The Gambler By Tommy Thomas

       He cheated people out of millions, until God called his bluff.

       It was an exceptionally warm spring day in 1974. The sun was bright but you couldn't tell because of the old, stained curtains covering the nursing home windows.

       I was playing cards with my 82-year-old father, Titanic Thompson. He was one of the most famous gamblers and golfers in the world.

       Before I walked out of the nursing home that spring day, my dad did something he hadn't done before. He put his arms around me and said, "I love you son." I had waited my whole life to hear those words. Little did I realize as I walked out of his room that day, I would never see my dad again. He died just a few days later.

       My dad had divorced my mother when I was 2 years old. I grew up reading about him in Life magazine, Gold Digest and Sport Illustrated. I wanted him to love me and felt the best way to do that was to become a professional gambler. I started practicing with a deck of cards when I was 13. The best card cheaters in the world would come to see dad, and I would spend hours mastering what they taught me. Dad told me I was the best he had ever seen with a deck of cards, but he never told me he loved me.

       For 32 years I cheated people all over the world out of millions of dollars. I had it all: cars, boats, motorcycles, women. But I felt empty.

       I can't begin to tell you all the times God supernaturally saved my life during those years. Once, I was playing poker with one of the top card cheaters in Las Vegas when some men kicked in the door and started shooting. They killed my friend, and then they turned their guns on me. One of the men knew me and said, "Don't shoot that man." At the time, I wondered why they would spare my life, but now I know that God was protecting me.

       In 1996, four weeks before Easter, I took a look at myself in the mirror and didn't like what I saw. I said, "God, I have been taking from people all my life. When I die, I want someone to remember me for giving instead of taking." I fell down on my knees and cried out to Him.

       Two weeks later, I was waiting for my turn in a barbershop when I met a Christian lady named Margaret Moberly. Even though we had never met before, she knew everything about me. She said that God had told her, "That man is a professional gambler. He has a lot of nice things, but he isn't happy. He has a big heart, and God has him on a long leash." I was blown away.

       I responded, "Lady, it doesn't get any better than being on a long leash with God, does it?" She didn't laugh.

       The night before Easter, she sent me another message through a friend: "Tell him that God now has him on a short leash, the devil has made a bet on his soul, and God has covered the bet." God had really gotten my attention now.

       That Easter I went to church with Margaret. Again, prompted by the Lord, she said, "Tommy, when you were a teen-ager, God called you to be an evangelist and everything in your life has led up to that end." When she said those words, I felt like someone poured hot oil on me. I have never been the same since. I knew then there were only two winning hands, and they were nailed to the cross for me. I quit gambling that day and gave my heart to Jesus.

       I am now a volunteer chaplain and have preached the gospel in maximum-security prisons for the last three years. I am so thankful that God never gave up on me. He has given me a new purpose in life. I know that God loves me, not because of my ability or performance, but because He is my Father, and I am His kid.

Reprinted with permission by New Man, July/August 2000. Strang Communications Co.

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