prepared for this by the Holy Spirit. Before the service began, I had spotted a decorative jar of anointing oil on top of an unused piano at the side of the sanctuary. So when this moment came, I walked right over to it as I called the people to come out of the pews to pray for their pastor. We had just done a healing service at my church at home, so the scriptures, instructions, and prayers for this were very fresh in my mind.

In other words, God set me up.

If you have ever found yourself speaking a word of truth to a crowd who is startled to hear what you are saying, you’re in good company.

Jeremiah 20 (Contemporary English Version)

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

In Jeremiah’s situation, his words of prophecy and condemnation of sin were not well received by the people. Go figure. He, too, was set up by God, and he suffered for the words he was compelled to speak. But his faithfulness to the Lord made it impossible to keep silent. In the choice between pleasing people or pleasing God, he chose to please God.

10 I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

Choosing to please God is always the right choice. Even when the message is extremely difficult to say, and even harder for others to hear, pleasing God is the only thing that matters. God always stands by those who speak his truth.

11 But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

12 Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
13 I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked.

Where is God calling you to speak an uncomfortable truth into a situation today? Where is he compelling you to speak a word to someone who is not ready to hear what you need to say? Where do you need to stop pleasing people and choose to please God instead?

I am glad I overcame the awkwardness of taking over the church service that morning many decades ago. As it turned out, that pastor retired and began to attend the church I have served for over ten years now, and he just celebrated his 100th birthday. PRAYER WORKS, PEOPLE!

Whatever you are burning to say, know that if it is God’s truth, he will stand by you. Don’t let fear of reprisal keep you silent any longer. God is with you.

Speaking Truth Shall Set You Free By Carson Creef


Batman and Robin decided to go camping. They set up their tent and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, Batman wakes his faithful friend. “Robin, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Robin, who is used to these midnight lessons, replies, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?” asks Batman.

Robin ponders for a minute. “Well, astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, it appears to be about 3:15AM. Theologically, it’s evident that God is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.”

“Why?” continued Robin. “What does it tell you, Batman?”

Batman is silent for a moment, then speaks. “Robin, you’re an idiot. It means somebody stole our tent while we were sleeping.”

How many of you grew up watching the television show “Batman?” Batman began as a comic book, evolved to TV, and is the recent subject of several new movies.

His story is first told in a twelve-frame comic strip in 1939 in issue #27 of Detective Comics. He and his parents are walking home from the theater when an armed robber accosts them. His father steps in front of his mother and takes a bullet. Then the gunman turns the gun on his mother while he watches. The robber runs away, leaving him standing over his dead parents. His guilt over standing by helplessly while his parents were murdered turns the boy Bruce Wayne into the superhero crime-fighter Batman. He dedicates his life to stopping criminals and defending the helpless.

Batman embodies the notion found in verse 3 in our scripture this morning:

Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. Lord knows, we are in a season that requires a lot of perseverance right now.

Can you recall a time in your life when you had to persevere through something? Maybe it was as transient as enduring the awkwardness of Middle School, or as life-changing as the kind of perseverance that families learn when they are battling cancer. Some are dealing with the challenges of raising a special needs child or a rebellious teenager, while others are honing their character by being caregivers to a parent who is struggling with dementia. Suffering that produces character that teaches us perseverance takes many forms. As this pandemic continues without an end in sight, we are all learning perseverance.

Many of you know that our family learned about perseverance when our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It truly is in these moments that God teaches us so much about himself. Even the worst of times can be a blessing in the end, for it is often in those seasons that you learn who you are, and WHOSE you are.

I say this to everyone today who is enduring something: God is with you. Even in your darkest moments, God’s light can be found if you look up and study the heavens.

Robin was right: the bright, shining stars and the vastness of the universe remind us that God is all-powerful and we, and our troubles, are small and insignificant by comparison.

5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

May you persevere through whatever it is you are suffering through right now, and find the hope that comes from God. Hang in there. God is with us.

Moonlit Night

526 Seconds

I had an extraordinary opportunity this week to attend a protest in my community. It was coordinated by the county Minority Coalition, and was held on the campus of our local community college. People carried signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Say Their Names,” etc. It is estimated that close to 500 local citizens attended, and we were moved and uplifted by speakers, singers, clergy people, and the feeling that we were collectively hearing a raw truth that was spoken in voices pleading to be heard and understood. This truth, so beautifully and passionately articulated, was heard by many for the first time. It is a truth that has endured for many generations.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, the world is beginning to wake up to a reality that our brothers and sisters have been enduring for centuries. Statues are coming down, aggressive force practices and chokehold policies are being rescinded, the NFL has apologized, and NASCAR has outlawed the Confederate flag.

Our local chief of police and the county sheriff spoke at the demonstration. The sheriff spoke compassionately about the injustices that have brought us to this point, and emphasized the need for community policing. He described the death of George Floyd as a criminal act.

The sheriff remarked, “One thing you can be sure of, that it is not the badge you wear that makes you the officer. It is the heart behind this badge.”

One of the most powerful moments of the evening came when we were invited to stand or kneel in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That was the length of time it took for one officer’s knee to shut off the life from another man’s neck. 526 seconds that changed the world.

Maybe it took a pandemic to get our attention. Black men and women have been killed by racial injustice and prejudice for decades…maybe it took the world literally stopping for people to focus long enough to really see this issue and begin to understand all that has been happening for generations. In the absence of life’s normal busyness and frantic pace, we have paused long enough to see. To hear. To listen. And eventually, to change.

“Together we have the power for change,” the president of the Minority Coalition said. “It is it now at this moment that we summon the powers to right the wrongs that have happened all throughout history from ancient to more recent times. We must use these powers for the good of all of us, especially the least among us. We must inspire change in the world with hopes that injustice will fail, and justice shall prevail…We will fear the darkness no more.”

Amos 5 (New Revised Standard Edition)

Seek good and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

With God’s help, we shall overcome. Today is the day.

Overcome by Shena Twitty


Have you ever heard the phrase, “That’s the tail wagging the dog?” You will hear that used in the context of an institution or group that is allowing a minor part of the system or body to set forward an agenda at the expense of the larger whole. Obviously a dog is supposed to wag its tail, not the other way around.

It happens when the vision is too micro-focused on one certain aspect of the overall mission. It happens when one person or group has too much power and uses it at the expense of the whole. It is painstakingly transplanting a single tree when the entire forest is on fire.

I walked with a clergy friend last week who had just finished a webinar on the mission of the church. Her take-away from it was wrapped up in one incredible thought: God’s church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church! But sometimes we get that wrong, and put our mission before God’s vision. We try to wag him with the power of our planning.

Let that roll around in your brain as we take a look at the great commission Jesus gave all his disciples, just in case we have lost sight of God’s mission for his followers:

Matthew 28

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Let’s look at the trees for a moment before we get to the forest.

There were eleven disciples there, as this occurs after the crucifixion. It is the resurrected Jesus who is speaking, and all but Judas are present. And did you catch the part where “all worshiped, but some doubted.” Can you imagine being Jesus in that moment? Come on, guys! What does a savior have to do to gain respect, already?? If Jesus was a southern lady in that moment, he would have thought, “Well, bless your hearts.”

So he asserts God’s authority once again, and then gives them their life-long commission.





Notice that there are things that churches sometimes do that are NOT listed in that commission. Things like judge, condemn, alienate, or rebuke. The forest-view of these four charges reminds us that God’s mission has a church. And the church is the thing he is counting on to forward his mission on the earth. It is only by his authority that we do this. And the best news of all? We don’t do it alone:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Remember that without vision, the people perish. Jesus was very clear about his vision for his followers when he departed for the last time. Go to the people where they are; bring them into a discipled life; baptize them as part of their initiation into the Body of Christ; teach them everything you know about my kingdom and its commandments.

How are you living out the great commission in your life? Are you inviting others to a relationship with Christ? Are you telling your truth in a way that people can hear Jesus? You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. Will they see him in you? God calls everyone into his mission today and invites each one to join him in this great undertaking.

So go. Make. Initiate. Enlighten.
Be Jesus to someone today, and watch the forest grow.

Kitty Hawk Bay Tree by Michelle Robertson

And That’s About It

In the typical order of worship, there is one moment we all look forward to: the benediction. Come on, you know you do! It means the service has been completed, the message has been delivered, the songs have been sung, and the prayers faithfully prayed. It signals that the irritation of 1. trying to keep your kids quiet; 2. sitting next to someone who put on WAAAY too much perfume or aftershave; or 3. the loud whisperer behind you catching up on gossip is finally over and you can go home. Even pastors like the benediction. Trust me, we look forward to it, too. It means our week’s work is finished and for better or worse, we have offered our labor to the Lord and now get to catch our breath before starting all over again.

You know that in pastor-time, Sunday comes every 4 1/2 days, right?

Today we are reading Paul’s benediction to the people in Corinth. I love his happy goodbye as he is leaving people whom he loves:

2 Corinthians 13 (The Message)

11-13 And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure.

That is a sermon in itself.

Be cheerful. No matter what your daily trials are, we all have eternity to look forward to at the benediction of our lives.

Keep things in good repair such as your house, your family, and especially your soul.

Keep your spirit up! Don’t let the small stuff get you down. By the way, it’s all small stuff.

Think in harmony. This one sentence is a whole sermon series. It is a great reinforcement of the fact that God desires unity in the body of Christ. That can only happen when we lay down our individuality, our differences, and we work to THINK in harmony.

Be agreeable. If you do these things, you will experience the peace and love of God all week. Sermon done, right there in the benediction.

Then comes this little challenge:

Greet one another with a holy embrace. All the brothers and sisters here say hello.

Reading this verse in a pandemic, or in flu season, or when people are doused in too much perfume, presents a bit of a stumbling block for us. Other translations go even farther and translate this as “greet each other with a holy kiss.” The lack of social cheek-kissing in America as you might experience in other countries makes this even more alarming for American readers.

This way of salutation was practiced in eastern countries during Paul’s time. Paul was encouraging them to greet one another in an affectionate manner, and treat each other with kindness and love. The use of the word “holy” here serves to remind us that Paul intended it as an expression of Christian affection and not as an improper contact.

While we probably won’t adopt a practice of kissing per se, it would serve us well to be holy in our approach to each other, and greet each other with the kindness and love befitting a Christian community…and not just at church.

When we do that, it will be easier to be cheerful, keep our spirits up, and keep our souls in good repair. And when that happens, the love and the peace of God will be with us for sure.

Moon Benediction by Alice Rogers

Crowned with Glory

Most of us are familiar with the beautiful images of the earth from the photographs taken on the various Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space missions of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. To see our beautiful blue planet from such a perspective is breathtaking. Oh, how I envy the angels their view!

The first photo of the earth was actually taken many years earlier.

On Oct. 24, 1946, soldiers and scientists at White Sands Missile Range launched a V-2 missile carrying a 35-millimeter motion picture camera which took the first shots of Earth from space. These images were taken at an altitude of 65 miles, just above the accepted beginning of outer space. The film survived the crash landing because it was encased in a steel cassette. (

Seriously, thank God somebody thought about a steel cassette.

In Psalm 8, we get a word-picture of the majesty of the earth from the Psalmist’s perspective. Imagine how he stood on the desert sands of Israel and looked up at the sky every night, contemplating the nature of God. This is what he was inspired to write:

Psalm 8 (Common English Bible)

Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!
    You made your glory higher than heaven!
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?

Ah, the question. With all that you have created, what are we, that you would even pay attention to us? With all the violence and hatred in the world today, how have you not given up on us?

God’s love for humanity in that regard is nothing less than stunning. That God could spin all the universes into place and still care about where you left your car keys is nothing short of unfathomable.

You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.

So the next time you are feeling down about yourself, having a rough day, and questioning your self-worth, consider with what high regard God holds YOU. You are his beloved! He crowns you with glory and grandeur. He imparts his majesty to you, and thinks about you all the time. Someone once said that if God had a refrigerator, your school picture would be on it. Imagine that!

Ponder all this next time you look up at the stars.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

Photo Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory