WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- As I was preparing for a sermon on Psalm 146, I began thinking through the various implications of verse nine, especially in light of the recent decision made by Vladimir Putin to ban adoptions of Russian orphans by American families.

In contrast to human leaders (v. 3), who often ignore or oppress the weakest members of society, the Psalmist writes of the character of God:

"The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin."

To put Putin's decision in perspective, consider these figures:

-- "In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans, more than any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given that nearly 120,000 children in Russia are eligible for adoption."

-- "According to David Satter of the Hudson Institute, 'Russia has more orphans per capita than any nation in the world. Of the estimated 650,000 orphans, an estimated 95 percent are 'social orphans' who have been abandoned by their parents or taken away from them.'"

-- "Americans adopt more children than every other country in the world combined, notes Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based Donaldson Adoption Institute."

-- "Americans have adopted over 60,000 Russian children since the fall of the Soviet Union."

Sadly, many families are already in the adoption process and have already spent a significant amount of money, time and energy only to now be shut down by the Russian government.

The New York Times reports on this crushing reality: "Senior officials in Moscow have said they expect the ban to have the immediate effect of blocking the departure of 46 children whose adoptions by American parents were nearly completed .... Adoption agency officials in the United States who work regularly with Russian orphanages said there were about 200 to 250 sets of parents who had already identified children they planned to adopt and would be affected."

God cares for the defenseless. Of course, this verse isn't the only place that highlights God's concern for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow. This trio gets mentioned frequently in Scripture. Commenting on this frequency in "Generous Justice," Tim Keller writes:

"When people ask me, 'How do you want to be introduced?' I usually propose they say, 'This is Tim Keller, minister of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.' Of course, I am many other things, but that is the main thing I spend my time doing in public life. Realize, then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as a 'father to the fatherless, a defender of widows' (Psalms 68:4-5). This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause."

Keller makes an important point (especially in light of the Putin adoption ban). God identifies "with the powerless, and take up their cause."

By extension, I believe God's people must share God's concern and identify with the powerless and take up their cause. Indeed, I believe this is one of the main ways God does take up their cause -- through His people living out His Word.

What does that mean for us? How do we take up their cause? It means a lot. It certainly doesn't mean everyone should be doing the exact same thing. It simply means we should be doing something for the defenseless and powerless in this broken world.

Business leaders, educators, lawyers, social workers, builders, medical workers, pastors, missionaries, writers, seminary leaders, and more should consider how they may use their gifts and influence to care for the defenseless.

One is hard pressed to find a more defenseless, powerless group of divine image bearers than orphans.

Instead of providing them with every opportunity for a meaningful life and a family, Putin is using them as political pawns. I don't know what else to call this King-Herod-like law other than evil.

Let me mention three action steps (though much more could be said):

-- First, we should pray. God can change the hearts of the hardest of men (Proverbs 21:1), and all human leaders serve under the sovereign permission of God (Psalm 75:6-7). Remember that prayer is not just preparation for the work of justice and mercy; it's doing the work of justice and mercy.

-- Second, we should speak truth to power. Regardless of your political views, I believe it's a privilege to live in a democracy. We need to remember that those who have a voice must give a voice to the millions who do not. One could live their whole life practically and never have to see or hear an orphan -- because they have no voice. But they are here. Millions of them cry out for help, relief, love and spiritual truth. Let us remember the words of Proverbs: "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9). We must be a voice for the voiceless. Human (political) leaders often do not make a concern for the defenseless a priority, and God's people must always promote the values and virtues of their God. We need lawyers, politicians, Christian leaders and all influencers to defend the defenseless. Let us speak up for victims of abuse and seek justice for the oppressed.

-- Third, we must train indigenous Christian leaders in starting and sustaining a culture of adoption and orphan care. Despite the amazing act of adoption by Americans, we need to remember that American families will never take in the massive number of orphans that exists in the world. In fact, in some countries, orphans are not available for adoption.

To be clear, I'm not discouraging international adoption. I wholeheartedly promote it. But I know it's not the only solution. The orphan crisis is complex. It needs to be addressed at a variety of levels, in a variety of ways.

One of the main things that must be done is the training of leaders, especially those in the church. To be honest, a culture of adoption does not exist in many countries. Perhaps the reason that there is a small culture of adoption in America is because we are a country of immigrants. It's part of the ethos in the States. That's not the case in some other countries. Further, in churches in some countries, adoption isn't valued like it should be.

What we need to do in Russia is what we need to do in other parts of the world: Give believers a Christian perspective on adoption and orphan care, and help them start and sustain a culture of adoption. I envision seminaries teaching Christian adoption and orphan care, conferences addressing it, books being written about it, pastors preaching on it.

This is not easy task. It isn't an easy task for a local Christian leader/pastor in America, and it isn't for a local Christian leader/pastor in Russia.

But no one said orphan care was easy. The Good Shepherd laid down His life to make us part of His family, and those who claim to follow Him will suffer hardship as well. But it's worth it. Caring for the least of these in the name of Jesus is always worth it.

Tony Merida is the lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. He also serves as associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. This column first appeared at his website, www.TonyMerida.net

David M. Herszenhorn and Erik Eckholm, "Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families." New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/europe/putin-to-sign-ban-on-us-adoptions-of-russian-children.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Naomi Schaefer Riley, "And the Kids Suffer." New York Post. http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/and_the_kids_suffer_97b4wWHF4R2zoOHhCKpSgO

Ibid.

By Kirit Radia, "Putin's Adoption Ban Is Agony for American 'Mom.'" ABC News.http://abcnews.go.com/International/putins-adoption-ban-makes-american-mom-cry/story?id=18082631#.UONgyI6mG5c

Herszenhorn and Eckholm.

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