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New Years and Telomeres

As our family was exchanging gifts in Los Angeles and in Lafayette this Christmas we noticed that a bestselling cookbook had appeared on more than one wish list. Entitled, “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger M.D., the book stresses some important health and dietary practices that teach “how not to die” from various diseases. In the course of conversation someone mentioned a TED talk by biologist Elizabeth Blackburn about “telomeres” (from the Greek word telos “end” and meros, “part”). Telomeres, as I recalled from undergraduate biology, are the caps at the end of each strand of our DNA, much like the caps on the ends of our shoelaces. Each time a cell copies itself, our telomeres get shorter, but the important DNA stays intact. Eventually, though, telomeres become so short that the cell begins to age and stops functioning as it should. There is a lot of research into how telomeres can be repaired or even lengthened. Telomeres do shorten as we age, but things like stress, smoking, lack of sleep, exercise, and a poor diet are also factors. It’s no surprise that doing the reverse may actually delay this telomere-shortening process (see Blackburn, The Telomere Factor).

This was in my mind as we were driving home and I was reading the “verse of the day” on my Bible “phone app” – and yes, Lisa was behind the wheel, making this much safer. It seemed appropriate considering most of us want to enter this New Year with renewed physical, emotional, and spiritual strength:

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” – Matt. 18: 1-2

Jesus says we must become like children if we want to live forever in God’s kingdom. What is it, though, about a child that is so heavenly? Aren’t children also self-centered, impatient, and demanding? Yes, we can be thankful that children are not flawless, because it means “flawless” is not the characteristic Jesus is looking for. But a child is vulnerable. A child is curious. A child is capable of breathtaking trust. Children are in a “lowly position,” as Jesus says here, wholly dependent on others for food, shelter, protection, and life. But beyond this, children are, well, children – “brand spanking new.” A child can crawl, walk, and eventually run with the kind of energy adults only fondly remember. A child has long telomeres! And when this is not the case, when a child has a severe disability, we feel compassion because we believe that in God’s kingdom, this should not and, one day, will not be (Rev. 21:4).

When Jesus says we must change and become like little children we would do well to remember that He never commands what He does not give us the power to accomplish (Col. 1:29). Therefore, I’m led to believe that “becoming like children” is what will happen as we trust Jesus to make the changes in us -- and as we cooperate with His transforming work by sitting at His feet and obeying his word with child-like wonder. Being more childlike is something we receive, and it is something we choose each day. Being childlike is how we should think about entering God’s kingdom, and God’s New Year; knowing that we really are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), that we can lay aside every weight and run with the joy and freedom of children, keeping our eyes always on Jesus (Heb. 12: 1-2) who “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). We can therefore trust in Jesus whole-heartedly, turn from wrong decisively, love sacrificially, serve generously; and whether we are 19 or 91 we can wait upon the One who knows our tears, our trials, and all our years, from beginning to “world without end.” It is from this Lord, crucified and risen from the grave, that we learn “how not to die,” and who makes all things -- including our telomeres -- new again (Luke 23: 42-43; Rev. 22:13). Hope to see you soon…


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