What’s in a Name?

Names make me smile. Having worked as a tour guide for OSU, I’ve had my fair share of experience with some interesting names. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Forrest (from The Woodlands, Texas. Oh the irony.)

2. Earchiel Lee (Guy or girl? Who knows?)

And my personal favorite…

3. Aristotle! (Funny fact: I ended up randomly meeting him as he was walking down the street. Proof that life really is stranger than fiction.)

In most cultures around the world, names are important. Whether they’re passed down from generation to generation or just something that our parents made up, names generally are a big deal. Just as we hope our lives have meaning, we give our children names with purpose.

Take my name, for instance. When I was born in Germany 23 years ago, Steffi Graf was one of the biggest tennis stars in the western world. Like many other couples, my parents decided to name me after her. However, unlike most other couples, my parents did so in the expressed hope that I would grow up to be a world-famous tennis player, become incredibly wealthy, and then support them in their old age. Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well. Starting at the wee age of 2, I tried to play tennis, and I failed miserably. At 8 years old I hung up my racquet permanently… and took up writing… and eventually enrolled in a post-graduate program that costs $9,400. Whoops. So much for emulating my namesake. As they say in Deutschland, “Schade.”

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I was idly killing time at a rest stop when I wandered over to the souvenir section where, of course, a spinning rack held a set of “name meaning” cards. I turned it toward to the side with the S’s (that looks funny, doesn’t it? Haha.), and I found “Stephanie.”

Pause for a brief but humorous digression: I rarely if ever find any souvenir with my spelling of “Steffi” or “Stefanie.” Except in Germany. Several years back while visiting the Motherland, my dad and I found and purchased a ceramic piggy bank with “Stefanie” painted on the side. I was beyond excited. That is, until we lost the keys to our rental car under the Brandenburg Gate on Silvester (New Year’s Eve) and were subsequently locked out while the pig was locked inside. Whoops. But that’s another story. Don’t worry, though; the back and I were eventually reunited, and now it lives on my dresser, happy as a pig in the mud. 🙂 Thank you, Deutsche Post.

Anywho, according to this incorrectly spelled gas station card, my name came from the Greek “Stephanos” and meant “crowned one.” Cool. During my childhood, I’d had a name-inferiority complex because my best friend’s name was Sarah, which meant “princess.” But if I’m actually a “crowned one,” well, that’s royally nifty. I’m a daughter of the King, which makes me a princess. And if I could wear a crown, that would be sweet. I was finally content with my name. It couldn’t get much better than that, right?

Wrong.

Fast forward to this week at the Kanakuk Institute when we learned about the book of Acts. In case you’re not familiar with the Bible, Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. The Gospels all tell the story of Jesus on the earth; the book of Acts explains what happened after Jesus rose from the grave and went back to heaven. Without the book of Acts, we would know nothing about the beginning of the church and the spread of Christianity around the ancient world. This week, we spent each day digging through this rich and inspiring text. It was during this biblical treasure hunt that I unexpectedly found a nugget worth keeping, and—surprise, surprise—it had to do with my name.

In Acts 6, we are introduced to a new cast of characters; up to this point, the book has mainly focused on the apostles (aka “the disciples,” the men Jesus specifically chose to walk with Him during His ministry on earth). But then in chapter 6, trouble is a-brewin’ about some Greek widows not getting enough food. The solution: appoint some Greek guys to be waiters. One of these men is Stephen, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” and “full of faith.” He is obedient to his position, starts serving tables, and tells people about Jesus. However, some unbelievers begin arguing with him. But he’s so smart and wise that they can’t handle it; they are left speechless—and angry. So what’s their solution?  Find a way to get him in trouble with the religious authorities. How? By falsely accusing him of blasphemy, (i.e. speaking heresy against God). Their plan succeeds, and Stephen is dragged to the religious court and put on trial.

So what does Stephen do? He has several options: He could apologize and say that it’s been a misunderstanding. Or he could promise never to talk about Jesus again. Or he could offer a bribe or use his connections to be quietly set free and then skip town. If I were in his sandals, those options would all be very tempting. But what does he do?

The exact opposite.

Instead of being silent and looking out for himself, Stephen delivers one of the most powerful sermons recorded in history. He outlines the entire (condensed) story of the Jewish people. Then he concludes with a bold accusation; he states that his listeners, the prominent religious leaders, are worse than their forefathers. Their ancestors killed the prophets, but they murdered Jesus the Messiah. Incensed by Stephen’s words, the mob covers their ears, screams at the top of their lungs, and attacks Stephen. After dragging him out of Jerusalem, they stone him, throwing rocks at him until he dies. And what are Stephen’s last words? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” With that, Stephen became the first martyr, or first Christian to die for his or her faith.

And all he did was sign up to serve tables.

Now, I had read Stephen’s story before; this wasn’t my first time to hear about him. But this week, something clicked, and I suddenly saw it through new eyes. I finally began to understand Stephen and why he matters—not just to Christendom, but to me.

1) Obedience: You see, Stephen was just a regular guy, except for one thing: He loved Jesus and was willing to do whatever he could to serve Him. When an opportunity arose to take care of hungry widows, he eagerly stepped up to help. He was obedient in the little things most people would have overlooked.

2) Faith: Stephen’s faith was rock solid, so even when faced with overwhelming opposition, he didn’t waver. Instead, he spoke the truth boldly and without fear. His faith wasn’t dependent on his circumstances; rather, his circumstances proved his faith.

3) Legacy: Though seemingly senseless, Stephen’s death was not in vain. On the contrary, God used Stephen’s martyrdom to spark a mass emigration of Christians from Jerusalem. As they traveled across the Holy Land, they took the Good News of Jesus with them, and countless people were saved as a result. Stephen left an enduring, breathtaking legacy, the effects of which are still felt today.

Back to names. While crowns are nifty and tennis-stardom is fine, these meanings seem so trivial and unsatisfying in light of Stephen’s story. Now reflecting on Stephen, I pray that God will make me obedient, strengthen my faith, and use me to leave a lasting legacy for Him and for His glory. And whether your name is Betsie, Sarah, John… or Aristotle (I know you’re out there!), my prayer for you is the same. God bless! 🙂

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