A few months ago I went to hear to the author Francis Chan speak in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I’ve never read any of his books or heard him speak. I didn’t even know what the guy looked like. (The only Chan I know is Jackie, so I went for that image).

He talked about a few things but there was one thing that he spoke about that really got my attention. He told a story about an occasion when his daughter had got an F in a test at school. Now most parents response would have been to have a bit of a word with them, tell them that they need to work harder or maybe even ground them.

If you are really lucky maybe your parents would have told you that you are capable of so much more and we believe in you.

Francis Chan’s response was quite different.

He spoke about how when his daughter told him her grade he promised to do three things. He promised to take her out to dinner, followed by a movie and all washed down with some ice cream.

An evening more compatible with receiving a good grade in a test, I’m sure you would agree.

So why did Francis decide to do that instead of banishing her to her room to stick her head in her books?

Had he lost his mind? Or was he luring her into a false sense of security so he could then come down on her like a tonne of bricks?

Or was there another reason?

Could it be perhaps that he knew that his daughter is young and will make mistakes? Did he know that she would probably already feel bad enough and frightened enough to tell him and yelling at her wouldn’t be that productive?

And all this inevitably got me thinking about God.

For most of my life I have understood God to be some sort of old man in the sky who smiles or frowns on us depending on our actions. But what if I am wrong? What if God isn’t like that at all?

What if when we do something that isn’t good for us or sets us back a few steps, God is waiting to pour out love on us? What if this was our first thought of God rather than the one where He is sitting waiting to strike us with lightening when we mess up?

It’s not easy to do that. It’s not easy especially if you are not used to thinking of God in those terms. It’s not easy if you are struggling with something and are always messing up. It’s not easy because the world around us tells us that if you do something wrong you will pay for it.

But I believe we need to.

The Bible talks about a God who loves us into our futures. A God who loves us as if we deserved it. A God who loves us based on who he knows we can be rather than who we are.

And this is what should motivate us to live holy lives. Not fear or a sense of duty. But knowing we are free and we are loved no matter what.

I don’t know what Francis’s daughter did next time she made a mistake. Maybe she got it and felt free to go to her father and accept his love. Maybe she got scared and fell back in to the old routines most of us live in and hid herself from him. Let’s be honest we don’t always let God love us.

But we need to start viewing God as He is. When we mess up He is ready to love us. He is ready to give us hope. To give us things we don’t deserve. He wants to show us that we matter and he wants to give us things we don’t deserve.

This doesn’t sit well with most of us. There will be people who tell you that you need to pay for everything you do wrong. There will be Christians and Churches who tell you this.

But that confuses me. It confuses me in light of what Jesus did on the cross. How can we ignore that? He died for us not knowing how we would respond. He died for us even though we will mess up.

Does what we do matter? Of course so.

But we can be sure that those times we stick our fingers up at God (and I have a lot of those), that there is only one response God is waiting to make.

He wants to take you out for ice cream.