If I had to describe the Kingdom of God in one word, it would be "welcome." You are welcome here. They are welcome here. All are welcome here. It's tragic then, that Christians have become known more for their exclusion than by their open arms. For this reason, I didn't want to call myself a Christian for a long time. I didn't want to be part of something that was about separation and judgment. How could "The Kingdom of God" sound so unappealing? I've come to realize I knew very little about what the Kingdom of God is actually like. These are some books that helped open me learn this:
Love Does by Bob Goff and Donald Miller
Jesus said his followers would be known by how they love. Bob Goff is a modern example of what extravagant love looks like when it's lived out. He's an entertaining storyteller, and this book was as fun as it was insightful. My favorite line is Donald Miller saying Bob has "given me a vision for what can happen in a person’s life when they are devoted to giving it away."
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
This book was one of the first I read in full about God. I never had an interest in "Christian literature" before, but Velvet Elvis does not fit that typical mold. Bell is a former megachurch pastor who was disillusioned with what church and Christianity had become. He wrote this wonderful book about how he sees God, and it was like nothing I had ever read. Bell shattered my view of God, Christianity, and Jesus and helped me view God not as a distant, angry tyrant but as a loving father.
Love Wins by Rob Bell
Perhaps Bell's most controversial book, Love Wins is about heaven, hell, life, and death. The common Christian understanding of heaven, hell, and salvation has kept a lot of people from being able to trust in a good God--myself included. However, Bell argues that what Jesus thought of when he taught these concepts may have been vastly different from our modern understanding. Heaven and hell might be places in the next life, but they're at least states of peace or chaos, life or death that we can bring about in this one--and this is important whether or not there is an afterlife.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Miller is a good writer and a beautiful story teller. These two things alone make both these memoirs good reads. His candid struggles and doubts with God and faith are refreshing. The way he came to see God in a new light inspired and gave me hope.
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
Modern life is marked by busyness. The hectic pace of life has so many of us burned out, it feels like it has to be that way. Jesus offers a different way. Even though Jesus did important work and accomplished a lot, he was never in a hurry. He was effective and purposeful, yet he walked everywhere, spent long evenings eating and drinking with friends, and was never annoyed at an interruption. In fact, some of his greatest miracles were the result of him being interrupted. Comer argues the "Way of Jesus" isn't merely a set of ideas about forgiveness and how to be a nice person. More than that, it's a whole different way of existing in the world. It's a set of practices that bring about peace, joy, and stillness in our lives--some of the things we crave most deeply.
Bonus, the Bible. I can count on two hands the number of times I missed Sunday school growing up, yet I had never read the Bible in its entirety until last year. It always seemed cryptic and confusing and not terribly relevant to my life. Since starting to read it for myself though, I've been able to see how much of the hatred spread "in the name of God" has come from gross misinterpretations or abuses of the Bible. Though parts of it require some deeper research to understand, much of the Bible is surprisingly readable. There's still much I don't get, but I'm learning more every day. If you're new to the Bible, I recommend starting with the book of Proverbs because you don't need any context to understand it. Then, read through the Gospels which tell the story of Jesus' life (books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). After that, read the Psalms to see God can handle the full range of human emotion, then start again at the beginning in Genesis. That's a general recommendation, but it doesn't really matter how you start; you can learn a lot be reading any part.