By Mark Ellis
Recently, 21-year-old pop sensation Justin Bieber made a stunning turnaround in his relationship with Christ. In a soul-baring interview with COMPLEX magazine, he said he was leaving behind the tabloid headlines and had made a dramatic turn in his walk with Jesus.
In connection with the release of the singer’s new album, “Purpose,” his sold-out concert at Staples Center November 13th had a distinctly spiritual flavor, surprising many observers.
“What the vaguely billed event at Staples Center felt most like was a church service,” reported Mikael Wood, a reviewer for The Los Angeles Times.
Friday’s show started when Bieber rode his skateboard to a smaller stage near the center of the arena. He did an acoustic performance of several new (and old) songs and premiered a film highlighting each track from “Purpose” with distinct dance numbers for each song.
“Between the skateboarding and the singing, though, Bieber sat on a stool next to Judah Smith, the man described as his pastor, and more or less preached,” a surprised Wood noted in the Times.
Smith, 36, is lead pastor of The City Church in Seattle, described as “a thriving multi-site church noted for its cultural relevance, commitment to biblical integrity and faith, and love for Jesus.” He is also the author of Jesus Is, a new book endorsed by Bieber.
Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette, stumbled upon Smith’s sermons and met him for the first time at a conference. She told Smith that his tapes put her son to sleep and suggested the two meet each other. While Smith didn’t consider the snooze effect a compliment initially, his relationship with the pop sensation has developed and grown over time.
At Friday’s concert, “He (Bieber) credited his connection with God for helping him to get back on his feet after a string of widely publicized tabloid troubles,” Wood reported in the Times.
At one point in the concert, a dozen pre-selected fans were brought on the stage with Bieber for a question-and-answer session. One young woman asked him for advice in handling a romantic breakup. “I’m not really good at relationship counseling,” he joked. “I can’t keep a relationship going.”
Following his epic break-up with Selena Gomez, Bieber told COMPLEX magazine his heart began to soften toward God. “Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. People have made it seem in movies that it’s this fairy tale. That’s not what love is,” he noted.
“You’re not gonna want to love your girl sometimes but you’re gonna choose to love her,” he continued. “That’s something in life that I had to figure out. I can’t lean on people. I got to lean on God. I gotta trust in Him through all my situations. Then, hopefully, my other relationships will flourish around me.”
The album cover for Bieber’s new album features the shirtless young star, bent over in prayer, with a cross painted on his stomach. The penitent tone of “Purpose” is exemplified by the song “Sorry,” as Bieber apologizes for his troublesome antics and vows to change his ways.
“God sent an angel to help you out,” he sings in “Life is Worth Living,” described by the Times as a “delicate and beautifully sung piano ballad.”
Bieber sings about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “He gave you direction, showed you how to read a map for the long journey ahead.”
According to Times reviewer Woods, “With ‘Purpose’ Bieber doesn’t just alter his message; he’s transformed his sound too.”