I have something of a love/hate relationship with "daily devotional" books: I love the idea of them, but hate the reality of them. Creating a book filled with daily inspirational and motivational readings is a great concept, but more often than not the final product ends up being an emotional mess of a book, filled with page after page of "Christianity Lite." It has gotten so bad that a particular series of books, sadly one of the best-selling ones, admits that it is nothing more "chicken soup for the soul." Chicken soup doesn't actually do much for you when you have an illness, but it does make you feel better. Such is the state of nearly all of the devotional books available for the "Christian soul."
Note well that I did not say "all," but "nearly all." Not all devotional books are created equal. A case in point is a new one by Dr. Paul Barkey, called On This Day: A Daily Guide to Spiritual Lessons from American History. Now, if your tolerance level for materials on America's Christian history is anywhere near mine, the title of Dr. Barkey's book may cause a bit of skepticism to enter your mind. I can safely say that I have long since reached and exceeded the amount of books, CDs, and DVDs on the subject of America's history from a Christian perspective that I can handle. I am extremely grateful and appreciative of the efforts that have been put forth in recent years to inform the public on this very necessary and important topic, but I have reached my fill. I am convinced, thank you very much; next topic please. When On This Day found its way onto my desk, I must admit that I was slightly less than thrilled. A devotional book and an American history book—two things that separately cause my blood pressure to rise—now laying before me in one 500-page book.
Yet something caused me to open the book anyway and take a closer look. The first thing I noticed was a glowing endorsement from Bill Federer, a well-known author and speaker on America's Christian history, and a top-notch historian in his own right. I knew that if Bill was endorsing Dr. Barkey's book, it must at least have its history correct. I flipped to a few of the daily readings and sampled the contents. They were not your usual limp-wristed emotional fluff or even the opposite heresy of being humanism with a Bible verse. They were real, thoughtful, and educational. Even though some of the readings have a harder time making the transition from the history to the spiritual application, they were very good for the most part, and definitely worth reading. Dr. Barkey had indeed done his homework in his research.
What makes On This Day so unique is that the book doesn't move chronologically through history. This is a refreshing change. I have written elsewhere about the extremes in modern Christianity between overbearing intellectualism and pastel-colored anti-intellectualism. Dr. Barkey deftly walks the line between these two extremes, giving his readers a devotional for each day that is light enough to be read quickly, yet heavy enough to give you something to meditate on throughout the day. The fact that he discusses Neil Armstrong one day and The First Battle of Bull Run the next is an exciting change that keeps the readings interesting. This isn't a systematic presentation of American history from 1492 to the present day. It is a book full of historical snapshots and interesting anecdotes that get little mention in history textbooks.
Each day's devotional reading contains a Bible verse relevant to the topic and a quick overview of an event that happened on that very day in the history of our great Republic. The next few sentences give a spiritual lesson based on the verse and the historical event. The reading ends with a short prayer to help focus the reader's mind and attention back to the God of all history—American and Biblical. As a retired Army chaplain and a current pastor, Dr. Barkey is well-acquainted with short attention spans. He knows how to make his applications both interesting and helpful. His daily readings are short, to the point, and practical, but never boring. Although his source material is vast and plentiful enough to overwhelm readers with a heap of unimportant and irrelevant data, Dr. Barkey throttles the temptation to dump facts on the page, in favor of communicating something that readers will find fascinating. Reading this book out loud with your children will make history come alive for them (and you).
After my initial encounter with On This Day, I immediately gave Dr. Barkey a call. Upon exchanging pleasantries and telling him how much I appreciated his book, he informed me that he was in the process of editing a new one. His second book of devotional readings is going to focus on Church history. I must say, if Dr. Barkey is able to bring as much life to Church history as he has to American history, he may have a bestseller on his hands. At any rate, I can assure you that it will be available here once it is ready. In the meantime, get your copy of On This Day to begin learning spiritual lessons from American history, one day at a time.