On the Brink of Destruction
About the Guest
Mike’s secret sin—pornography—soon became an addiction he couldn’t break. Mike, now a pastor, explains how what seemed like a harmless pastime soon became an obsession so strong, only God could set him free.
Mike’s secret sin—pornography—soon became an addiction he couldn’t break.
On the Brink of Destruction
Bob: For more than 15 years, Mike Cleveland was a husband, a father, an airline pilot with a secret life. Unbeknownst to his wife, Mike was heavily into pornography and more. Mike says there were telltale signs.
Mike: It brings into your life rage and anger because you're mad at what you're doing, and so you lash out at other people. I wasn't a Christian at the time but even Christians that get involved in this stuff are self-protective, and they are accusatory of other people. So the signs were all over me, but she didn't know what specifically was wrong.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 3rd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll learn today about how Mike Cleveland became enslaved by pornography and about what set him free. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. There are some sin patterns in our lives that we stumble into, and we, by God's grace, can find our way out of. But there are other sin patterns that some people find their way into that – well, they get snared, you know what I mean?
Dennis: They do.
Bob: They're stuck and getting free just feels like it's impossible.
Dennis: Yeah, and you're reminding me, Bob, of one of my favorite passages. In fact, the whole chapter in Isaiah 61 is one of my favorite chapters, because it's just – it's just filled with redemption and hope for people who make mistakes, which we all do.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: But Isaiah 61 says "the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."
And it just goes on to talk about proclaiming a year of God's favor and liberating those who have been oppressed and who are enslaved, and I think, in many ways, Bob, that's what we do here every day on FamilyLife Today is we bring the Scriptures to bear on life's circumstances and marriage and family and interpersonal relationships, and we have a friend with us on the program today who I believe is going to connect in a number of ways with our listeners, and I just want to welcome him – Mike – to the broadcast. Mike Cleveland joins us. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Mike: Thank you so much. It's so good to be with you.
Dennis: Mike is an airline captain. In fact, Bob, have we ever had an airline captain on FamilyLife Today?
Bob: I can't think of anybody who has been a pilot that we've had – well, maybe some private pilots but not anybody who was flying the big ones, you know?
Dennis: That's right. So we want to salute you, sir, and thank you for flying well. He flies for Continental, and flies the 737, which, I understand, is really – it's kind of the sports car of the commercial airlines, is that right?
Mike: It's kind of the workhorse of the commercial airlines.
Dennis: Oh, it's not the sports car. I heard it was a fun plane to fly, is that true?
Mike: It is, it is, but it does so much of the standard working of the airlines that we call it the workhorse.
Dennis: Well, Mike is not only a pilot but he, too, is a workhorse. He is a pastor, he is an author of seven books, and he is the founder of a ministry called Setting Captives Free, which is an international Gospel ministry, really, online to take people through Internet courses that we're going to be talking about here in a minute.
Mike and wife, Jody, have six children, four of whom live at home, and this story of how you've encouraged people to be set free really started in your own life when you were a new pilot for Continental in Guam, and you were on the road, and you were alone in a hotel room, and you got ensnared.
Mike: When I was 22, I went to my first layover at a hotel, and I walked in, and there was a black box on top of the TV. I didn't know what the black box was, but I started pushing the buttons that were on the box and discovered something that I'd never seen before, which is pornography.
I'd seen a small paperback with some drawings of pornography one time but certainly nothing like you find today. Normally, it's the seven to 10-year-old range today that discover pornography. And I viewed my first pornographic movie at that point. I was shocked, and I was appalled, and I was attracted and interested, and I can't describe the differences between those four, but I just know that it absolutely captivated me at that time, and I had, afterwards, felt guilty. I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist and said, "I'll never do that again," and that lasted until my next layover and at that point I began a 15-year addiction to pornography.
Dennis: The shame, the disgust about your own choices had to weight heavy on you.
Mike: Yeah. The shame was a constant 24/7. It was all over my life. I was shame-filled and guilt-ridden, and it only increased, and as you are increasing in shame and guilt, that's like an undertow that drags you back out into sin because you're feeling guilty, the shame is all over you, and so you continue the behavior. It's a neverending cycle.
Dennis: What do you see people doing with that shame and guilt?
Mike: Well, there's – they maybe would try to escape. For instance, they might go into alcohol and try and drown it away. They might escape into a fantasy land where maybe they're online and, like I did, started different chat groups to escape the reality of what my life was. And so I was living a separate and secret life hoping to escape the shame and the guilt that I was covered with.
Bob: Now you had – you said you'd grown up in a churched family, but you had not come to know Christ as your Lord at this point, right?
Mike: No, I certainly had not. I was in a religious environment. My parents were divorced when I was six, and I was sent away to live with my grandparents and my aunt, and I didn't have any Christian influence. I had religious influence regarding the law and the standards but not any of Gospel, grace, and so, no, I did not know the Lord.
Bob: And at 22 you weren't married?
Mike: I was married. I got married at age 20, and so I'd been married for almost two years, and the involvement in pornography led to – as the Bible says, "As a man thinks in his heart so is he." And so pornography opens the door to adultery because that's what you begin dwelling on, and so I was involved in immorality and adultery for many years.
Dennis: Did your wife know about the addiction to pornography? Any hints that she had, perhaps?
Mike: No, she did not know anything about it. I had successfully hidden it from her. Now, the signs of a man involved in pornography are all over, they were all over me. For instance, the self-protectiveness. You are real immature spiritually. You are – and I wasn't a Christian at the time, but even Christians that get involved in this stuff are self-protective, and they are accusatory of other people. It brings into your life rage and anger because you're mad at what you're doing, and so you lash out at other people. So the signs were over me, but she didn't know what specifically was wrong.
Bob: And when you talk about being self-protective, are you saying you were defensive anytime anything came up?
Mike: Yes. It was never my fault – any problems we had was always somebody else and not me. I had no ability to take responsibility for my own actions. The things that I caused in my marriage at that time, I had no ability to take responsibility for them.
Dennis: Did you lie and deceive your wife in the process?
Mike: Yes, absolutely. My life was filled with deceit. For example, there were times where I'd want to come home from church – we'd started attending a Seventh Day Adventist church at that time, and I would want to come home early to view pornography, and I'd simply say I was sick – and things like that.
You know, I would try to cover over. If she began finding things on the computer, and I'd say, "Oh, I just stumbled onto that site," and would just try to lie my way out of everything that she found or discovered as time went by.
Bob: So there were things starting to seep through the cracks that were causing her to come and say, "What's going on here?"
Mike: Yes, began to have things that were becoming quite apparent – discovery of pornography on the websites, discovery of chat groups and various discussions I was having with other females and things like that. There was beginning – things were seeping through, as you put it, the cracks.
Dennis: Pornography really grabs ahold of a man's heart, and he gives his heart and his mind and his energy and his drive to something else other than his wife and usually our wives know something is going on, even though they can't perhaps name pornography as being the thief. Did your wife begin to question and wonder about your loyalty and your fidelity to her in the midst of this?
Mike: Yes, she did. She began questioning because of these different areas that kept coming up – pornography chat groups, things that she'd discover were little clues to her that things were not well with me and with her. And so amidst all the lies that I would tell her, she began really understanding that there was a problem here.
Bob: And, Mike, when you went from this initial exposure, you see a movie in a hotel room, and you're shocked and attracted simultaneously, you say, "I'm never going to do that again." The next time you're in the hotel room, you're right back into it. But each progressive step from that to even more vile kinds of pornography or going to adultery – each one of those had to be kind of a fresh sense of how far you'd fallen, wasn't it?
Mike: Well, it was – every step I took on the road to destruction was a shocking awareness that I had gone so much farther than I ever thought I would. It was like in the initial stages, viewing that pornographic movie, you think, "This is it. I'm all done," and then as you continue on down that path and, for me, it began to be chat groups, it began to be various different kinds of perversions in pornography and things like that. It really showed me that I was now a slave of this and that I was truly captive because the devil could just take me any direction that he wanted to.
Bob: What was the lure of the chat group?
Mike: Oh, it was that I'm always loved and accepted and people are always glad to see me, and, you know, you come into a chat group, and you're a hero. You can use words well, and so people are interested in you, and it's a fun time, and it's a party.
Bob: Did it move into sexual talk …
Bob: … all the time?
Mike: Usually, yes, most of the time.
Dennis: And did any of those relationships end up in sexual encounters at that point?
Mike: Many of them.
Dennis: So it started there. And what we're talking about here is not exclusive just to men. This is now occurring with a huge percentage of the female population as well, right?
Mike: Yes, I think that women have gone from romance novels and, you know, soap operas online to now they're much involved in pornography. It's just the next step from soap operas and romance novels and that kind of thing.
Dennis: Tell me this – I'm picturing this scene, and we're kind of talking about a downward spiral, and you're talking about emotional confusion and shame and disgust and contempt for your own life and the loss of a relationship with your wife, and she's feeling all this stuff – was there an argument that was a wakeup call? Was there a moment where all the forces of evil collided with forces for good, and your marriage kind of stood on the precipice, and you didn't make the right choice? You gave in to evil, and you continued on?
Mike: Yes, very much so. My wife – my first wife left, and she moved across the country. I came home one night, and everything was gone from the home, and she had had enough, and she was all through, and she took our two children and left. And, at that point, I realized the full extent of my slavery to sin, and life came crashing down around me, and I felt very much like it says it Psalm 107 – "Some sit in darkness in the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor. They stumbled, and there was no one to help."
So that was the point where I was at the lowest, although I didn't know the Gospel, and I didn't have Christ, and so I wasn't able to repent, and so all that did was snowball my involvement, as you mentioned, that I gave into evil. I said, "Fine, she's gone now," and she subsequently filed for divorce. I said, "I am now free," and then I really began to indulge in various perversions and things like that.
Bob: That night when you came home, and there had been no indication that – she hadn't said, "If you don't do this, I'm moving out."
Bob: You walk in and find she's gone, the kids are gone, stuff is gone, what did you do that night? What did it feel like to you?
Mike: It felt like my life was over. I was sleeping on a cold hardwood floor with no bed. My family was gone. I had wasted a lot of funds on this pornography and various other forms of impurity. So I had no money, I had no bed, I had no family, and that was a point where, truly, there was none to help, and I was in deepest darkness as Scriptures describe.
Dennis: You know, as you read the Psalm, Psalm 107, the description there is one word – "alone."
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Dennis: You were really alone in your sin.
Mike: Yeah. You know, sin takes people and makes them alone. Sin makes them lonely, sin is basically, in its essence, living for me, myself and I. And so it brings a tremendous loneliness into your life.
Dennis: When you live your life for yourself, interestingly, that's what God gives you.
Bob: And, interestingly, you think living your life for yourself is going to be rewarding and fulfilling, but when you find it's just you, it's empty and alone.
Dennis: Yeah, God made us – He made us for relationship. He made us first for a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, so we could be cleansed from our sin, released from the prison that we're talking about here, and then He made our hearts to relate not only to Him but to be connected to imperfect human beings, of which we are still one. Even after we come to faith in Christ.
Tell us about how you found Christ in the middle of this?
Mike: Well, at that point, I was very much like the man that went from Jerusalem to Jericho – Jesus told the story that he got beat up by robbers, and they stole everything, and he was left on the side of the road half dead. That was my condition at that point.
The marriage was over, the divorce went through, I was still continuing the impure behavior, and I met Jody online at a dating site, and subsequently we got married.
Dennis: Hold it, hold it, hold it. You had just come out of an addiction …
Mike: No, I'm still in the addiction.
Dennis: Oh, you're still in it?
Mike: Oh, yes.
Dennis: And so you came into a relationship with Jody out of your divorce on what kind of site?
Mike: On a dating site on the Internet.
Dennis: Okay, so I'm assuming this was a pretty neutral site, not something that was off into pornography and affairs, et cetera.
Mike: Right, that's true.
Dennis: Okay, so keep going.
Mike: So we met, and I snowed her in the sense of not at all telling her anything about my past. She knew of the divorce, but didn't know anything of the reasons that caused it. And so we got married a year and three months later. But the impurity continued, and I continued involvement in pornography and various other sinful things.
Bob: Okay, I've got to back you up, though, here. For a year and three months you're dating Jody.
Bob: And looking at pornography and involved with other women during that time?
Bob: But she knew none of that?
Mike: She knew none of it.
Bob: And you said, "Will you marry me?"
Bob: And she doesn't know anything.
Dennis: And was she a Christian at the time?
Mike: Well, she was raised in a religious home, as I was, and professed to know the Lord, but at that point she would say no, she was not a Christian. And I'll explain that as we go along.
Bob: So were you thinking to yourself, "Once I marry her, that will fix everything?"
Mike: I did, yes. I thought that this would fix the issues with impurity and so forth.
Bob: Why did you think that would fix it? It hadn't been – it hadn't fixed anything in your first marriage.
Dennis: It had destroyed your first marriage.
Mike: It destroyed the first marriage because of the deception that I was understand. In Isaiah 44, it says, "He doesn't know he holds a lie in his right hand."
Dennis: And you started this marriage and this relationship in the midst of deception.
Mike: That's right. It was all deception. It was founded on deception.
Bob: But you really thought, "Once we're married, then I'll be done with this."
Mike: I was deceived to think that this marriage would fix the problems I was having.
Bob: So days or weeks or months into your marriage when you step out of bounds, and you either look at something online, or you start back in the chat rooms, something – a buzzer, an alarm in your head had to be going off going, "Now, wait a sec, what am I doing here?"
Dennis: Well, what I want to ask is, was there an adrenalin – some kind of an adrenalin rush that was tied to this secret life off to the side that – I mean – it was an addiction? I mean, what was taking place there?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely, the adrenalin rush was always there anytime that pornography would come up or anytime that I would go into the chat groups. The adrenalin would take over, and I would be at my greatest point of enjoyment at that time – just delighting in wickedness.
Bob: So you're back into it within weeks after getting married?
Mike: Oh, just right away. It never stopped.
Dennis: You know, Bob, what I think – I think what we're hearing here is where – I don't want to say a huge percentage, but where a number of people, millions, are living, and they really are living double lives, and they haven't yet been caught. And what he is describing is the lure, the addiction, the rush, that sin does provide for a season, and the interesting thing is, the Bible doesn't deny the fact that sin is fun for a season. It's what happens after the season is over, and the fruit of choosing evil rather than good occurs.
And his condition at this point was one of being lost spiritually; needed a relationship with Christ, and I want to continue and find out the rest of the story, but to that person who is listening right now and say, "You've got my picture on your radio," you know, right at the table. I'm at the other end of the table with you guys, it's me. You can be set free. Jesus Christ came to set the captives free. He came to forgive your sin, He offers the gift of eternal life. I'm looking at Mike's face. He's smiling right now. That's who set him free, that's who can set you free, you take Him at His Word. You turn from your sin, and you turn to the Savior who says "I forgive you. I died for you. I want to give you eternal life." And you simply, by faith, put your trust in Him who paid the penalty for your sin. You can't do it for yourself, you can't get yourself out. You already know that. Right now, wherever you are, I'd just encourage you – throw your life upon the Savior …
Dennis: And you know what? Jesus promised He wouldn't cast you out. If you come to Him, He will welcome you. And I would just encourage you – if you do cast your life upon Christ, and you want to take some steps toward a new life today, call the 800 number that Bob will give you, and we have a free resource we'd love to give you that will explain more about this relationship with Christ, how it occurs, how it takes place, and how you can begin to grow as a Christian and stay free – not just be set free but not go back to prison.
Bob: Mm-hm, the resource you're talking about is a book that's called "Pursuing God," and we'd love to send it out to anyone who wants to know what it means to be a follower of Christ, who wants to give your life to Christ, to trust Him and to follow Him, just call 1-800-FLTODAY, and you can request a copy of the book, "Pursuing God." We'll send it out to you at no cost.
But, as Dennis has said, all you need to do is cry out to God and say, "My life needs to change, and I want to be a follower of Christ. I want to trust Jesus to forgive my sins and to transform my life." And, again, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and ask for a copy of the book, "Pursuing God." We're happy to send it out to you.
And I know that there are many who are followers of Christ but who have found themselves, as you were, Mike, ensnared by sexual sin, and we want to encourage them to get your workbook called "The Way of Purity." It's a 60-day resource. You work through this workbook over the next two months, and it will move you along the path from bondage to freedom.
And I should mention that this material is also available online. You can come to our website at FamilyLife.com. If you click on the right side of the screen where you see "Today's Broadcast," click where it says "Learn More." That will take you to an area of the site where you can either order a copy of the workbook from us, or you can click and find the workbook online.
We also have information about the book, "Every Heart Restored," which was written for wives whose husbands have been ensnared by sexual sin, to help them understand what you can do as your husband's ally, as his accountability partner to help him be free and to win this battle.
So, again, all of the information about these resources is on our website at FamilyLife.com. Click the button that says "Today's Broadcast" on the right side of the screen or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY for more information – 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. When you get in touch with us, someone on our team will let you know how you can have the resources you need sent to you.
You know, we think about issues like this and think about our children, and I think it reminds us of our respect and our privilege to pray regularly for our children that God would protect them, that God would cultivate in them godly character that they might be spared from the kind of bondage to sin that Mike has described here today.
FamilyLife has published a book that is a guide for parents who want to be faithful to pray for their children. It's called "While They Were Sleeping," and this month when you make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife, we'd love to send you a copy of the book as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry.
If you make your donation online at FamilyLife.com, and you'd like a copy of the book, "While They Were Sleeping," just type the word "sleep" into the keycode box that you see on the donation form or call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can make a donation over the phone and ask for the prayer guide for parents, or the book, "While They Were Sleeping." Again, we're happy to send it to you as our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry. We appreciate your partnership with us, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to unpack this whole issue of Mike Cleveland's struggle with sexual sin and how he found freedom, and I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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