The story of Mike Cleveland is extraordinary on many levels. Like myself, he spent fifteen years addicted to pornography. He was homeless for a while. By the time I met him in 2002, he had been dramatically set free and worked as an airline captain. But what interested me most about Mike Cleveland was the one-man Internet-based ministry he had started in his basement: SettingCaptivesFree.com
Ten years later, Setting Captives Free has brought a gospel-centered message of hope to hundreds of thousands of men and women worldwide. It offers on-line courses in several languages free of charge in a variety of important areas including: pornography, homosexuality, gambling, alcohol, cutting, anorexia/bulimia, gluttony, smoking and anxiety.
This is the first of a two-part series on Mike Cleveland’s journey.
A Simple Story of Grace Found at the Cross: Part One
by Mike Cleveland
As a young child, all I can remember is having a heart full of lust; lust for the opposite sex, and lust for wealth. Those two ticking time-bombs consumed most of my waking thoughts and all of my sleeping dreams.
I married when I was 20 years old. Trying desperately to find a love that I never knew as a child, trying to experience a home-life that would bring stability such as I never had.
Unfortunately the two ticking time bombs were still in my heart, and at age 22 I found pornography on the Internet as well as gambling and drunkenness. It all looked good to me, much like wine that sparkles in the glass, or forbidden fruit offered by a deceiver, or the sweetness of stolen bread eaten in secret.
What followed was 15 years of sinful bondage, adultery, several attempts to stop in my own strength and then utter and complete failure and ruin. While I was a professing Christian I did not possess Christ, and this ruin of my life included divorce and my becoming homeless for a time.
I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly (Proverbs 5:14).
I remarried yet still continued in my sinful bondage of lust and deception, pride and greed. One year later my wife and I found ourselves in need of help. Turns out you really can’t go against God and His Word and experience peace and blessing.
Yet, I did not want to go to church for help since all my previous church friends had turned their backs on me; this was no doubt in righteous indignation for my ongoing rebellion, and yet that hurt me as much as anything in my life and I did not want to go back.
But with my life in ruins I could not help but cry out to God. My wife found a Christian counselor and we went to see him. He patiently explained to me about a cross: the death of a Person Who took all my punishment upon Himself; a place where my guilt and shame were nailed to a tree and then buried in a tomb; a place of pardon and forgiveness for the chief of sinners. He told me about a resurrection of power—the power that could set me free from pornography and all forms of lust and greed.
And while I, of course, had heard of Jesus and knew about the cross, in January of 1999 I turned away from sin with a passion and put my full faith in the Lord Jesus. Just like the Old Testament sinner who had to put his hand on the lamb before its neck was slit, I finally identified with Christ on the cross, and connected with Him and became one with Him. I learned what it meant to “cut off” and “pluck out” anything that caused me to stumble, to feed on Christ, to flee youthful lusts, and to seek the Lord with all my heart.
Jesus Christ knocked over my “Dagon” that day—the idol in my heart-temple that was competing for my worship. Christ came and took His rightful place on the throne of my heart and I became His child that day. I began worshipping at the foot of the cross, reveling in my pardon, in awe of a God who would accept me on the grounds of what Jesus did in His death and resurrection. The precious brother that led me to this new relationship with the Lord was Pastor Will Lohnes, and we began attending his church immediately.
About a year later, I had a thought to write some Bible studies that might help other people to be free from sin’s plague and punishment, and so along with Pastor Will’s support our ministry was born. We called it Setting Captives Free.
This is a very simple story of grace found at the cross. Humbling grace. Accepting grace. Loving grace.
Maybe you’ve sinned in a way that you wonder if you can be forgiven. Maybe it has even been as a Christian; you should have known better. And yet behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! Who freely pardons all who repent, and receives the broken and makes them whole again. Put your trust in Him; give Him your broken life, your pride, your sinful bondage, your deceptive heart. He will remake it, pardon your offenses, wash you clean and make you new. This will simply be the fulfilling of His promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
The story continues tomorrow. It takes an unexpected turn . . .